Design Thinking: You Asked, We Answered
What is design thinking? Why does it work? How do I get started with it? Our community had so many great questions on the power and potential of design thinking that we hosted an Ask Me Anything session on the topic with IDEO partners and IDEO U leaders Suzanne Gibbs Howard and Coe Leta Stafford.
With decades of experience in design, Suzanne and Coe Leta have used IDEO’s design thinking methods to solve complex global challenges for some of the world’s largest businesses. In this episode of the Creative Confidence Podcast, they share practical tips and lessons learned from their many years in the field.
Skip ahead in the episode for answers to these questions:
(04:31): How do you convey what design thinking is to non-designers?
(08:41): How would you describe design thinking's business value?
(13:57): How can we do virtual design thinking exercises?
(17:50): What are some tips for idea generation and synthesis with large groups?
(22:28): How do you introduce design thinking to an organization that's never used it before?
(25:23): How can we engage stakeholders and sponsors early on in the design of a change management approach?
(29:34): What are the biggest mistakes you see companies make when trying to implement design thinking?
(32:32): What if leadership is not interested in the process of design thinking?
(33:09): In which industries is it more difficult to apply design thinking?
(34:05): What are the best practices for framing the right question?
(35:56): How do you create a good design thinking project brief?
(38:06): How do you use design thinking with auditors or assessors or other fairly linear contexts?
(38:43): How can design thinking help businesses that are suffering because of COVID-19?
(40:39): How do I get my start in design thinking?
SUZANNE (00:48): Hello. Welcome to another episode of our Creative Confidence series. I am Suzanne Gibbs Howard, Founder and Dean of IDEO U. I'm here today with you, with Coe Leta Stafford, who is the Managing Director of IDEO.
COE (01:09): Hi everyone.
SUZANNE (01:10): We are thrilled to be here together. We always host special sessions on creativity, leadership, innovation and growth. Today we're going to do a special episode on Ask Me Anything, where we've received a ton of different questions from all of you about design thinking. What it is, and how you can apply it, and why it matters now today even more than ever. We're really excited to dive into all of your questions here today.
COE (01:40): When we teach design thinking, we often think of it as a journey to mastery that begins with some level of awareness. Some of you are just learning. Maybe you've just heard about it. Some of you are fluent. Maybe you use it often. And some of you are masterful at it. You teach it, you inspire others.
SUZANNE (01:57): A little bit about the two of us. I'm going to tell you a little bit about Coe. Flat-out Coe's one of my favorite people I've ever worked with in my entire life. She is absolutely amazing. She's a partner here at IDEO, she's been at IDEO for 14 years and she has incredibly deep experience, especially in how to gather insights about design thinking and develop and deepen empathy.
SUZANNE (02:21): One of the things that always blows me away about Coe is she can prototype things. All those things you see in her space, she's made with her own hands. She's an amazing prototyper. She can make things and get them in front of people so that we can understand how we need to improve these experiences. She's the instructor of our very first IDEO U course Insights for Innovation and she pretty much just inspires me every day I get to work with her, whether that's through virtual work or face to face.
COE (02:50): Suz and I have worked together for many years and I think this is a wonderful example of, innovation never happens alone. It happens with great colleagues and friends. And I love to just also lift up Suz in all the ways that she helps us at IDEO and just herself.
COE (03:07): A little more about her. This is Suzanne Gibbs Howard. She is a partner and founder of IDEO U. She has over 18 years experience at IDEO. She has taught many of us. Many of us have learned from her. Her expertise is in systems, org design. She'll be sharing some of that today. She's also a passionate writer and speaker on topics like creative leadership and innovation. She's also an instructor of Unlocking Creativity. In another life you would find Suz as either a spiritual leader or a matchmaker, because she is so adept at reading people and deeply caring about people.
COE (03:44): I'm so delighted to be here with you Suz, even though we're not in the same space. We're thrilled to be with all of you today too.
