In a volatile world, organisations have to keep innovating to stay relevant to their customers.
That sounds simple enough on paper, but actually embedding innovative ways of working into your business model is no small undertaking. It requires time to learn a new approach, support from senior leadership to apply it, and, long term, a culture shift that sees an innovative mindset become the norm.
For the last five years, David Henderson, Chief Technology Officer at media and entertainment group Global, has taken a new cohort of employees through the Møller Institute’s design thinking programme. We teach groups how to develop a deeper understanding of their customers and create innovations they will value.
David says that adopting design thinking has contributed to a multitude of positive outcomes for Global.
“We’ve nurtured and developed our innovative culture and we’re better at solving problems. We prototype better now than we did five years ago. That’s undeniable,” David says. “Global has experienced a rapid acceleration in its technology capability and products, from its pioneering digital advertising exchange DAX to Global Player, and design thinking has played a part.
“It isn’t a simple linear process where you learn a technique, use it and then all your problems are solved. You need to have repetition and build up muscle memory and then, over a period of time, you realise that you have embedded an enduring change.
“We have gone from solving problems in broadcasting to a large but indirect audience relationship to solving complex user-centric problems where we get direct feedback from our audience who interact with our digital products at scale.
“It’s been about shifting from seeing a problem, getting the requirements and building a solution, to stepping back, really understanding the issue, working in partnership with colleagues, and thinking about different ways we can tackle it,” he says.
Learning design thinking skills is one thing, but taking them back to the office and using them in a busy, competitive working environment is another. Leaders have a vital role to play in giving teams confidence to put their design skills into practice.
“It’s about giving people permission to try it out, with no fear of failure and encouraging them. Sometimes I have to reassure them it’s fine to present hand drawn protoypes as long as it conveys the idea,” David says.
One of the key skills design thinking teaches us is the value of incorporating lots of different people’s perspectives and experiences when tackling a problem. Whether you want to work out how to make an existing offer better or develop something entirely new, your ideas will be so much better informed if you look beyond your immediate circle.
“It was a challenge at first to get colleagues in other departments to understand their role in the process of thinking through the problem but using post-it notes and scribbling down prototypes on a scrap of paper is a great leveler. You don’t need to be technically minded to express a problem-solving idea. Adopting design thinking forces you to run your brainstorm with people at different levels with different experiences and backgrounds, and then you get richer solutions.”
Design thinking skills are most effective when they’re incorporated into organisations’ everyday ways of working. Innovation shouldn’t be something that teams do at set times, but rather as part of their business as usual, as more than anything else it’s about adapting to change and remaining relevant.
David says that, for his team, the key is to focus on what design thinking helps them do: solve problems better.
“We think about what’s next for a particular feature – what’s the feedback from the app store telling us, what are customer complaints telling us, what does behavioural data about our listeners say, what might it mean, and how might we address it.
“Using design thinking is useful because it enables us to make sure we focus resources on the projects we’ve got most confidence in and bring them to market quickly.”
Truly game changing ideas are most likely to come about when teams feel empowered to dig deeper into a problem, find out what customers really care about, and take ownership of the results.
“I see my team more motivated when they have figured the solution out for themselves. The design thinking process has given the team a framework to develop ideas and potential solutions and gives them tools to communicate with senior stakeholders. One of the biggest benefits is a more curious team that ask how might we solve the problem at hand together with a more collaborative culture.
“It’s the difference between order takers versus order shapers; building what you are asked to is easy, building the right thing that users need, that is tricky.”