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Design Thinking: Looking in the Right Places for Inspiration

By Susan Kerosky

As a leader today, it can be daunting and frustrating to galvanize your team to innovate through today’s complex problems. How often have you heard these phrases from your team:

“I’m not sure I have any ideas.”

“That idea is too risky.”

“I don’t know where to begin to solve this problem.”

The good news is that design thinking, which has been proven to solve the most challenging problems with products, is now being seen as a core capability for leadership–for any problem–in any environment. Design thinking as a mindset is becoming the thought process to create meaningful change within organizations.Design thinking innovation process

So, if you are new to the world of design thinking, how do you start? How do you start to leverage design thinking to accelerate innovation within your organization?

It starts with people. It starts by looking in the right places to gain inspiration from others. Venture out to experience the world and see people–where they live, work and socialize. See people to gain new insights and inspiration and to experience a deeper level of empathy.

Design thinking leaders, IDEO, have a saying that captures the importance of leaving the comfort of meeting rooms to see people–“Cubicle based work often results in cubicle shaped thoughts.”

My work with healthcare clients that are working to reduce the prevalence of diabetes within their communities face a daunting challenge. Addressing the prevalence of diabetes requires change across many partnering organizations. To accelerate innovation around this problem–we start with immersing ourselves in the context of patient’s lives to reveal new insights and opportunities. This type of immersion into the context of others, can be strengthened by looking at the extremes–to understand the behaviors, desires and needs of those that will provide insights that are unexpected.

Innovation Extremes

In Portland, Oregon we live in a coffee culture where you find extreme consumer behaviors. Personally, I happen to have two extreme coffee drinkers in my family.  My nephew is a self-proclaimed coffee nerd. His journey started years ago with a French press, then moved to grinding his beans at home. He now weighs his beans beforehand, grinding and brewing in an Aeropress (w/an Able Brewing Disk Filter). To brew at the same temperature, he has a gooseneck pour over kettle with built in temperature read out. I considered his behavior as a more radical approach to a morning coffee to which a Starbuck’s just does not suffice. Here is a picture of his counter with the tools for his morning coffee routine.

The other extreme is my husband, who purchases his coffee from the office vending machine (for .25¢) every morning and has for the past 13 years. His needs and behavior for his morning coffee are the extreme opposite of my nephew. In gaining a deeper understanding of their behaviors, we will generate more insights for innovation.

We see change and innovation as two sides of the same coin. Looking in the right places for inspiration is the start to your design thinking and innovation journey to help you create the meaningful change you seek within your organization.