SUZANNE (03:51): One last thing before we dive in. We want to recognize with all of you joining from all over the world that we are in a very unusual moment in all of our lives. It's unique, it's completely unpredictable, but one of the reasons that we wanted to spend time with all of you today sharing about design thinking is it’s an approach that is made to tackle ambiguity.
SUZANNE (04:15): It is all about finding the positive ways to continue moving forward in a collaborative way when you're in a moment of not knowing what the right answers are, and not knowing what's going to happen. The way we see it, we need design thinking now more than ever.
COE (04:31): One of our first questions comes from Linda. This is our baseline question. How do you convey what design thinking is and the value of design thinking to non-designers?
COE (04:43): At a very high level we talk about design thinking is a process for creative problem solving that keeps people at the center. That's the big idea. There are many tools, many frameworks, many ways of defining it, but there are three things that you'll find common with all things design thinking. One, there's some level of inspiration which is all about connecting and empathizing with people. Two, there's some component of ideation which is all about creative thinking and diverging to generate ideas. Three, there's always some element of prototyping. Other words you might hear are making things tangible or experimenting. The thing I love most about design thinking is you don't have to be a designer to use design thinking. I want to tell a story of what design thinking in action looks like, and it's very relevant to this time.
COE (05:35): This is a story that just unfolded in the past seven days. Last week there was a wife of an IDEOer, who is a nurse at a local hospital and she asked her husband, "Do you have any friends who can help? We have run out of face shields at our hospital, what can you do?" That IDEOer circled round with some of his friends and they started creating DIY medical face shields. They got together and in one day started prototyping around “How might we create face shields using existing materials they could easily find?” They in one day created as many as they could, and delivered them to the hospital. The next day they went and got some feedback on what was and wasn't working with how it fit. The staff was like, "We need more of these. What else can you do?" They went back to the drawing board, iterated the design, and then cranked out 100 shields. That's when it actually got really interesting. Because then other hospitals heard about and said, "What can you do for us?" So that team partnered with a local distributor who could help scale it a bit more and they launched a GoFundMe campaign, with the Shield Our Heroes story. And their first goal was to raise $60,000 to cover costs to then start shipping even more shields. They raised that in one day. They are now creating a thousand shields that are being distributed to various hospitals and they keep getting requests. I love this story because it shows design thinking in action.
COE (07:07): In that you heard three things. One, they got inspired and empathetic from a need, a human-centered need that was out there. Two, they started to generate ideas and just get active. Three, they prototyped it, got feedback and iterated it to really solve the needs.
COE (07:22): That's the value of design thinking. It moves people to action. I am just going to say one more thing, a nuance here that's important. When you are just learning about design thinking, people often focus only on the activities or the process. Here's what they did. Where we find real value is what we call the mindsets. The mindsets are what move people from just doing the things to having real impact.
COE (07:48): For example, the mindset of being inspired is empathy. It's being really curious about what people need. We're going to come back to this. We often talk about when you're generating ideas, having a beginner's mindset. That team had never made a face mask. They didn't know how. But they were open to trying things and not assuming they knew what would be the best or how to do it. They just went for it. Prototyping. The big idea there is bias towards action. You don't have to have the perfect answer. Start making, start doing, and then connect with people to make it better.
COE (08:22): We'll talk a lot about mindsets, but overall, design thinking is both a tool and a mindset for ambiguous moments to meet people's needs. That's why we love it, and that's why it's so relevant right now. With that, I'm going to go on to another question.
COE (08:39): I'm going to hand it back to you, Suz.
SUZANNE (08:41): We have one from Michelle. This is, how would you describe design thinking's value to a team? Especially to someone who's not familiar with it?
SUZANNE (08:51): Here, to everything Coe's said, design thinking is about solving complex challenges and finding a systematic approach. At the highest level, this can make a difference in the business world and far beyond the business world because it provides a competitive advantage.
SUZANNE (09:05): It helps us tackle those tough challenges. Oftentimes in customer-facing businesses, it helps us result in something that is a delightful experience, an experience that satisfies people's needs, an experience that inspires loyalty. Great design is great for any business, whether it's for profit or not for profit.
