Today, creating and managing a fantastic customer experience requires a fine balance between science (analytical thinking) and art (design thinking). Anyone questioning this trend in the business world should consider that in Apple’s latest fiscal quarter, the company sold more iPads than Macs in a category that did not exist two years ago.
With the rise of instant communications and social media, customers’ expectations are rising quickly. Customers want to be heard when broadcasting opinions about the products and services they use. These conversations extend to their social networks and to companies directly. What has changed for companies is that users expect products and services to be highly intuitive, friendly and easy to use. Failing this, customers now communicate through their social network and conduct research quickly for alternatives. Not surprisingly, opportunities are abundant for companies that blend critical and design thinking with customer needs.
This post is based on an article published in Harvard Business Review by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, entitled Design Thinking. The author argues that thinking like a designer creates a strong sustainable competitive advantage for companies. While we didn’t explicitly think about design thinking when we started the company, we agree with principles of design thinking when creating value through customer experience.
Mr. Brown describes the process of design thinking metaphorically as a system of spaces rather than a predefined series of orderly steps. The spaces include any type of related activities that form a continuum of innovation and results, which at times are chaotic, non-linear and deviate from the type of analytical analytical that has dominated the business world. To break it down further, design projects are broken down into 3 spaces including Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation. The first two are often repeated in order to arrive at the best possible solution for a customer.
At Manawa Networks, we view ourselves as “technology psychologists”. Similar to design thinking, we take a human-centred approach towards innovation. This involves developing a thorough understanding, through direct observation, questioning and listening to what people want and need in their work life about their positive and negative experiences with products and services.
In the article, Mr. Brown references Thomas Edison as one of the earliest and most influential and innovative design thinkers in the past 100 years. Rather than invent a single device, he had an ability to envision how others would want to use his invention. His insights came from considering users’ needs and preferences, which led to the most appropriate engineering specs.
Mr. Edison’s genius was his ability to surround himself with other gifted thinkers, improvisers and experimenters, which allowed for endless rounds of trial and error. It was in this period where he is quoted saying, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” He rebuked the ‘lone genius inventor” label in favour of creating a team-based approach to innovation where his experimenters challenged every hypothesis to learn something new after each iteration. As Mr. Brown writes:
“Innovation is hard work; Edison made it a profession that blended art, craft, science, business savvy, and an astute understanding of customers and markets…. Like Edison’s painstaking innovation process, [design thinking] often entails a great deal of perspiration.”
It may be useful task to ask how well your organization leaves the comfort zone, brings disparate people and strengths together and questions assumptions that lead to new customer insights.
As technology psychologists, we are that human face for customers, looking after them and taking away their day-to-day IT worry. Rather than talk at them, we prefer talking with customers asking questions and creating options that help them be their very best. The goal is to maintain an open dialogue learning new insights by ensuring their technology ‘just works’ while also growing their organizations.
The merits of balancing design and analytical thinking are becoming self-evident as some brands stagnate while others soar based on their relationship with customers. In a future post, I plan to highlight the personality profile and characteristics that make for a great technology psychologist which overlaps nicely with design thinkers.