My Book on Design Thinking titled ‘Design the Future’

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Design the Future

Hi! As some of you might already know, my book on design thinking, titled ‘Design the Future’ is out!

Despite design thinking being several decades old, we are seeing increasing relevance in its application in our fast-paced lives today. I’ve read incredible books on the subject in the years I’ve been practicing it. However, I still find confusion & uncertainty among some of those who have been practicing it, as well as those merely trying to learn it.

‘Design the Future’ is an effort to reduce grey areas by building a stronger foundation. It covers the fundamentals, examples from around the world, and my observations, notes and learning of design thinking & human behavior.

If innovation, design thinking, problem-solving, human behavior or ideation are areas of interest, I’m sure you will enjoy reading this book.

Currently, paperbacks are on AmazonFlipkartInfibeam , and other online bookstores.

If you do read the book, I’d be grateful if you can leave me a review on Amazon.

You can reach me at ‘shrutin [at] ateamstrategy [dot] in’ with your views, or if you’d like me to answer any questions or doubts you might have.

Hope you enjoy reading the book & find it useful in supplementing your design thinking skills.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

A close friend recently shared this article titled ‘Why Design Thinking will fail’, written in 2013 by Jeffrey Tjendra. Jeffrey is a designer entrepreneur and strategist. Among some of us friends, there was were points of disagreement on the article. Jeffrey does seem to have a good understanding of design thinking. This post, however, is an effort towards taking a closer look at each point mentioned there. And to see if it makes sense or not. All of this, with my limited but growing knowledge of design thinking.

Before I begin, here’s a quote by Mara Wilson. While her quote describes storytelling, I believe it offers a more far reaching explanation. With products and services too, for instance. She said, “The more specific you get, the more universal it is. (It’s a special alchemy of storytelling).” – Mara Wilson

Back to the article, here goes:

  1. Misperception of Meaning – I’ll agree, it can be misleading to some. I use either ‘human-centered’ or ‘user-centered’ design thinking in an attempt to bring a little more clarity, especially when interacting with people I believe might misinterpret the meaning.
  2. Loss of Meaning – Can’t do much about that. A lot of effective methodologies often see phases of hype and a lot of randomness being packaged and sold in its name. But as the dust settles, only the real stuff and an increased respect remains.
  3. Misunderstanding and Not Accepting Creative Elements – True. However, any company or more specifically, a management that has ever worked on any form of creativity or innovation, knows how boring, full of trials and iterations, full of mess and uncertainty it can be. Look at your kid’s school projects for instance. If it isn’t too simple, it is bound to take a lot of ‘random’, before it starts to make sense. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, will surely not use design thinking. And that’s alright.
  4. Lack of Business Elements – Coming from a management and finance background, with experience in strategy and marketing, I tend to build those critical business aspects to a design thinking project. And that is especially why the design thinking team needs to have a wide-enough assortment of skillsets. Using only UI/UX people or ethnographers or psychologists is not going to do the trick.
  5. Language and Perspective Barriers – There have been worse instances of communication gaps. For instance, if you have heard the almost unbelievable and heroic story of the Gimli Glider. An obvious technical specification got so conveniently ignored, that it put at risk, 69 occupants aboard a Boeing 767. Read the fascinating story! So, it just boils down to the intention and seriousness of the parties involved. Nothing is foolproof or idiot-proof. But a lot of change and innovation can be brought about with the right intentions. And no amount of left-brain learning and practice can fix unpredictable situations either. Because a lot of left-brain thinkers often learn a process from end to end. Any deviation could potentially leave them baffled. Creative thinking, on the other hand, helps one focus on the fundamentals. On understanding the building blocks more and more. And then, irrespective of situations or deviations to them, there is often more clarity as the building blocks can be used to better understand complexity. And it’s often easier to communicate fundamental building blocks across language barriers, as opposed to communicating complexity to begin with.
  6. Missing Future – Even design thinking veterans like IDEO have made mistakes, overestimating future demand of tech products. A strong problem or opportunity statement (which is open to being updated when you learn more about the end-user) helps reduce the risk. As does an unbiased and strong mechanism to interact with, and observe and understand needs, behaviours and desires of end-users, and capture that information towards building a solution.
  7. Wrong Implementation of Process – Which is why a lot of products and ingredients come with ‘Instructions to Use’. If an ingredient needs to be mixed and cooked, simply sprinkling it will not help.
  8. Poor Direction Scoping – This is where an intention and objective to start with, matters. There are billions of people, billions of problems and billions more opportunities. Which one or ones do you want to target. That’s what you pursue. Ignore everything else.
  9. Co-creation at the End of Process – all I’ll say is, phone sex doesn’t help create babies.
  10. Misconception of Approach to Creativity – This is true. Some people would tend to follow the design thinking process like it is a treasure map, when in fact, it is navigating your way through hostile jungle. Your senses need to be on alert all the time. Any input can change a lot of initial assumptions. That lions don’t climb trees. Or that chimps tend to rely on third party to help resolve disputes.
  11. Wishful Thinking for Culture of Innovation – Completely agree here. Which is why, a startup whose founders have the right values and give importance to innovation, can build it better into their culture, as opposed to trying to inject it into a global behemoth that has a century of history.
  12. The End Process is not the End – true – design teams, just like any other specialty teams, need to walk the talk. Leaving projects with solution advice that is abstract to clients, won’t serve anyone’s purpose. A lot of large consulting firms were infamous for doing this back in the day. Leaving clients many million dollars poorer, and with a big “report” that the client was clueless what to do with.
  13. Risk of Stagnancy – As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Thoughts?

