How Design Thinking Influences Business Building

–Published on Inc.com

Design thinking has evolved as an extremely effective method to not only identify and address customer challenges, but to really impact the overall design of your business. At its core, the methodology focuses on solving complex problems, and when effectively applied to business it can dramatically affect your people, processes and systems in a positive way.

While design thinking is rooted in problem-solving, it can’t start and stop at the creation of a solution. It has to begin with stated goals, desired operational and financial outcomes, and ways to measure whether you’re tracking towards those goals. One way to arrive at this point is through a service blueprint, in which you dive into every touchpoint within your people, processes and systems.

This will also help you identify how the solution you are building will be supported internally and delivered to customers. Whether the solution is internal or customer-facing, you have to think beyond the design of it, developing a start-to-finish framework that addresses architecture, operational structure, marketing, distribution, etc.

Design thinking alone is not enough

Design thinking requires you to first diagnose the problem you are solving for. The challenge, however, is ensuring you are solving for the right problem then developing the right solution. But there is also danger of focusing too heavily on design thinking.

You also need to address impending implications that will result from your new solution. To scale appropriately and accommodate the increase in demand, you must optimize your business operationally to support the changes.

While methods have evolved over the years, there are lessons to be learned from history. One such example is of a famous innovator that created a remarkable solution but ignored the need to build a business structure to support it.

Charles Goodyear focused only on developing a solution and was ill-prepared to handle customer response once the new solution was created. As a result, he failed to benefit from his accomplishment.

Goodyear labored for more than 10 years on a quest to transform the original composition of rubber into a more useable substance that could sustain high temperatures. When he finally cracked the code, his lack of business preparedness led to a loss of ownership of his invention, its patents, and all but a pittance of the financial windfall that resulted from it.

What happened next is something we see all too often. A competitor took full advantage of the new rubber revelation and created the necessary business structure and processes to support sales and delivery of the new product.

That company was called Uniroyal and its founder benefitted handsomely from the profits. Charles Goodyear, unfortunately, did not reap the rewards of his hard work, and it was not until 40 years after his death that the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was founded in his honor.

How do you avoid this conundrum?

Building a business structure to support innovation

Bridging the gap between design thinking and business building is the difference between success and failure. Simply developing a new solution to a problem isn’t enough to create a thriving business. To ensure it translates to a scalable and sustainable business, you must think through the operational, sales, marketing, and delivery infrastructure that will support it.

The infrastructure is vitally important. Operationally, the entire team must be on board and prepared to deliver. And this starts with your leadership team –alignment is paramount.

It also helps to have a point person overseeing the implementation of this new structure. In fact, assigning an owner or internal ambassador will make sure all of the right pieces of the puzzle are in place and executing in a timely, efficient manner.

Similarly, the right technology and information systems will need to be built to avoid unnecessary setbacks or failure due to inefficiencies or breakdowns in processes. These tools are not only essential in systematizing processes, and providing a centralized hub for all information, they also support in compiling the needed data for continual review and iteration.

Examining all core areas of business

An evaluation of each department will identify necessary changes to support a new solution or new route to market. Consider the following carefully:

  • Business objectives — Define your organization’s objectives clearly and know how this new solution will drive revenue and create deeper value
  • IT infrastructure — Test existing IT system capacity and functionality to ensure it will support increased demand
  • Operations — Review cross-departmental operations and ensure a clear communication flow
  • Delivery — Consider every step of the journey (your customer’s and employee’s) to ensure you can deliver an exceptional experience
  • Support — Revise procedures to account for new solutions that may generate new or different support needs
  • Sustainability — Looking ahead, is this solution and the infrastructure you’ve built repeatable, scalable and revenue driving?

If your organization is undergoing a transformation to design thinking, don’t make the mistake of overlooking a simultaneous business building process. The combination of the two practices provides a significant increase in the likelihood of success.