When seeking advice, especially from someone you believe can offer great perspective, stick to gaining clarity on the big questions you need help figuring out.
The advice you receive is obviously for you to consider, not to blindly implement.
And especially not for you to defend when receiving it.
Clarify if you think something was misunderstood. I have observed a good number of people claim to seek advice, but the moment the people they seek advice from points out an improvement area, they try to defend it and start chatting about it.
That is usually the ego’s defenses kicking in, which is natural. However, when we try defending and chat about it, that distracts and diverts focus from that very aspect of our behaviour that we hope to improve on (and why we seek advice for).
When I seek advice, I consider the duration of the meeting or interaction as a time to be quiet.
Start with your most important question.
A good person to seek advice from would ideally ask you more questions for context before jumping to ‘advice’.
Counterintuitively, be wary of those who jump to advising with little knowledge about your context.
And every once in a way, you add more questions or course correct, if you feel the challenge you’ve sought help on has not been accurately understood or has been addressed incorrectly.
But apart from that, seeking advice should be about attentive listening, note-taking, and hopefully getting a new way to look at the challenge, and some ways to take a shot at it.
It should not be like a casual conversation with a friend just for the kicks of relieving the pressure or discomfort from it, though if you choose the people you seek advice from well, the conversation will have that effect on you as an incidental benefit.
The men among you might be able to relate to this.
Think of the last time you attended a conference or had to commute for a duration of over 30 minutes. And rather than drive or take a bus or train, you Uber or Ola it there and back.
How often might you have dozed off in the cab?
I have on plenty of occasions.
Doing so is probably not too safe even for us men. But you can relate to this scenario. Unless you are on a call or browsing, or chatting with the driver; there’s a good chance you’ve been generally sleepy. Even more so if it is sunny or gloomy outside, making it a struggle to keep awake in the cab.
We do wake up refreshed though; ready for whatever tasks await us.
Now, imagine those same instances as a woman.
One would imagine it is far more unsafe for her. Which means she needs to resist that overwhelming nap in the cab that we men would struggle to resist.
Imagine an hour or more of commuting. Imagine needing to stay awake, only because you are a woman. Only because the world remains disproportionately more unsafe for you.
During engineering, I used to have a little over an hour of commuting each, to and from college. A 5-minute local bus ride for about 2 kilometers, and then an hour on an express bus flying for a good part on a national highway.
One afternoon, when getting back from college, I remember being sleepier than usual. So I dozed off for a while. After getting off at my stop, and getting into the local bus, I sat on an aisle seat on the left. Next to me on the window seat was an elderly man.
Still drowsy, I nodded off, and my head unintentionally bobbed off this old man’s shoulder. Awoken by the jolt, without looking up, I apologized to this person. Still struggling to stay awake, I nodded off again.
And again, along the twisty roads, my head hit his shoulder. Again, with eyes half open, I apologized, before opening my eyes wide open to try and stay awake. But before I knew it, I had drifted off, only to wake up after the next jolt between head and shoulder. 😛
I wondered how come this old man was so tolerant of this invasion of his space. As I turned to apologize, I realized he was fast asleep too, head bobbing slightly with the movement of the bus.
It is a different situation if a a woman is sitting beside another woman in public transport. But otherwise, this lowering of one’s guard and allowing oneself a few zzz’s in the face of exhaustion is an improbable scenario for most women. She would not feel safe to allow herself to catch a few zzz’s. Even on the most scorching afternoons on a bus filled with strangers she is instinctively programmed to be alert about.
In a generally hostile world, imagine the toll this resisting of sleep, or the need to be on alert all the time, puts on the average woman’s attentional space.
Now imagine how making the world safer, could do wonders to the attentional space of millions of women.
An attempt to create a safer world has many dimensions to it.
From educating us men from childhood, to creating safe environments and neighbourhoods. And creating less-taxing processes and experiences.
