Lucidity Business Book Club: Change by design by Tim Brown

How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation was the focus of the Lucidity Network book club meeting in September.

‘The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights, and insights into products and services that will improve lives.’

As a group of individuals concerned with improving lives we were therefore keen to learn more.

The book opens with a case study of a 2004 design brief that Shimano had given Tim and his team. The goal was to address the flattening growth in its traditional high-end road racing and bike segments in the US. To get under the skin of the problem, they brought together a multidisciplinary team of designers, behavioural scientists, marketers and engineers to identify appropriate constraints for the project.

‘Looking for new ways to think about the problem, they spent time with consumers from across the spectrum. They discovered that nearly everyone they had met had happy memories of being a kid on a bike but many are deterred by cycling today – by the retail experience (including the intimidating, Lycra-clad athletes who serve as sales staff in most independent bike stores; by the bewildering complexity and excessive cost of the bikes, accessories and specialized clothing; by the dangers of cycling on roads not designed for bicycles and by the demands of maintaining a sophisticated machine that might be ridden only on weekends. They noted that everyone they talked to seemed to have a bike in the garage with a flat tire or a broken cable.’

By seeking real life insights into behaviour, the team was able to identify a new market, which led to the development of a simple and affordable bike that was comfortable to ride, easy to maintain but still looked good.

But the team didn’t stop there. They wanted to address all the challenges they had identified through their research process and as such created in-store retailing strategies, a unique brand that aimed to encourage people to get back on their bikes and enjoy the freedom cycling brings; and they worked in collaboration with local governments and cycling organisations to identify and promote safe places to ride.

It is this holistic approach that Tim says illustrates what design thinking is. It is not a linear process that has a defined beginning, middle and end. Instead, it involves a sequence of ‘overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps’ that the project team may loop back through more than once as they refine their ideas and explore new directions.

* ‘inspiration’: the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions
* ‘ideation’: the process of generating, developing and testing ideas
* ‘implementation’: the path that leads from the project room to the market

What did the book club members think to the book? Of those who had read some or all of the book, the general consensus was that it didn’t teach us anything new! To be fair, the book was first written in 2009 and many of the ideas within it have been widely adopted. Likewise, many of the people attending the book club meeting worked in communications, strategy and service design, and as such were familiar with design thinking and how it works in practice.

That said, elements of the book did provide useful reminders of tools and techniques that can be applied in multiple contexts. These included:

  • There are three overlapping criteria for successful ideas: 1) feasibility, what is functionally possible within the foreseeable future; 2) viability, what is likely to become part of a sustainable business model; 3) desirability, what makes sense to people and for people. A competent designer will resolve each of these three constraints but a design thinker will bring them into a harmonious balance.
  • Design thinking requires a team that offers diverse backgrounds and skills – but that these people also need to be confident enough of their expertise that they are willing and able to collaborate across disciplines.
  • Faced with complex problems, we can be tempted to increase the size of the core team but this can be counterproductive, slowing things down and muddying the waters. As such, the inspiration phase requires a small, focused group whose job it is to establish the overall framework. It is at the implementation stage that the team size can be increased.
  • A key obstacle to the formation of new ideas is the ability to fail. Therefore, the preferred culture is one that believes that it is better to ask for forgiveness afterwards rather than permission beforehand, that rewards people for success but gives them permission to fail. The best ideas emerge when the whole organisational ecosystem has room to experiment.
  • To really understand people, it’s important to watch what people don’t do as well as what they say they do, and listen to what they don’t say as much as what they do say.

Becky Slack is managing director of Slack Communications and chair of the Lucidity Network Business Book Club.

Change by design: How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation by Tim Brown

The next business book club meeting takes place on Tuesday 20 October, 7.30pm BST and we’re reading
Be More Pirate: Or how to take on the world and win by Sam Conniff Allende.

The Lucidity Network Business Book Club is open to all Lucidity Network members. Check out this link for more information and to join the Network.