SUZANNE (09:29): I'm going to share a couple of different studies that are out there so that people can connect to these and dive into them more deeply. One that I really like is called Why design thinking Works. It is in Harvard Business Review. We'll share links to it. It is written by Jeanne Liedtka, who's a professor at Darden School of Business at University of Virginia. She's studied dozens of different companies across seven years and came to a handful of things that really, really cement why design thinking works.
SUZANNE (09:57): A couple of the ones that I find valuable is that it takes something that can be really ambiguous and provides a clear and simple process, just a great way to get started and get people moving in a common direction. The second thing it does is that it often counteracts the biases that get in the way of innovation. The third thing it does is that it engages stakeholders at all different levels so that they're more likely to buy-in and actually commit to the outcome. Because as humans, we know we need people to actually be a part of a change and move things together in a common direction. That piece is a really valuable one.
SUZANNE (10:34): After that, I'll share when I break down the ways that different organizations have found value in design thinking, I kind of break it into two buckets. One is external value about the marketplace or the market landscape, and the other is internal value about the people inside of the company.
SUZANNE (10:52): We look at external value in the marketplace. Oftentimes you're trying to explain why design thinking is valuable to people working in product and marketing and sales and innovation. They're looking for outcomes about why design thinking improves customer experiences or why it can help us with identifying the opportunities for innovation and strategy metrics that organizations often lean to hear. Things like net promoter score (NPS). This is a measure that looks at likeliness of end users to recommend your products or services or company to others. That's a great metric.
SUZANNE (11:29): Another great study that I really like is by IBM. They commissioned a study by Forrester of IBM using design thinking as well as many other organizations, and they saw that design thinking flat out improved product outcomes and increased the profitability of their portfolio, enabling millions of increased profits.
“Great design is great for any business, whether it's for profit or not for profit.”
Suzanne Gibbs Howard
SUZANNE (11:50): One last bucket, I'll look at the internal metrics because I think this is really, really important as well. When we're looking inside of a company, we're often talking to folks in talent, in HR, in operations, in finance, just to name a few. Here they're often looking at challenges that the organization is facing. It might have been a culture of no or a culture of fear and they want to find ways to engage and empower employees at all levels to think more creatively or innovatively. Or they might be just saying we have some processes, especially design and product processes, that might be a little cumbersome. How can we speed them up or streamline them?
SUZANNE (12:29): So here we like to look at, IDEO has our own assessment. It is a digital assessment called Creative Difference, and there we capture information from lots of different organizations and some of the patterns we've seen about certain behaviors from design thinking that are valuable.
SUZANNE (12:46): For example, organizations that frequently brainstorm or ideate together literally every week, they as a group will achieve their objectives at a higher rate than average. Teams that prototype and use prototyping and testing processes, if they're tackling five or more ideas at the same time instead of just one, they're 50 percent more likely to launch those successful solutions to the marketplace.
SUZANNE (13:12): Last stat for you. In this IBM study, they also looked at project teams and they said that when they were using design thinking they literally doubled design and execution speed. So that led their organization to over 20 million dollars in savings of total value, and they found that employees were more engaged and empowered by using design thinking.
SUZANNE (13:36): So I'll leave it there today. A couple of articles, a couple of facts and ways to break down the value and hopefully that helps you.
COE (13:44): That was so great, Suzanne. Thank you. So Suz was talking about, that's one of the things that design thinking does is it helps orient folks or teams for the same goal. We can share more on that.
COE (13:57): I'm going to move on to the next question, which is relevant to the current context. A lot of you are asking about virtual design thinking exercises. Colette asks, can we do a virtual design thinking exercise on Zoom or remote and how do you suggest we do it?