Indian queues have been something of an amusement for decades. How we generally struggle to create straight lines, but would rather flock over a counter. That experience for most of us men, though mildly stressful, is only one of ensuring no one cuts the queue before you.
For a woman, it is a far more horrifying experience. It often is about having strange men far too close in her personal space. She is not just concerned about losing a few spots in queue. Her mind is most likely in a state of high alert. Scared she might be pushed off balance, or touched, or pick-pocketed. Not a pleasant state for anyone to be in.
A lot of us have either mentioned or found amusing, how women go to the loo in pairs or groups. There are those of us who only need to slide down a zipper and go. We can never fully understand the challenge a poorly lit toilet or approach presents to a woman. Nor the lack of a hook for a purse, an empty toilet paper roll, or a working latch on the door presents to a woman.
Years ago, as a male teen growing up in India, I have done my share of urinating in public. Not exactly in public, but say into a field on the side of a highway and such. Not proud of it. In fact over the years, I’ve been increasingly ashamed of it.
Many years ago as a student, I was on a bus traveling between two states. The bus stopped in a small town, and many of us passengers stepped out to relive ourselves. On one edge of the bus stand, beyond an open gate, was a swamp.
Since there were far more people than toilets, and given the short duration of the stop, the teenage me headed toward the swamp. A few elders standing along the path to the swamp figured the obvious reason I was headed there. In an animated manner, they seemed to caution me using a word in the language of the state. They kept repeating it. I was familiar with the word. In my limited vocabulary, it meant swamp or small water body or something. I smiled and waved them a friendly ‘don’t worry about it’ and walked past, stood on the edge of the swamp and got to it.
During the rest of the journey, the word of caution from those villagers kept playing in my head. That’s when realization hit that there also exists an almost identical, phonetically slightly different word in the same language. One that translated to water snake! So much for risky relieving business.
But unlike that incident, even the most normal seeming public toilets (including the ones at malls) can seem equally daunting for women. From lights not working, to male staff being assigned to clean them, it is no less scary than the risk of those water snakes.
Imagine the world of a difference between someone able to relieve oneself when necessary; to someone needing to hold it in till she gets to a more accommodating place.
Now imagine how making the world safer and being considerate and thoughtful, could do wonders to the lives of millions of women.
Educate. Be considerate. Design safer and more thoughtful spaces and processes.
I had shared this forward on social media a few years ago, and it popped back up today.
Apart from the innocence, simplicity and being purely hilarious, it is a nice example of the recognition stage of ’empathy’, a term we behaviour and design thinking folk throw around a lot.
Situations we accept in a particular context without a thought, look so different from a child’s perspective.
It helps serve as a reminder that our worldview is not everyone’s worldview.
Enjoy this one:
What, you ask, is ‘Butt dust’? Read on and you’ll discover the joy in it! These have to be original and genuine. No adult is, this creative!
JACK (age 3)
was watching his Mom breast-feeding his new baby sister… After a while he asked: ‘Mom why have you got two? Is one for hot and one for cold milk? ‘
MELANIE (age 5)
asked her Granny how old she was… Granny replied she was so old she didn’t remember any more. Melanie said, ‘If you don’t remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six.’
STEVEN (age 3)
hugged and kissed his Mom good night. ‘I love you so much that when you die I’m going to bury you outside my bedroom window.’
BRITTANY (age 4)
had an ear ache and wanted a pain killer. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a child-proof cap and she’d have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: ‘How does it know it’s me?’
SUSAN (age 4)
was drinking juice when she got the hiccups. ‘Please don’t give me this juice again,’ she said, ‘It makes my teeth cough..’
DJ (age 4)
stepped onto the bathroom scale and asked: ‘How much do I cost?’
CLINTON (age 5) was in his bedroom looking worried.
When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, ‘I don’t know what’ll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in it?’
MARC (age 4)
was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: ‘Why is he whispering in her mouth?’
