Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tackle All Aspects of Design, Brand Strategy and Insights - See How at FUSE

The world's most respected conference in the brand strategy and design community, FUSE explores design as a strategic asset in building better brands and more meaningful relationships with consumers. This must attend experience inspires endless creativity, transformative thinking and meaningful action.
April 7-9, 2014
Radisson Blu Aqua
Chicago, IL

See how FUSE tackles all aspects of design, brand strategy and insights:

Multi-Dimensional Design:
  • Design Thinking and Innovation -
  • Universal Truths Behind the Handmade Design Revolution
  • Using Design Thinking to Solve Business Problems
  • Design at Target: Packaging Completes the Experience
  • Why Design? Why Now?
  • Protocepting: Ideas People Can See and Feel
  • Organizational Impact Through Design
  • Disruptive Packaging Technology

Brand Strategy
  • Brand Strategy -
  • Brand As A Strategic Decision Dynamic
  • Future Proof Your Digital Presence
  • The Building Blocks of A Successful Brand Narrative
  • Exploring Brands As Content Curators & Content Strategists
  • Passion x Purpose: Building a Lifestyle Brand
  • Holistic Brand Development
  • Launching Brands with a Startup Mindset
  • The Building Blocks of A Successful Brand Narrative
  • The Retail Brand Revolution

Building Cultures of Curiosity
  • What is Creativity? -
  • Consumer Led Design, No Peering into the Consumer Brain
  • The Power of Realizing Empathy
  • The Psychological Architecture of Meaning
  • How Gamification & Game Design is Shaping the Human Experience
  • Are You Prepared For the Hybri-Cultural NOW?
  • Decoding the Meaning of Design Finding the Truth in the Millennial Conversation

As you can see, FUSE has it ALL.

Download the brochure for full agenda information:

Mention code FUSE14BL & Save 15% off the standard rate. Register today:

Experience FUSE for yourself!

The FUSE Team
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Introducing Innovation Crush's Truths, Myths, and Trends - Podcast Series

We're excited to announce our partnership with the folks at Innovation Crush, a podcast series dedicated to "profiling some of the world's most daring projects and the people behind them. From marketing ideas to technology innovations, disruptive business models, personal development, and everything between, IC is a one stop shop for all the "who-to-know" and "what-to-know" you'll ever need to know.

Chris Denson

Hosted by long-time idea maker, Chris Denson, the show serves up a giant helping of some of the best minds around the world, all with a heaping side of occasional bad jokes. Listen. Enjoy. Repeat."

We start with a look back at 2013 and Truths, Myths, and Trends. In this episode of Innovation Crush, Award-winning filmmaker, Amy York Rubin and business strategist, Brandon Chretien look back at 20+ shows of 2013, and pull out some of the best Innovation Crush learnings of the year, and how to apply in a more practical sense. Along the way, they uncover the importance of interpersonal connection to the things that empower us to be at our own highest point of innovation.

Monday, January 27, 2014

How to Identify Gaps and Initiate Measures to Leverage your Innovation Performance

Research shows that Innovation Performance is dependent on not just the innovation process. It is highly influenced by strategy, organisation and culture. The critical question for companies is where to adjust the screws to leverage their innovation performance.

A tool that helps to answer this question is Benchmarking, which allows to evaluate the innovation performance and compare the own innovation management capabilities with the leading companies.
The leading association for Innovation Management in Austria, the PFI – Platform for Innovation Management, developed together with Prof. Dr. Soeren Salomo the benchmarking tool "Innovate!". By 2013 the benchmark dataset comprises 340.000 answers from more than 800 participants from almost 200 companies.

The structure of the benchmarking is based on the Innovation Excellence Model, which is a map of a companie's innovation management system.