COE (14:13): There are a lot of different ways of doing design thinking. I'm just going to share three that a lot of teams I'm hearing of right now are using. There's a lot of different tools. I'm going to ask all of you out there today to share some of the tools that you are finding most useful in this moment for remote activities around design thinking. I'm going to share one for each of those three activities. One on inspiration, one on ideation, and one way of prototyping remote.
COE (14:39): So for inspiration, one of the key activities to do in real life is to do in-home interviews. With social distancing that is not a viable option for many of us, and so we love doing what we call Digital Diaries. Here's the thing though, I don't believe in just doing remote conversations. It’s great, but if you can do a Digital Diary, what the idea here is is you actually can get a more robust look into people's homes. Ask them to submit photos and videos of what's happening in their world, and then follow up with the conversation.
COE (15:13): So what's better with remote methods is you can actually get more diversity, you can reach more people. What's more challenging is you can't get the nuance of a conversation and the texture of being in someone's home and really understand their context, which is why I recommend going for a multimedia or a 360 view of what's happening in people's lives.
COE (15:35): For the second one, ideation, how can you do a remote brainstorm? I actually really love this. If you are in real life, in a lot of brainstorms I take the assumption of let's say you have a good question and you're getting people together to then generate ideas and usually share them in a shared space on a board of sticky notes. This can be done remote.
COE (15:56): There are a lot of amazing remote white space tools out there. What's even better about remote brainstorms is I find clustering and voting and coalescing can actually be a little bit easier. What's harder is the visuals. It's very hard to be visual when you're remote and it's also harder to manage the energy.
COE (16:16): So one of my tips there is to really think as the facilitator, how you prep, give pre-homework, have people think about it? And also design for the pacing, the energy of it.
COE (16:27): The last remote technique you can try is if you are prototyping. Prototyping is a challenge, remote or virtual, because so much of it is being in the space and being with materials. But here's one technique I can recommend, and it's called parallel prototyping. We've done this on different projects. We did this when we were doing Sesame Street apps, when three designers were in three different cities.
COE (16:48): So it starts with the same brief: here's the thing we're looking to prototype. You design a set of constraints. You give all the people the same templates, everyone does their own prototype design in parallel, and then you get together and share: here's what each of us came up with.
COE (17:06): The benefit of this is you actually get a really wonderful range. You see where people design the same thing, where people do a little nuance and make it different. What's harder about this is the synthesis time and how you make sense of those things. That usually ends up needing to be just one or two people who take it forward. So my tip for that is to think about bookending the activity. You really have to do a little bit more on the prep. People go off and do it and you have to do a little bit more at the end.
COE (17:34): So those are just some examples, and I would love to hear from all of you out there some of your favorite tools and techniques for supporting design thinking activities while remote.
COE (17:44): I'm going to move on. I have the next question as well Suz, but feel free to jump in.
SUZANNE (17:48): Yeah, go for it.
COE (17:50): Our next question comes from Kathy, and she would like to know what are some tips for idea generation and synthesis with large groups, say of 20 to 60 people? We talk a lot about how you design for group interactions in our course, Cultivating Creative Collaboration, but this question is specific to large groups.
COE (18:11): So, two moments. We always talk about how design thinking involves moments, and I can't but gesture here. Divergence, where you are going broad, and convergence, where you're looking to narrow in or make choices.
COE (18:24): So number one with any large group, you want to make sure you're framing it correctly. Let people know we are in a moment of divergence. We are not going to judge. Or we are in a moment of convergence. I want people to have opinions and to narrow us down.
COE (18:39): So when it comes to a large group, in a moment of divergence, I'm going to assume that it's probably a brainstorm activity. I'm going to assume you've got a great question and you're focusing the brainstorm. I'm going to assume that you're setting up the large group with the same brainstorm rules: deferred judgment, go wild with ideas, don't judge, don't vet anything out.
COE (19:03): But then as the facilitator, here's the thing, I don't actually support doing all brainstorms with a full group. I really believe that you need to do breakouts because it needs to be a conversation, and you need to enable more diverse voices to speak up, which you can't do in a large group.