TAMMY(age 4) was with her mother when they met an elderly, rather wrinkled woman her Mom knew. Tammy looked at her for a while and then asked, ‘Why doesn’t your skin fit your face?’
JAMES (age 4) was listening to a Bible story.
His dad read: ‘The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.’ Concerned, James asked: ‘What happened to the flea?’
The Sunday Sermon this Mom will never forget:
‘Dear Lord,’ the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. ‘Without you, we are but dust…’ He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter who was listening, leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice,
‘Mom, what is butt dust?’
College students and college staff love industry projects. They give students an opportunity to get a feeler of what life after college will be like. Barring any major screw-ups, it is relatively free of the accountability pressures that full-time employees experience. And if there’s a stipend involved, what’s better than that, right?
Consider this…College ecosystems are increasingly focused on industry. And obviously so. But given a choice, every subject project would be an industry project. Top that with b-school obsessions with finishing school type skills to ace interviews. My own MBA program that I’m not too proud of, involved mostly visiting faculty who were really good at what they did, but for many of them, the concept of teaching was something like this… Early in the sem, they’d create ‘x’ number of groups out of our class. Then they’d take the syllabus, chop it up into ‘x’ topics. Each group would present a topic during each lecture. Convenient, right? A more relevant phrase that always comes to mind is, ‘the blind leading the blind.’
So for the heck of it, if we were to plot this trend of live projects forward, colleges themselves would become redundant. Since education exists online in far more affordable, consumable and convenient forms.
So is there something that can be taught at colleges that is tough to learn elsewhere?
I’d say values. Principles. Ethics. Interdependence. Servant leadership. Etc.
My concern with live projects early in a student’s college life is that their entire concept of industry work life gets influenced or shaped by their live projects. And if their value foundations aren’t strong enough, we get the kind of mess a lot of leading business schools (think ‘bar-word’) have created. The sole focus on sales and profit at any and all costs. The global environmental crises, deforestation, corporate glass ceilings, unequal pay, workplace harassment. This about one Harvard dropout Mark Zuckaberg’s moral compass with Facebook. Soak in the irony for a moment. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica conspired to rig elections around the world. And in 2017, Harvard University, based in “Cambridge” Massachusetts, awarded Zuckaberg an honarary Doctor of “Laws” degree.
I believe the first 1-2 semesters in any college should be more about building morals leadership with an industry perspective, rather than simply taking students and tossing them into the “big bad world”. Because it isn’t so much about learning skills. Those are easy to pick up on the job. But few teach you values in the industry. Do you want to leave your student’s future to that chance?
Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.
Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.
Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.
It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited. Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.
A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.
A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.
Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.
The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.
While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories: (i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and (ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider
My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.
There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.
Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.
Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?
I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.
So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.
Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.
In India, Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act (2013) relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR). For a few years now, it requires companies clocking over a certain turnover or profit, to spend 2% of (their three-year annual) net profit on CSR activities each financial year.
Allotting profits to CSR in general, and to the environment in particular however, seems more a post-mortem thing to do. Especially now that we humans have brought the world to the brink, with regard to the climate, animal and plant life.
Because that is how CSR seems to be designed. Conduct business in any manner you please. And at the end of the year, give 2% towards corporate social responsibility initiatives. And you are absolved of ecological sins committed inadvertently or otherwise, in the course of business. The 2% seems like a ‘no-questions asked’ opportunity for redemption, irrespective of the damage done.
What if, instead, companies could be made to be responsible from the time they start business? If every action, employee, step and process for an existing business was also committed to align with environmental needs?Not in a punitive way. But maybe a set of guidelines that businesses could introduce towards becoming more holistically responsible from the starting line. Perhaps the corporate ministry could help.
What if companies could be made to be responsible for every action, employee, step and process?
Build responsibility into the corporate or startup value system and into everyday actions of all employees of the company. That’s the only way we can collectively grow without triggering global catastrophes each year.