Source: Platform for Innovation Management, Soeren Salomo

  • The Innovation Performance is the company‘s economic success, which derives from new products/services and new processes within a given period of time. 
  • The Innovation System includes the areas of Culture, Strategy and Organisation & Resources, all situated at the corporate or business unit level.
  • The Innovation Process consists of three main phases: the Front End, Development and Market Launch

The assessment of current innovation practices in the elements of the Innovation Excellence Model uncovers potential gaps related to Benchmarks. As a consequence, measures to close the gaps can be defined and compiled into an Action Plan. Organizational measures may be accompanied by specialized seminars (public or inhouse), training sessions or moderated workshops.

Using this procedure, a company makes sure that the taken measures leverage its innovation performance. The result is an increase of the company's economic success.


Prof. Dr. Sören Solomon is Professor of Innovation Management at the Danish Technical University, DTU in Copenhagen and Head of Department at DTU Management Engineering.

His research interests lie in the management of high-grade innovations. Prof. Solomon is an empirically oriented researcher, his approach is the theory-based observation of reality, in order to extract general insights and guidelines for action. In an effort to map the entire operational innovation management in a model that he developed together with the Platform for Innovation Management (PFI) , the "Innovation Excellence" model.

Find out more about the Austrian benchmarking "innovate! austria":

* Don't miss the workshop of Soeren Salomo and Martin Pattera at the FEI EMEA event on Tuesday, 4th of February at 13:30. After a presentation of major insights into Best Practices of Innovation Management the participants will be split into discussion tables that allow to deep dive into the six areas of the Innovation Excellence Model: Strategy, Culture, Organization, Front-End-Process, Development, Market Launch.

Escaping the Commodity Trap Using Jobs-To-Be-Done Thinking, Part 2: The Building and Construction Industry

Building and Construction has Become a Commodity

For many years, producers of machinery like wheel loaders or excavators used in the building and construction industry have been trying to optimize their products by listening to the voice of the customer. But still the price of the product is the main purchasing criteria, forcing the producers to lower the prices again and again to compete in their markets. Jobs-to-be-done thinking helps to escape the commodity trap.

Product Management is Challenged by the Commodity Trap

Product managers face three major questions on how to get out of the commodity trap and find new products that achieve both profitability and market share growth:

1. What generates additional value for our clients?
2. What causes unnecessary cost/inefficiencies in the product and in its usage?
3. How can we be sure that the final product will work in all target markets (segments) and contexts?

In our last article, Part 1, we demonstrated how to create additional value by understanding the true customer needs and how to cut unnecessary costs and inefficiencies while delivering superior customer value at the same time. This article focuses on the third question. How could a product manager for wheel loaders make sure that the product will work in all target markets and contexts?

A Different Viewpoint: Need-Based Segmentation Criteria

Traditionally, markets in the building and construction industry are segmented by demographic criteria like company size, customer industry, or application area. So did Liebherr, a producer for wheel loaders, segment its product portfolio into four categories in line with the industry standard: building construction, underground construction, road building, and landscape construction.

But after conducting a job-to-be-done market analysis and asking more than 250 wheel loader drivers about the outcomes they want to reach when using a wheel loader, Liebherr realized that there were groups of customers with similar needs in every segment category. In other words, the existing descriptive segmentation criteria failed to unite customers with similar needs!

As a consequence, Liebherr segmented the market around the identified over- and unsatisfied customer needs and identified four segments with totally different requirement profiles. The new segment structure was the starting point for several measures that had an immense effect on the company’s profitability and growth.
First, Liebherr found out that the existing products already perfectly served the needs of one of the most relevant segments, but the company did not communicate this. As a consequence, Liebherr repositioned the existing wheel loaders and changed its communication message by emphasizing the outcomes that were found to be relevant for this segment.

The results of the job-to-be-done market analysis also showed that the needs of two other segments could not be optimally met by the existing product portfolio. Consequently, Liebherr developed two completely new wheel loader models by using the results of the job-to-be-done market analysis as input for the technical specification. The new wheel loaders had significant lower production cost, while at the same time offering better functionalities and higher security. They won several international innovation and design awards and their sales rates are 30% higher than the previous product line.

