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.