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. 

When you spot an opportunity you have to go for it does what it says on the tin. It’s an information portal for parents-to-be and new parents so they can sign up in one place to all the best baby clubs, offers and information available.

There are about 800,000 babies born in the UK every year and having a baby is high on the list of life-changing events. Parents-to-be and new parents are hungry for information. And there is a LOT available – as well as brands wanting to get their products in front of new customers.

Government legislation, medical advice and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on child health changes with new research and advances in medicine. Sometimes when parents-to-be or new parents search online they can receive conflicting information and advice. This can be confusing and stressful, especially for first time parents.

In the back end of 2009, with a data management background, Lyndsey Marshall was working at Emma’s Diary – a company which offers parenting advice for parents-to-be and new parents. The amount of different information and products on the market could be overwhelming. She saw new parents spending hours signing up to everything only to be bombarded by information that may not be relevant to their personal circumstances.

Lyndsey saw first-hand the impact of how the guidance on infant feeding was becoming increasingly difficult for companies and brands to communicate to parents through traditional channels, and for parents to be informed appropriately. Highly conscious that this key audience were hungry for information on how best to feed and nurture their little-ones, she set about investigating alternative routes to market.

“I believe that all parents have the right to know what options are available to feed their babies, and be communicated to appropriately within the context of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes”

Lyndsey spotted an opportunity. The two most prominent players in the market place at the time were Bounty and Emma’s Diary, who were linked to the NHS. Whilst their relationship through this channel helped get their communications in front of parents-to-be and new parents via GP’s or hospitals, they were restricted in their ability to communicate information on infant nutrition and feeding.

Lyndsey saw there was an opening in the market for a single portal unrelated to the NHS, to enable brands who wish to communicate their baby-related products to a key and receptive life-stage audience of parents-to-be and new parents, thus, enabling them to access vital information on infant feeding and receive consistent and reliable information as well as choice of the best products in the market.

“Having worked with the key brands in the mum and baby market and built up strong relationships, I felt I could offer them a solution for their future communications which had become more restricted at the time as well as offer a solution for the consumer.”

Lyndsey knew the expectant mum and new baby marketplace, with 10 years’ experience and a background in data and sales at the time and crucially had relationships with the baby brands.

So she researched and set up a website and was born in 2010 – a portal that enables the consumer to sign up only once to join the many baby clubs listed on the site.

The site acts as an independent source for key parenting brands, including those offering infant nutrition, and through the brands listed, provides the most up to date information, products and services which parents can choose to hear from at times which will help them bring up their newborn. Leading brands range from (and not limited to) baby clubs, baby food and milks to cash back sites.

Since its birth there has been constant site testing to ensure the right audience is attracted to sign up and that the website content is appropriate. Additionally ensuring client satisfaction is high throughout – which has proved to be the case as many of the original brands are still working with them.

Seven years later Lyndsey keeps the business lean, managing overheads in relation to income, with the core team which has expanded over the years to include social media experts.

As continues to grow, activity is paid for on either on a cost per lead or retained basis and they have adapted accordingly to market needs. The site is now mobile optimised as more and more people are accessing the internet via mobile and tablet.

Having now established itself as a key player in the mum and baby arena, it is important for the business to remember its roots and balance the demands of its core client base with the changing consumer demands and behaviour. Site testing and exploration of aligned markets is ongoing, and adherence to any data legislation such as GDPR is as paramount as ever.

“I’m very excited about the future of the business, as more brands come on board and experience the quality of the data that can deliver them, which means their brands have consumer engagement which ultimately leads them to be profitable.”

Lyndsey’s advice for anyone who has spotted an opportunity…

  • If you spot an opportunity – just go for it. If you don’t someone else will.
  • Check the opportunity is ‘real’, i.e. big enough to sustain a living. Don’t spend £1,000s until you are as sure as you can be that the ‘product/service’ will sell.
  • Don’t give up the day job until you prove the concept is a good idea and will provide you with an income.
  • Be aware of your competitors as the landscape often changes – don’t assume if your competitors are doing something similar they will be successful – first to market often has its advantages.
  • Put the consumer at the heart of what you are doing – it’s about them not you.
  • Busy people make stuff happen – surround yourself with other busy people.
  • Be absolutely clear on what your proposition is and how it adds value to your customer.
  • Think about how your product is different to other offers in the market – have a clear proposition that differentiates you.

If you like this blog you might like the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today. 

Don’t let not knowing how to do something stop you doing it

When I spoke to Nimisha Raja founder of Nim’s Fruit & Veg Crisps she’d been testing a new pineapple product. She told me “I’m constantly developing new products, improving existing ones and at the same time I have to make it all cost-effective”

Nimisha is what I’d describe as a true innovator. She spots an opportunity and she just goes for it. She used to own a coffee shop and she recalled how when parents and children came in it was always a battle. A battle between the children wanting crisps and the parents wanting their children to eat something healthy. It was exhausting for the parents, the children and the customers enjoying a quiet coffee!