COE (19:20): So here's what I recommend. I call it the together, apart, together. So use an icebreaker with the full room, whether you're live or whether you're online. Do an icebreaker that involves everyone. I can give some tips on that. And then you break out a maximum of ten people. I think seven is kind of a sweet spot. If it's in a room, put people in different tables. If it's virtual, there's even Zoom and different tools that have breakout functions at this point. And then you come back together and each team shares their top ideas.
COE (19:53): I'm going to just give one other example for the convergence moments. So how do you do a large group around synthesis? This one is one of my favorites actually, because we rely on the wisdom of the crowd and quite simply you want to ask everyone to vote in some way. Pick their top three ideas. Now here's where it gets fun is there's a lot of different ways of supporting voting, and I'm going to give you four examples.
COE (20:16): So one can quite simply be with stickers or just placing things on ideas in a room or online. People just select the things they like. Or vote with their feet. If you are in a space, you can set up the room in different zones and actually have a conversation. Have people move to the one you are most passionate about. Move to the ideas that feel most risky, but you're most excited about.
COE (20:43): Another one, and Suz has been with me when we've done this, is laser pointers. You can have an entire crowd of people each with a laser pointer point at different things in the room and it actually works really well.
COE (20:55): Another digital one that I like is there are digital polling tools or audience polling tools, where you can have every participant be on their phone or a device and have an aggregate of responses. So it really comes down to facilitator prep. Be ready to choreograph those motions. That's all I'm going to say on that. So thank you.
SUZANNE (21:21): Coe is the ultimate person for designing those crowd interactive moments. I've also seen her do things where literally in the middle of a large group presentation, she was mining the energy and knew we needed a little burst. So she had a doughnut eating contest in the middle of the presentation. It was fantastic.
SUZANNE (22:28): I'm going to move on to the next question from Eugene. He's saying, "How do you introduce design thinking to an organization that's never used it before?" A little more context. I work at a community college. We don't use any structured method to design solutions to various problems, so what happens is people just go to a meeting, random ideas are thrown around until one idea resonates with the leader. How do I introduce design thinking to an organization like this as a solution process? That is a great question.
“It's about prototyping instead of racing to solutions right away.”
Suzanne Gibbs Howard
SUZANNE (22:56): As with so many things, the answer all depends, but I think with Eugene, what you're already doing is the perfect place to start. You're thinking about what the needs are of your particular organization and how to align the benefits of design thinking in the right way. So what I'm hearing in the way you phrased your question is that with design thinking, you need an approach, you need a process that is a common language or thinking program that people at your community college can use so that you can collaborate with each other. I'll point you back to the article on why design thinking matters. There's great evidence in there.
SUZANNE (23:32): Then the next thing you do after you match the benefits of design thinking to the particular needs at hand is I suggest finding a relevant case study. There's so much information out there where you can find something that's close or directly involved in the part of the world in which you're working. You're lucky. I love community colleges and always want to support that world of education. I'll share one with you right now. Lakeland Community College is an organization that we've worked with really closely as IDEO and as IDEO U, and they're doing some amazing things both using design thinking with their students as well as with their staff to tackle problems that they need to solve.
SUZANNE (24:13): The third thing that I recommend that you do to introduce design thinking is something that David Kelly, our founder, calls double delivering. What needs to happen is that sometimes you need to move through the way things are normally done and at the same time work double time to squeak some parts of the design thinking process into the same program. This doesn't mean you have to do everything. This doesn't mean you have to work yourself to the bone, but pick a few things that you can squash in there to get some of those benefits in action. Oftentimes it might be one day of collecting information about what needs actually are on that challenge. Even a few hours often goes a long way. The other thing that often happens is it's about prototyping instead of racing to solutions right away. How do you prototype some pieces of that puzzle, get them out in front of people? With both of those, even if you spend one day on those processes or two people spend a couple of hours, you'll move it a bit further.
SUZANNE (25:15): I think the last thing to know is that it just takes time. It's a culture change process and so culture changes really, really slow.
