Design Thinking in Business Strategy

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by: Idris Mootee

I have received a lot of great feedback from many of you on my previous post "MFA is the new MBA". There has been some heated debate from our MBA strategists on whether designers can really handle the data-driven culture of board level decision making.

Here’s how Tim Brown of IDEO sees design thinking can drive business innovation. He describes "design thinking" as a human-centered approach to solving business and technical problems. It can be used to "drive strategy…. no one knows how to act on strategy from Power Point or Excel." He also talked about inspiration. Inspired people, like scientists and artists, have keen observational powers and are open to surprise. In short, they look. But more than most, they see. They are also empathetic, able to feel something toward the object of their thoughts. There’s no questions that these tools can infuse new insights into business strategy. I think there’s even more to that.

Back to the business world, there are misguided notions that rigorous quantitative analysis is the sure path to a creative business strategy. Examining the industry structure (Porter’s 5 forces) will determine the attractiveness of any businesses. It’s a very useful tool indeed as it gives you a snap shot of the current state of the economics of the industry, but it will not inspire you with new ideas to change the industry structure or economics. Well, some consultants do that on paper, but at the end of day, that’s not how you get the "big idea". It all needs to come back to customer-centricity. It is about applying imagination to fulfill customer’s unmet needs (both articulated and unarticulated). I call it "engineering of human desire". In my own 25 years experience of strategy consulting, 60% of the world’s business problems can be solved by design thinking, 20% is about people’s issues and the other 20% are simply not solvable.

Human-centered design thinking can inspire and inform business strategy. The two main tools are prototyping (producing ideas quick enough to fail and learn) and story telling (getting things implemented by selling compelling narratives and not just "concepts"). Design thinking in businesses strategy can help to explore growth opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve meaningful differentiation. There are many useful business frameworks in my toolbox that work nicely to compliment these design tool kits. I have been building this tool box for the last 12 months in my spare time, and it’s a complete crossover of design and business tools. I have included a few of them in my privately circulated CEO’s Innovation Playbook. I hope to share some of those later as I am still building on those.










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