To be honest, I get a bit bored about the mantra that design thinking will solve the problems of large corporation. Well, when I go through the case studies at Ideo I am extremely impressed by their client list but not about the output. I have seen several design thinking sessions and I am not impressed at all with the output. The results are very often: More-of-the-Same but with fancier design.
Where is the invention from design thinking that changed the industry? Where is the iTunes or the Kindle of Ideo? The problem with design thinking starts very early in the process with the problem definition phase. And that is where large corporations fail. They define the scope too narrow and than you get nice new things that sustain your current business but not new business models that rock your industry and yourself.
Ideo is a very good (self-) marketing & design firm but not an industry rocking firm. Large firms just love Ideo because Ideo just offers such a well designed process to solve the big problem of “being not innovative”. You hire Ideo for comforting yourself for not using your own common sense and your own customer insights. You just outsource your understanding of the customer to Ideo.
And how innovative are Ideo’s ideas?
Let’s take the example of the insulin pen Ideo describes on its homepage as a case [update 22nd Oct 2010, case is not available on IDEOs homepage any longer due to redesign of page]. They did the work for Lilly in 1997. Well, that is not really outstanding since the Danish firm Novo Nordisk introduced the pen in 1985. So Lilly was just catching up to this formerly unimportant drug firm from Denmark that solved 12 years earlier the problem that Ideo solved for Lilly. Novo Nordisk was a business innovator. Lilly is not.
Another show case of Ideo is the modular shopping cart they did in project for the TV channel ABC. Instead of having one big bulky shopping cart they came up with a modular cart that is better suited for today’s shopping habits. Definitely, the new shopping cart is nice but definitely not industry changing. Industry changing were such firms as Walmart or discounters like Aldi. They changed the retailing industry forever. For fashion retailers examples are Zara or H&M who saw that fashion is as much logistics as it is about fashion.
Adapt the Definition phase of design thinking
We have to watch out that design thinking will not become the next management fad like scientific management. I propose we go back to what God gave us, our common sense or in German “gesunder Menschenverstand” and that we use more our curiosity why the things are the way they are. The business model canvas will help us to understand the business we are in.
What is great about design thinking that is all about imagination of the unknown. But to really challenge the hidden assumption of any business more time should be devoted to the definition phase and to the unlearning phase. Only, when you challenge the hidden dominant logic of an industry you can rock the industry. If you do so, the design thinking process can be valuable to your company.
Unhiding the hidden dominant logic by looking at the jobs you do for your customers
So the best way to start is to unbundle your current value proposition. Ask questions like which job do you solve for your customers. And quite often, to your surprise, you solve very different jobs for different customers with the same product. And with dissecting the value proposition into job-to-be-done very interesting new problems emerge on which you can apply the design thinking approach.
I have done this several times already in customer projects and it works well. I used this job based unbundling on newspapers in my recent post on “Who says paper is dead?“.
I am interested in your experience with design thinking and business model innovations. Love to hear from you.