Job-to-be-done thinking is the vehicle to identify the true customer needs. If segments are built around customer needs rather than descriptive criteria, positioning and product development can focus on delivering real customer value and the price will no longer be the main purchasing criteria.

About the Author

Martin Pattera, Strategyn, Vienna, Austria

Martin has over a decade of innovation experience. Prior to Strategyn he held key positions at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and Mayr-Meinhof Karton. Martin is a lecturer in the executive MBA program focused on entrepreneurship and innovation at the Vienna University of Technology and at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. He holds an MBA from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration.

Editor's Note:

Strategyn CEO Anthony Ulwick will present at FEI EMEA, Escaping the Commodity Trap: From Uncovering Needs to Successful Market Launch along with Martin Gschwend, Managing Director, Liebherr Werk Bischofshofen GmbH, in Munich on 4-6, Feb. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Let the Data Speak to You – Uncover Future Opportunities at The Future of Consumer Intelligence 2014

Let the Data Speak to You – Uncover Future Opportunities at The Future of Consumer Intelligence 2014

We are on the cusp of the second wave of the big data revolution." 2013 was about understanding big data, from collection to analysis - 2014 is about translating big data into new opportunities. It's about taking action on the insights to drive business decisions. 

The Future of Consumer Intelligence will help you discover how data is transforming the consumers wellbeing, experience and impacting the productivity of an organization. You'll understand the processes and tools being used to aggregate disparate strands of data so you can create a richer experience that drives loyalty and growth. Download the conference brochure here:

The Future of Consumer Intelligence 2014
May 19-21, 2014 // Sheraton Universal // Universal City, CA

Keynote Spotlight:

Making Data More Human
Jer Thorp, Former Data Artist, The New York Times, Co-Founder, The Office for Creative Research

How can understanding the human side of data lead to innovation and effective change? What value is there in the novel and interactive approaches to data visualization? And, what are the business applications of creative data-focused research? Thorp teaches audiences how adding meaning and narrative to huge amounts of data can help people take control of the information that surrounds them, and revolutionize the way we utilize data.

Plus, don't miss our entire track focused on Big Data & Analytics: Connecting the Dots for a Holistic View, featuring:

  • AIRNB: Beyond Data Driven
  • Coca-Cola : Two Ears, One Mouth: How Coca-Cola is Evolving Social Listening for Deep Analytics and Rapid Response Marketing
  • Heineken USA: Unlocking the Marketing Mix and Consumer Brand Relationships for Sales Impact
  • Intel Corporation: Incorporating Big Data/Analytics into a Traditional Market Research Team
  • Kimberly Clark: Using Consumer Insights/Data to Create A New Consumer Category through D2C
  • Lowe's: Data Philantropy: Unlocking The Power of Adjacency Across Sectors
  • Research Now: Holiday Shopping with All Screens 24/7

And more to be announced! Download the conference brochure for more details:

Mention code FOCI14LINK & Save 15% off the standard rate. Register today:

Check out our entire event portfolio:

The FOCI Team

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Disrupting Disruptive Innovation Theory: Join us for Lessons from the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards

Clayton Christensen’s epic theory of disruptive innovation in The Innovator’s Dilemma has shaped the face of innovation. In 2007, Craig Hatkoff and Rabbi Irwin Kula began an ongoing effort with Christensen, applying his theory to nontraditional and societally critical domains such as spirituality, religion, and ethical and moral development that led to the formation of the Disruptor Foundation - whose mission is to raise awareness of and encourage the advancement of disruptive innovation theory and its application, and serve as the “advanced research” function for disruptive innovation.

Join us for a provocative web chat on Disrupting Disruptive Innovation Theory: Lessons from the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards (TDIA), hosted by the Front End of Innovation and Moderated by Julie Anixter, the Executive Editor of Innovation Excellence, in conversation with Craig Hatkoff and Rabbi Irwin Kula. This is the first in series of six web chats we will host in spring 2014. Sign up for the entire Webinar Series here.

