Why Design Thinking has become a new managemnt Paradigm?
Not a long time ago, to use a newly purchased technological product implied reading the instructions together with a degree in rocket science to understand them. Those who created the product, gave for granted that technological products, had to be difficult to use (think of the jungle of buttons on a TV remote control).
But this is over: now, even a technological gem like an iPhone, is designed to be easy to use. How this great goal has been reached? By looking outside the product and not just inside, by falling in love with the outside users and not just with your inside ideas. The latest book on why generalists triumph in a specialized world gives examples on the risk of falling in love with your ideas, i.e. by over-analyzing a racing horse. You will soon or later conclude that the horse will win the race just by getting to know it too much. This is why the inside perspective is problematic: because by scrutinising only the inside, you will miss the outside view, which is comparing the other racing horses to yours.
How to have an outside approach? By getting into someone else’s shoes, a process called Design Thinking: a new management paradigm. A paradigm created for simplifying and humanizing, an essential tool to connect with your human clients seeking ready-to-use insights.
Design thinking is a problem-solving approach based on traditional tools utilized by designers and more recently used to solve management problems. Design tools can be rapid prototyping, user observation, visualization of ideas, and brainstorming, but the emerging discipline is design thinking because thanks to its tools, it produces emotional experiences. The differentiating factor of design thinking is its experiential nature, that requires people to actively engage in hands-on work, allowing them to better support one another.
What is the secret of Design Thinking? Design can foster innovation and generate a competitive advantage for organizations by focusing on a type of users’ experiences: their emotional ones.
Emotions are key to build empathy with users, but research shows that those insights cannot be expressed in the current quantitative language, but instead in an emotional language with words suggesting aspirations and engagement. A company using quantitative language would promote itself for its “superior consumer service” instead one implementing design thinking methodology would go for “smiling customers”. Another example: the emotional part of a value proposition is not a promise of utility, it is not about getting something, but is the promise of feeling. If you become our customer you will feel great. Look at the case of sinks on top of toilet cisterns, you will feel that you are contributing to the environment preservation by saving water; if you buy illuminated light switches, you will feel safer in darkness; if the subway platforms tell the next station, the traveller will feel confident along the journey.
The shift of paradigm is accepting an emotionally charged language that conveys how a business decision or a market trajectory will positively influence users’ experiences, by well-designed offerings.
The dilemma is on how to create models based on an emotionally charged language that still tackle complex problems. For example to understand how a customer experiences a service or, ideally, how millions of users experience a service, a technology well known under the name of Big Data: the solution to build a model that tells you what the customer wants.
Data themselves only show some variables, but they can emotionally tell a story if well filtered and assembled. What are good data and how to design the process to explore potential user solutions, is the core of design thinking. There are trillions of data available, but the good ones are only those exploring the solution space, the space to communicate ideas. Let’s take Netflix for example, by exploring specific data algorithmically processed, the company shifted from trying to maximize the number of viewers for each movie to assemble the best collection of movies to meet the needs of each viewer. Netflix went from the quantitative number of movies to the emotional best collection of them, by building a model. That can fail, anyway.
Those implementations demonstrate another characteristic: the need to tolerate failure, without encouraging it, though. Design thinking is iterative and it’s rare to get things right the first time. Have a look at the Google cemetery: Picasa (2002-2016) a service for uploading photos, G+ (2011-2018) Google social network, Google talk…even big ones fail and need to re-address their business.
Emotional language, solution space offered by data and failure resilience, are three pillars of Design Thinking. In some cases, there is a fourth characteristic: the limited amount of time that companies have, which promoted design thinking shortcuts, like Disruptive Innovation. I have personally learnt this methodology in NYU by its creator Luke Williams, Disruptive Innovation is based on design thinking but limiting its solution space to only 4 dimensions, a tool which I widely used in my courses for a multinational technology company in nearly all its worldwide branches.
An organizational focus on design offers unique opportunities for humanizing technology and for developing emotionally resonant products and services. Employees should be invited to take social risks by promoting half-baked ideas and without losing face or experiencing punitive repercussions.
Design thinking triggers an experiential learning process that ultimately supports the development of business cultures defined by a user-centric focus, collaboration, risk-taking, learning and unlearning, which in turn support the further use of design thinking tools. Adopting this perspective is challenging, further if integrated with the use of data, but doing so helps to create an innovating business environment that responds quickly to changing business dynamics, empowers individual contributors and will delight your customer.