Design Thinking: How to uncover what is strategically important for your company
One of the greatest things of launching a startup, was the people I met in the process and what I could learn from them. My second startup, dejawoo, was seed funded and deeply influenced by Dr. Erbeldinger and his team of consultants at Partake AG in Berlin. This was my first deep dive into the world of Design Thinking. (Here is a good in depth introduction to Design thinking)
Design Thinking is an empathic, iterative process in which we innovate at the intersection of user needs, technological possibilities and business requirements.
The main factor which makes this framework different, is its focus on an empathic understanding of the user and her or his needs. In order to gain this understanding, design thinking practitioners will start projects by: simply speaking with the intended users and listening carefully. (I know, it's pretty revolutionary...)
Product driven innovation
As back-to-front as it seems to me now, I have been involved in numerous projects where a company's reason for creating a new product or service, was solely it's ownership of a specific technology or IP. As logical as it may seem to utilize ones assets, this is a catch 22 that in no way guarantees that what you come up with, is actually of value or even practicable for its intended users. While product driven innovation can result in fantastic solutions, this is the achilles heel of product driven innovation which should be kept in mind at all times. "Assumption is the mother of all mistakes." as the polite say.
Waiting for the gap to pitch
Any client can tell if you are really interested in helping them solve their problem, or are just waiting for a gap to start your preconceived pitch. (To be frank, I am a little embarrassed that I worked in sales for so many years and didn't work this out sooner.)
Instead, be of service and try to understand the issue from the inside out. In rare cases you may discover that you may not be able to help, or someone else has a ready-to-go solution. Even where this is the case, many clients still ask me to accompany them on that journey as their "trusted advisor". This is a privilege, which in my experience, can only be earned by always having the client's best interests at heart.
User or client centric innovation
The advantage of listening to your client/user with attention to detail before you invest any energy into product or solution design, is that you will get a clear picture of where they are at and what they would like to achieve. I am oversimplifying in the interest of brevity, but my preferred method for interacting with a client, is to get my bearings on the high level issue and then simply ask questions and listen empathically.
By listening empathically, I mean try to get a feeling for where they are coming from, how they see the world or their challenges, what would they like to achieve and how are they considering achieving it.... And most importantly, put yourself in their situation. What would you feel like if you were in their shoes and how would you progress from there?
There is one potential pitfall to this approach: sometimes users or clients are not aware of a certain set of possibilities or have a gap in their thinking. As a consultant in these scenarios, it is our job to close that knowledge gap or facilitate the adoption of new possibilities. (Being well informed and having access to a large whiteboard, post-its, multicolored markers etc. are indispensable for this. More on this in an upcoming post.)
So what is strategically important?
That which is strategically important to your clients is that which should be strategically important to you. It's that simple.
Our job is to find out what is important to our clients and bridge this with the possibilities of technology and the requirements of our business.
Even though I am fully aware of the challenges presented by being locked into existing partnerships, joint revenue projections etc. etc. not adopting a more client centric approach when it comes to steering your organization, is sure-fire way to get left behind.
I can promise you there will be someone else willing to take this leap and accompany your former client on their journey.
"What's important now are the characteristics of the brain's right hemisphere: artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking. These skills have become first among equals in a whole range of business fields." - Daniel H. Pink