I was fortunate enough to be able to attend TEDx Sydney 2014 last Saturday and participate in a number of innovation exercise that were organized during the breaks. In doing so, I became aware that, while most of the participants were advocates of innovation per se, many were not particularly familiar with one of its key facilitators – Design Thinking.
Design Thinking provides a simple framework for contextualizing a problem, generating a wealth of ideas related to the problem and then converging on a worthwhile solution or improvement by ‘connecting the dots’ and implementing those ideas that provide the best ROI whilst provisioning for learning and adaptation along the way.
Typically there are between four and seven key steps and they start with gaining an understanding of the context, empathizing and building an overall situational awareness of the problem space. This is critical as it is focused on asking the right questions to seed the next stage with a clear audience, problem statement and definition of success.
Depending on the nature of the problem, there is often an investigative step that comes next; although this may be combined with either the preceding or subsequent step. Its purpose is to review assumptions, opinions and lessons learned from similar endeavours and so flesh out the constraints and opportunities.
The next step is where divergent thinking happens. This exploration step is driven by quantity over quality. The premise is to generate as many ideas as possible reflecting both problem and solution spaces without judgement or prejudice. Key to this practice is the realization that, normally, there is a kind of chain reaction with derivative ideas often emerging from unexpected sources. Now is not the time to exclude any possibility no matter how wacky (something that many people seem to struggle with as they are naturally drawn to critique or pre-empt the next phase).
The next logical step is one of convergence. This is where we ‘connect the dots’ and refine the solution options. It is also the place to start creating prototypes of various solutions to enable the collection of feedback from as diverse a group as possible and especially the end-user and customer (who are not necessarily the same!) - of course, this is true of the earlier steps as well. It is important to recognize that prototypes can be anything from hand-sketches to wire-frames to physical mock-ups; whatever makes sense in your context.
Once the leading candidates have been honed, the most powerful ideas need to be selected for implementation. Some form of objective scoring system should be adopted for this to avoid emotion or personal attachment. The simplest can be based on a consideration of Relative Advantage vs Implementation Difficulty (which in itself is a combination of complexity, compatibility, ease of ‘try-before-you-buy’ and how easily success can be both measured and communicated – Everett Rogers).
The remaining steps focus on implementation and adaptation to what is learnt along the way. With this in mind, the implementation stage(s) should be designed to be iterative with the principles of the earlier stages (discussed above) being reused to continually guide an evolutionary process.
Orientate – Explore – Refine – Implement – Learn (and Adapt)