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  • Holly Chasan-Young

4 Ways to Work Design Thinking into Your Daily Diet

As a Product Discovery Coach, I conduct workshops with teams to help them define and implement product strategy via a deep understanding of customer needs through Design Thinking. While they usually walk away from these workshops completely excited to work this way, they struggle to apply and sustain these concepts in their work.


Like a new year’s resolution to eat more fruits and veggies, this takes a bit of planning and ongoing, conscious effort - but it is completely worth it. 


Here are 4 simple-but-meaningful ways to extend the classroom learning to every day.


1. Be wary of solutions while you dig for problems.


When faced with a problem, we involuntarily tick through possible solutions. The only question is how soon we can get started implementing them.


Once you realize this tendency, you will notice it ALL the time.


“I need a dash board.”


“We need more funding.” 


“We should build an app for this” 


“We've got to hire someone else.”


“Build that wall!"


Whenever you hear these or anything similar, it’s a great time to reel things in and ask about the problem being addressed.


Prepare to patiently dig, because finding the actual problem won't be easy or convenient. It might even annoy some people. But it also might be the only way to truly solve the issue at hand.


Declaring a solution and taking action is initially satisfying, but it could be a huge waste of time. Worse yet, you might end up with a nifty solution that’s searching for a problem to solve.


Only by understanding the problem itself can you solve it correctly.


This mindset can change the way you look at literally everything.


2. Practice the Why.


The five whys method, pioneered by Toyota production system, teaches that we need to repeatedly ask “why” in order to get to root cause. 


Sometimes “why” can come across as confrontational. There are many ways to ask it that you can play with, until you’re comfortable and it feels conversational:

Tell me more about that....
I'd love to hear about your perspective on that.
Oh, yes?
....<silence>...

Many of us don’t ask "why" because we believe we already know the reasons. Or because we don’t want to offend. These are very likely to be incorrect assumptions that keep us from collecting the data we need.


Adopt a beginner’s mindset and endeavor to ask why until you've hit root cause.


3. Build Rapport.

Design Thinking is about being human-centered. Note, this doesn't mean that using surveys and focus groups will cut it! It requires approaching and talking to individual people to grasp their unique perspectives, experiences, and needs.


You have to begin such conversations in ways that cultivate trust and openness.


Recently I took part in the da Vinci Center's Pre-X accelerator/innovation class.


The students were asked to develop rapport-builders: ways to break the ice with people that foster connection and trust.


Sure, there’s always the standard “how’s your day going?” But if your goal is to disarm and charm (and get to some unexpected truths) that doesn't do the trick. Here are a few the students came up with, that you might borrow:

- “What kind of pets did you have growing up?"
- “What usually catches your eye when you shop?”
- “So, do you believe in any conspiracy theories?”
- “What’s your favorite snacks when you’re stressed”
- “Your nails look great! Where did you get them done?”
- “What kind of food are you into?"
- “Your wood and gold sunglasses look amazing. Are they Cartier originals? Do you collect?"

You can practice these as you encounter new people: your Lyft driver or your neighbor or the person next to you on the train. When it comes time to use them with your design thinking subjects, they'll be that much more natural.


Fearing rejection?


That’s OK - it's part of the process. Not everyone is going to want to chat with you. Most will, though. Don’t let rejection throw you; just move on.


4. Make to Think.


When I was first learning Design Thinking, the idea of thinking by making was pretty revolutionary. I don't have it figured out.


But I have learned you can prototype with anything, and anything can be prototyped.


Think about that for a sec! How cool is that?


Prototyping means subbing in a low-fidelity solution (with less up-front thinking or planning) for a larger, more time-consuming effort.


This allows you to better grasp what you're trying to do, and quickly test effectiveness.


You might already do certain things this way. But if you're accustomed to very polished initial drafts, this can feel squishy.


Try something small and expect learning instead of success. Capture feedback and lessons to apply to your next iteration.


Extra points if you’re thoughtful about how you’ll respond to others’ prototypes, which will read to you as incomplete work.


Do you already believe a report, meeting, graphic, communication, meeting or a website will drive the outcomes you're looking for? Build or launch it quickly and cheaply; then conduct a small experiment to get some directional evidence while learning more about what it all means.


I hope you'll let me know what you try and how it goes!


Yours in Moxie,

Holly Chasan-Young, Wonderbolt Labs


Holly is Founder and Chief Troublemaker of Wonderbolt Labs, where she works with innovators to harness creativity, grow fearlessly and reduce uncertainty.

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