Like many things in life, it’s a modern spin on an old maxim – not unlike design thinking itself. And at the time, it’s a quote which ironically has everything to do with design thinking.
Being a fairly old dog, I remember conducting strategic workshops at Burson-Marsteller in the mid-1990s before the words design thinking were common vocabulary. We led creative sessions to help Campbells re-think how it sold its traditional products for families to a new audience of singles, convince home cooks to try McCormick’s spices in dishes they’d never considered trying, or reposition the conversation between AstraZeneca and caregivers of people suffering from schizophrenia about their latest drug research and indications.
No, our sessions weren’t geared to the noblest aspirations of design thinking, such as creating ideas to help people access clean water or keep newborns alive in freezing temperatures. But looking back, it’s one of the things that continues to excite me about design thinking. Its relevance can be applied in hundreds of different ways, to all sorts of industries and businesses.
But, if there’s one design thinking principle that sets it apart from other business philosophies – and consistently trips people up as they try to apply it to their business – it’s inversely linked to the quote from Beaches.
It’s not about you.
From the beginning, true design thinking demands empathy for the end user. It’s not about how many widgets you can sell to unsuspecting consumers, it’s learning to ask:
Enough about us. What can we do for you?
Once the organisation defines (and perhaps re-frames) its central problem, the process of design thinking begins with understanding and being empathetic with the consumer. Campbells bravely allowed themselves to stop talking about how fantastic it soups were and instead ask single women how and why they ate lunch at their desk. McCormick stopping flogging turmeric and cardamon long enough to listen to home chefs about their cooking fantasies. AstraZeneca brought together caregivers to better understand the physical and emotional hell they live every day instead of telling these same people about their contributions to schizophrenia research.
They left behind their bias.
They put away their corporate marketing messages.
They looked past the research which detailed what consumers said they’d do, and experienced first-hand what consumers do.
My job as facilitator was most rewarding when I saw a client stopped being a client for a moment, and became a person who listened to and shared stories with their customer about how complex life is.
In turn, we worked together – the consumer, the client team, our creative directors – to look at business problems in a new way. Even today, we still employ many of the same creative techniques that stretch from simple art supplies to modern technology.
We create storyboards. We make videos of how customers behave in their homes. We use our smartphones to think visually about our problems. We pin-up photos in mood boards to uncover the nodes and links of the customer’s life.
Once we stop thinking about ourselves, I never cease to be amazed as how the ideas grow from the patterns we uncover in consumer behaviour. (How obvious it seems now in hindsight!)
For MasterCard, our team created the history of money in pictures ripped from magazines. For Knoll, we built the office of the future from cheap art supplies. For Caltex, we developed a massive board game to understand how its employees lived the brand positioning in every daily interaction internally and externally.
But enough about me! What can design thinking do for you?
My workshops are produced by generous support of the Australian Institute of Management, with more than 20 dates scheduled throughout 2018 in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Or, contact me directly how we can create either a training workshop for your staff or brainstorm how to implement your own program in-house.
If you’re interested, please check out other posts related to Design Thinking by clicking here.