Sign up to discuss changing the way we think about disruptive innovation and change: the new calculus of innovation. We'll cover:

• The Power of Pop Culture
• Disruptive Innovation as the Lens for Change 
• Cultural Transformations: Pope Francis as Epic Innovator
• Insights from the Lives of TDIA Winners

Date: Thu, Jan 30, 2014
Time: 1:00 PM EST
Duration: 45 minutes
Register here:


Craig Hatkoff is co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, and creator and curator of Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in collaboration with Professor Clayton Christensen.

Rabbi Irwin Kula is president of the CLAL the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Co-founder and Editor In Chief of

Julie Anixter is Executive Editor of Innovation Excellence.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Escaping The Commodity Trap Using Jobs-To-Be-Done Thinking, Part 1: The iKnife

Healthcare has become a commodity.

Medical Device companies face the challenges of profitability and growth in today’s healthcare markets. Health insurance companies are asking for substantial reductions in healthcare costs, which puts many providers under pressure. As many products are more or less comparable, there is limited room for further differentiation and improvement, so the competition increasingly focuses on price. But when the price is a significant purchasing criteria, companies are forced to lower the price of their products again and again, causing a commodity trap. Jobs-to-be-done thinking can help.

Product Management is challenged by the commodity trap

Product Managers face three major questions on how to get out of the commodity trap and find new products to achieve both profitability and market share growth:

1. What generates additional value for our clients?
2. What causes unnecessary costs/inefficiencies in the product and in its usage?
3. How can we be sure that the final product will work in all target markets and contexts?

This article focuses on the first question. Imagine you were a product manager for surgical knives, a good example of a commodity medical device. How could you deliver additional value to your customers instead of simply lowering the price of your product?

A different viewpoint: jobs-to-be-done thinking

To get out of the commodity trap one needs to look at the whole process from a different viewpoint. The team at Imperial College London did just that when they developed the iKnife, an intelligent knife that can sniff out tumors. They did not look at the product, but rather at the job the customer hired the product to get done. Using jobs-to-be-done thinking, they asked themselves: “What job is the surgeon trying to get done when hiring surgical knives for cancer treatment?” They discovered the job is to “remove cancerous tissue.”

Customers measure the value of a solution (the product) by how many outcomes it satisfies of the job they want to get done. An outcome is measured by the time it takes to get a job done, the likelihood of an error, and the amount of resources involved. When removing cancerous tissue, a surgeon’s outcome is to minimize the likelihood of leaving bits of the tumor in the patient, which can regrow afterwards. He also wants to minimize the time it takes to identify whether the cancerous tissue was fully removed.

The developers of the iKnife focused on these outcomes. They modified a surgical knife that uses heat to cut through tissue so surgeons can now analyze the smoke given off when the hot blade burns through tissue. The smoke is sucked into a hi-tech “nose” called a mass spectrometer, which detects the subtle differences between the smoke of cancerous and healthy tissues.

This information is available to the surgeon within seconds. As a result, the iKnife helps surgeons get the job done a lot better than a common surgical knife. Dr. Zoltan Takats, who invented the system at Imperial, told BBC News: “The iKnife provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn’t been possible before.”

Jobs-to-be-done thinking identifies true customer needs to develop solutions and offerings like the iKnife that add value for the customer. Looking at the job-to-be-done can turn a commodity product into a great future opportunity.

About the Author

Martin Pattera, Strategyn, Vienna, Austria

Martin has over a decade of innovation experience. Prior to Strategyn he held key positions at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and Mayr-Meinhof Karton. Martin is a lecturer in the executive MBA program focused on entrepreneurship and innovation at the Vienna University of Technology and at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. He holds an MBA from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration.

