By Suzi Sosa, Co-Founder and CEO of Verb
A development project in Zambia wants to improve family planning and contraception use among young girls. This is not an unusual development problem, and could be approached with many standardized solutions. But, what if we wanted better outcomes? At lower cost? How we would solve it then?
Design thinking is a methodology that increases the probability of a breakthrough innovation and can be used to innovate products, services, and business models. It is particularly powerful for international development because it can lead to more effective programs at lower cost. It is also inherently inclusive and thrives despite severe constraints. In Zambia, design thinking led IDEO.org to the development of pop-up nail salons, which were very low cost, and perfectly suited to the intimate one-on-one conversations most successful for sex education conversations with the girls.
At its core, design thinking is a multi-step process as simple as the scientific method, but it becomes more powerful in the way it is implemented. For example, design thinking requires a willingness to suspend preconceived notions and to approach the process with a beginner’s mindset. It thrives when deployed in interactive, collaborative approaches, welcoming divergent points of view.
Design thinking has three primary phases, which make up the innovation cycle – inspiration, ideation, and iteration. Once an idea has been sufficiently refined, the innovator advances to the final phase: implementation.
Inspiration is the first phase and is rooted in observation and divergent thinking. The goal of the inspiration phase is to acquire a lot of information from different kinds of sources. There are several useful tools that an innovator can deploy to collect high quality information in this phase, such as immersions and peers observing peers. The most important objective of this phase is to delay judgments and conclusions about the solutions and to preserve the “beginner’s mindset.” All great innovations and breakthroughs are rooted in the insights that emerge from the inspiration phase.
The ideation phase is when the innovator begins to form hypotheses. It’s important to maintain an open mind and some degree of divergent thinking in this phase, too, and design thinking tools such as storyboarding, rapid prototyping, and role play can be particularly useful to do this. Ideation works best when the innovator utilizes techniques that activate both the right and left sides of the brain, mixing both creativity and analytical thinking. For example, mind mapping is a very useful tool that activates both sides of the brain. Many other people report having their best, most innovative ideas while engaged in activities like playing music, exercising, sleeping, or making art. Very few people have their most innovative ideas in front of a computer!
In the iteration phase the innovator tests hypotheses made in the ideation phase, and convergent thinking begins to take over as the best solutions emerge. Low-cost, rapid prototypes are particularly powerful tools in the iteration phase and allow the innovator to discover limits and fail fast. It is very important to remain flexible and open-minded in this phase because the first iteration is rarely successful. Ideally innovators are testing multiple, simultaneous solutions before choosing one. The goal of the iteration phase is to use experimentation to collect more precise information that will inform another round of ideation and iteration.
The innovation cycle is complete when multiple rounds of inspiration, ideation and iteration have led to a powerful innovation that is ready for implementation.
More information and case studies are available on www.designkit.org
Did you ever try design thinking at your workplace? Which projects where you working on?
Suzi Sosa is the Co-Founder and CEO of Verb, an international company that partners with corporate, foundation and government clients to build innovation ecosystems focused on pressing social and environmental issues using an advanced open innovation platforms.
Ms. Sosa was also an Associate Adjunct Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She has particular research and teaching experience in the role of design thinking in social innovation, models of venture acceleration, and strategies for building entrepreneurial ecosystems. She was also in charge of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge (DSIC) from 2010-2013.
Ms. Sosa has over ten years of experience in social entrepreneurship in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds. She has been a co-founder of several non-profits, including Innovation+, Austin Women Entrepreneurs and RISE Austin. Ms. Sosa was a Contributing Editor in social entrepreneurship for Inc magazine. She has a Master’s in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a B.A. in the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin.
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