I am now on the fifth week of my Design Thinking course being run online by Dr Jeanne Liedtka. She summed up with some great advice for implementing design thinking:
Pick the right challenge. Figure out who in the organisation cares about the problem you are thinking about. Pick a problem with urgency behind it. Frame your goals so they gel with what the organisation cares about.
Think small. It’s easier to start small and scale over time that start big and risk a big failure
Select and manage your team carefully. Diversity is the key. What you are after is collective wisdom and the more points of view you have, the better. You need all kinds of people – you need starters and you need finishers.
Manage your momentum. Speed is the number one momentum builder. Momentum runs on emotional highs. Speed doesn’t mean rushing a solution to the market before it is ready. What you are after is speed of learning – shortening the cycle times.
Be ready to ride the roller coaster of emotion (see above)
After all that, how can you tell if you have succeeded in creating a successful design thinking organisation? This was her answer…..
How to tell in design thinking has taken hold in your organisation
People talking about envisioning new possibilities together
Still debating their individual recommendations
Listening to understand other people’s perspectives and build on them
Listening for weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments
Sharing deep primary data gathered from those they wish to serve and mining this for new insights together
Compiling web-based surveys that reveal only superficial attitudes and opinions
Spending time in meetings figuring out how to start small and learn as they go
Trying to create the perfect plan before any action can be taken
Talking about designing marketplace experiments
Arguing theory in conference rooms
Actively searching for disconfirming data
Latching on to whatever data points supports their point of view
Large organisations find it so hard to innovate, according to Dr. Jeanne M. Liedtka, because of the “physics of growth”. Dr Liedtka, who is currently running an MOOC on Design Thinking which I am taking, says there are critical differences in the way VCs and large corporates approach innovation. VCs understand that their ability to predict success is poor (success rates of one or two ventures in 10 are typical). Therefore they adopt some key practices to improve their odds:
Betting heavily on individuals with good experience of both success and failure
Keeping bets small and affordable until they have better data
Making sure if they don’t succeed that they fail quickly
In contrast large organisations are optimised for execution. This means, she says, they love big ideas which makes sense from their perspective: focus and control are key and concentrating on one or two big things is much easier than on many small things.
But there are some terrible side-effects with this approach when in comes to encouraging genuine innovation:
Big ideas, by their nature, tend to have been found by other competitors already
Customers are terrible at envisioning things which don’t exist
“If you insist on home runs you won’t get many singles, let alone home runs”
When the ratio of resources invested gets too far ahead of knowledge possessed “bad things happen”
All of this discourages learning in managers – and learning is the key mindset for innovation. After all, she says, you don’t learn to juggle with flaming torches but with bean bags!
Large companies also thrive on analysis. But we don’t have enough data on genuinely new things to do any coherent analysis on. When managers are challenged to support a new big idea with past data the temptation is to make it up.
All this leads, she says, to trapped managers in a kind of growth gridlock.
The chart below summarises the two approaches. “Geoff’s” cycle (the VC or entrepreneur perspective) starts from an open mindset and is strong on varied experience and customer empathy – which means being deeply interested in the lives of customers are people.
In contrast “George’s” cycle (the large corporate perspective) starts from a fixed mindset (aka deep expertise which is so successful in an execution setting) and relies on customer data. You can read the results for yourselves.
This is one of the best descriptions of the fundamental mechanics of the innovation process that I have yet seen. The good news, according the Dr Liedtka, is that all of this can be taught and there are many examples of large corporates making innovation work in exactly this way. I’m looking forward to the rest of the syllabus.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was quoted on the BBC today saying that traditional bricks and mortar universities would lose out if they didn’t find a convincing way to respond to the new wave of online courses (sometimes called MOOCs – massive online open courses).
“The really interesting challenge for big-brand universities is whether they are going to move into that space. If we thought of universities as normal businesses we would say, ‘Will they be able to adapt to the PC revolution?’ It’s that kind of question. Will Harvard or MIT, Oxford or Cambridge, be able to adapt? Or will Microsoft come out of nowhere? “It’s going to be really fascinating to see it unfold.”
I must say I have been having very similar thoughts. A few weeks ago I signed up for an MOOC being hosted by Coursera and organised by Dan Ariely of Duke University. The course, on behavioural economics, is a real eye opener. It is six weeks long (I’m just entering the sixth and final week) and involves video lectures, in-video quizzes, recommended and compulsory reading assignments, reading quizzes and a writing assignment. There are also guest lecturer appearances on video (with some lecturers from some pretty impressive institutions) and a comprehensive set of forums where the thousands of participants can ask questions and offer mutual support.
Flickr picture courtesy missy and the universe
Other innovations which I thought really interesting were the weekly session with Dan Ariely (one hour long video q&a) where he answered questions submitted by the students, and the chance to participate in behavioural experiments – either through questionnaires or in one case an interactive online person to person version of the Ultimatum Game where I was matched at random with another fellow student. So far, I have found it extremely rich and rewarding. It isn’t the same as a university experience, obviously, and the one clear disadvantage of MOOCs is their lack of ability to award credible qualifications which would (currently?) be acceptable to employers. However, this may change and in the future employers may actually be more impressed by self-motivated self-learners who accumulate credits from this kind of offering, perhaps even valuing them more than qualifications from at least some more conventional universities – who knows. However, I agree with Jimmy Wales that, based on my limited experience, the universities are going to have to adopt at least some of these techniques if they are not to be challenged by new players with much more powerful and relevant learning experiences.