Design Thinking and Doing is a Team Sport

In this complex, rapidly changing and energising world, business as usual is simply not good enough. That’s probably why innovation and disruption are two of the most used terms right now. But the myth to be dispelled is that innovation is only for the ‘chosen few’ who can dream up amazing ideas seemingly out of thin air.

From the get go, I confess that I’m drawing heavily upon intel from my study with the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Plus, working in the start up space over the last few years has necessitated breaking the shackles of an almost 20 year corporate marketing career and adopting more of a ‘learning mindset’.

Paradigm shift in innovation

We all know that there’s been a paradigm shift in innovation. It used to be isolated to a functional domain such as NPD, removed from the core business and run by a bunch of so-called experts. Now, it’s imperative that innovation pervades as a core strategic capability to equip business to more effectively achieve objectives. But this paradigm shift from a business as usual to an innovative workplace is super hard work! And most importantly, actions speak louder than words.

Most corporate enterprises still believe in backing one big new idea, investing heavily, accepting mediocrity, ignoring disconfirming data and then following up with a big bang launch. Oh and remember that this new ‘innovation’ simply can not fail, otherwise scapegoats will be found and people with be pushed sideways or out. It’s no wonder that the corporate workplace is so often guilty of driving the creativity out of even the most enthusiastic and imaginative leaders!

The process of design thinking

This is where design thinking takes centre stage. Design thinking is a problem solving process that combines right brain creative and left brain analytical thinking. Most importantly, it’s best used for wicked problems (as opposed to tame problems) where conventional linear problem solving techniques tend to fall well short.

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business (who are leaders in this field) have captured the design thinking process in the form of 4 key questions:

What is? A deep dive into the current state.

What if? Exploration of the creative possibilities.

What wows? Rough prototypes in the wow zone.

What works? Small-scale, real world experiments.

Design thinking is about connecting deeply with the right customer problems. It’s about generating ideas and placing many small, fast and cheap bets. It’s about experimentation and finding out why things work or don’t. It’s about recognising we don’t know if our ideas are amazing, only our customers do!

Failure is an imperative

Design thinking absolutely expects you to get it wrong. This is tough for most people as inherent in human nature is the desire to be right and to not make too many mistakes. But you have to assume you are not going to get it right the first time. Just be happy to save money by red lining products and services that simply won’t work. Fail early to succeed sooner.

From my personal experience, this is diametrically opposed to how most (not all) corporate enterprises ‘run innovation’. The word innovation is embraced but the practice is forced into risk averse BAU processes. Think about whether your CEO would be happy to talk glowingly about the 15 failed initiatives in the last quarter!

Geelong cats 2007

Geelong cats 2007

It should also be remembered that the process of innovation is about the realisation of actual ideas in the form of products and services. The much less cool business term for this is ‘implementation’. But fast not in 12 to 18 months implementation with protracted internal approval processes. For some inspiration about working in real time, watch this case study on the Nordstrom Innovation Lab one week experiments.

The marketing department

With an intrinsic human-centred approach to problem solving, the marketing function is extraordinarily well placed to lead the charge. Whilst the industry remains fixated on unlocking ‘big data’, we must also embrace ‘little data’ and continue to uncover customer's unarticulated needs. After all, this is what marketing is all about. We need to change the way we work in teams, have fun and nurture creativity. Innovation is a team sport fuelled by diverse backgrounds and perspectives and not a solo pursuit. So always keep in mind that “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius!” (IDEO)