If innovation isn’t exhilarating, then you’re doing it wrong

Innovation expert Robert divulges the benefits of using design thinking to supercharge innovation, both in the short and long term.

If innovation isn’t exhilarating, then you’re doing it wrong

This may sound provocative, but this is a statement that I stand by wholeheartedly. Innovation is the essence of change. It demands adaptability and rejects stagnation. It represents an endless mission to transform what you do and how you do it. If you are doing innovation right, then it will intrinsically be the spearhead of your organisational strategy; propelling the business into untapped market opportunities, which is exhilarating for all involved.

The stakes are higher than ever with innovation, it’s a serious business and a core focus for many brands. As a result, we are seeing forward-thinking organisations experiment with new innovation methodologies, hoping to discover an edge over their competitors or even an innovative game-changer that will disrupt an entire industry.

Design thinking is one such methodology that embodies my exhilaration-innovation mantra. Design thinking ‘sprints’ supercharge innovation, achieving meaningful progress in weeks rather than months, making it the most powerful innovation process I have ever used. It’s a method championed by the likes of Google Ventures who have their own framework called ‘Google Sprints’. It’s powerful because it’s agile whilst still integrating the consumer into the whole process. Starting with defining the problem and finishing by testing the solution, whilst including everything that comes in between, all in a matter of weeks. And trust me, when working in this way, it’s impossible not to get inspired.

There are equally powerful long-term incentives for using design thinking that extend well beyond the horizon of any single design thinking sprint

These design thinking sprints deliver clear short-term innovation wins in the form of; tested prototypes, enhanced consumer-centricity and reduced risk of failure. These three core benefits can hugely improve the chances of success for any project. These key benefits are the poster children for design thinking that have been driving its current adoption and if you have read up on the subject, you will be very familiar with them. However, there are less obvious but equally compelling long-term incentives for using design thinking that extend well beyond the horizon of any single sprint which are well worth considering.

Incentive #1: a truly consumer-centric organisation

Putting a team in the shoes of the consumer can have a long-term positive impact on organisational awareness. This holds especially true when you include senior level members in a design thinking sprint. It is not uncommon during the early stages of a sprint to hear participants say “this is exciting, I have never actually spoken to a customer face-to-face”. When you think about it, that is quite extraordinary. No matter where they operate, all decision-makers should have a solid understanding of the end-user and this is especially true for innovation decision making. Otherwise, you are essentially innovating with the lights out, which is a stab in the dark at best and at worst a guaranteed failure. The incentive here is that the DNA of the customer will spread throughout the organisation, penetrating the upper echelons of the organisation, not just the consumer-facing level. This injection of consumer insight is like turning the lights back on. It gives key decision makers the visibility to make strategic decisions that will resonate with the end user.

No matter where they operate, all decision-makers should have a solid understanding of the end user

Incentive #2: enhanced long-term collaboration

In my experience, design thinking is a process that bonds teams like nothing else. This happens for a handful of reasons. Firstly, the structure of the sprint means that your back is against the wall from day one. The purpose of design thinking is to tackle big hairy problems in tight deadlines and having this epic shared mission means that those involved develop a shared vision and mental model. A sprint cultivates an unexpected sense of comradery that is more akin to team building exercises, and all this is achieved without a single trust fall. Secondly, everyone will bring something valuable to the table. Throughout a sprint, unique skills, insight and expertise will come to the fore. When the sprint is finished, individuals will have a better understanding and appreciation of what other team members can bring to the party. Finally, the process levels the playing field. A sprint should have a totally flat hierarchy and as a result, members will collaborate eye-to-eye, no matter what their seniority. The long-term incentive here is that design thinking builds cross-departmental relationships that remain well after a sprint concludes. Additionally, the process will give those involved a better understanding of how these new relationships can add value to their own work in the future.

Incentive #3: inspiration

As I mentioned earlier, innovation should be exhilarating and it’s fair to say that design thinking delivers on that front. The quality of creative output and the speed at which it can be achieved never fails to inspire those involved. Participants always leave with a glint in their eye and a steely determination to further develop what they have learned during the sprint. Choosing to use a design thinking approach is also a statement of intent. It is a great way for organisations to prove to their employees that they are serious about tackling big problems and inspiring their own people to solve them. Design thinking also does wonders for team moral. Temporarily plucking participants out of the drudgery that is business-as-usual and throwing them into the fast-paced reality of a sprint will undoubtable invigorate even the most disengaged employees. The long-term incentive here is a more engaged workforce who feel passionately about what they do and how they do it. Inspiration and positivity is infectious so the more an organisation can use this methodology, the more inspiration they will nurture in their workforce.

So whilst design thinking has core benefits of rapid prototyping, enhanced consumer-centricity and reduced risk of failure, there is more to the method than meets than eye.

Through utilising this emerging methodology, organisations can unlock further long-term advantages. It is an innovation tool that we will always champion, but if you needed some more convincing, I hope these long-term incentives inspire you to give design thinking a go and bring some exhilaration to your innovation endeavours.