In a world
in which ambitious new businesses come and go within months, and
long-established corporate bigwigs are toppled by nimble start-ups within a
year, the blueprint for business success no longer exists. Entrepreneurs cannot
simply depend on a healthy dose of start-up capital and market research, and
big corporates are discovering that a “business as usual” approach is likely to
be fatal. As a result, new and somewhat “unconventional” approaches to business
development and strategy are being pioneered and adopted around the world.
One of the
most impactful of these ideas is the concept of design thinking, which has been
made popular by companies, predominantly in the US, which have become
synonymous with innovation. A favoured example is IDEO, an international design
and consulting firm founded in Palo Alto, California. Tim Brown, president and
CEO of IDEO, defines design thinking as follows: “Design thinking is a
human-centred 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.”
Feeling your pain
proponents of design thinking argue that companies can no longer depend on
staid and one-way strategies that fail to account for fast-changing consumer
trends. Also, consumers are more empowered and knowledgeable than they were
five years ago, so business leaders are being forced to depend on them for
input and insights.
recent visit to South Africa, LC Singh, CEO of Nihilent Technologies, a
consulting firm based in Pune, India, explained that empathy lies at the core
of the design thinking approach.
past, companies have simply assumed that they know and understand what
customers want, and then designed products and services around that,” Singh
explains to finweek. “This no longer
works. We first have to empathise with customers – feel their pain, so to speak
– and bring them in during the design phase.”
In his view,
companies have a short window of two to three years to adapt to the new playing
field and implement design thinking. Those that don’t are likely to be
overtaken by more nimble and forward-thinking rivals.
models are changing fast, taking new developments in technology into account,”
adds Singh. “An example of this is in the banking and financial industry where
payment technology and customer service has challenged traditional banking
practices as customers demand more, faster.”
He points to
local examples such as Discovery, Nedbank and Capitec to underscore this point.
‘Innovation is about design’
Dingle, founder of consulting firm Phantom Design, says that local companies
are indeed waking up to new approaches and strategies such as design thinking.
companies aspire to be more like disruptive start-ups, they are beginning to
appreciate the counterintuitive processes employed at Google and Facebook, for
example,” he explains. “They’re also realising that innovation isn’t about
technology. It’s about design.”
Dingle, popular culture is also driving adoption, with series such as Abstract:
The Art of Design on Netflix and books like Sprint highlighting design as the
ultimate differentiator within business.
says that local adoption is primarily taking place within financial services
and the fast-emerging realm of fintech.
are predominantly banks where design thinking is the foundation for new
products being developed,” says Dingle. “SA has always had a very innovative
banking sector, although this isn’t saying much in the world’s most antiquated
to incorporate this concept into business processes, he believes that ego is
likely to be the biggest and most awkward stumbling block.
design requires humility and is incompatible with corporate environments where
executives simply get their way because of what it says on their business
cards,” he cautions. “Design thinking businesses will always win because they
focus on what they do, not who they are. As a result, it starts with an
acknowledgement that the world does not accord with our intuition and that
working at internet scale requires a rigorous scientific mindset.”
business leaders, the adoption of such a mindset may soon become as important –
if not more – than the ability to manage existing processes and people. And for
those who struggle to think creatively about the design of products and
services, it might well be time to employ an army of those who can.
This article originally appeared in the 13
April edition of finweek. Buy
and download the magazine here.