One day she came across freeze-dried apple pieces and bingo! the idea for fruit & veg crisps; a healthy snack that children wanted to eat and parents wanted to buy was born. She bought some equipment, made a make-shift kitchen in her garage and got to work to develop the product. She worked evenings and weekends developing a healthy product, that tasted good, only used natural ingredients and was nutritious

‘Thankfully I was completely ignorant about what I was letting myself in for”

Nimisha called her product Nim’s and she experimented for nine months with painstaking attention to detail to get the product right. This also included the branding. “It’s so important that the packaging looks good. I’m used to running shops and buying goods so I’m very aware of how a product has to look to sell.

“I wanted people to see Nim’s on the front of a pack and not have to look at the back for the list of ingredients – they would know it would be 100% natural”

Test your product with your customers

Finally after endless sleepless nights Nimisha was happy. She tested whether the product would sell in her own coffee shop. It did. Next she tested selling her crisps at a stall at a local summer fair. She got good feedback. She then developed some trays with branded backing that she took to the local delis and independent shops that might sell them. She offered the tray of crisps on a sale or return basis to see if there was a market. 16 out of 20 shops she approached said ‘yes’. She also wanted to test for repeat business potential.

“People might try a one-off as a novelty, so if the shop could refill their tray x3 then that’s repeat business and then I knew the product has potential”

12 of the 16 shops sold more than 3 trays.

To be sustainable Nimisha needed volume

Nimisha knew from the beginning that being a niche supplier to small independent shops was not going to move her business forward. If her business was going to work then it had to be at volume. But it is hard to make the shift when customers like your products. It can be easy to lose your business mind when you are so close to and passionate about your product.

It took a friend to point out to Nimisha that selling a few hundred bags here and there wasn’t sustainable, financially or personally as she was working all hours of the day and night.

She shifted her focus from how to supply to small shops to how to scale. She started researching suitable factories that had equipment that could be adapted to make Nim’s fruit crisps. She looked at factories that already dried fruit in Bulgaria, Poland and Turkey. Finally she decided to test the approach with a factory in Hungary whose owner loved the product. He didn’t speak a word of English though so his daughter drove for half a day for the meeting to translate for him!

Nimisha spent a lot of time showing the factory how to make the crisps. The logistics of getting the product from Hungary to the UK were also far more complex and expensive than she imagined.

By this time Nim’s crisps were in Harrods, Selfridges, Planet Organic and 3 national distributors which might sound big but it was not the volume needed to make adequate margins. In addition to that Nimisha didn’t feel in control. There were problems with the quality. They were on the brink of signing up major supermarkets but they were also getting complaints. Scaling when manufacture wasn’t right was a recipe for disaster so Nimisha decided to open her own factory.

Nimisha secured an investor, sold her house and her coffee shop and set up a factory from scratch. Her investor said “I’m investing in you – I don’t know anything about the product but if anyone can make it work you can”

Before going big Nimisha had to get the product right 

With renewed massive pressure to succeed (as if there wasn’t enough already) and a 10,000 square foot factory in Kent, Nimisha spent 6 months making products and learning to use the machines. In this time not a single fruit crisp was sold. They couldn’t sell to supermarkets until they got the product right.

Nim’s crisps stopped trading for a total of 18 months. When they closed no one else made fruit and veg crisps. When the factory opened in November 2015 the market had changed and there was competition.

However, despite another company now manufacturing fruit crisps albeit fried and made in China, once Nim’s was back in the market their biggest challenge wasn’t the competition, it was that people didn’t understand the concept of a fruit crisp. They thought they were some sort of fruity flavoured snack.

“There is a big challenge in getting people to understand what it is – it takes a long time for people to understand something new.”

In June 2016 Nim’s joined a programme with Produced in Kent – a trade organisation supporting food businesses in Kent. Just 3 months after opening the factory they hosted a stand at a food trade show in Belgium. The response was tremendous.  They are now selling to overseas markets as well as starting to gain traction with big UK supermarkets including Co-op and Ocado. Their challenge now is maintaining a high quality product while managing the increased demand.

“I want my crisps to be an everyday product. It’s 1 of our 5 a day. The cost has to be comparable to a packet of crisps – health shouldn’t be expensive and I can only achieve that price point with scale”

Nimisha’s advice for anyone wanting to innovate is 

  • Make sure there is a market for your product.
  • Don’t make something so innovative that it’s too hard for someone to understand.
  • There is lots of help and investment for funding for innovation if you seek it out.
  • Understand that it will take time and money to develop your idea and then more to make it commercial.
  • Anyone can copy you. Be prepared for this and protect yourself where possible.
  • You know more than you think you know.
  • Follow your instinct and have belief. “I wouldn’t have started if I didn’t think it had potential.”
  • Don’t dawdle and waste time – just get on with it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Just because you can’t do it now doesn’t mean that you can’t learn.

If you’d like to learn more insights from other successful innovators check out the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today.