Design thinking is an iterative problem framing and problem solving process, 50 percent of which is applied ethnography, and the other 50 percent of which incorporates design principles like prototyping and visualizing concepts.  It is a useful complement to your strategy tool box which may include agile, lean and statistical analysis.  Daniel Pink's latest book, When The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, emphasizes the importance of timing.  With that in mind, here are six tactical moments when it makes sense to apply the design thinking methodology.  

1. Re-Frame a Stubborn Challenge   

Strategy is the ability to re-frame and connect the dots differently in order to add new value. When you need to re-frame your approach to a marketing strategy or a financial model, that's a good time to introduce design thinking into the process because it puts emphasis on generating and framing critical questions- before honing in on a singular solution.

2. Build High Functioning Teams

The best teams work well not because they think identically, but because they value and leverage each others' distinct approaches. Thought diversity is foundational to design thinking because diverse teams (consisting of say a statistician, an artist, a psychologist and a mechanical engineer) mean that a range of questions will be posed to help frame a problem, and then solve it.

3. Generate Novel Ideas

Ideation is key not just in the beginning of a project but also at key touch points in order to jump start thinking, develop a prototype or challenge your team to go beyond the obvious.  Brainstorming is a form of divergent thinking and requires some structure.  Try brainstorming by only generating questions; or by "quietstorming" and leveraging silence and solo work before group work. 

4. Connect Meaningfully to Customers

We know that we are in business ultimately to serve the needs of our customers, but they sometimes get lost in the shuffle when our focus turns solely to margins or productivity.   Design thinking requires us to incorporate tools of qualitative research such as interviews, observational studies and contextual inquiry.  This is what IBM Design, the Mayo Clinic and Fidelity Bank have successfully incorporated into their operations in order to keep the people who buy their products, services and experiences top of mind.

5. Complement Traditional Marketing

Quantitative data (the bird's eye view ) generated from big data and surveys tell us "the what"; the qualitative research methods (the worms' eye view) yield  more of the "how" and "the why". Integrated and used together, the data from these two research methods piece together a more intriguing marketing strategy.   While the timeline for qualitative research methods can be longer than churning out a quantitative survey, when the 2 research methods are used in a complimentary way, the final insights are more specific and spot on.

6. Benchmark Differently

Design thinking values lateral thinking: the ability to connect the dots between seemingly disparate realms. Rather than only looking at companies within your sector to gauge performance, check out what companies and organizations in completely different industries are doing: look at fashion if you are a med-tech firm; look at transportation if you are in the food industry.  

Start incorporating design thinking in these six ways and you will be delighted and inspired by what you learn.

Published on: May 28, 2018