The CIO’s Guide to the Design Thinking Universe

For a CIO to achieve his goals, having the right talent is imperative to drive a co-operative, empathetic culture

“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Our world operates on the norm of evolution, but change can be tricky. While every individual defines it differently, the truth is that the more adaptive you are, the more you will grow. Especially if you are a consultant or a business leader. Tech evolution has taken all industries by storm, and within a landscape of constant reinvention, traditional ways of functioning don’t make the cut anymore. One approach, though, matches this evolution pace. Design Thinking.

If your reaction to this was ‘design means creating objects’, that’s a problem. Design thinking essentially means matching sensibility with technology, to develop a core business strategy supporting organizational development. Rather, it’s much more. It’s a mindset led by logic, imagination and intuition, and at the heart of it all lies the human experience. Why consider it? What does it bring to the table?

It’s important to answer these questions, because blindly following any methodology does not make sense. And that’s the beauty of design thinking. There are no boundaries. It’s a non linear approach tailored for the end user, not the process. Almost like method acting. First, it’s all about setting aside your own assumptions and observing concern areas (Empathy). Then, you embrace uncertain patterns to get inspired through ambiguity (Define) and fuel innovation while deferring judgements (Ideate). Next, you create tangible user interactions (Prototype) and understand users even better through their feedback (Testing). You are the user. Design thinking, thus, brings foresight, visual impact, agility and radical transparency to companies that struggle to streamline innovation. It’s almost like the coming-of-age for technological enterprises. They get to break free of traditional clutter. Not to mention the tremendous impact it has on organizational culture, while eradicating silos. Team work makes the dream work!

However, it’s common for knowledge and power structure to collide, and there will be friction. When you have a room full of people focused on identifying the root causes of a complex problem, ego and perception will creep in. It’s possible that the complete opposite scenario may occur. People might get too comfortable within group-think settings. To the man with a hammer, everything is a nail. You might think that you’ve hit that nail on the head, but that might be just your perception, not the correct solution.

For a CIO to achieve his goals, having the right talent is imperative to drive a co-operative, empathetic culture. Keeping people’s curiosities alive and building an engaging narrative is probably the greatest challenge you will face during implementation. And the only way it will work is if you move away from the end outcome and focus on the method. Often, teams concentrate on preventing errors rather than seizing opportunities. This fear of mistakes leads to inaction, thus suppressing creativity.

Stability is comfortable, but comfort does not drive growth. It’s unstable environments coupled with variation that leads to success. This doesn’t mean you need to revamp entire set ups. CIOs need to take it slow. In 2009, a hospitality service provider almost went bankrupt with revenues of $200 a week. On studying their ads, the leadership found a problem pattern. Customers couldn’t see rooms they were booking because of picture quality. So these leaders spent time with them, rented a camera and enhanced photo quality. Within a week, revenue doubled. They then followed the design thinking approach to create scalable technical solutions. 9 years later, Airbnb has revolutionized tourism with a revenue of more than $1 billion and a presence in 192 countries.

A few meetings with the end user in the real world was the start of their success. So start simple. Understand your consumer. Begin with a rough structure to avoid confusing employees, because psychological safety is important. Focus more on driving a culture driven by collaboration of time and resources, not deadlines. Your organization is a reflection of your personality, and following a top-down communication approach is necessary. It’s always the people who matter most.

Design thinking cannot be implemented overnight. Getting used to it and realizing its true value will take time. It is definitely worth exploring though, because the kind of broad worldview it offers is unlike any other. You can be perfectly content with the window view from your house in the city. But what if you were given a chance to explore the entire galaxy on an improbability drive, at the cost of that house? Would you take that opportunity? I would.

By Anupam Kulkarni, Co-Founder of iauro Systems

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