I’ve notice a very intriguing difference between organizations that are driving the marketplace and those that are just participants.  The drivers spend less time trying to hang on to their trade secrets and more time looking for new ways to meet consumer needs.

Here’s an example.  

The Stanford d.school is arguably the world leader in design thinking education.  They have incredible programs that educate undergraduate and graduate students, executives from around the world, and K-12 teachers and administrators.  When asked what they thought of the plethora of other schools teaching design thinking (Rotman, Chicago Institute of Design, MIT Media Lab, list goes on…) their response was, “AWESOME!  The more educators and practitioners, the faster it will grow, the more we will learn, and the more impact we will have collectively.”

Now, compare that response to what you would typically hear from an organization if they heard that competitors were saturating the market for their product.  If all of these schools are taking the d.school’s “consumers” then the d.school looses market share.  This should cause concern, right?

Well, no, not for those leading the pack.  Their mental energy is focused more on future innovations rather than hanging on to what has already been introduced to the market. 

That leaves me wondering how organizations can make the cultural shift away from the fear of competitors and toward the creation of new products, services and business models.

I am amazed by how small shifts in behavior can make a powerful impact. Consider the common “lessons learned” meeting. A cadre of team members get together for an extended debrief to determine what to keep, change, add and delete. Someone captures the notes and sends them to the team. Next time around you agree to consider the feedback. Sound familiar?

One of the tenents of design thinking is rapid prototyping. Prototyping doesn’t just apply to your products, services or process innovations. It also applies to your team. Why wait until the end of a project to identify adjustments? What if you took time regularly throughout a project to share thoughts?

At the d.school, we use a method called I like/ I wish/ How to. It is a format that can be used with almost any sized group. The group sits in a circle and participants call out headlines (NO lengthly monologues). When first using with a team, listen to all comments without responding. This builds trust and sends the message that it is safe to make any comment. When done properly, you will notice a juxtaposition of optimism and critique that feels good.

The discussion might start something like this:
I like how we broke into small groups.
I wish the materials had participant contact info.
I wonder how to raise the energy level at the beginning.

Using IL/IW/H2 is a way of bring the team back to a place of intimacy (yes, I used the “I” word). Equally important, it allows you to make immediate changes to your project, iterating on the fly.

As design thinkers, we have one powerful value in common: empathy.  That’s not to say that we are good at it or that it comes easily.  The problems we solve are rarely our own so we’ve practiced the lost art of getting to know the user to the point of emotional resonance.  

We sit at the airport watching how people move, react and engage. We approach strangers with a child-like curiosity asking questions that get personal, fast.  Their behaviors give us clues to how they think and feel.  The stories they tell are like threads of a sweater, each with the potential to take on a life of their own.  Engaging with people directly offers insight that you cannot get with any other type of data analysis.

What if Henry Ford had relied on surveys and quantitative data to ideate transportation of the future?  Ford is known for saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”.  Understanding a problem with deep empathy is what drives real innovation.

Don’t feel comfortable doing it?  Don’t feel comfortable approaching strangers?  Then really geek out and spend an afternoon practicing.  Go to a coffee shop and interview a few people.  Tell them that you are doing a research project (which you are, sort of) and ask if the have a minute to answer a few questions.  When you find someone, keep asking questions until you uncover emotion – then, pull that “string.”

If you are having a hard time getting started ask questions about extremes:
Tell me about the first time you remember being in a coffee shop.
What is the best service you have experienced, anywhere?
Tell me about the last time you ordered a new coffee drink that you had never tried before.

Some people will turn you away.  Most will be delighted to talk with you.  The same is true for your customers; they are hungry to tell their stories.  Your willing and hopefully passionate desire to know your customer is your company’s most valuable asset.  Though, they might not know it yet.

Imagine that you are watching your favorite play for the first time. You are sitting on the edge of your seat; a razor sharp focus pulls you along, teasing your imagination. Senses are sharpened, emotion heightened. You feel like you might see a glimpse of the conclusion but you have to allow it to play itself out before you know how it will end.

This emotion is similar to what you might feel in a well coached design challenge. There exists this delicate balance between ambiguity and decisiveness. The team must be able to trust that there are moments when the process calls for focus (decision-making) and other times that call for flair (data gathering). It can fell like the team is spinning their wheels and not making progress. In empathy it can feel like you getting meaningless data. In define you might think your point of view is weak. In ideate it might feel like your ideas stink and are going nowhere. In prototype you might realize that you are totally on the wrong track. And test, well, that might turn you 180 degrees.

As the coach, remember that there is an inverse relationship between ambiguity and emotional state. When people feel good, ambiguity is low. When they feel like crap, ambiguity is high. Knowing to expect this dynamic helps to alleviate these natural highs and lows.