SUZANNE (25:23): Building on top of Eugene's question, I'm going to go right into another one that is about change management from Helene. I can see that there, she has a question about there are many different models and approaches for change management in large organizations. Often many people or stakeholders are involved in the process, so how can we engage stakeholders and sponsors early on in the design of a change management approach? I can see other questions flying around about systems changes as well, which are really similar to organizations.
SUZANNE (25:58): My starting place here is that I'm pulling a lot of things from a course we have called Designing for Change. But one of the places that I start is that your usual approach to change management tackles things in a little bit more of a top down fashion. Usually there's some change that’s sought. It might come from executives or one group in the organization. Often what happens is they start to shift the organization. It seems obvious. You change the structures, you change the processes, you change the approaches, you might hire new roles, all incentives. All those kinds of things are great. They can cement the change in an organization. But the challenge with this approach is that you're not finding that intrinsic motivation and changing through the hearts and minds of the people inside of that organization. So when we use a human-centered or a design thinking approach to change an organization, we kind of flip that whole process upside down. So we start with people. We start with thinking about what people need and figuring out how to mobilize them.
SUZANNE (27:02): So a great example of this is we were doing a project once with a hospital. The hospital wanted to improve its scores and increase its fitness as a business as well. That wasn't the thing that was going to motivate the doctors and nurses and staff inside of that hospital. But what motivated them when we spent time with them is obvious in hindsight. It was better patient outcomes and serving patients and giving them an excellent experience in the hospital, including improving their health. And so we reframed the challenge in a way that mobilized the people there. We framed it as “How might we increase positive patient outcomes and satisfaction in this hospital?”
SUZANNE (27:43): So after mobilizing people, the second thing we do is we find the right place to start small. So often what happens in change management is that people want to go straight for the heart of the puzzle and go through all of the tough stuff. That's not the recommendation for where to start. It's about finding the place where the conditions are right and where you can make some tangible action and impact fastest. I'll share a bit more about that in the hospital example. I think once you have that impact, you move on to the third thing, which is you've done some small things, but you tell big stories and you let that example be a beacon of light for others that this is the way forward.
SUZANNE (28:22): So coming back to the hospital example, the right place to start small for them was actually in the postpartum care unit. It's one of the few places in a hospital that's generally happier than other places in the hospital because you have a new child. The conditions were right. The people in that part of the hospital were ready to work in a few different ways. We did some work there, helped them improve the postpartum care experience with better communications, helping people understand why and what they needed to do and how. This made everyone happier—the patients, the care providers—and so we told that story. The people in the hospital told that story relentlessly and that attracted many more people to trying this approach. Only from there, once we had a few examples of success, did we then start cementing that change within the organization, shifting the organization, shifting the processes, shifting the incentives. And so you can see in that example that it's just tackling it from people first, starting small, and then rippling those changes out through great storytelling. Great. I'll leave it there for today. I hope that helps many of you.
COE (29:34): That was great, Suz. I'm going to keep this moving. So the next question we have is from Eddie and this is around what are the biggest mistakes you see companies make when trying to implement design thinking? And this builds on what you were just talking about, Suz. Why does design thinking work wonders for some but fail to make an impact for others?
COE (29:53): So I'm just going to share four quick things. I was inspired by one of our portfolio directors, Joe Brown, who talks about innovation roadblocks. And so one challenge or one kind of mistake we see is people assume it's a linear process. If I just follow the steps in this sequence, I will get to that innovative solution every time, each time. So the solution to that and the mindset is to understand it's multiple iterations and always asking, “Are we asking the right question?”
COE (30:22): Another mistake we often see is, Suz's talked a lot about this, is disconnect between the aspiration—we want to be innovative, we want to be forward thinking—and the existing org culture. So for example, we worked with a large real estate and commercial equipment manufacturer who prides themselves in success in individual impact. And so they were overtly focused on individual success in a kind of stale way of thinking of it. People were scared to take risks. People were scared to do anything different. And so a solution is also going to be thinking about the rituals. What are the small things like she said? Start small. What are the small things you can do to start to nudge behaviors that make the conditions more ripe for people to prototype, to think creatively?