If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.
And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.
Google’s AdSense program let’s publishers or website owners have relevant ads show up when users visit those sites. Google earns revenues (via their Google Ads – previously AdWords platform) from businesses wanting those ads showing up to relevant customer groups. In turn, they pass on some of that revenue (based on ever-changing conditions!) to the site owners for using their space for displaying ads.
Google’s all-encompassing know-how of users and their searches and interests makes all this possible and seemingly co-exist well.
A few years back, I had applied for Google AdSense for my blog. Thankfully for me, they had replied with the inability to take me into the program. According to them, my blog covered a diverse range of topics – something not suited to their business model that prefers everything in buckets. Highly specific, highly siloed topics or themes. If only humans were that basic and simple.
While probably a lot of people are aware of the underlying problem with this, it seemed to get highlighted after a recent meeting with an old friend.
This friend was telling me about how he and a friend were keen on creating a blog that shared information around good health. And so, they collaborated and got working on it. One had a tech background, and handled site development and Google services they hoped to integrate and earn from. My friend, good with content, had already researched and created several articles around the theme of their still-being-developed site.
Then, apparently this June, Google altered their AdSense program, leading popular healthcare related sites and services to see a near 50% drop in web traffic to their sites. The result. These two friends have at least temporarily shelved the project.
Imagine people with keen interest or even a passion for certain fields or topics. And their humble hope to share their knowledge with the world, and to learn from it. To connect with like-minded people in other parts of the world. To interact and grow. And perhaps be remunerated for their effort, even if moderately. These people have now often been basing their decision to continue in that field or not, based on Google’s whims.
As a kid, I once heard of how in China, the government has a say in the profession you pursued. And it was independent of your educational background. I thought it was highly illogical.
Yet here we are. Unconsciously doing the same thing in accordance with the wishes of ever-changing algorithms of a for-profit company.
If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.
And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.
This post about my 9-step version of the design thinking process has been long overdue. It is already explained in my book, ‘Design the Future’, but I also wanted to share it here for those interested.
The five-step Stanford design thinking process is arguably the most popular process out there. I have however, come across numerous different processes or versions. Ranging from the 15-step Darden process that I was taught, to oversimplifications and misleading three-step processes I have come across.
In my interactions with managers, business leaders and even students, I found that while many were familiar with the Stanford or some other design thinking process, they did not quite understand it well enough. For instance, ‘empathy’ came across to them as something that is ‘just done’. Similar to how many people assume hearing is the same as listening. And seeing empathy as a step in the process gave many the impression that like a switch, it had to be turned on and then off, as one moved to the next step.
So, in an effort to simplify the design thinking process so more people may use it, I created my own version of the design thinking process based on my understanding of design thinking and experiences practicing it. I took the Stanford model, and hopefully improved it.
You need to remember that any design thinking process is a broad guideline. It is not like a military obstacle course that one must complete in a defined sequence. You might find yourself looping through a few steps multiple times. Or in some cases, depending on what the information or insight presents, you might find yourself back at the beginning; starting again with renewed understanding of the challenge.
Sherlock Holmes, in the series ‘Elementary,’ once tells Watson, “The danger with rule books, Watson, is that they offer the illusion that leading a moral life is a simple undertaking, that the world exists in black and white. Welcome to the grays.”
At least when it comes to areas such as creativity and drawing inspiration, remember there can never be stringent rules or guidelines.
My 9-step version of the design thinking process:
Of the nine steps in the process, the first three are more underlying criteria than steps. Criteria that are critical to improving the chances of success on a project. Those three criteria are Humility, Empathy, and Intention. While these might seem obvious to the point of sounding stupid, they are often the most ignored aspects to a design-led process. More on that as we understand each step better.
After that come the more common steps of most design thinking processes.