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Design Thinking Basics – 3

Reading Time: 1 minute

In his book ‘Change by Design’,  Tim Brown of IDEO highlights the 3 spaces of innovation. These criteria could be considered as some of the foundation pillars of Design Thinking. Here’s a pictorial representation of the same.

What is Design Thinking?

‘Human-centered Design Thinking’ is a mindset, an approach, and some tools that help solve complex problems or pursue complex opportunities. Unlike traditional problem-solving methods or ideation, it first aims to help understand end users, final objectives or root causes. They could be about actual consumers, business culture, products, services, or even experiences among other things.

Here are the previous two posts on Design Thinking, in case you missed them:

Design Thinking Basics – 1: link

Design Thinking Basics – 2: link

Do subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) to know more about Design Thinking and other topics that encourage reflection and discussion.

Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest.

And if there’s any complex opportunity or problem you are facing at your company, I might be able to help. Get in touch at shrutin[at]ateamstrategy[dot]in

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Design Thinking Basics – 2

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In his book ‘Change by Design’,  Tim Brown of IDEO succinctly explains the 3 mutually reinforcing elements of successful design programs. These criteria could be considered as some of the foundation pillars of Design Thinking. Here’s a pictorial representation of the same.

What is Design Thinking?

‘Human-centered Design Thinking’ is a mindset, an approach, and some tools that help solve complex problems or pursue complex opportunities. Unlike traditional problem-solving methods or ideation, it first aims to help understand end users, final objectives or root causes. They could be about actual consumers, business culture, products, services, or even experiences among other things.

We can then work towards innovating and building increasingly relevant solutions. And when attempting to solve complex problems, it helps us get closer to the actual root cause of problems. Then of course, the tools help you innovate and solve problems in a highly effective way.

Haven’t you noticed how, when approaching a situation logically, one can broadly anticipate a solution early on? True innovation however, usually happens in leaps, and results often surprise. Design thinking is a proven way to innovate.

The best part about design thinking: If done sincerely, the results can be as surprising, as they are effective.

Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Design Thinking Basics – 1

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In his book ‘Change by Design’,  Tim Brown of IDEO succinctly explains the 3 overlapping criteria for successful ideas. These criteria could be considered as some of the foundation pillars of Design Thinking. Here’s a pictorial representation of the same.

