Design thinking has often been touted as the silver bullet for every kind of business problem. And therein lies the fallacy. In order to understand why it hasn’t worked for some of us, we need to examine some of the misleading claims about its application and methodology.
But first, let us look at some of the aspects that are common to all design thinking models out there (including the famous IDEO definition by Tim Brown):
- All models require sequential divergence and convergence of thought and ideas in order to identify problem and solution spaces
- It is an iterative process that helps you reframe the problem and iteratively arrive at a solution
- It requires both left and right brained approach, as creative thinking is an integral part of a design solution
- It is human-centric, in which it places the human at the heart of the approach and solution
While a lot of marketing heads do take the above four into account when planning their design-thinking approach, what they fail to include are some crucial aspects at the stage of deployment that make all the difference between the success and failure of the attempt. Given below are some of the most common reasons why design thinking approach fails:
- It requires an excellent facilitator who can effectively moderate the brainstorming process of divergence and convergence. The moderator needn’t necessarily be the marketing head. But it has to be someone who is adept at ensuring that the discussions remain on track with the objective without being limiting in any way. Without this keen and able facilitator, you just end up with a chart full of colourful post-it notes and nothing more.
- Like a lifestyle, design thinking needs to be practiced and implemented repeatedly, before it becomes intuitive. Just doing a course or reading a book on doesn’t cut it. You need to learn to fail fast and reiterate till you get it right. And do this several times over, before you master the approach. Companies that do not account for this learning curve – both in terms of time as well as sunk cost, will inevitable have to give up too soon.
- Throwing the baby with the bath water is another classic mistake. Regular, every day operational practices do not require design thinking approach. They require tried and tested solutions so that the ongoing machinery does not get disrupted. It is in fact counter intuitive to constantly change day-to-day operations and innovate in areas that require steadiness.
- Innovating for the sake of innovating as a PR activity or rejuvenation from old ways is another common practice that results in failure of design thinking approach. In order for design thinking to yield results, one must first clearly identify what is the exact objective that one is hoping to address and if it is in line with the direction that the company wants to take. Otherwise, it’s just money spent to generate good press, but results in no tangible outcome.
- Since co-creation is at the core of design thinking process, sometimes it becomes an impediment to innovation due to group-think. It takes time to arrive at a common idea in a group. And once that happens, the group is too quick to deep-dive and pursue that idea, instead of critically assessing it further. The loss of time in the ideation phase can result in people rushing to create mediocre solutions.
In essence, what one needs to keep in mind is the fact that great design solutions take time, depth, iteration, maturation and a dedicated cross-functional team that constantly pushes each other to explore and test ideas that each one individually would’ve been incapable of.