With design challenges we don’t set out to solve the easy problems. Our problems are the ones that others can’t or don’t want. Trust that when you address a problem by feeling true empathy for the users, the play will invariable result in something wonderful and delightful and absolutely surprising.

So, ask for your team’s trust. Recognize that it may feel uncomfortable. And know that, in the end, the worst thing that can happen is that you know your customer a little better. At best, you’ve designed something that will make their lives better.
Happy d.thinking!

I am reading Onward by Howard Schultz and it leaves me asking a lot of questions about leadership, specifically when bringing the principles of design thinking (DT) into an organization.  It seems that there are three company cultural categories that most organizations fall into (allow me to oversimplify here).  These cultures, more than anything else, influence one’s ability to be a good DT leader within an organization.

The fear-based and ego driven culture: 

  • Taking risk can often become career limiting. 
  • An attempt to create cross organization design teams fails because one must instead focus only on their own job and their own results.
  • Game changing ideas are replaced with incremental improvements and the beauty of the DT process quickly loses its shine.

The goal-based and knowledge driven culture:

  • The obsession with quantitative data ends up taking precedence over ethnography and qualitative insights.
  • Decisions are made and courses set based on hard facts.  Moving forward with the ideas that will delight consumers becomes more difficult as you don’t have data to support an idea that has never been tried before and the stewards of your financial statements want data.

The entrepreneurial-based and customer driven culture:

  • These companies probably already use the concepts of DT.
  • The customer is at the center of decisions made, projects launched, products developed.
  • Employees are happy, engaged and exceptional brand advocates.

It is the companies that fall into the first two categories that would most benefit from DT.  Yet, the DT leader becomes a fish swimming upstream in a river where they probably aren’t wanted.  This person must have a thick skin, willingness not to accept status quo, be passionate, willing to take risk and willing to fail.  This person must act like an entrepreneur within a company that may not value or reward those characteristics. 

Howard Schultz came back to a Starbucks that slipped into the goal-based and knowledge driven culture.  Yet, Howard’s passion for his product and for his customers (in conjunction with his level of leadership) was enough to turn Starbucks back in to an entrepreneurial-based and customer driven powerhouse. 

The lesson: as a DT leader you  must have passion for your product, have a certain level of leadership, have tenacity, and skin thick enough to pull you through some pretty deep set beliefs.

You’ve done the research, identified potential solutions, vetted them with consumers, now what?  How do you know which of your ideas are worthy of implementation and how much consumers are willing to pay for each service?  An even messier question; how does the value of your brand factor into that price?

You can answer these questions by using two tools; conjoint analysis and conjoint choice simulation.  Let me start with a disclaimer though.  There are people whose sole focus it is to do this analysis.  Unless data analysis really lights your fire, I would suggest finding someone from your company (or an external resource) to help or be a part of your project team from the beginning.

Conjoint Analysis
This analysis is used to determine how much worth a potential customer places on each of your product (or service) features.  It also determines what combination of features is most desirable.  You can do this either in person (most accurate) or through an online survey (still pretty good).  For example, let’s say you are developing a new bike pump and are considering four features (price, size, total time to inflate, and brand).  Within each of those features there could be three possible levels ($5, $10, $30 and so on).  That leaves you with 81 possible combinations.  This process allows you to analyze a subset of those possible combinations (say, just 18) and then interpolate the results across all 81.

The analysis also allows you to identify the “worth” of each factor.  You can add different combinations of those factors together to identify the total worth for different variations.  If you include brand in your analysis you can analyze how your brand may factor into pricing.

There are a couple rules.

  • It usually doesn’t work with more than six features.
  • You must have at least 200-300 respondents (unless your population itself is small)
  • Make sure you are sampling those you want to be customers, not just current customers
  • It doesn’t work if the product class is so radically new that customers don’t even know how they may use the product

Conjoint Choice Simulation
The output from your conjoint analysis resulted in knowing the part-worth of each of your features.  You can then use those results to determine the likely performance of a product with feature set XYZ.  You do this by defining multiple scenarios  (selected based on your conjoint analysis).  Each new product is defined by its attribute values.  Compute the customer’s total value for each product based on its features.  Customers will choose the product what has the highest value.

Both of these methods are snapshot analyses.  They represent this moment and time.  The values will likely change over time because of environmental factors (price may become a bigger factor in a recession, brand may become a great factor if there is a recall on another product.

More resources:
Book:  Getting Started with Conjoint Analysis
Software: Sawthoothsoftward.com

Primary Features:

  • Surprise upgrade at the gate creating a ‘pay-it-forward’ atmosphere for JetBlue customers

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