COE (31:15): The third mistake we often hear is people say, "But we know our customers already.” And in many cases, you do without a doubt. Many people know their core customers, but innovation is often around the edge cases or the nascent innovations—things that don't yet exist. For example, many automotive companies know their core customer of their existing cars. Nobody really understands the customers yet of self-driving cars. And so there's always new customer segments to understand, and there's always new entrants into the marketplace. So one solution you can think of is look to the extremes. Think about edge cases of your current customers and look at the disruptive competitors in your industry. What are they doing that is attracting new and different types of customers?
COE (32:04): And the last one I'll say is a common mistake we see, is lack of exploring options. Or people, tend go, "We already know what we need" or, "This idea is good. Let's just go." So they just start into this endless cycle of convergence. And so the solution there is to go for quantity and separate the idea generation moment from the evaluation moment. And so thank you. Thank you, Eddie for that question.
SUZANNE (32:32): Cool. Couple of quickies. Somebody had a follow on Gerald, I think it was. "What if leadership is not interested in empathy or the process?" This happens all the time. I think so many people who are passionate about practicing something like design thinking focus so much on selling the approach or facets of the approach. A lot of times business leaders don't want to hear it. What they want to hear are the business outcomes or the positive outcomes and the impacts, the return on investment and that approach. So I would just flip the way that you're trying to influence others. There's another one in here that I really like about, "In which industries is it more difficult to apply design thinking?" I think it depends. Yes there are industries, but it's as much about a corporate or an organizational culture. It's easier in an organization where there is more of a direct rationale for why you need to stay close to customers.
SUZANNE (33:28): It's harder when it's a corporate or an organizational culture where there's a lot of fear, a lot of culture of saying no, a lot of operational efficiencies and pride on a particular approach and doing it the way we've always done it. In those cases, I think it's just about looking at some of the internal benefits that I talked about earlier for new processes and approaches and also a larger story about why innovation is important in pretty much every company today because we all know the future's unpredictable as we're living in right now.
SUZANNE (34:05): Okay. With that, I'm going to dive back into some of the ones that we received before. One of the questions I have is, "What are the best practices for framing the right question that's not too prescriptive to be leading the witness but not too general to produce a non-actionable direction?" So, thank you Kurt for this question. Some great and simple tips here. When you're framing a great question for a design thinking challenge, I think of three things. You want to think about who you are designing for, who you're solving for. You want to think about what is their need or the impact that you want to have. And third, you want to make sure that as you were alluding to, you don't put the solution right into the question.
SUZANNE (34:45): So, an example here from also the last few weeks, this is currently on our OpenIDEO platform, which is an open innovation platform where we work on challenges. They were tackling something about communications in the COVID-19 outbreak. We could have said something like, “How might we create an app that gives directions on how to take care of your health during COVID-19?” That doesn't have a person in it, it's a little too concrete and specific in what we want to create, and it's really natural to do that when you're working on an urgent challenge and an urgent need. We also could have said, “How might we help people who are worried about COVID-19?” That's a little too all encompassing and also hard to gain traction in and not specific enough.
SUZANNE (35:33): Instead, how our team framed that challenge was “How might we rapidly inform and empower communities all around the world to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak?” It's got a specific group of people in it, it talks about a specific enough outcome, and it doesn't have the solution in there. We talk about the Goldilocks principle—not too big, not too small, but just right.
SUZANNE (35:56): So, that's a little bit on Kurt's question. I'll follow on and build on top of it with one from Alex who's asking, "What do you do when a client has a clue about what he needs but the clue is not quite enough? For example, they want to design a perfect tool for internal communication. Where do we start from? Is it good enough or should we create something better?" So, yes. Framing a great question is a part of this, but you also need to create a brief or just enough of how to move forward around that question.
