Design Thinking, a talk by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO

Think more broadly about how you can use Design Thinking for your business.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Western Railway, didn’t just think about getting passengers form one place to another. He envisioned a one-stop transportation system between trains & boats. A great example of the application of design thinking.

We grow up learning to think Convergently  – to take the best choice out of an available set of options, then converge on that choice and execute from there. Design thinking encourages us to think Divergently  – to create new choices that hasn’t existed before, and then apply those.

We also spend a lot of time thinking Analytically, where we pull apart a problem, and solve one piece of it at a time, and then put it back together. Design thinking trains us to think Integratively – to hold multiple tensions in your head at one time and solve for them altogether.

Classic tensions we deal with are:

  • Desirability – What meets the needs of the people we’re designing for
  • Feasibility – What we can do with technology to make that possible
  • Viability- What makes it a sustainable business solution

We need to find ways of thinking about all of those at the same time.

Focus on people

Instead of starting with technology, start with what your user needs – you can figure out the rest afterwards.

Example 1 – A self heating bottle startup made it simpler for mothers to feed their babies, but they realized that they weren’t communicating the idea in the language mothers wanted to hear, i.e comfort and reassurance. In this case, they needed to understand mothers well enough to be able to express their idea to their customers.

Example 2 –  Shopwell, a web service that helps users buy food that better meets their health needs. Their initial idea targeted vegetarians & other people who already know they need to care about their food, but after their launch they realized the users that most resonated with them were those who were *just* diagnosed with something, and they needed to move to a new “normal”, e.g. they just got pregnant and needed to take better care of themselves, or they got diagnosed with diabetes. So that led to new features, e.g. the ability to take a normal shopping list and “trade up” to something that better suits their new health needs.

Prototype fast

Go from thinking of what to build, to building in order to think.

Prototyping speeds up the innovation process. The faster you put something in the real world, the faster you learn about the quality of the idea, the faster you improve it, and the faster you get to the point where it ultimately works. A lot of big companies and industries do this extremely slowly – so here’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to disrupt this.

Example 3Baxsano, a startup that makes tools that make back surgery faster and more accurate that existing products, went through a hyperrapid 7-week prototyping process, working directly with surgeons. This resulted in it being used in an actual surgery merely 8 months later, which is years shorter than what big companies achieved through their development process.

Michael notes: Baxano filed for bankruptcy in end 2014 and was acquired by TranS1. There’s probably a lot of additional lessons to be learnt there – go ask Google.

Start movements

Today, telling stories isn’t enough. You need to create movements – real passionate involvement in the things we create.

Example 4 – IDEO launched a challenge towards Jamie Oliver’s TED prize based around the idea of making food more accessible to Americans. IDEO ran it on their website, and they got a ton of ideas from other people, and his team evaluated these ideas and narrowed it down to a smaller set. 100 days, 166 countries, 7500 participants, 200 concepts, 17 shortlisted ideas – some of which Jamie Oliver’s team is now implementing.

Enable participation

Get people to move from simply consuming, to participating in what we actually care about. How do we create meaningful, participative experiences that we can build value from? Move from the “creative economy”, which is more of an elitist thing where creative people do stuff, to the “creator economy” where everybody does small creative acts, i.e. participating in the creation of value for yourself or somebody else.

Example 5Ganette, a company in the dying newspaper industry, moved towards citizen journalism as an alternative revenue source, and has seen positive impact. This is made possible with participation of people into their idea.

Cultivate collaboration

More and more, we are working in teams today, and need to think of ways to improve collaboration.

Some things discourage collaboration, i.e. Fear. For instance, if you were on top of a half-built skyscraper, you’d only think about not dying and not falling. How do we create situations where people are willing to explore without the fear of failure?

P.S. – Great parenting is where you allow your kid to explore, where the cost of failing is very low, but the learning that comes from failures is often very great).

Companies that rely on creativity to be successful (Google, Pixar) go to great lengths to create environments where playfulness and trust is part of the culture.

Example 6 – Lars Hinrichs, founder of HackFwd, used the design process in every part of setting up the company, even the legal agreements that enabled people to understand the agreements without having to resort to a lawyer (he called it The Geek Agreement)

Michael notes: HackFwd also shut down. Read more: 10 Big Lessons From HackFwd

Ask the right questions

Whenever you’re thinking about tackling a problem, give a lot more thought to the questions you’re asking, than you might normally do now. For instance, instead of asking questions around your products and services, ask questions about your organization, your business model, your culture, how you communicate and tell stories, etc.

In summary

  1. Focus on people.
  2. Build prototypes fast.
  3. Start movements, not just stories.
  4. Enable participation.
  5. Cultivate collaboration in your own organization and between organisations.
  6. Ask the right questions.

Think about this in a holistic way. And in order to get the most out of design thinking…

Design Everything.



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