Editor's Note:

Strategyn CEO Anthony Ulwick will present at FEI EMEA, Escaping the Commodity Trap: From Uncovering Needs to Successful Market Launch along with Martin Gschwend, Managing Director, Liebherr Werk Bischofshofen GmbH, in Munich on 4-6, Feb. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why we need new strategy tools – and how to use them

We recently had a chance to do a Q&A with Christian Rangen & Elisabeth Ovstebo, founders of Engage // Innovate and Strategy Tools for the Next Generation:

Q: Chris, over the past four years, you and Elisabeth have worked to develop a series of new strategy and innovation tools. Tell us about the background. 

A: Sure Valerie. The field of strategy has changed significantly over the last 10 – 15 years. But the tools and practices in most firms around the world hasn’t changed at the same pace. Columbia Professor Rita McGrath, author of ‘’The End of Competitive Advantage’’ - strategy book of the year 2013- , says “Strategy is stuck”. We very much concur with her.

Q: So what are these big changes that are happening in the field?

A: When we look at the world of strategy today – the big picture – we see five major trends.

#1 Business models are getting broken faster

#2 The life time of large firms is declining rapidly

#3 The speed of x is increasing exponentially

#4 Trying to handle these forces, some firms are learning to cycle through a series of business models

#5 Disruptions are quickly becoming the new normal

Q: So what should companies do?

A: We recommend two steps:

Number one: companies should move from “strategy as analysis” to “Strategy as innovation”. This requires a fundamental shift in how strategy is perceived and requires a change in mindset, ambitions, perspectives on the future and business model logic.

This is also where most innovation heroes should direct their energies – connect their burning passion to the strategic context of the firm.

Number two: strategy should shift from a “linear plan built around defending a core business model” to a “continuously shifting through business models, spread across a time horizon”. This is the simple core idea behind one of the tools, the Strategic Innovation Canvas.

Think of it as juggling a high paced innovation portfolio at a strategic level. This requires constant innovation, proactive change and a series of new management skills. Rita writes well about it in her book.

Q: So why is this so difficult? 

A: Well, it shouldn’t be. We have ample research. There are stacks of excellent books on the topic, including ‘’The End of Competitive Advantage’’, ‘’Game-Changing Strategies”, “Strategic Transformation”, “Business Model Generation” and “Seizing the White Space” to name a few. But there’s a big gap between reading the material and “doing”. We need to move from primarily theories and text, to clear, visual thinking and hands-on training and doing.

Q: And this is where your work around new tools comes in? 

That’s why we’ve spent the last four years, not only on original research, but on developing visually strong, hands-on, action tools. Tools that are easy to use. Tools that can be learned in a matter of hours. Tools that help executives be more successful with strategy and innovation.

Tools like the Innovation Pyramid, Innovation Thinking Modes and Innovation vs. Reaction, to name three, all build on extensive research and background work. But they are easy to understand and easy to put to use, without having to go through all the textbooks themselves. That’s the key. So far we have 14 tools online, with more designs in the pipeline. All of them available for free at, under the Creative Commons philosophy.

Q: Elisabeth, what are some of the effects you’re seeing with firms putting these new tools to use? 

A: Well, there are three main effects. First, innovation quickly comes an integral part of strategy. People see that new thinking and new ideas – strategic creativity – becomes a core asset. Tools like Strategic Innovation Canvas and Three Levels of Business Models just enables this very natural move of strategy = innovation
Second, strategy becomes much more of a dynamic and inclusive process, through more creative workshops and lots of visual thinking. Working with visual strategy facilitators, like Holger Nils Pohl is just a fantastic experience. He will also be joining our workshop, by the way.

Finally, people develop a shared understanding, a shared language and shared action around strategy. Alex Osterwalder has worked energetically to design a shared language around business models. We’re seeing the same thing around the wider field of strategy.

We should also add, for most clients, we make strategy fun and exciting again – like it should be. Teams we work with drive strategy with a far more innovative mindset and as a result a more innovative strategy follows.

Q: And you will cover some these tools in your workshop? 

A: Yes, we will. We are very happy to get a chance to present and share our work at FEI. This is a fabulous arena with fellow innovators from around the world. We always learn so much.

