Shifting thinking

Three SCNetwork members engage in a back-and-forth on Mark Leung’s presentation
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/20/2017

Jan van der Hoop: This was a nice twist, I thought, on some of the principles discussed in the behavioural economics session in the fall. Essentially, it’s a good reminder that in business, we tend to fixate on data and process, at the risk of forgetting that, at the end of the day, it’s all meant to interface with and support human beings whose behaviour is essentially always emotional and irrational.

It struck me how closely Mark’s design thinking methodology (empathy > reframe > ideate > prototype > test) mirrors the structure of a good coaching conversation. It makes sense, I suppose, since both are designed to shift thinking to a desired future state, then build a bridge to get there — I’d just never made the connection.

I thought the best gem came at the end, almost as a throwaway — in the early thinking about the design/redesign of a product or service, what emotion are you designing for? What a great shift and what a great place to start from.

Ray Johnston: The session was a great reminder of the power of a few simple things to solve big problems: Start with an understanding of the functional and emotional needs of the end user or customer; define the problem; take an iterative approach to generating and testing ideas; and keep refining thinking interactively until you come up with a solution that resonates.

A few simple things that, unfortunately, can easily get lost in the bump and grind of everyday life. When we applied this design thinking to our own issues during the session, it was surprising to see how, in the space of an hour, this simple, easy-to-use approach generated such a variety of very practical, potential solutions.

Van der Hoop: I agree. It’s simple, but not always easy. Especially in an organizational context where the vortices of power, agenda and “unmentionables” are always swirling and people don’t often feel safe to speak their mind. It underscores Mark’s comments about the value of external, fresh-eyed, “Explain this to me like I’m a six-year-old” facilitation. This would be exceedingly hard to accomplish with an internal facilitator.

Mark opened the session with commentary about the corporate lifecycle getting shorter — Fortune 500 companies are shorter-lived than ever — and he ascribed that to the rise of technology. That was his segue into the importance of design thinking in making the tech useful and accelerating user adoption — but then he dropped an enticing question that he never revisited: With the rise of tech and its ability to do a vast number of things better/faster/cheaper than any human, what is the most strategic use of people?

Tracey White: I agree with your observations. As organizations are challenged to keep pace with consumer tastes and markets in constant motion, the agility and human-centric approach that design thinking offers is tremendously valuable. In my change work, I concluded long ago that the tools and frameworks commonly used to manage change are simply too slow, too rigid and too process-focused. 

Organizations need to innovate constantly. To achieve this, skills such as listening and collaborating — which are undervalued but essential to design thinking — are hugely important. As Jan observes, like coaching, innovation depends on human ingenuity, constant learning and incremental performance improvement. 

To me, the methodology makes all of this possible by removing the fear of failure. Each step taken is an opportunity to learn, to improve and try again. This is the essence of invention and key to innovation. Our current change models are about achieving consistent, replicable results based on past performance.

I echo you, Ray.  Design thinking is easy to use, inclusive and practical. Its time has arrived.

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