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Management

How to avoid the one pitfall that traps companies grappling with change

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 11:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 9:34pm

Most businesses are grappling with how to keep up with change – new competitors with faster, better services are rewriting the rules of many industries. The solution often bandied about is to use design thinking to bring user-led innovation to market fast. But that’s not easy.

First off, what is design thinking?

Design thinking begins with putting the end user first and then finding out their needs. It emphasises rapid prototyping, testing and gathering user feedback. It is a methodology that became popularised in the late 1990s in design and innovation circles but has recently gone mainstream among business chiefs who are under pressure to innovate fast or be disrupted. It can be used for anything from making a software solution more user friendly to reinventing the patient care journey for a hospital.

For most organisations, though, it is a fundamentally new way of thinking: one that is highly collaborative, human-centred, exploratory and iterative. And while design thinking is important, it is only the beginning: a catalyst.

Just as important is how an organisation puts this theory into practise – in other words “design doing”. There has been a lot of recent talk of design thinking; many organisations have appointed chief design officers, acquired design agencies, and set up internal design teams and innovation hubs, hackathons, start-up collaborations and co-creation workshops. But effective innovation at scale depends on more.

Organisations need to live and breathe innovation across the entire business for it to be effective. We invite companies to work with us in our Interactive Studios in Quarry Bay so that thy see and feel how we embed design thinking into our culture.

Consider companies putting this into practise. At financial software giant Intuit, a design for delight programme involved training and cultivating a community of 200 innovators – which ran 1,000-plus workshops over five years to change the way people work across every function – in pursuit of creating new and innovative products for Intuit’s customers. By becoming design-driven, Intuit shifted from what one senior executive has described as “the best-run, no-growth company in the Valley” to “a 30-year-old start-up”. And revenue was US$4.7 billion for the year in July 2016 – up 12 per cent.

At Ford, everyone – from first-year, entry-level research assistant to managing directors – can now bring an idea to the company, have it heard and get it patented as part of an initiative that has tripled the number of inventions the company has received from across its business since 2012. If Ford sees value in an idea, it will help an employee turn it into reality, providing a three-month subscription to TechShop, an open access workshop studio, to encourage the employee to prototype the new idea. In 2015, its employees submitted 6,000 ideas for patent consideration, up from 4,000 the year before.

Ford suggests total organisational commitment, and this means a willingness to change procedures and policies. We believe that a new mindset, a clear framework for change and the goal of scalability from the outset are essential, along with a commitment to reconsider what success looks like for your business.

Remember, people are your strongest assets, so make the most of them. Invest time and resources in training people to learn new cross-discipline skills. Embed cross-functional teams to sustain the innovation enabled by more agile workflows that bring new ideas to market, faster.

Aim to scale from day one – and be flexible. Review your tools, as well. New technology and simplified collaboration tools such as Slack, Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Teams are making innovation accessible and possible across an entire workforce, not just within an innovation hub. Reassess your tools and, where needed, upgrade them. Simple and collaborative tools used by consumers to interact with each other impact the workplace, so capitalise on this.

Put simply, the companies most willing and able to rewire the entire business to create a living, breathing innovation culture will be best positioned for future success.

Inaki Amate is managing director for Hong Kong at Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive

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