22nd September 2016

Danger! Scratching the surface won’t stop the itch!

Whether you are a CEO, Director or Business Owner, we all face challenges in the ever competitive world of ‘doing business’. Technology has made product’s more accessible and services faster to deliver. In my world of  the design sector, back in 1996 I used to do regular tea runs for the studio whilst waiting for my G3 Mac to save minor text changes to the smallest artwork file. I would come back in time to see the final save bars reach 100%. There’s no such time to make myself a cup of tea, let alone a studio full of people before I’ve saved a 1 gig file, blink and you miss it!

The result of this speed of delivery and the online revolution means a business can be live and trading very quickly, this in turn has created unprecedented choice in almost every sector, in every city, in every country in the world. As businesses we need to continually work to attract and retain clients and staff, continually please both in equal measure to deliver great products and services. No business can afford to say “this is how and what we’ve always done…..and we always will”. When your sector landscapes change, you need to change with it. Kodak are an example of a company that failed to adapt to the birth of digital photography, despite being pioneers of the new technology.

In the Forbes article “How Kodak Failed” Chunka Mui talks about the strategic choices Kodak made (or didn’t make) that saw the market leaders in film photography become destroyed by the popularity of digital photography. Kodak’s research teams presented intelligence which suggested they had a 10 year window of opportunity to adapt to the future of digital photography but the mentality of “we do film photography”, “our customers want film photography” cost Kodak dearly.

The rules of the game are relevant for businesses of all sizes, fail to deal with the business challenge and your challenge is dealing with the failure.

Delving deeper than the surface

My journey as a designer has been filled with diverse projects across a multitude of sectors. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of decision makers all at different stages of their careers and forged close working relationships that has extended beyond graphic design to include advice and guidance on idea generation for business and service delivery through my brand strategy workshop’s.

How do you make crucial decisions in your business? Do you talk them through as a team, sat around the conference room table. Do you come home and ask your spouse what they would do if faced with ‘X’? These are great way’s to get feedback on ideas and find solutions from those closest to the challenges. But more often than not the ideas that come out of these environments are often ‘surface solutions’.

In my experience, the greatest path to innovation and problem solving comes from adopting a ‘child like’ persona and asking the question….Why? Try this exercise for yourself (Warning: you run the risk of becoming very annoying, but it’s worth it!. No pain, no gain). Ask a colleague a question i.e. “Why are our sales down this month?” Whatever their answer is ask, “Why?” Where you eventually get to is the destination of no further explanation. You have asked “Why?” until you reached the root of the problem, the place where the itch has been scurrilously teasing you since you first became aware of it’s existence. This sounds simple and it is. The strongest ideas are often the simplest ones. Why isn’t it done more? Because it makes people feel uneasy, it makes the person asking the question feel awkward and antagonistic, whilst the person being asked the question feels more and more pressure to give an answer which ultimately may carry a degree of blame but could offer a foundation for the solution. In the book “46 Rules of Genius” Marty Neumeier refers to this place as “The Dragon Pit”, the unchartered/unexplored part of a map that is defined by a dragon. Being in the unknown is uncomfortable and humans, by nature, look for the nearest point of safety. In terms of decision making it’s a solution that is familiar, comfortable and reliable. The problem is, familiar and reliable is not always the answer. As design thinkers it’s our responsibility to stay in the dragon pit as long as we need to until we get the right outcome not the comfortable outcome. But this is core to design thinking. We need to identify the root of the challenge before we can look at possible solutions to the top level challenge.

When we have no more Why’s to ask we can then start asking “What if?”. The What if questions are where ideas can be explored and refined into action plan’s to counter business challenges.

Advantages of design thinking

The advantage of commissioning a design thinker to work alongside your business allows somebody who is detached from your organisation to look objectively at what’s being said, without the influence or fear of what colleagues think. A great design thinker is ever curious and fearless in the pursuit of detail and solution finding. Being able to design and manage design thinking workshop’s, creating an environment where everyone involved feels at ease to speak honestly and all contributions are valued. Have a suite of tools to collect, collate and present ideas in visual, actionable plans.

The application of design thinking should be ingrained in the DNA of a business and the benefits don’t just exist in tackling business challenges. Design thinking can crystallise an idea and drive innovation, creating improved services and products. Design thinking can be used in all areas of decision making at a strategic level.

Enough talking, start doing!

Find out how you can take advantage of design thinking in your business. Get in contact with Crunch for a free 1 hour consultation. What will this involve? We will get a top level overview of your business, your customer’s and the key challenges your business faces. We will identify areas where we can offer support and some simple actionable steps you can take immediately.

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