This guest post was written by Monica Barczak, Director of the Innovation Lab.
Here’s a question we don’t get to ask ourselves all that often in the not-for-profit world: “What if anything were possible?” Frankly, it probably isn’t asked very often in the for-profit world, either. But it’s a terrifically powerful question underlying a problem-solving approach called Design Thinking. And it’s one of many notes I’ve jotted down since I began the “Design Thinking for Business Innovation” class on Coursera.
As an innovative agency, CAP Tulsa is continually interested in producing better outcomes for the families we serve. We’ve gone about this in various ways: we research best practices; we work with academic experts; we survey the families and create focus groups.
Last year we worked with a leading design agency called IDEO.org, which was our first, unwitting step into the world of design thinking. It was an eye-opening experience – fast-paced and, to tell the truth, uncomfortable. Now that I have the opportunity to learn about the steps involved in design thinking, however, I am excited about the possibilities of using it to tackle some of the complex problems we’re working on.
Here are some of the takeaways that have stood out so far:
- There is a way to uncover your clients’ unarticulated needs. You do this not with surveys, focus groups, or demographic analysis, because surveys and demographics cannot provide accurate data about a future that does not yet exist.
- Instead, you develop empathy for your clients. You really walk a mile in their shoes and then you take what you’ve learned and look for patterns and generate ideas to test.
- This process may well reveal that the problem you think you’re trying to solve is not, in fact, the real problem.
- You need to spend time identifying what a great solution will look like without defining the solution itself. Instead, generate hypotheses – “business concepts” – that can be tested with real people.
- Use prototypes to test the concepts, not products (or services). Prototypes help us learn; they are not intended to “prove” any one idea as correct.
- Prototyping must be iterative. Make a low-fidelity (i.e. cheap) visual representation of the business concept, get feedback from clients, go back and refine, and retest.
- A prototype is not a sales pitch.
- Don’t build something real until you build something fake. (I like that one a lot!)
- Succeed, or fail fast and cheap!
- There is a “physics” of innovation, and it involves uncertainty. One can prepare one’s mind for innovation by developing a learning mindset, a broad repertoire of experience and knowledge, and customer empathy.
The basic framework is that design thinking is human-centered, possibility driven, options focused, and iterative. It takes a high tolerance for uncertainty and a high tolerance for what is normally called “failure” but might better be called “learning. It requires reaching out to a lot of different people, especially those who ultimately will use your product or service. What could design thinking do for you?