Our workshop will be very much a hands-on, doing, working session. It’s pretty exciting to put 25 – 30 executives in the same room and see them work with each other, quickly helping each other solve actual strategy and innovation challenges.

While we will use some cases, like Tesla Motors, Google and Amazon; our focus is doing and learning. We want to see people master new tools in 3 hours – rather than just hear about them. We try to stay very interactive.

Q: Chris, what are some of the challenges you’re facing when working with these tools?

A: Throughout our executive education programs, our workshops and consulting projects, we see two key challenges.

The first is “lack of time”. Over and over again, we find key management groups being simply too busy, too operational to contemplate fundamental shifts to their strategic logic. For many, replying e-mails and handling current clients gets all their attention. The day-to-day operation gets in the way of time to seriously dive into new strategy tools and radically change the trajectory of their futures. We call it the “pull of the present”. In our experience, this is clearly the biggest challenge.

Second, is a perceived a lack of strategic creativity. “I’m not a creative person” or even worse, “we are not an innovative team”. We hear this a lot. But it’s not true. Building on the words of David Kelley of IDEO, “Anybody can be strategically creative  - you just have to learn how’’ (ok, so we added strategically). His recent book, Creative confidence, is a great read on this subject.  But really, we spend a significant amount of time building creative thinking skills and revealing how the mind actually works – and how this impacts and inhibits our innovative thinking. Once teams crack this code, creative strategic options flow forward and truly create engagement and buy-in. 

Q: On a closing note, what would be your top two advices on what not to do for firms moving into 2014 on the topics we are discussing? 

A: Number one; don’t believe your present core business model will last as long as you think.

With the speed of change increasing exponentially, a lot of companies will face disruption and industry upheaval in the coming decade. Start laying the groundwork for your next series of core businesses models today. 

Number two; don’t treat strategy and innovation as two separate disciplines. 

The strategy people and the innovation people should be connected at multiple levels. They should run joint programs, workshops and company-wide processes. Working together, they should define strategy roadmaps, experiment with new business models, run innovation portfolios and redefine the way strategy gets done. This is truly where innovation needs to be happening, at a strategic level.

Editor's Note:

Christian Rangen & Elisabeth Ovstebo are founders of Engage // Innovate and Strategy Tools for the Next Generation. They are strategy & innovation consultants, business school lecturers, authors, frequent innovation speakers and happy owners of a Brazilian management camp. Christian is also a member of FEI’s advisory board. 

Since 2010 they’ve been on a mission to develop new strategy & innovation tools. So far, 14 tools are published at They work with multinational companies to establish new innovation and strategy practices. They also run Engage // Innovate Ventures, investing in disruptive business ideas. and @engageinnovate 

Meet Christian & Elisabeth at their half-day workshop, “Your Future Innovation Tools: Strategy Tools for the Next Generation” at Front End of Innovation, Munich and Venice

* All illustrations by Holger Nils Pohl and Christian Rangen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who is attending FEI: Front End of Innovation Munich

Time is running out for you to join your peers at the premier Innovation conference - Front End of Innovation EMEA.  The best of the best in Innovation, R&D, Trends, Insights, and Design across the EMEA will convene in Munich at the FEI EMEA event to collaborate on their greatest innovation challenges. Don't be left behind the curve...

