Design Thinking: The Root of Innovation

If it is true that hard times are the best moments to go back to the true meaning of things, probably this challenging period can be useful to remind ourselves of why we do what we do. Although this sounds like a cliche introduction to the latest motivation bestseller, in reality it should be the motto of every innovator. We usually hear about Digital Transformation, IoT, Big Data as fancy names linked to the idea of innovation, but this can lead us to forget about a crucial point. Simon Sinek in his book ‘Starting with why’ (if you don’t know him, I would suggest you to watch one of his TED or read one of his books) argues that to innovate we do not have to start from WHAT we do, but from WHY we do it. Translated, it means that innovation is not about solutions but about the problems we want to solve. According to this approach, technologies cannot be considered as the core of the innovation process, but only as its result.

According to many authors, we are heading towards a future where the market will be able to satisfy all our material needs and consumers will increasingly demand more ways to satisfy emotional needs too. What is different is that emotions to be satisfied need complex experiences, not only a single product or service. The shift of the focus from products to products’ experiences requires a radical change in the approach. To innovate it will be necessary to be more and more focused on the problems that people will experience and on how they feel about it (That is WHY and not WHAT). Dealing with emotions can be very difficult. However, if we look at the magic deck of innovation tools, we can find a very useful technique that has spread recently among many innovation teams. Its name is Design Thinking (DT) and no, it has nothing to do with furniture or clothes. It is a team-based approach focused on end-user’s experience and it can be summed up with three concepts: Empathy, Rapid Prototyping and Diversity.

Empathy. DT usually starts with the creation of a ‘persona’ that allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the end-user. Moreover, sometimes DT tools require the participation in the innovation team of those end-users that are experiencing the problem. This can be very useful to avoid our perception bias and it can be beneficial for a better understanding of the problem. 

Prototype. Design Thinking is based on the creation of a “rapid prototype”. The greatest innovators taught us that innovation comes with the ability of stepping back and the willingness to question the project in any moment. That is because innovation is an iterative process and not a linear one. Rapid prototyping allows you to avoid wasting your time in the creation of complex and refined projects. Working with something that cannot be labelled as ‘finished’ can be encouraging for your team to keep improving your idea. 

Diversity. The more your team is diverse, the more DT works. That is linked again with the idea of empathy. Diversity means different points of view and different past experiences. Yes, we like sudden breakthroughs that changed the course of humanity, but most of the time innovation comes from the recombination of something already existing. Having in your team many different people can be useful to put together different knowledge to create something new.

As I said before, innovation means solving a problem,  which in turn means to help people. Technologies can be very useful, but they cannot be the starting point. Innovators must get their hands dirty with problems and then use technologies to clean up. To do so, Design Thinking can be a great ally to remind us that at the core of innovation there are people, and not the solutions we create.

Lorenzo Zanutto 

Check out Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk here:

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