Innovation has become the big buzzword in the world of digital business today. The rapid pace of technology, fueled by the growth of the internet, and new forms of collaboration and open-source networking, have all created unheard of opportunities for individuals and businesses to create new products and build new services. As exciting as this time is in the world of technology, it’s not a bystander sport. We’ve all heard the expression “innovate or die”; it really is true! Those startups and new businesses that can implement innovative strategies to adapt to new customer demands and expectations are the ones that will survive in the increasingly competitive world of digital technologies.
But how does one do innovation? What are the secrets of creating an innovative culture? Can innovation be taught, or is it simply a talent that you either have or not? Cracking the innovation nut is really about a methodology called design thinking. This may be another buzzword that you’ve heard about in recent years. Design thinking is so important and integrally related to innovation that it has been aptly described as a unified framework for innovation. The importance, benefits, and takeaways of design thinking are critical for your business success. So let’s unpack some of the highlights of what you can do today to make design thinking (and innovation!) central to your business strategy in 2015.
Design thinking has various approaches and definitions but most often it’s associated as a methodology for solving complex business problems that lead to innovative new solutions for your customers. One source defines it this way: “Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be, and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer). A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused, and action oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination.”
Some of the most notable influencers in the science of design thinking are The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, affectionately called the d.school, and the global design firm, IDEO. Together these two institutions have trained and influenced thousands of practitioners of design thinking methodology throughout a wide range of disciplines.
Design thinking is often described as a human-centered, prototype-driven process for problem solving. There are various components of design thinking, but most center around or are adapted from a 5-step approach to problem-solving that involves empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. The website Creativity at Work builds upon these principles in a way that provides an overarching framework for creativity and innovation as follows (ideas adopted, wording changed):
Highlight the challenge: Decide what issue you’re trying to solve as a way to frame up innovation.
Gather data: Research your challenge by gathering everyone touched by the issue to share their story or “paint a picture” of the challenge.
Restate the challenge: Making sense of everything by looking for challenges, patterns, and overarching themes.
Artful reflection: Encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking, develop aesthetic approaches to the problem, use mind mapping and sketching or painting to approach the problem.
Ideate: This is the crux of the process where you brainstorm and generate as many new innovation seed thoughts as possible. Here you promote shifts in perception and encourage creativity and exploration without any fear of judgment; no idea is too strange or silly.
Evaluate: Choose what your criteria will be for evaluating ideas.
Prototyping: Combine, expand, and refine the ideas to create a visual representation of your product. Get feedback from your group and then present a selection of ideas to your client or stakeholders.
Assess: Gather, and assess feedback from prototype and use this information to refine it!
Implement & Iterate: Create an action-plan for testing your innovation, and then assess the results, improve, and modify as needed.
Innovation is the key watchword in business today. Those who do it will survive and those who don’t won’t. But innovation doesn’t “just happen” nor is it solely the product of genius, talent, or luck (though those qualities help!). Design thinking embodies a unified platform for making innovation work. It represents a set of best practices for complex problem solving that produces optimal results for your clients.
If you haven’t started yet, now is the time to get onboard with a design thinking strategy for your startup, small business, or organization. Make this your New Year’s 2015 business resolution. Not sure how to start? There are good resources out there to kick things off. The Stanford d-school offers a virtual crash course and Silicon Valley Innovation Center also is offering an all-day seminar on “innovation & creativity” February 26, 2015, which you won’t want to miss. Registration is available here. There’s also a helpful free ebook on the topic of design thinking here. Getting started with design thinking is the critical first step. Change is never easy and while there is bound to be uncertainly and discomfort at first, the key is to start today. And then keep right on doing it . . . until innovation and creative design become the essential ingredients of your business strategy and vision.