Monthly Archives: November 2015

Design Thinking: How to make one hundred million dollars in six months

I didn’t expect to hear much about innovation at the India Shared Value Summit last week, but I was pleasantly surprised when Shafi Saxena of News Republic reminded the audience of the two pillars of Design Thinking: empathy and creativity. Those two ingredients make Design Thinking work, and Design Thinking is the engine that drives successful innovation.

Shafi made her comments during a panel discussion on how corporations can tap business opportunities in societal needs and challenges. The example she gave was impressive. She cited a group of students who used Design Thinking to invent a solution for warming premature infants. From a blank slate, they created a finished product in 10 weeks. It was field tested in Nepal, where it caused the infant mortality rate to plummet. Shafi reported that GE subsequently bought the invention for one hundred million dollars.

The First Ingredient: Empathy

To put empathy to work in your organization, get closer to your customers and users. At the summit, we heard of positive results from empowerment and participatory design, both processes that place the customer at the center of the innovation process.

Just as social service organizations are learning to abandon paternalism – the idea that they know what is best for disadvantaged communities – corporations are learning to understand and empathize with the challenges, joys, priorities, values and life influences of their customers. The result is solutions that resonate with users and create real value.

The Second Ingredient: Creativity

Everyone is creative. Not everyone is equally creative. The creative thinking tools we use in world-class innovation have always improved the quantity and quality of the ideas that our clients produce. At the same time, my colleagues in the innovation profession and I sometimes wonder how we can get the most creative, imaginative and prolific (generative) minds in the room for brainstorming sessions.

If you sense a need for more creativity in your innovation process, consider using psychometric tests to select your ideators. Also invite non-traditional groups, such as customers, college students, or even small children to propose novel solutions to your challenge. At the innovation lab where I worked, during a brainstorming exercise on Bring Your Child to Work Day, the 8-year-old child of one of our colleagues came up with an idea that we filed and got patented!

Design Thinking is a powerful approach to innovation. The more empathy and creativity you can apply, the more likely you are to achieve breakthrough results. Leave a comment, suggestion or question below, and also enjoy the linked McKinsey article on a design-driven culture.


Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Most Important Person in Innovation

Recently, I’ve posted in a few LinkedIn discussions about innovation culture. Everyone seems to have an opinion about this important subject, but there is little agreement. One of the biggest arguments is about the most important person for innovation in a company. Who is this person?

My answer is clear and unequivocal. The most important person for innovation in your company is not the chief innovation officer, the head of R&D, or even the CMD. The most important person for innovation is the customer!

Customer-Centered Innovation

My first principle of successful innovation states, “Customers are the only critics who matter. Involve them as early as possible in the problem-solving process.”

Economic Times recently published an in-depth story about how Tata Group companies are transforming their cultures to become more innovative and successful. Earlier, most of Tata’s customers were manufacturers. Companies such as Tata Steel and Tata Chemicals drove sales with technical excellence and scale.

Later, the company added B2C lines of business, such as automobiles and jewelry. Customers of these companies, as well as purchasing agents at industrial firms, acquired more knowledge and power through globalization and the Internet, changing the equation for the Tata Group. Some companies in the group—in particular, Tata Motors—faced challenges and even embarrassing reverses in their efforts to grow.

When confronted with similar challenges, some companies redouble their engineering efforts to produce better products. Others hire consultants to do market research in order to learn why customers don’t purchase more of their products. Some firms run their own surveys or focus groups to hear the voice of the customer more clearly. Any of these approaches has some chance of improving results, but even if a company takes all of these steps, the chance of failure remains high.

At Tata Group, CMD Cyrus Mistry has told his company heads to get out of their offices and spend more time with customers. This, in my opinion, is the right move. If Tata’s managers use world-class innovation techniques during those visits, they will very likely discover the insights they need to invent powerful, profitable solutions.

When the MDs set such an example, it is bound to affect the culture at their firms. When the culture becomes customer-focused, then customer-centered innovation has a chance to take root and thrive. When companies demonstrate commitment to innovation and they gain competence in world-class tools and methods, then they become successful innovators.

I wish my friends at Tata Group great success, and I hope that you, also, will follow their example. Why not leave a comment below to boast about your innovations, ask a question, share a best practice from your company, or raise a challenge?

Read about Tata’s new customer-centered culture

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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


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