Why Entrepreneurs Need To Understand The Value Of Design Thinking

Posted: January 21, 2016

Design thinking for entrepreneurs explained: Read on to know what it means to bring design into the heart of your business.

Fundamentally, human centric thinking is embedded in the discipline of the design process. Thus, the way someone educated in design approaches a problem is always to actually first try and go deeper into the issue, to understand whether there is really a problem, what is the exact nature of that problem and how can it be reframed as an opportunity to create a new service, a system, a product.

Its very difficult to create a design that works, integrates with life, becomes a new of doing things, with a superficial approach to people and systems.

What is design thinking?

Let’s deconstruct design thinking. It is a journey from exploring the realm of problems to arrive at the magical destination of solutions and opportunities. The starting point is figuring out the ‘real’ problem/s or challenges that people still face despite technology, (or shall we say in spite of and even because of development.)

An important marker in the journey is empathy, which is the ability to get into someone else’s shoes with a high level of sensitivity. To do this, over the years designers have actually designed various techniques like body storming (putting yourself into the same situation as your user and exploring problems and solutions), or the fly on the wall (silent observer) technique.

Only when that deep sensitivity is achieved, can one get to the next important stage – which is to find that deep human insight and unfulfilled need or dream and reframe the problem as a game changing opportunity.

This is when experience comes in handy, to truly be able to do a synthesis or analysis of all the learnings. Entrepreneurs call this gut feeling or instinct but with design, it’s serious discipline.

What if I am not a designer?

Design is what design does, design is intelligent action. It is the perfect union of mind and hand – thus very simply, if you are not a designer, design thinking is a minds on, hands on approach to get from problem to solution.

There is play in this approach, there is room for mistakes and imperfection; you can be wrong several times before you are right and your user/customer is the only one with a right to judge you. But there again, memory is short and everyone loves a solution that has been developed with sensitivity

You may develop a jugaad solution at first, something that sputters and stutters yet works…but if you keep iterating, keep the thinking hat and the workman’s gloves on, you will get a system that’s beautiful, that’s resolved and looks and works, well like an Apple product.

This approach may start downstream with product development but becomes far more interesting when design thinking is integrated one hundred percent with business and applied to business model development.

That’s when you can feel the pulse of the user and respond to her heartbeat, in everything that you do with your business, so that she has no choice but to fall in love and stay safely happy there.

Most successful entrepreneurs, one could argue, follow a similar pattern of thinking – to find a problem that society has and flip it into an opportunity. The bigger the problem, the more inclusive is the business model that erases it with surprising simplicity.

Lets look at the idea of Netflix that has just launched in India. Television in its desperation to get closer and closer to its audience has been making itself more and more redundant. Along comes Netflix with content that has a high quality of film making, story telling, is a great format and lets the viewer control the pace. It does not have to drag, recap – all of that, to ensure the viewer stays hooked. It just makes great content as it knows the control is in our hands. If its good, it can be several hours long, we’ll watch it when we can. The model of Netflix allows you and me to have good video content on our own terms.

But, does it work for your granny or for mine, does it work with the Bengali, Marathi, Telugu…you get the drift, there’s a revolution in viewing waiting to happen here, despite the many television channels and services. The game here is not in 3D TV for heavens sake.

Getting design headed about business

The great thing about entrepreneurship is that it does not start from the head, it starts from the heart. So, when an entrepreneur sets out to start a business, she/he fundamentally has a dream. The question that has to be asked at this stage is whether it is a personal self-indulgent dream or a big, inclusive dream and thus an, impactful, innovative idea for the world. The best scenario is that it’s both.

At this stage, the stage zero, it’s good to learn from the design process or to get ‘designheaded’ about business. Where the head and heart integrate; design and business become one.

First, the entrepreneurial team becomes one with the end user/customer and practices empathy. Starting from there, problems are reframed with a great deal of optimism for the world, by connecting the dots of social and behavioral, technological, economic trends. The team plays with various approaches and scenarios quickly. Before committing to one path firmly, to prototype and test which essentially mean to study the response, again with a great deal of flexibility and openness. From there on, continuous iteration with a keen eye on the customers’ needs is what makes for a successful service, product or a business holistically.

That’s an ideal scenario for the design of a business itself or design at start up stage. However, the design approach has great salience at any point in time, to get closer and closer to people to get better and better insights on what they want – be it employees or customers, to approach complex problems in a positive, creative and holistic manner, to create new value and meaning.

I would not advise that as entrepreneurs, you flirt with design – its is your best bet to stay relevant and in the hearts of your employees and customers in a multidimensional and challenging, disruptive and shifting brand, experience, technological and business landscape.

To integrate the design approach, a good first step is to bring in the experts and co-create with them, get the key team coached, learn and practice. Beyond that, even your employees with deep technical expertise can perform far beyond their given narrow roles by design.

Besides tech value, design prepares them to augment their own and your businesses social value and business value, making them well rounded and integrated.

The perception of design is

  • Is aesthetic/product centered outcome meant for designers only.
  • Focus on thinking rather than doing.
  • Not everybody can be creative.

The reality is

  • Puts the consumer in the center.
  • Non designers can learn the tools and methods.
  • It’s a hands on approach – prototype, iterate and test!
  • It aligns business teams with customers dreams and needs.
  • Builds confidence and creates new value and meaning

At SPREAD, we are integrating design with business to create new value and meaning. We work with teams to solve tough problems by design, reframing business problems as potential opportunities, with the customer in the center, while working in fast, new, creative and playful ways.

Process within any size of organisation runs the risk of becoming very mechanical, where everyone concerned gets too far removed from the big picture and the customer. We bring design into the culture so that employees can continue to follow process but also navigate the system to innovate, to think about what’s next, what if; from a perspective of the larger vision, human values and raison d’ etre of the business.

If you want to be relevant and successful, making new breakthroughs, get creative, get design headed and learn to dive intelligently.

Enjoy this video for starters!

Top image of red umbrella amidst black via Shutterstock

 

About the Author: Sonia Manchanda is a graduate of the prestigious National Institute of design, Ahmedabad, India. Sonia founded SPREAD which exists to develop transformational tools, create interactive experiences and embrace disruptive ideas.

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