The potential of design thinking

Traditionally startups in India were limited to local geography driven, short-term vision of “produce local” and “sell local”. Recent trends in globalisation and liberalisation have provided greater opportunities to explore markets beyond the country and this warrants a wider thinking — a complete shift in the way we approach problem solving. The success of this journey for startups will hover around the focus on “who my customer is”, “what the customer wants” and not “what I can offer”. The ability to change the viewpoint from our own to that of the user — to visualise, think and feel what the user is going through is the key to design thinking.

We often tend to fall back on market surveys and conventional market research. This has also been found to be a dead-end street — market research cannot reveal the emotions the user is going through, nor can it visualise a life other than what the user is actually living at the moment. Design, after all, calls for the creation of something new, which does not yet exist, and therefore impossible to do market surveys on.

Cultivating a “design mind” before applying the design thinking process is key to providing the product or service that will enhance the lives of the end user. There are several elements to the design mind aspect. It is not about a mere attempt to get into the shoes of the person who is facing the problem, but becoming that person in a problem situation. It is about applying the elements of design thinking to understand the “unstated requirements”, leading to unearthing blind spots that will propel the adoption rate of startup ideas. In essence, it is all about shifting the focus to customer development as a startup organisation and not merely product development.

Having an eye on the larger picture of the customer environment by taking perspective of things, is key to generating disruptive ideas that will influence the way the customers use or experience the product – an unbiased future focus of what the customer would need.

Another leverage we get by using the design thinking approach is to stretch the startup’s vision beyond current reality to a desired state — say a 10x growth possibility. Transitioning from the mystery of startup business to a heuristic approach that culminates in designing an algorithm for global penetration will benefit the team in scaling up their solutions and providing a predictable experience to the customers. This will help in focusing on elements beyond idea and finance, something predominantly influencing the young teams, to think how we can grow the brand capital and leadership capital.

A note of caution: while deliberating on applying design thinking, it is important not to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to apply the entire process or all the tools to arrive at a possible solution or a design. Applying one of the guiding laws “less is more” is imperative and beneficial for the startup leadership team. Ultimately, for standing out in a much-crowded startup ecosystem, focusing on the “last 2 per cent” that will give the customers “200 per cent experience” will be the recipe for success.
The author is chairman & managing director, Intellect Design Arena Ltd

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