And what is Design Thinking?

‘Human-centered Design Thinking’ is a mindset, an approach, and some tools that help solve complex problems or pursue complex opportunities. Unlike traditional problem-solving methods or ideation, it first aims to help understand end users, final objectives or root causes. They could be about actual consumers, business culture, products, services, or even experiences among other things.

We can then work towards innovating and building increasingly relevant solutions. And when attempting to solve complex problems, it helps us get closer to the actual root cause of problems. Then of course, the tools help you innovate and solve problems in a highly effective way.

Haven’t you noticed how, when approaching a situation logically, one can broadly anticipate a solution early on? Yet, we know that true innovation usually happens in leaps, and results often surprise. Design thinking is a proven way to innovate.

The best part about design thinking: If done sincerely, the results can be as surprising, as they are effective.

Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Think A-Team: The Latest Services Menu for Startups

Reading Time: 1 minute

Think A-Team: The Latest Services Menu for Startups

Hi Entrepreneurs!

Late last year, I started a service called ‘Think A-Team’, to bring human-centered design strategy & other relevant services in a transparent manner to aspiring entrepreneurs & enterprising startups in India and abroad, to help them grow faster and better.

One of the key This has been possible by using available technology to considerably reduce everything from physical meetings, total execution time, and even paper (except Post-it notes!). The ‘Think A-Team’ website also makes it easy to request and pay for services.

Towards this effort, I have had the privilege of working with some really interesting companies on their growth journey. Including some where the client and me have never met in person!

I am now confident that this model works. Going forward, my focus will continue to be on making the services increasingly effective. As also, they will be relevant & accessible to needs of young, innovative companies in the years to come.

Below is the updated list of services I am offering via Think A-Team. Get in touch today to request one or more!

Do note that limited assignment slots are available every month. So call or email if you would like to reserve one.

I also request you to kindly spread the word to any startups that you feel would benefit from these services.

Thank you!

Think

The Up Side of Consulting

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Up Side of Consulting

Here’s a post I had drafted for submitting as a resource to MosaicHub, in response to their call to members for ‘the Top 5 things businesses need to know about your area of expertise’.

Here are five top thoughts that we at the A-Team, believe would be beneficial for businesses who engage consultants, for those wanting to start a consulting business, as well as for people seeking a career in consulting. They are based to a large extent on the A-Team’s experience and focus. It will however, provide a certain insight into consulting in general.

To begin with, here’s a thought: The purpose of consulting, is not consulting, but the client.

1.  Never does a one-size fit all – industries, products or services and even markets may be identical. However, our solutions take into consideration even the less conspicuous factors. Factors like promoter aspirations or management vision for a business. Thus, no two solutions to seemingly identical business problems are exactly the same. Never let consultants sell you solutions that you feel aren’t in the best interest of your company

2.  No silver bullets here – you’ve heard of ‘easy come, easy go?’ We at the A-Team strongly believe that is exactly how quick-fix solutions are. We might be able to quickly patch up urgent problems with a tactical outlook. However, our strategies essentially apply for mid-to-long term growth of the company, which is akin to laying a strong foundation before a huge building comes up. Only strong foundations make for lasting results. If consultants promise you magic potions, you’ll know something’s amiss

3.  Who wants ridiculously expensive ‘paperweight’ reports? – We have heard numerous stories of larger companies spending fortunes on consulting assignments. And at the end of what seems like eternity, they’re often left with an attractive, painstakingly prepared report. One that no one at the company knows what to do with. The A-Team, since inception, decided to stay away from merely fancy reports and focus on simple, effective and implementable strategies.