Attending companies to date include:
ABN Amro
Adidas North America
Airbus Operations GmbH
Alloy Ltd
Alpha Catalyst Consulting
Amway Europe
Antwerp Management School
Applied Innovations
Audi AG
Austrian Marketing University of Applied Sciences
B Braun Melsungen AG
BMW Group Designworks USA
Bombardier Transportation
Cancer Research UK
Centria University of Applied Sciences
Cologne Business School
Colt Technology Services Group
Copenhagen Business School
Damen Shipyards Gorinchem
Danish Institute of Fire & Security
Deutsche Telekom AG
Diageo Germany GmbH
Doka Industrie GmbH
Dow Chemical
DSM Innovation Center
DTU Business
EngineXX Bvba
Ernst & Young GmbH
European Patent Office
Exeter Univ
Firmenich Inc
Fontem Ventures
Fresh Thinking Consulting
FunderMax GmbH
General Mills Inc
Groupe SEB
Grundfos Holding A/S
Hewlett Packard
HYPE Softwaretechnik GmbH
IBA Industrial
IHC Merwede
ING Investment Management
Innovate how to Innovate
Innovation to the Core
Innovia Technology
Japan Tobacco International
Jugaad Innovation
Kimberly Clark Corporation
Kuwait Petroleum Corp
Mangrove Consulting
Mars GmbH
McLaren Automotive Ltd
Merck Millipore SAS
Meyn Food Processing Technology BV
Momentive Performance Materials
Mustad Hoofcare SA
Neoplas Tools
Nestle Product Technology Centre
NineSigma Europe
Nokia Siemens Networks
Pepsico International
Philips Industry Consulting
Platform for Innovation Management
Rabobank Group
Road: Infinity
RWTH Aachen University
Samsung Electronics
Sanitarium Health And Wellness
Spinner GmbH
Strategyn LLC
TE Connectivity
Teleflex Medical - Athlone
Unipec GmbH
University of Leiden
W.L.Gore & Associates
Wartsila Switzerland
Zurich Insurance

Can you afford to miss this gathering of industry leaders?

The FEI experience offers real-time problem solving, never before heard war stories, actionable solutions, and personal inspiration that you cannot get elsewhere. You do not want to be the one left behind.

Save 15% off the standard rate with your blog reader code here: FEIEMEA14BL

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What is Design Thinking? Is This Innovation’s Panacea?

When I first heard the term “Design Thinking” it tied my brain into knots. What did it mean? To my mind, “design” is either a verb or a noun. As a verb, it means either to create or execute an idea, or to conceive a plan. As a noun, a “design” is the result of such a creation, execution or plan. It can be a drawing, a blueprint, or a work of art. We know what “design” is. But “design thinking?” It is thinking about design? Or thinking like a designer?
I then heard that design thinking is taught at Stanford University’s, an ϋber cool place you go to instead of B-School for a more multi-disciplinary and creative approach to problem solving. Stanford graduate students from multiple disciplines attend d.School as do executives from across the world, who can attend “Design Thinking Boot Camp: From Insights to Innovation.” 

I had heard that the design thinking approach is tied up with such creative places as Apple, and Nike, and IDEO – the design firm that put the buzz in the “design thinking” buzzword. I knew that “design thinking” is a customer-centered approach that embraces ethnographic observation, iterative prototyping, and the use of multifunctional teams in the process—a trio of my favorite practices. And “design thinking” is focused on action.   But if “design thinking” is focused on “doing,” then why don’t they call it “design doing?” “Thinking” is too cerebral an activity. “Doing” gets stuff accomplished. Someone needs to create a new term for this. Leaving all that aside …

Defining Design Thinking

Tim Brown, President and CEO of IDEO, which is at the center of the design thinking movement, has given us this definition: “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Embedded in Brown’s definition are the components of People, Technology, and Business.  Successful innovation lies at the intersection of these three forces:

Key Elements of Design Thinking

The generally agreed upon model for Design Thinking includes five phases. Note that although the process appears to be linear, it is actually highly iterative.

Empathizing with the user
The model begins with getting out to the users and observing their environments, their behavior, and their needs, that is, “ethnographic observation.”  Rather than begin with a problem statement developed from senior management, for example, you go out and listen to users. You probe beyond typical market research questions and pat answers to uncover insights, emotions, stories, and motivations.
Defining the problem
The next phase in design thinking takes cross-functional and iterative approach to defining the problem to be solved. A cross-functional approach allows varying perspectives, encouraging both creative and analytical approaches.  Iterations promote continual connections with users.According to Fast Company, this process involves “relentless questioning, like that of a small child. Why? Why? Why?” It is through this process that the underlying issues are determined. 

