How Design Thinking Can Help You Ask the Right Questions (and Get the Right Answers)

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Remember when Amazon was simply the world’s largest bookseller? After expanding its products to, well, everything and optimizing the fulfillment and delivery process in the late 1990s, Amazon became the world’s largest retailer.

And you may not know that the old children’s toy, Play-Doh, started its commercial life in the 1930s as a tool to remove coal residue from wallpaper. Another successful pivot, I’d say.

While some might say those evolutions were obvious, what’s often overlooked is the detailed research, meticulous planning, and behind-the-scenes work that led to the pivot’s decision and implementation. In any case, these transformational changes could not be achieved without asking the right questions beforehand.

Asking the right questions requires building a diverse and highly skilled team and employing one of the most essential techniques for managing any project: design thinking.

The power of the pivot

The design-thinking concept has been a business staple for decades, but in recent years it has become known as a powerful technique for organizations to deliver innovative solutions that satisfy customers. It quickly leads them to the truth and hopefully faster than the competition.

Many successful entrepreneurs would say that their most valuable resource is time. And it’s true: in today’s always-on, hyper-competitive business environment, time-to-market is critical. The ‘new normal’ of doing business is that ‘never normal’ should be our guiding principle; market conditions are constantly changing. That’s why business problems need to be addressed now, and design thinking offers a proven process for solving those conundrums, both pragmatically and creatively.

If you want to apply design thinking to your strategic planning process, here are some key considerations to get you started:

Related: How Design Thinking Can Help Foster an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Does your value proposition match a ‘must-have’ customer need?

Do you produce the product or service you want or have simply offered in the past? Or the one your targeted customer base requires? If it’s the first, you’re not on your way to sustained (or growing) success.

Identify and understand your most important customer. If there are many, focus most of your attention on one. Find out why they are buying, what they are willing to pay, what value they see in the product and when they will see it (also known as the ‘buy trigger’). Sharp analysis and design thinking give you the insights to determine the leading (or lagging) indicators that drive purchasing decisions.

Have you assembled a diverse team with the experiences and perspectives to identify all relevant challenges and opportunities?

Here you are looking for diversity of thought and perspective – people who have applied vastly different “patterns” to similar problems. It’s the only way you can go from answering relatively simple questions (“Are we making the right product for the customer?”) to even more critical and potentially transformative questions (“Do we actually understand the right customer?”).

As new ideas emerge, design thinking helps you identify and refine your hypotheses so they can be tested and ultimately validated as the best answer for now† In today’s never-normal environment, it’s not about the long-term solution; it involves a flexible flow of responses that, when linked together, ensure long-term success.

Tap people for your team for their deep and broad demonstrable experience with experiments, who have previously overcome barriers or stumbling blocks. Their experience and intuition will be valuable and hopefully complement yours on your journey to arrive at the best solution.

Related: How a Diverse Team Brings More Creativity and Engagement to Your Business

Can you embrace ambiguity?

Today’s entrepreneurs need the resilience of yesterday’s telemarketers. You need to know in advance that your life will be dominated by “structured” learning by failure”, which ultimately leads to success. If you don’t see failure as learning, you won’t be around long enough to succeed.

The days of scheduling schedules are long gone, be it annually or quarterly. In today’s business environment, entrepreneurs must constantly iterate. Fortunately, design thinking can help people who risk starting something from scratch to make decisions with incomplete facts and data at their disposal.

If you wait to find the “perfect” solution, you will never get the answer and your business will never evolve. That’s why it’s so important to work with a diverse group of teammates to reveal a wider range of pivot options. With a diverse team, you’re better able to maximize the data you have and then see your options from all angles.

Related: Design Thinking Isn’t A Process, It’s A Mindset

Are you willing to ‘present and rebuild, present and rebuild?’

It’s important to have a strong opinion, loosely. Strong opinions help you move forward. Holding them loosely allows you to spin as the facts on the ground change. Design thinking is not a one-off project. You are looking for the right answer for today’s environment; it is unlikely that this will be the correct answer forever. So you have to exercise that agility muscle over and over; apply design thinking time and again by asking and answering the right questions through iterations and experimentation. Times change and your business has to adapt. Design thinking is a surefire way to reduce the chances of being left in the dust.

By broadening your design thinking skills and embedding them into your strategic planning process, you have the tools to redefine the way you work. Only by making sure you ask the right questions can you take on the right challenges and arrive at the right solutions to increase the value you provide to your customers.

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