They are: Define – Empathize with Intent – Redefine – Ideate – Prototype – Test
Let’s look at the nine steps more closely:
Humility – The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance. Its relevance springs from the simple signal versus noise perspective. Our objectives as design thinkers is to maximize our understanding of user experiences and needs. Of those we want to innovate for, or whose problems or challenges we want to solve. That is the signal that is of utmost importance to us for innovating for them. Our views, opinions, and biases are the noise.
The moment you can bring yourself down to the level of a beginner or a learner, you put yourself in the backseat, and that’s when the end user or final beneficiary of your innovation will come into the limelight of your focus. Remember to start with humility.
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in a live user-setting and observing and/ or interacting with users to get a better sense of what a problem or future opportunity might mean to them, how they deal with it, and so on. In conjunction with humility, it offers a good environment to capture user information.
Unlike what some methods might state, empathy (and humility as well as
the next step, intention) are not steps in themselves. They should not be
traits that you turn on and off depending on which stage of the design thinking
process you are. It is also why, along with the intent, I have placed them at
the base of the six-step process, to signify how the three traits always need
to be ‘ON.’
Without being in a constant state of empathy, no real innovation is possible. And that will be the difference between a real design thinker or team creating an exceptional change, and people simply practicing it as a flavour of the times.
Intention – An intention is the larger thought and nudge to action for a change, that brings you to employ the design thinking process. You might wonder what the difference is, between humility, empathy, and intent.
As a business leader, humility will always help you spot customer or employee or other stakeholder needs and concerns. Empathy will let you better understand those needs and concerns. To get to the root causes of it. You might still choose not to do anything about it, because you don’t have the intention to. Contrarily, if you have the intention, but lack humility and empathy, it would mean that your objective or goal is not the right one.
Equipped with humility and empathy, but in the absence of any intent, a
business leader will always spot improvement areas in his or her business. All
they need then is to choose their intention – i.e., determine the direction of
their effort, and get working on it.
Define – Here, we put the problem statement or
opportunity statement in words. It is a starting point of sorts, to the primary
design thinking process. Before interacting with user groups, this is a step
where we broadly express what we think the problem or opportunity area might be.
It could be how a client has described a problem, or, if we are helping a
friend or industry colleague, it could be their description of the issue.
One key thing to remember with defining a problem or opportunity is to
make it sound positive, irrespective of how grave or pointless the situation
might seem. A lot of companies are prone to defining/ framing what hurts first.
Their definition ends up being a problem statement which sounds grim. The
disadvantage of doing this is that when you invite people to think of ideas,
even as part of a brainstorming exercise, a grim-sounding problem statement
stifles the thinking, and will hugely limit the number and quality of views
that you receive.
On the contrary, if you turn your problem statement into an opportunity
statement, people ideating will be in a positive mindset, and be more attuned
to think of creative ideas. Try to notice the difference of mindsets the
following two statements evoke. Read them more than once if necessary:
A Problem Statement: “How can we drastically reduce our after-sales
service related expenses?”
An Opportunity Statement: “How can we redefine our service arm to be more relevant to customer needs, while not proving expensive for us?”
As Abraham Maslow once said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Defining a challenge too negatively and very precisely might give you solutions that just create more problems of their own.
Empathize with intent – This is the fun phase, where you spend time
observing actual users in their natural surroundings. See how they consume a
product or service. How they interact. And you must do this in the subtlest way
possible, even when you are interviewing or interacting with them. Especially
if the process is delicate or embarrassing for the end-user, or if the user is
introverted or are in some way intimidated by you and your team’s presence.
One important thing to remember in this phase is to be subjective with the empathy, but objective with what they share with you. If you have a subjective mindset when trying to find learnings, you might tend to get lost in a problem. And depending on the type of assignment, it might leave you either in disbelief, or maybe even depressed or an emotional wreck, depending on the kind of problem you are working to solve, as users expose you to severe difficulties or bitter experiences.
