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3 ways thinking creatively can help your business

Changing the way you think can help you to approach old problems in new ways and be more innovative and customer-centric than your competitors.

‘Design Thinking’ is a different way of thinking that draws on the creative and intuitive as well as the analytical and rational mind.

In today’s challenging business environment, companies like Apple are proving that Design Thinking not only provides a competitive edge, but it also helps people find creative solutions and draws on the passion that led them to start their business in the first place.

Here are three things you can start on today to get yourself moving towards Design Thinking:

1. Think like a customer

Design Thinking for innovation should not start with a specific product or outcome in mind, but instead on creating a user experience that will make your business unique in the market.

You need to put yourself in your customer’s head and ask yourself what they want or need, that they aren’t currently getting from you or your competitors. Be passionate and curious about wanting to create the best experience for your customer – it will be key to standing out and finding a gap in the market.

Imagine the perfect customer experience for your industry, whether it’s a satisfying online checkout, the simplest method of bookkeeping, or making a trip to the dentist more pleasant, then work back from there to design a product or service that will create this experience.

Usually what is unique about the outcome you will end up with is an unlikely combination of services, parts or skills.

Ask yourself questions along the way to make sure you’re on track, including:

  • What is so unique about this outcome?
  • What basic need will it fulfil?
  • Is anyone else trying (and failing) to create this? Why are they failing?
  • Why will this make my company different from the other offerings my customers could choose from?

To foster an environment that encourages this type of creative thinking, use the above process to design a mission statement that highlights the customer needs you want to fulfil. 

2. Question everything (and be prepared to test your assumptions)

To take a Design Thinking approach to problem solving within your business, you need to be prepared to think beyond obvious issues and problems and to tackle your assumptions about what works and what doesn’t.

Begin with looking at the past and writing down all the main problems you’ve experienced and solved in your business. Ask yourself if you could have solved the problems differently. Immerse yourself in wanting to know the facts.

Then expand this line of questioning to look at current problems, then everything you do, including processes and commonplace activities. Challenge every product, service, policy, working habit and distribution channel, and reflect on whether your approach is the best one. Make note of areas you believe you could approach more efficiently or in a more innovative way.

This should not create rigid rules that you must adhere to, as that can actually distract from the actual servicing of your customers. Instead, let the questioning help you to always be on the look-out for ways of doing things differently so you are not caught up in the past.

You may not be able to fix everything straight away, so prioritise the areas where you can achieve some quick success, then tackle the larger problems.

3. Tune into the world around you

Now that you have looked at the past, you can look at the present by observing trends and developments that are happening in the marketplace.

As the continued success of Apple demonstrates, the most successful innovators don’t operate by asking their customers what they want. With the whole world connected through the digital economy, the first signs of fundamental change are rarely going to happen among your customer base. To anticipate your customers and provide them with the products and services they need before they even ask, you need to be tuned into the world around you.

While you need to be getting feedback from existing customers, you also need to know what’s happening in the rest of the market. Get feedback from non-customers, join relevant industry or discussion groups, subscribe to publications and newsletters; anything that helps you to understand what’s going on in your corner of the world.

As well as listening to what the market says, you’ll be amazed at what you can pick up just from observing the world around you. As you go about your daily life, think about your experience as a customer, including successes, shortfalls, and new concepts you come into contact with.

If you are tuned in, you will begin to see a pattern in the issues you are needing to solve, and then solutions become all the more obvious to you. While great ideas can sometimes come by chance, chance favours the connected mind.

You may not always be able to directly apply your ideas to your business, but new ideas are often lingering just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to spring to life.

Improving your business through Design Thinking is a matter of focusing your attention. Once you’ve begun to think about your business in a more creative way, you’ll find it continues to become easier to approach your problems in new ways and innovate in ways that make your business more customer-centric.

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Irene van der Does Willebois

Irene van der Does Willebois

Since migrating to Australia in 2004, Dutch-born Irene van der Does Willebois has built a reputation for herself as one of the country’s leading keynote speakers, executive coaches, and up-and-coming authors. Having worked with clients such as Vodafone, AMP and Macquarie Bank, Irene provides practical ideas on how businesses can adapt to the opportunities and complexities of the 21st century.

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