Design Thinking Reincarnated (but better)

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What if Design Thinking was a human and it dies tomorrow? We presume the obituary would look something like this:

Design Thinking, the concept/mindset that has organisations and individuals hyper-ventilating and built on observation, empathy and prototyping is not without flaws.Skeptics are now assessing the viability of the model with the same level of scrutiny and spirit that it recommends us to aim at all customer problems. And we can’t agree more.

All said and done, the big organisations eagerly embracing Design Thinking are not doing so out of mere inquisitiveness, drift or unbridled desire to do something different.They’re doing it because leapfrogging innovation has at once become more important to strategic growth and even more challenging to execute with finesse.

With a variety of processes from different organisation, a typical process in Design Thinking involves several key steps:

While its proven that the above steps are instrumental in delivering innovations for an organisation by tackling a customer problem differently, it’s so-called “forte” becomes its Achilles Heels because these steps are deficient and are unrelated to reality. In a nut-shell, innovation is incomplete unless it is complemented by Business Thinking.

As the very first and original model for understanding that the customer is a real person with real problems, is the means to the end or the end itself? Or is it like the Sundial? Paving the way and then giving way to the smart band that is built on what was already right but far more overarching in its value creation? 

That’s where the gap is! Not in what Design Thinking is capable of doing but what it’s missing. And how are we so confident in claiming that Design Thinking is notcomplete? It’s for the simple reason that Design Thinking has been extensively applied outside testing tracks to objectively evaluate its effectiveness and question its lack of totality.

<Sarcasm Alert ☻!>: For some (read: most), Design Thinking is the only way to think and always results in completely disruptive innovations that brings transformative results. The only dimensions that set Design Thinking apart from other types of thinking are the human-centric observations and prototyping. For the folks engaging in Design Thinking exercise, it’s a wonderful 2 day paid vacation to run away from realities of a lacklustre life in a cubicle. These folks always remember the 2 days they played with Post-It notes and Sharpies to ideate in a room full of people who actually have first names. Then, instead of mind-numbing Excel spreadsheets, copious documentation and bullet-ridden presentations, they would beat the pulp out of a business problem in a different way. After 2 days, they all go back to the safety of their cubicles and reminisce about it for years to come by.  <End of Sarcasm ☻!> 

On a serious note, Design Thinking is great (and it works) but it is a single dimensional model with a in-built prejudice towards delivering convergent ideas that are beneficial to customers; but they will never reach them because they are commercially not viable, devoid of investment requirements, strategically off-centric or impossible to execute, operationally.

The health report card of Design Thinking doesn’t look so good when gauged on the scale of commercial innovation that is lasting and impactful. Innovations resulting from Design Thinking isometrics may actually never transform the fortunes of your business. And that’s because, this model is more idea-generating focused and less on the actual mechanism of how would it get executed and work.

The gospel truth is, its relative easy to come up with innovative, clever and divergent ideas without the overwhelming encumbrance of considering the constraints; but another truth be told, this is where the real game-changing matter is hiding.

A Superior Way Forward 

What the world needs is a structured model that fixates on tackling the two-dimensional problem; solving a customers’ problem innovatively and the organisation by pinning a great idea that unlocks or creates a strategic market, a compelling product offering and most importantly, a great business.

In this age of innovation-hungry and competitive-advantage driven companies, the need of the hour is Design Thinking on steroids; one that combines right-brain creative thinking with left-brain analytical thinking and business acumen.

Let’s call this new model Design On Steroids Thinking (DOST), an approach that leverages all that’s good, effective, potent and right about Design Thinking’s central theme, but also focuses on the missing piece; one that differentiates the simply ingenious from the strategically viable and commercially crafty.

DOST is all about pairing the human-centric and iterative path to creativity with its complimentary opposite capability- the business acumen needed to dissever the viable, strategic, operational and financial essentials of an organisation.  While DOST can be the journey, the destination has to be Competitive Advantage. Competitive advantage doesn’t come overnight as it is a continuous process of adhering to principles ranging from mindset to process which can be aligned and applied to solve complex problems of customers. Competitive advantage through innovation most often occurs within a set of constraints, such as viability, profitability and desirability and that a traditional business-minded rational/analytic approach should be complemented with Design Thinking.

The Journey or the Destination?

It’s the outcome that counts! Success of an innovation is not measured by the meetings it took to discover it; it’s measured on the Competitive Advantage scale. The ideal innovation process is not to leave mid-way but to go all the way till commercial viability becomes a reality. A Design Thinking model without any consideration for the knowledge of how to generate revenues is as inconsequential as knowing where the largest diamond lies but without having any idea (or tools) to claim it.

Unlike human-centric models, Design On Steroids Thinking (DOST) starts working from Day 1 to unearth two separate sets of problems; those of the customer and those of the business. And then takes that last sprint to solve them concurrently rather than sequentially.

Are we ready to Design Think the Design Thinking Model itself?  Glad to hear from you.