By Jeanne Liedtka. I’m a huge proponent of design thinking as an approach to helping managers think creatively. However, the phrase “design thinking” often makes people’s eyes glaze over. Sure – we know we need help to find profitable growth and innovation opportunities in this disruptive world. And we’ve gotten the point that we know our tool kit, based on yesterday’s reality, is inadequate. But “design thinking” seems foreign – like someone should be wearing a black turtleneck and saying, “Yeah, baby!” as they practice it.
But design thinking isn’t scary. It is just a different way to approach solving a problem. At its heart, design thinking is simply using a different set of tools. Ask a designer, and of course he or she will tell you that they have hundreds, if not thousands, of different tools. But, as we observed designers at work in our research, we were able to identify a small subset of these as not only foundational but – the best part – also teachable to managers. Using these ten tools, managers with support and training can identify and execute opportunities for new growth and innovation that their old tool kits missed. So here is my top ten list:
- Visualization is about using images. It’s not about drawing; it’s about visual thinking. It pushes us beyond using words or language alone. It unlocks a different part of our brains allowing us to think nonverbally. Storytelling is one form of visualization, and is a good place to start for those of us who think in terms of Power Point.
- Journey mapping (or experience mapping) is an ethnographic research method that focuses on tracing the customer’s “journey” as he or she interacts in the process of receiving a service from an organization, with special attention to emotional highs and lows. Experience mapping helps identify needs that customers are often unable to articulate. Because managers are familiar with flow charts, it doesn’t feel as different as other design thinking tools may.
- Value chain analysis examines how an organization interacts with value-chain partners to produce, market, and distribute new offerings. Analysis of value-chain offers ways to create better value for customers along the chain and uncovers important clues about partners’ capabilities and intentions.
- Mind mapping is used to represent how individual bits of information are linked to a central idea or insight and to each other. Mind maps generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas to look for patterns and insights that provide key design criteria.
- Brainstorming is a tool that has received a bad name among managers, but doesn’t deserve one. The kind of structured brainstorming approaches that designers use are far more productive than the free-form shout-out that we’ve all endured in the past.
- Rapid concept development takes the many ideas you create during brainstorming and puts them together in creative and interesting ways.
- Assumption testing focuses on identifying assumptions underlying the attractiveness of the new ideas you’ve created during concept development. It then uses available data to assess the likelihood that these assumptions will turn out to be true. These assumptions are then tested through thought experiments, followed by field experiments, which subject new concepts to four tests: value creation, execution, scalability, and defensibility.
- Prototyping allow us to make abstract new ideas more tangible to potential partners and customers. These include storyboarding, user scenarios, experience journeys, and business concept illustrations—all of which encourage deep involvement by important stakeholders and allow them to provide us with better feedback.
- Customer co-creation allows managers to engage a customer in the process of generating and developing new business ideas of mutual interest. If most new ideas fail because customers turn out not to want them, co-creation can be the most value-enhancing, risk-reducing approach to growth and innovation.
- Learning launches test the key underlying value-generating assumptions of a potential new idea in the real world. But, in contrast to a pilot or a full new-product rollout, a learning launch is a learning experiment conducted quickly and inexpensively to gather market-driven data.
These big 10 are all the tools necessary to get started in design thinking. They’re easier than you think, even without a black turtle neck.