As an owner of a small business, we know you are always on the lookout for new methods and techniques that can help you make better decisions and improve your business. And, as always, we are looking out for you! Today we are coming to you with one of the most mind-blowing, revolutionary strategies that you can make use of in running your business.
As a term, design thinking has been thrown around for more than fifty years. Ever since, it has slowly made its way from cold corporate offices to the likes of you and us – entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Without getting into the details and academic definitions, here is how you can easily understand design thinking: a challenge to the established, logical (and boring!) thinking processes, and a change towards freer, fluid and more creative thought processes whose aim is, of course, to solve a business challenge or draw up a business strategy.
That’s still a lot of words? Don’t worry. We will clear it all up.
DEFINING DESIGN THINKING
The easiest way to define, and therefore understand, design thinking, is to compare it with what it’s not: analytical thinking.
So, let’s say we compare design and analytical thinking with traveling between two cities. Analytical thinking is an express train, while design thinking is more of a road-trip. Does that sound discouraging? Just bear with us.
Yes, we know that taking the express train is generally considered a more direct, purposeful means of traveling. And so it is, especially if you have a precise reason why you are going somewhere and know the ins and outs of every single spot between City A and City B.
In business, however, things tend to be much less clear than that, right? So, design thinking (or road-tripping) is a much better choice if you are not quite sure what it is you are looking for, and would love to take some time to embrace what’s around you. If you wouldn’t like that – trust us when we tell you that it is usually a better decision. You’ll get to know some pretty interesting stuff.
The beauty of design thinking lies in the fact that we do not always know what’s next, just like when we are on a road-trip. In getting our creative juices flowing, and allowing ourselves to see beyond the strict, analytical chain, we in fact allow ourselves to see business opportunities and possibilities that we never could have seen before.
And once we see them – the design thinking framework is built in such a way that we can grab at them instantly.
THE DESIGN THINKING FRAMEWORK
First off, it is worth saying that the overall framework of design thinking has, over the years, experienced many changes. Today, we will be presenting the very basics of it, which you can then expand according to the various thinkers, or use in this original form.
That being said, design thinking consists of five equally important phases. As you will see once you read on, in traditional business thinking we tend to overlook some of these phases, which often makes us end up with an unfavorable result. But, all in due time.
What we have to tell you is that when you are in one of the phases, this is where your heart and mind should be. If your focus drifts and you start moving forward without having finished what you started, you will end up stranded and you will probably miss some crucial element. The process will simply not work.
With that out of the way, we can introduce you to the five phases of design thinking:
THE UNDERSTAND PHASE
During the Understand phase, your only concern is to gain the best possible understanding of what the challenge you are facing carries with it. Therefore, you should focus exclusively on trying to make sense of your current situation and the challenge you are facing.
During this phase, what you need to rely on is quite straightforward: data.
Wow, that is liberating, isn’t it?! No more guesswork, no more gut-feelings, no more anticipating and being scared of mistakes. Just a solid, data-based foundation to work with.
Research tends to be a scary word, bringing to mind the dreaded university days, but this is not what we have in mind when we talk about research in terms of design thinking. In the most basic form, research can be your customer list and their respective occupations and preferences, or the numbers about your best-sold products. Basically – anything that can offer you an insight into how your market and customers are doing.
THE DEFINE PHASE
Once you have understood where you stand and what is going on both in your business and your surroundings, it is time to move on to the next step: define.
With the data at hand, you will be able to clearly define what you are facing, the nature of this challenge, the reasons behind it and what needs to be done about it.
The best indication that you have clearly and thoroughly defined your challenges is if you can sum up your challenge, its root and its implications in one, clear sentence. Before you have that, you will be better off not moving to the next stage, because it just won’t work. We can’t stress this enough.
THE IDEATE PHASE
After defining your challenge comes the most beautiful, most engaging – and frankly, the most fun – part of design thinking, which is dreaming up a solution for your problem.
And what’s best is: you don’t have to be scared of it! You have your data, you have your clearly defined problem – so problem-solving will be more like a creative exercise.
When using the design thinking method, ideation, which is also commonly known as brainstorming, there’s a couple of things you need to do in advance. You need to leave reality, ego, and all your usual business parameters out the door. You need to forget all your inhibitions. And you should remember this mantra: No ideas are bad.
So, kick reality out the window, gather your team and start ideating. Do it until you can put your finger on a good enough idea. But what’s also important is to not get stuck on the first good idea. You will need at least two ideas for the prototyping phase, which we will explain shortly.
One last thing to note about brainstorming is that you should tread carefully when choosing your brainstorming group. What you need to look for is a group no greater than ten people, as diverse as possible, and coming from all levels in your organization. If you do not have too many employees, feel free to bring friends whose opinion you appreciate. The more, the merrier (as long as it’s not too much)!
So, after brainstorming comes a reality check… in the shape of prototyping. This is a time where you will once again come back to all your business’ limitations and possibilities, and figure out which ideas can actually be pulled of given your resources.
The easiest way to choose ideas that should be implemented are those that are viable in terms of three resources: talent, time, and capital. Think of it as a Venn diagram; the ideas you choose to go with should be those that are at the very center of the diagram. And if you have no ideas lying in that very middle – you should hit the conference room once again and ideate some more!
Testing is the fifth and final phase of design thinking, which is when you put the two prototypes you have come up with to a test as close as possible to reality. This will help you avoid putting in time, money and people into something that won’t work in the end.
Testing can come in a variety of different forms, and reading up on design thinking will help you get some ideas about different activities you can use.
As you can see, the revolutionary character of design thinking is actually a pretty simple process. It can be implemented by anyone; it is even applicable in your personal life! If you want to learn more and get your hands on some concrete activities that you can begin using in your daily business, we recommend reading Beverly Ingle and her bestselling book, DESIGN THINKING FOR ENTREPRENEURS AND SMALL BUSINESSES: PUTTING THE POWER OF DESIGN TO WORK.
Have you heard of design thinking before this post? Are you considering using these design thinking concepts in running your business? Let us know how you feel about it in the Comment Section below.