There is an old story about training elephants that bears repeating in regard to how some leaders and teams approach problems, or seek solutions. Trainers would take a baby elephant and attach a huge, thick chain to one leg and drive a stake deep into the ground. The baby elephant would continually try to pull away from the chain, but after time it quit trying because it was futile to try. The chain and the stake were just too strong. As the elephant grew older it never attempted to break free even though it could do so with little effort. The adult elephant was chained to the memory of the past. Yes, it’s a very cruel process, but the lesson is clear.
Many companies, leaders, and teams are stuck in the past when it comes to how they approach problems, or attempt to seek solutions to problems. When you are chained to dated models of thinking it can create a process of predictable outcomes while expecting different ones. Teams and companies can be paralyzed by, “the way we’ve always done it,” thinking.
In the late 70’s and 80’s American manufacturers rolled out a new way of approaching their end product through total quality management (TQM). TQM brought research, design, production, and sales together in an effort to focus on customer satisfaction. Instead of just making widgets, manufacturers began listening to the boots on the ground and their widget customers, which revolutionized the manufacturing process. Today, it’s hard to find a successful manufacturer or company that isn’t employing some form of TQM.
Let’s think of how we approach problems, seek creative solutions and develop processes for them like the ocean coming to shore. The ocean comes in waves in accordance with the tide. Catch the wave and you can ride it all the way to the beach. Miss the wave and you can get caught in the undertow, choking on salt-water. New ways, approaches, methods and processes in business are like catching a wave. When you find the one that works and employ it successfully you can #Hang-Ten.
Dr. Jean Liedtka, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business conducted an in-depth, seven-year study of 50 companies, organizations in the private and public sectors and discovered a new social technology working within the subjects:
“I have seen that another social technology, design thinking, has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes. By now most executives have at least heard about design thinking’s tools—ethnographic research, an emphasis on reframing problems and experimentation, the use of diverse teams, and so on—if not tried them. But what people may not understand is the subtler way that design thinking gets around the human biases (for example, rootedness in the status quo) or attachments to specific behavioral norms (“That’s how we do things here”) that time and again block the exercise of imagination.”
Dr. Liedtka has discovered several critical benefits of Design Thinking (DT): superior solutions; lower risks & costs; and employee buy-in. One of the interesting approaches within DT’s three-part Discovery Process is Immersion.
Immersion makes the customer discovery process real instead of using collected data through impersonal efforts. Imagine your client produces very technical labels for pharmaceutical bottles, or containers complete with serious FDA labeling compliance issues. You can read about them and their competitors online, but that is only going to take you so far.
You can meet over coffee and listen to their story and gain appreciation for their passion. But you can’t get a deeper picture that will help you develop creative and innovative solutions unless you immerse yourself in their business. What if you took a half, or entire day and spent it on site with your client and their team going through the entire process of what they do? Think of job shadowing, but more. Asking probing questions, using critical listening skills, observing how things are done especially in regard to problems they are having that your services, or product can resolve. This puts a face, or several faces on the challenges to which your team is going to seek solutions for the client.
DT is a relatively new wave that is having a tsunami impact on how we can get out of chained models from the past and create the much needed space for new ideas and innovative solutions. Perhaps your organization, or company would benefit from DT, or new ways of approaching organizational, or client challenges. At WebSpeak Media we are employing many aspects of DT. We will you find creative solutions.