Instead, empathize with users as they walk you through their journey, experiences, feelings, and thoughts. But look at it from behind a glass wall when taking notes or drawing inspiration or conclusions from it. That way, your focus is not diverted by problems but instead stays focused on noting down those problems and possible thoughts, reasons, etc., that might spring to mind. The focus will help you then work towards getting rid of the problem, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it.
Redefine – After gathering user insights, we revisit our original definition with what we have learned. After enough information has been collected in the earlier stage, the team debriefs. The information is shared amongst team members without contaminating it with their inferences. That way, each member gets a clear sense of how things presently are.
Often, when tasked with solving a problem for someone, even when we have little or no information to go with, we are eager to get started with identifying potential solutions right-away. You might have seen this tendency in yourself and others (I tend to, from time to time), where someone mentions a problem, and without stopping to understand more, you start rattling possible causes or solutions.
That happens when we go with our definition of someone else’s problem. Which is why, after an initial definition, once we get a better understanding of it from actual people facing the problem (in the ’empathize with intent’ stage), we redefine the challenge more accurately, based on what we have learnt.
Ideate – This is the stage where designers would take the information they have gathered and use it as inputs that they put through a choice of design thinking tools. Tools including the brainstorming or versions of it, to contra-logic, worst-idea, brain-writing, trigger questions, changing perspectives, etc., and then use anchors, forced combinations and connections to come up with numerous ideas. The more ideas, the better, and the crazier the ideas; even better!
Prototype – Prototyping an innovative solution is akin to shaping a solution using two pairs of hands – your design team’s, and your users’. In the previous stage, you would have identified some potential ideas and possible directions regarding a solution. This is where you need end users to help you figure out what works for them, and what does not.
The objective of this stage is to be able to move rapidly towards a final solution, with minimum investment (as far as possible) on experiments towards refining potential solutions. The moment each prototype becomes too expensive and complicated, there is a tendency to either convince yourself and your team that it is a great solution (because of the effort that went into it. It is a cognitive bias called the IKEA effect).
Another possibility is that if you encounter a roadblock at this stage, your team or the top management might get easily demotivated and consider it a colossal failure, solely because your team spent a fortune building a prototype that user groups did not like or approve of.
Instead, make the most basic and low-cost but effective prototypes possible. Use anything from sheets of paper for story-boarding, to card paper or cardboard, Styrofoam and other craft supplies to work toward a final solution. Your objective with each prototype, is to test no more than one factor or variable you need clarity on. Test too many criteria, and the learning becomes unclear.
At workshops I conduct, I sometimes take my old letterheads for participants to use for discussions, sketching, or to make things out of.
It is only when everyone finds using anything lying around them as potential material for prototypes, is when prototyping will become far more prevalent. The same goes for ideating. If the materials you use are too fancy, you or your team might use it as an excuse to delay prototyping, or even ideating.
Which is also why, while a lot of design thinking workshops use post-its and put up pictures of it, few participants continue to use post-its to implement some of the tools they learnt. Because buying post-its is expensive and sometimes inconvenient. If you can’t make do with stuff already at your desk or around, the action gets delayed till you buy those supplies. Take this from someone who uses toothpaste or soap to write on the bathroom wall so that a potential idea does not disappear with the flowing water.
Test – Once you’ve completed the prototyping phase, you
move on to testing. The significant difference between the two is that while
prototyping was far greyer and also, the prototypes were far less expensive but
required a slight stretch of the imagination by the user, the testing phase is
that much more advanced, as it is that very close to the final product or
And unlike checking one feature at a time in the prototyping phase, here
you are testing the product or service in its entirety, towards ironing out any
features or poor service extensions that exist, by letting your users directly
interact with the solution.
