The work of strategy experts should ideally be focused on analytic, conceptual thinking, before stepping into operational planning. But often, the pressure to present a hands-on and actionable plan stands in the way of studying situations from a wider angle. However, this is not a plea for a free ticket on contemplation and philosophic navel staring. Instead, be like a designer. Start with experimentation to help you understand the business context, the users and cultural setting. Make strategy development an iterative experiment. Use prototypes and mockups to learn playfully along the way. Then you’ll build things that have relevance, on a personal and cultural level, both at the present moment and in the future.
Designing an intervention
Whether the focus is spatial planning, military planning, security in public spaces, city transport systems, or many other things, strategy often involves designing an intervention. Yet, design thinking is often not the natural modus of processing strategy research, but gradually the advantages become obvious.
Zooming in and zooming out
In a design approach, you don’t start by writing a thorough research report, sitting only at your desk reading and writing. Understanding the service context is one of the most important elements in designing an intervention or product. This means zooming in and out, to see what is happening. Learn to know the users, the business environment. When complementing observation with trend research, expert inputs, cultural insights, you start to understand how behavior and social interaction emerges from the context and all the designed elements in there.
Learning by doing
Designers don’t wait with their new product ideas before their research is finished. Instead, prototyping at an early stage can tell you already many things. Then, an iterative process follows. Trying out different concepts, learn from the users responses, which can be totally unexpected, all helps to get a better understanding of what the best solution might be. Improvements are always being made, regardless of the stage of the project.
Yes, prototypes do have flaws
In those disciplines and occupations that are not used to the design approach, this is maybe the most likely to raise eyebrows. Prototypes are by definition not perfect, especially when working with complex and ill defined problems. Using prototypes means you are presenting something that can be full of flaws. It may elicit negative responses and be criticized, which may have been avoided by studying until something perfect would roll out. The beauty of design thinking is that it is allowed to play with prototypes, enjoy seeing what happens with them, and improve along the way as creativity kicks in.
The mindset of a design thinker
The joy of experimentation is that it is like playing, use your imagination and see possibilities where others see ambiguity. Instead of the solitary desk research, design thinking requires collaboration and co-creation. That also means having empathy, for the people working with your prototypes, for yourself in the sometimes painful process of creation, and for your bosses who may want to see results now. Optimism is undoubtedly what’s driving designers to believe in the fruits of their work. That their design has relevance, as it taps into the context and user experience. Every reason to embrace design thinking as an approach regardless of any industry or scope.