Albert Einstein famously said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”  Care and focus on the problem is an important element of design thinking.  Most of the time, people are focusing on the wrong problem.

“Ideate” is another one of those words that confound at cocktail parties. Is that like “brainstorming?” Yes and no. It is about generating as many ideas as possible, as is brainstorming, but it is specifically aimed at generating ideas that address the problem at hand.  The focus here is on generating a lot of ideas and embracing the understanding that many will be mistakes.

Prototyping rapidly follows on the heels of ideating. Prototypes are not lengthy exercises in engineering, but rather quick ways to get feedback on whether a proposed solution truly meets the need of the user. In selecting which ideas to prototype, the experts recommend choosing based on potential, not just feasibility. After all, if the prototype does not solve the user’s problem, what good is feasibility?

The team repeatedly brings their prototypes out to users for feedback. Based on feedback, the team will iterate by updating the prototype, going back and ideating, re-framing the problem, or even going back to additional qualitative user research (the “empathize” phase).

Iterations are Key

As with other customer-centered, rapid prototyping approaches, iteration is a key component of the design thinking approach. Because you are continually focused on getting out and testing prototypes with users, you will get continued feedback that you can use to shape or radically change your ideas.

In this sense, design thinking shares a lot with the Lean Startup methodology and its build-measure-learn feedback loop.  Design thinking, however, is more a process about defining the problem to be solved and determining a product direction. The lean startup methodology can be used as follow-on—to pair ethnographic observation, known as “empathize” in design thinking and “customer development” in lean startup—with agile product development, where the prototypes increase in fidelity and become products, complete with validated business models.

Is Design Thinking All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

It turns out that the label given to “design thinking” is but one of the concerns people have with this method. Bruce Nussbaum, one of design thinking’s biggest initial proponents and frequent Fast Company contributor, wrote this:
For all the gushing success stories that we and others wrote, most were often focused on one small project executed at the periphery of a multinational organization. When we stopped and looked, it seemed like executives had issues rolling out design thinking more widely throughout the firm. And much of this stemmed from the fact that there was no consensus on a definition of design thinking, let alone agreement as to who's responsible for it, who actually executes it or how it might be implemented at scale.

Beyond the definition, however, is the perception.  Many people perceive design thinking as part of the “creative camp” and not the “business camp.” If “design” and “business” are in two separate camps, there is already an organizational culture problem. Nussbaum correctly points out that companies that have achieved success, such as Procter & Gamble and General Electric are those that have shaped the design thinking model to fit their internal cultures.

Another Fast Company contributor, Helen Walters of the Monitor Group’s Doblin Innovation consultancy, reminds us in a recent article that “Design thinking is Not Design.” In this business climate, any process needs to be able to demonstrate understanding of, and sensitivity to, concerns of the c-Suite. “Fuzziness is not a friend here,” says Walters, and “designers should do everything they can to demonstrate that they have an understanding of what they're asking, and put in place measurements and metrics that are appropriate and that can show they're not completely out of touch with the business of the business.”

Whether or not design thinking is the panacea everyone has been searching for, few of us would doubt that successful innovations lie at the intersection of People, Technology, and Business.

Make the decision for yourself as to whether design thinking is your cup of tea, and in the spirit of doing and not just thinking, grab a colleague or two and attend Stanford University’s Design Thinking Virtual Crash Course. 

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Ivy Eisenberg is founder of Our IdeaWorks, an Innovation and Lean Customer Research™ consultancy that helps companies connect to customers and other stakeholders to discover business opportunities, accelerate growth, and build and deliver successful products and services.  Ivy has more than 25 years of experience in the Front End of Innovation, user interaction design, and software product and project management. She has worked in healthcare, financial services, B2B, consumer goods, and telecommunications sectors.  Ivy is also an award-winning humor writer and storyteller, with an MBA in Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation from NYU’s Stern School of Business. Contact:

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