We ensure that all our strategies are broken into logical, step-by-step tasks that are easy to understand and implement by the respective persons or teams at our clients’ company. Our retainer-based engagement model allows for our close association with businesses during implementation of our solutions. Do remember to ask your consulting firm ‘how easily implementable will your solution be?’ at the initial negotiation stage itself

4.  Grey haired scholars are a lot, but not everything – The bigger consulting firms normally look at recruiting fresh graduates or postgraduates and train them on the job. And respected consultants advising large businesses are people who’ve spent decades seeing cyclical patterns of those industries. With Small & Medium Businesses, the problems aren’t similar. Cyclical industry cycles apart, SMBs deal with smaller but way more critical problems than MNCs do.

And unlike MNCs, where efforts and effects can take long to show, it’s do-or-die several times a month for younger businesses. Young businesses might need more nimble and creative types of solutions, requiring a younger breed of people. Planning the vision and long term journey of the company, on the other hand, would benefit greatly by having some seasoned advisors to build stronger foundations on which growth can be built

5.  Stop at nothing – this one’s for aspiring consultants, nothing should stop you from becoming a consultant, if you have all of these – a logical and analytical mindset, and a transparent, ethical and unquestionable intention to do all you possibly can to add value in one or more areas at your client’s company. I had cleared most rounds at consulting firms I interviewed at. But never made it through their final interview round.

General feedback was that while my analytical skills were really good, my oral communication was not as concise and crisp as your average consultant [go figure!] The learning for you is, if you can solve problems logically and analytically, and have the noblest of intentions for your clients, nothing in the world should stop you from realizing your consulting dream. And this comes from someone who, 19 months down, has a few grey hairs of his own, to ‘show’ his distance run.

If you are interested in reading on, this is a little background story about A-Team Business Consulting.

A-Team Business Consulting is a Management Consulting service committed to working with enterprising young businesses globally. We operate in areas of Medium-to-Long term Growth & customer delight strategy. The aim is to be the Growth Catalyst of Choice for our clients.

Back in 2012, prior to starting A-Team Business Consulting, I sought the advice of some very senior and experienced persons from industry on my intention of working with deserving small & medium businesses [SMBs] in areas of growth and customer-focused strategies. While I saw a huge unaddressed demand, I wanted their perspective too. The overwhelming advice I received included a considerable amount of optimism, acknowledging a huge need for growth consulting for SMBs.

The advice, however, had a heavier share of forewarning. For reasons ranging from the fact that it is an extremely difficult space to establish a sustainable business model; or that younger companies are reluctant to pay high consulting fees, and that consulting was best left to the grey-haired stalwarts of industry [indicating those with over 20 years of experience, and who had ‘seen and lived through all kinds of industry cycles’].

I still felt strongly about my intention to help SMBs. So, taking their suggestions and warnings, I dived right in.

I’ll admit, it has been the roughest 19 months ever. And unfortunately most of the business is still operated single-handedly by me. But I have built a highly capable six-member external consultant team. And with over 16 assignments to our credit, things only looks optimistic. More importantly, a smooth-functioning and scalable model, and more importantly, an established brand in consulting, now looks achievable.

And has it been worthwhile? When an extremely driven entrepreneur is delighted enough with your work to offer you to come aboard as co-founder. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me going. Or when you complete a a small assignment for the company of a visionary 40-year old industry veteran. And he sits beside you and expresses interest in having the A-Team partner with them for the long term. Reasons like this are sufficient for us to endure and grow, to help more deserving businesses grow.

If you believe you are building a great company, do get in touch with us. We would love to be of assistance, in areas of Growth Strategy, Customer Delight Strategy, and Ideation. Now, we’ve graduated, and operate on the cusp of design thinking, strategy and human behaviour. We help companies understand their customers and customer needs, and then innovate and grow.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

The A-Z of Consulting

Reading Time: 1 minute

The A-Z of Consulting

I had recently uploaded a new presentation about the A-Team, a Management Strategy & Consulting service for Small & Medium Businesses that I run.

Contrary to the general perception most people have about Management Consultants, I for one, try to keep our image informal, friendly and approachable. And we don’t make clients lighter by several lakhs for incomprehensible presentations. We believe in simple, effective and implementable solutions at an affordable fee.