SUZANNE (36:27): One of the things I always do is something that I call zooming out. You don't just want a question, you want to know a little bit more of the why behind the what. And so before even starting a project, I would be talking to the client and the stakeholders around them to understand what is going on, why is this important to them, what happened in the past that is making them want to tackle this, what are others doing that they are inspired by, what are others doing that makes them a little bit nervous? All those kinds of things. So you're capturing not just the question but the why, and then you're framing just enough of how you want to tackle this challenge.
SUZANNE (37:02): A couple of key things I would put in there. You want to align on who are the most important stakeholders. It's really important. When somebody is facing a big ambiguous challenge they want to please everybody all at once and that is just impossible. So you can list them all, but who's the number one, who's number two, and who's number three on that list?
“Many people know their core customers, but innovation is often around the edge cases.”
Coe Leta Stafford
SUZANNE (37:24): Another important thing to do is to align on the outcomes that you're driving toward. Often this is less about exactly what it is and what you think the solution is and more about at what level do you need to get your results to. Is it more about framing an area of opportunity, or at the other extreme, is it about something that's ready for implementation or the result actually implemented? Those are opposite ends and so you want to align on how far you believe you can take this challenge at that time with the resources you have. The last thing is to create a little bit of space for inspiration and ideation. Again, you don't need endless time. You just need a little bit.
COE (38:06): Peter asks a question, "Have you ever used design thinking with auditors or assessors or other fairly linear contexts? If so, what do you suggest?" So, IDEO's legal counsel, Rochael Adranly, is amazing and she did a podcast on this exact topic which is about bringing out the creativity in others, especially in industries that are highly regulated or linear. So, thank you Peter for that question.
COE (38:29): There’s a last one I want to get to, then I do want to hand it back to you, Suz. Someone also asks, "How do I get started building my portfolio? Or how do I start to build up my skills in design thinking?" So I want to get to that. Suz is going to end on that.
COE (38:43): We just wanted to acknowledge a final question, which was “How can design thinking help businesses that are suffering because of COVID-19?” And I so appreciate this question. We can't deny this is a significant moment for the entire globe. Right now we are in a state of extreme ambiguity. There's definitely no one tool, no one person that has the answer. There are two things we think about with regards to design thinking in this moment. One is extreme empathy. Now is the time for us to really be listening and observing and empathizing with the context that we are all in as a globe and especially at a local level.
COE (39:20): So, one thing I try to encourage everyone to do, and I do myself, is listening for what are the needs that I'm seeing in my community? What can I do to be a part of that? So, that's one. The other one we think about is the mindset of ambiguity actually can be an opportunity for creative thinking, and there is no time that is more ambiguous than right now. And with ambiguity comes opportunity for creative thinking. And we see this at large organizations like LVMH, which is a huge brand company that owns 75 brands, responded to Francis' request for hand sanitizer in 72 hours.
COE (40:01): We know there's startups happening. I heard of one in Spain called Nannyfy, and it's serving families in need of nannies at this moment. Back to the face mask and the DIY movement. You will laugh to know this people, but I'm a seamstress and this is my mask pattern that me and my family are going to be doing this weekend. So I think about what you can do on a local level. There's entire supply chains that are shifting and thinking creatively about how they can have impact right now. And so I just leave you with those thoughts of optimism. Now is a time to be empathetic and creative.
SUZANNE (40:39): So many people are asking us about, "How do I get my start if I'm somewhat educated in this, but I need to do more and I want to break through with that bias toward action?" What I always recommend to people is diving in and building out your portfolio of work. You need more practice, you need to apply it, and you need examples of stories that you can tell and there is no time like the present to volunteer, to step forward, to offer your services to others.
SUZANNE (41:06): It can be a couple of hours, it can be a couple of days, it can be a couple of weeks, but I think finding a challenge that's going on somewhere in the world where people are coming together, bringing that empathy, bringing that prototyping, and helping us all to get to better solutions is where I'll leave it. We appreciate you joining us and we will be back to you very soon.
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