Design Thinking and Creating a culture of innovation

8 Jul 2017

Design Thinking and Creating a culture of innovation

India is at the cusp of transformation. We have the unique opportunity to create a model that would help build the nation of tomorrow for a population of a billion plus people. Early this year I had the opportunity to listen to Tom Kelley, founder of IDEO, at NILF in Mumbai. His session convinced me that there was a way to continue to focus on innovation despite the pressure for immediate returns and delivering results quarter on quarter. Tom spoke extensively on the role played by Design Thinking in building a culture of innovation.

But Why design thinking?

Well the traditional engineering approach is problem solving. So, we have a problem and then we solve it. But it has been observed that most solutions may create new problem. A good example is traffic in India. There is congestion at a junction. So the civic authorities decide to build a flyover. As a result the traffic congestion is removed from that location but not piles on another junction. This was we create new problems while solving existing problems.

Design thinking on the other hand would start with the premise. What is the ideal state? Is it a less traffic or is it creating a stop free commute for those on the road? Or is it taking the least time while commuting from point A to Point B. Now this approach tackles the end state, not a solution to a current problem, which is congestion at a junction.

So how does one start with Design Thinking?

There are three critical steps in my opinion but the starting point is listening to the customers and end users. Tom in his session spoke about the need for listening with empathy, listening to customers and end users and then putting yourself in their place. Often organizations rely on surveys, but we all know how pointless those exercises are. People are not totally honest in the surveys because generally they want to be nice to those taking the surveys. Sometimes the surveys do not address the core issue and in those cases an opportunity is lost to get to the crux of the issues faced by individuals.  This point has been addressed very well by the book “Everybody Lies” by Seth Stephen Davidowitz. A must read for those who are planning to start with surveys. But then how does listening help us get to the root of the problem?

A few years ago GE Healthcare engineer Doug Dietz overheard a conversation between a little girl who was to undergo a MRI scan with her father at the University of Pittsburg Hospital. As an engineer, he had never realized that children were scared of undergoing a scan and had to be sedated. This is essentially  because the MRI Scans require the patients to lie very still in order to get the perfect image, but the process is slightly unnerving for an adult and then children did get scared during the process. This was not a question he asked in his quarterly surveys to radiologists and he hardly had ever spoken to patients before this incident. While the surveys came back with excellent feedback, he knew that they had a bigger problem which the surveys were not designed to address.  After this incident he spoke to many of the patients and  their parents and then using design thinking principles he and his team created the Adventure Series of MRI Scans. A breakthrough product but would have not seen the light of day if Doug had not listened with empathy to the conversation between the patient (the little girl and her father).

The new series was essentially the same MRI machine from a technical point of view. Any change in the machine would have to go through a FDA approval process and years of tests. Using Design Thinking what Doug changed was the visuals around the machine. The machine scan came along with a narrative that the child had to play a game.

(Image Source: www.slate.com)

One of the narratives was that the child was on a ship and there were pirates looking for him or her. So, they had to lie very still to avoid detection. The radiologists and the technicians also dressed up for the part with pirate hats. This simple intervention, reduced the sedation rate from 80% for the standard machines to almost 10% for the Adventure series.

doc (241 Posts)

Strategic transformation and business development professional, with the ability to convert complex processes to simple concepts. A keen India watcher, with a passionate fervor for promoting and writing about Desi brands. Speaker, Writer, Story-teller, Head Banger and Manchester United Supporter.


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