Anyway, my buddy and believer in the A-Team, Jimmy, happened to see our new presentation, and he surprised me by teaching us the A, B, C’s of the A-Team.

We are truly humbled with this gift, the A-Z list you’ve created, buddy. You truly are very creative, and be rest assured, this list will keep us pushing the limits, always.

Thank you.!!

A-Team

Business

Consulting

Develops

Excellence

For

Growth

Harmony

Ideation

Justification

Kaizen

Lateral thinking

Motivation

Negotiation

Optimization

Positioning

Quality 

Refining

Segmentation

Targeting

Utilization

Venture Capital

Workflow

X-efficiency

Yields

Zenith

_________________

 

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Models that Puzzle Me

This is one of of some business models that just don’t make sense to me.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Models that Puzzle Me

If you came here expecting some scoop on Gisele Bundchen or Miranda Kerr, I suggest you hit the ‘Back’ button. This one’s more about the ‘less figure, more strategy’ business models. I’ll work on a post on real models sometime soon though, I promise.

A few years ago, on a random day at office, I received a call about an investment opportunity. At the time, I used to take an average 2.5 inquiry calls per day, speaking to a wide assortment of people. From second and third generation businessmen to entrepreneurs working on their second or third successful venture. And even some final year students who had budding dreams about what could as well be the next big thing. And every once in a way, I’d get a venture who’s business model was confusing. Here’s one of a few business models that puzzle me.

Anyway, so this call, Mr. Promoter of a company that was into the job portal business that was based on referrals. Simply put, the usual job portals work on the model that companies that hire from a particular site would have to pay them certain fees which would give them access to a filtered set of numerous candidates, and perhaps if some of them were hired, the portal would get another x amount of money per candidate hired.

Now that model, as we know, perhaps works just about fine, as demonstrated by the popularity of naukri.com, monster.com, timesjobs.com, and several thousand others.

This particular business model Mr. Promoter told me about, seemed to be based on a reward system. How it works, is as follows. You are  a good friend of mine. I know you’re looking for a job, so I get in touch with this company, and give them your cell number or perhaps your mail id. They get in touch with you, tell you that they’ll help you with getting a job. They ask you for your resume, and for the particulars of the kind of job you’re looking for, etc.

Now suppose they find a suitable opening for you. They put you across to the company, and in case you’re hired, obviously this firm would get their fee for helping them find a suitable candidate. Of that fee they receive, I would get a small percentage for the lead. Thus incentivizing me to refer more friends of mine for more requirements.

I tried discussing with Mr. Promoter, almost to the point of arguing. I just couldn’t see the future of such a business, and I wanted to make sure he saw my perspective. It appeared simple to me. I could of course, be totally wrong. I mean, that’s what the VC business, just like anything else, is about. It’s about perspective. I could have my views, Mr. Promoter would have his. The market and success or failure of the company would prove one of us wrong.

Anyway, so my points of argument were, that the higher the post, the higher the pay the firm, and in turn the person referring someone would receive. But, in the real world, you don’t really find a VP or CEO of a company referring someone to a firm. Right? I mean, who would have the time or the inclination for something like this. And at that level, one would have bigger things to worry about that trying to find people in order to make some quick bucks by way of referral.

So that leaves us with entry-level all the way to perhaps lower or mid-management candidates. Now most of them would anyway be registered on all the top job sites, where many if not most companies, would be tapping into, as one of their many sources for finding candidates. So that being the case, we can’t really expect a group of students from a college to refer each other to this firm in the hope of supplementing their pocket-money, eh?

So, anyway, I turned down Mr. Promoter’s investment proposal and even called him later to try to reason out that somehow, the business model didn’t seem to hold. He however, seemed convinced.