The first rule to keep in mind in the testing phase too is that your
product or service is not final or finalized yet! There would still be some
assumptions that your team would need to test. For instance, it is one thing to
prototype with sketches or storyboards or even pretend mobile interfaces. Quite
another to have end users interact with your store layout or theme park or
Which is why we have the testing phase, where your team would help build
almost-final solutions to test them in the hands of a closed group of
stakeholders. It is great to have a select list of people who will evaluate your
creation. That increases the focus and feedback capturing. And what you will be
testing, are any assumptions that were earlier not tested, or that sprung up
along the way with the increase in clarity.
It isn’t possible to overstate the amount of valuable, even critical
insights that can be gained in the testing phase.
Testing is followed by eventually launching the product, service or
change – once all assumptions and user hesitations have been factored in.
After you’ve gained more realistic insights from real users who
interacted with your prototypes and brought you very close to a final solution
that you by way of prototypes and then running exercises with them in the
testing phase, you are finally onto an almost ready and well-refined answer.
Ideally, even after launch, the journey should be looked at like it is the making of a TV series. You’ve launched season 1 or 2, and it is doing well. But you need to check-in now and then as to how viewers are reacting and engaging with it. The bigger question in your mind always is, is there enough traction to demand a season 3, and if yes, would there be any significant changes needed (replacing actors, etc.) or is the show no longer relevant to its audiences. In which case, you then need to figure out what next. That way you are not going in blind with season 3, to later find out it lost its audience midway through the previous season itself.
One should remember that there is no perfect product, service, experience or solution to user needs or problems. And there are no runaway results promised by design thinking, the way some firms guarantee the ability to create viral videos. But yes, you always have a far greater chance of arriving at a product or service that people want or need by using design thinking, than by merely guessing or troubleshooting your way through.
As an individual, if you have a habit your core doesn’t fully approve of, you’d find a disconnect that you might, either align with, or from time to time try to fix.
It could be diet, fitness or even ethic related.
And often, between control or restricting something for your own benefit (like a diet restricts the irresistible food), and something you could buy to compensate ( like a pill), most people would be inclined to buy (and take) the pill as opposed to the challenge of resisting tempting, unhealthy food.
It’s amusingly similar with governments and businesses. Choosing business opportunity to avoid change.
Consider school shootings for instance. The obvious solution is the curb the sale of guns to the masses. But that’s bad for business and apparently against civilian rights (of all the ancient rights to desperately hold on to). So instead, while gun sales continue, you get interestingly innovative products being created to combat the inability to restrict gun sales.
Like unbreachable door barriers for schools. Now they’re toying with installing microphones in school. To monitor conversations, and use machine learning algorithms to preempt a shooting based on tone and words used. Imagine the pointlessness of that.
From what I’ve read about school shootings and behaviour, it is more like an excuse to become more intrusive. Not so much to actually solve the problem.
We reflect human weakness in our inability to directly tackle a problem. And also when we allow it to thrive while we build business models around the growing problem.
And this business opportunity to avoid change comes in different sizes:
With our high hopes, we do face the occasional disappointment. Not getting that promotion you worked so hard for. Having to postpone a holiday because of some reason, or difficulty in scheduling a meeting because someone’s too busy. How do you deal with such disappointments?
Here’s something I have learnt that seems like a great idea.
If you don’t get that promotion you really put everything to get, try to recognize the people working for you who have been doing the same thing for you. And whose progress might have been unrecognized or not rewarded by you.
Had to delay a long overdue vacation? Find someone on your team who is long overdue for a break. And let them have it.
Finding it difficult to meet someone you really want to? Give in to meeting requests from others that you would otherwise perhaps have ignored.
And so on. Get the drift? You’d be more at peace. And that seems to be the point of disappointment. It is perhaps an external factor that brings your attention to something you might have otherwise left unnoticed.
My book on design thinking titled ‘Design the Future‘ is out. If innovation, design thinking, problem-solving, human behaviour or ideation are areas of interest, am sure you will enjoy this book.
You can get your paperback copy via Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam and some other popular online bookstores.
Would be great if you could leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read the book.
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