Tackle four barriers to innovation with design thinking.
The movie Design & Thinking poses this scenario: Say someone hired you to build a bridge. Think of the types of questions you’d have to answer to do your job. What kind of bridge would it be? A suspension bridge, drawbridge or covered bridge? What materials would you use? Steel, wood or plastic?
These are all necessary questions, but if you step back to look at the problem you’re solving, you see the true challenge: moving people and objects from point A to point B. With that new problem frame, you suddenly have access to new possibilities and new questions. Does it have to be a bridge? What if it was a zip line, boat or helicopter?
At Peer Insight, we help organizations ignite innovation by focusing less on physical design and more on “design thinking,” a human-centered approach to problem solving and innovation that puts the needs of the customer at the center.
The first step in the design thinking process is to understand your customer’s current reality. To do that, we often conduct in-person interviews with key customers at their homes, offices or other in-context environments to observe their day-to-day experiences and empathize with their challenges. We then work with the client team to analyze our observations and turn these insights into innovative products that solve those challenges.
There are four common pitfalls that everyone should avoid when taking on such innovation challenges.
Often, when we engage in an innovation project, our clients have a narrow view of their business challenge or problem, which can block them from seeing otherwise obvious solutions. For example, we recently worked with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to build internal design thinking and innovation capabilities. The teams were open to applying a human-centered approach, but had a difficult time seeing past the organization’s “lens” of technology. When we asked them to explain a typical customer’s experience with one of their products, they would tell the story in terms of technological devices and data flows: “The data from tower A is going to get sent to the receiver over in tower B.” While a true depiction of how their business works, their scenarios left out the most important part of the service: the customer.
Map the journey. To truly understand both the experiential and emotional path your customers take, create a journey map, a visual diagram of a customer’s experience. For example, to understand a customer’s journey in a store, you would start by listing out all activities and steps a customer would perform. Don’t just look at what happens in the store, look beyond the in-store experience. Map the decision process to go there, their preparations and their travel. Examine what happened after they opened the door and when they were shopping around. Look at the checkout process, whom they talked to after they left and whether or not they returned. Journey maps help you empathize with the struggles and moments of joy the customer experiences.
To map their customers’ journeys, the CSC teams engaged in observational research. After just a single round, they began to understand that they’re not serving a digital process, computer or technology. They’re serving people.
Design thinking helps open up your view of a problem beyond what you already know and gives you a new way to frame it.
We’ve all heard of the lone wolf, who single-handedly brings new and innovative solutions to his company. But true lone innovators are few and far between. We can do a lot on our own, but ideas and solutions are always better with more heads in the game.
The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Sam), a large long-term care provider, has campuses across the country—but the good ideas popping up at them weren’t funneling up to the main campus. Peer Insight was hired to create an internal innovation architecture, or centralized platform, where innovative ideas could be shared across the campuses and championed by Vivo, its innovation team.
One of the most important steps was picking the right team, which consisted of both external and internal team members. Good Sam recruited external individuals with design-thinking skills who could approach problems a bit differently. They also included “internal credibles” who knew the ins and outs of the company and supported these externals in understanding the needs of the organization.
Once you have the team in place, there is another constituent to consider: the customer. In order for a new product or service to be successful, the customer has to make the decisions. A good innovation team frames the problem with a prototype, then sets it up so the customers can decide what to move forward with.
Organizations are often nervous about this; they want to have the power. But when you put the decision-making power in the user’s hands, there is a clear winner every time. The energy and enthusiasm that surround certain features and concepts, will empower the team to move forward.
Organizations want everything they do to be perfect. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has no place in the innovation cycle. The earlier you get an idea in front of users the better. It helps test your assumptions and the feedback ultimately helps improve the quality of the product.
One of the most difficult things for an organization to do is put out an imperfect, low-fidelity prototype. They often worry that giving customers a glimpse of an unfinished service or product will hurt the company’s reputation. But that’s not true at all; it’s about progress, not perfection.
During our training with CSC, we found that some of the managers weren’t comfortable with failure. By reframing assumption testing and prototyping as a way of learning rather than failure, we were able to give them permission to try out new ideas without fear. It’s not failing if you’re building upon what you’ve learned in each round and creating a better product or service. You have to be comfortable with throwing away your idea and moving on to the next.
Jessica Dugan is a senior design consultant at Peer Insight, a Washington, D.C.-based innovation consultancy, with a passion for people and their stories. Drawing on her background in design research and business strategy, Jessica collaborates in the creation of innovative products and services. She holds master’s degrees in design and in business administration from the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.