Design Thinking - So what is it?

As I wrap up my second week of the MIT Executive Certification Course ‘Mastering Design Thinking’ I was thinking that it might be a good time to check-in with any curious bystanders. If you’re interested in learning more about Design Thinking and how it could apply to you and your innovation challenges, then please stay tuned as I summarize my experience and highlight what I find to be most valuable over the course of the next ten weeks.

Design Thinking - So what is it?

It is a highly effective approach to product and service development that relies on diverse teams and a clearly defined process for trial and error, and most importantly - empathy; putting yourself in the shoes of the customer to figure out, not only what they want, but what they need (and may not know they need).

It’s not too far off from Thomas Edison’s approach when he created the lightbulb along with an entire system of electric power to make it work. If you picture Thomas Edison working alone in his lab through all hours of the night, you’re mistaken. He worked tirelessly, yes, but he worked with a team of experimenters through endless rounds of trial and error, learning and adjusting with each iteration.

How does it work?

Here is the gist: FIRST you explore, THEN you create, THEN you implement.

We’re just starting to dig into the explore phase in our group project. During this phase we will be answering “the big 3”  innovation challenges, aka REAL/WIN/WORTH IT.

  • Real - is the need real? Is it desirable as well as useful?
  • Win - can we make it work technically? Is it better than existing alternatives? Is it feasible?
  • Worth it - can we turn it into a viable business model? Is it cost effective? What is the return on investment?

So just to reiterate - first you define the problem, then you make a plan to solve it, then you execute the plan.

The course director, Steve Eppinger, sums it up nicely by saying “If you’ve got some challenging problem, you don’t need to know the answer- you only need a process to find the answer… Designing and developing that process is as important as designing and developing the problem.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg but so far so good. I’ll keep you posted as the course develops.

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