So much for one of the business models that puzzled me. The promoter and I have not been in touch since. And while I do hope he’s doing well, I am curious to know how his business worked out for him.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Herd Capital

Everyone’s aware of the herd mentality. Be it iPods, bigger and bigger cars, or even a Twitter account.
I’ve noticed similar mentalities in the VC industry. Why do we seek the safety of the herd?
Here are a few examples of it, and also the effects of the same on industries.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Herd Capital

Everyone’s aware of the herd mentality. Be it iPods, bigger and bigger cars or houses. Or even a Twitter account (which doesn’t really make sense if you’re not actually gonna use it). Hell, even I got a Twitter account that I don’t use.

And many a times, it takes a while before a smart management guru finds the method behind some of the madness.

I’ve come across a few similar instances of herd mentality in the Venture Capital industry too in the past few years.

Before I mention them, I’d just like to state here, that the views below are only mine, and I don’t, in any way mean to undermine or insult the knowledge and strategies of my fellow members of the VC community. I’m merely expressing my concern about something I’ve observed.

Herd Mentality. Hmm.

Here’s one such example that comes to mind. The textile/ garment manufacturing and associated retail industry back from 2006 through most of 2008. Companies saw several Million $ of investment, and were doubling and tripling their manufacturing capacities – spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, stitching; you name it… not to mention the number of retail outlets, adding customers (read big brands in apparel) with demands going into astronomical numbers of pieces of clothing.

And obviously all of this took the valuations of these companies pretty high. Just to give some perspective to the quantum of investing, this sector saw around 3% of the total $5.6 billion of VC investment in just the first six months of 2007. That’s roughly a whopping Rs.750 crore.!!

And then, with the collapse of the US economy, textile exporters suddenly lost one of their prime markets. What followed, quite instinctively, is that many of them came back home and focused their energies and capacities on the domestic market. A domestic market that was beyond saturated with all the domestic expansions that were funded.

That led to more n’ more discount malls springing up, running on wafer thin margins.

Then, there was the mad rush after clean n’ green businesses. Of course, there’s nothing bad about investing in technology that’ll help conserve the limited resources of the globe. But from a VC’s point of view, it’s about making money too, right? The focus on making those returns should be a fine filter through which great companies and amazing business models must pass.

However, here’s what happens with the herd mentality. Some companies with limited knowledge or capability, get invested into. And that’s only because some VC was probably not approached by the best companies in the sector yet. Or the VC did not want to miss out on the ‘gold rush’. And so they end up investing in the 20th company in the sunrise sector at a ridiculous valuation. The VC seeks the safety of the herd. Everyone’s doing it, so maybe I should too. This makes the top team at the company over-confident of their supposed capabilities. What’s worse, it makes it tougher to raise its next round of investment. Because of the already sky-high valuation it got its first round investment at.

So, we end up with:

  • Just a handful of the numerous funded companies actually adding reasonable value, globally
  • Several overconfident funded companies that just trudge along, finding it difficult to raise additional money
  • The sector very quickly becoming over-invested and going out of flavor with the VCs. This is due to high valuation expectations by other companies. This is resulting in less investment happening in creating more effective and widespread clean and green technologies and applications; something that was needed by the world on an urgent basis, to begin with

It would help if VCs invested after a well thought-out strategy rather than almost on impulse. Irrespective of whether it means missing the bus on a fad investment sector. This would result in the VC not making losses on a bad investment. At the same time, she or he could focus on understanding the sector quickly and perhaps support young companies with innovative products or solutions that they feel might significantly help preserve the planet. Instead of dumping money into just another solar-cell manufacturer. Or another wind turbine manufacturer, or something like that.

In the end, all this could be herd mentality, or perhaps even the wisdom of the crowds.

Only time and lots of investing will tell.

[Again, these are just my views on it, being strongly based on my belief that known and stable businesses or mass producing of products should be funded more by debt; and the risk investing in paradigm-shifting technologies and solutions should be left to VCs. I would like to get the views of promoters and fellow VCs on this. In the end, it’s all a part of our learning process.]

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.