Many of today's greatest business challenges are unprecedented. Never seen before. And quite frankly, some of them are downright weird. So what do you do when there is no magic toolbox to reach into, no support line to call, no book to teach you and your previous education or training is obsolete? How should you face extreme uncertainty or ambiguity?
You use Design Thinking. Above all else, design thinking is a mindset; a framework. It reflects a way of viewing oneself within one’s environment, a perceived role and a relationship with the systems of which we are an inseparable part. And here are 5 strategies for you to put Design Thinking to work for you today to problem solve:
1) View Challenges as Opportunities to Learn in the most Creative of Ways
Many people think of themselves as being the non-creative type, but the reality is we all possess the ability to tap into our uniqueness to be creative. And while this comes easier for some than others, what generally sets the 'creatives' apart from the 'non-creatives' is the ability to venture beyond the comfort of 'acceptance' or 'normal'. Once you learn to accept that your idea(s) may not be that popular with some, and how to frame your ideas in ways that others can see the benefit of the solution for themselves (What’s In It For Me), you will start to uncover your very own treasures of creativity.
2) Use a Design Framework
What's nice about using a design process is that you are essentially following a 'recipe', and if any of you are like me, then you find comfort in following a pattern your first time out the gate. And as you get more comfortable in the approach, you'll soon learn that there is no absolute 'right' way to do it, and how adding your own 'twist' can make the difference between your outcomes being Great vs Good. So it's important that you follow a framework, understanding what is working for you vs not, and adjust as needed.
3) Embrace 'Iteration'. 'Progress' over 'Perfect'
Failure can actually be a Good thing (in experimentation). In many of my earlier consulting engagements the culture portrayed failure as such a bad thing. "How dare you not be right, from the beginning, every time, all the time?" Blah blah blah. And I've seen this create analysis paralysis in many great thinkers. In Design Thinking it’s about just that- finding out what doesn't work/what you don't want, celebrating the fact that you can eliminate that (failure), and move on in your discovery. Plan to fail, but try to fail fast, to keep cost and effort to a minimum.
Validated Learning is an important part of reaching your desired outcomes, make assumptions about reaching your goals, then validate them! Just as a sculptor takes many passes over his/her work... tweaking and adjusting, you too must work through cycles, receive valuable feedback from your efforts, and improve. What's working, what's not?
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” - Robert F. Kennedy
4) Balance between Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking
In the early stages of your process allow for divergent thinking: exploring a wide range of possible solutions to your problem. As you cycle through each iteration of the design process cycle, you will begin narrowing down these many possibilities and making decisions on which elements to include in your designs (convergent thinking). As the learning from each cycle informs the early stages of the next, there is an increase in divergent thinking once again (to a lesser degree than in the previous cycle) and another move towards convergence. Rinse and Repeat.
We can see how this is a process of narrowing down possibilities, making decisions, and acting on those decisions to create solutions. Being aware of this pattern can help us balance these two ways of thinking in a productive manner. On one end, we must not get stuck in the dream-world of divergent thinking where nothing ever happens and on the other, we must not get stuck in a static vision of what we think we need, disregarding other possibilities.
5) Be Thoughtful about your Solution
A great solution is designed with careful consideration of others' needs. What is their persona? How will they interact with this solution? Engage early and often to get as close as you can to your targets' views, biases, their jargon, their basic needs. Quantify and qualify their needs as best you can.
Embracing Design Thinking is fundamentally about transforming your relationship with your environment, to recognize potential solutions to unprecedented problems, incrementally. It's about looping your findings back into your work to offer less prescriptive solutions. Often, the target that we start with in problem-solving, is not where we land. The goal is to offer 'thoughtful solutions' that are tailored to the end-users needs. Happy Problem Solving!
Kendall Flagg is a tech enthusiast, helping businesses to achieve rapid innovation, turning ideas and strategies into technology solutions. He is passionate about working in underserved communities to help bridge the digital divide. And in his spare time between Atlanta, New York City, and Portland Oregon, he enjoys leisure travel, family time, gardening, and experimenting on his Big Green Egg.