HOT READS FOR THE PRACTITIONER
Title: When You Need a Wow!
Competencies: creativity, innovation, problem-solving, teamwork, decision-making, entrepreneurial leadership
Who benefits: very broad application in the business world; especially useful in non-profits with limited budgets/resources; entrepreneurs with dreams of success
Consultant Usage: a “must/should” for consultants at the organizational level, team trainers or facilitators, trainers in problem-solving techniques/creative thinking
What’s it about? As regular readers know, I am a big proponent of Coursera, the free online university. On Fridays I publish a list of upcoming courses that I think some of readers might be interested in. But today I am going to jump out of the box because I want to strongly recommend an out-of-the-box course on thinking/innovation/creativity/problem-solving.
The course is Design Thinking for Business Innovation, a 5-week course taught by Professor Jeanne Liedtka at the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia. I am going make a personal disclosure here. I signed up for this course because I thought it might be interesting. Dear reader, how wrong I was. This course is downright fascinating. I am jazzed! This is everything an online course can be, should be. I sat down to watch the first 15 minute segment to see if this is really a course I wanted to take. Two hours later I have finished the first week’s set of videos and can’t wait for next week.
Before I jump into the content, let me write a few words about who this course is for. It is an introductory course. You need no background to take this course. If you look above at the competencies covered by this course you will see a very broad range of those who could benefit. I know we have a lot of readers in the medical profession. Boy is this course for you. I know we have a number of readers in the field of education. Boy is this course for you. I know we have a number of readers who fall under the general umbrella of internal and external organizational consultants/trainers. Yes, this course is for you! If you are in another group … well boy this course is (probably) for you too!
The course started Monday, so jump on board now. It is 2-hours of video a week for five weeks and some optional reading. Development doesn’t get any easier. And quality like this doesn’t come around very often.
In fact almost anyone in a professional field of any kind; a project leader, supervisor, manager; or small business owner and/or entrepreneur (current or wannabe) can greatly benefit.
Now let me share some tidbits on why you might benefit by investing in yourself for 2 hours a week over the next five weeks. (You might also think of this investment in terms of your work group. This could be a simple yet great team building exercise. Watch and discuss!)
First, here is what Professor Liedtka wrote about why we should take the course: “Design thinking is a popular new idea in the business world – organizations as diverse as entrepreneurial start-ups, big established corporations, and government and social service organizations are experimenting with design thinking as an alternative approach to traditional problem-solving.
Though designing as a craft requires years of dedicated education and talent to master, design thinking, as a problem solving approach, does not.”
To give you a sense of the ground covered, here is the five week subject outline:
Week 1: What is Design Thinking?
Week 2: How can we prepare ourselves to be leaders of innovation?
Week 3: How can you use design thinking to generate ideas?
Week 4: How can you use design thinking to test ideas?
Week 5: So what?
But that doesn’t begin to give the course its due. If Week 1 is a good example, and I believe it is, there are useful models, great stories, and sample applications for big companies and small work groups. It is as much about problem-solving as it is about creativity and innovation.
In Week 1 she introduces the four-step model that will be our guide through the five week course. Here is a brief description in her own words (bolding is mine): “The four sequential questions that take us on a journey through an assessment of current reality (What is?), the envisioning of a new future (What if?), the development of some concepts for new-business opportunities (What wows?), and the testing of some of those in the marketplace (What works?).”
A colleague of her’s uses an interesting metaphor for understanding when design thinking is appropriate. He states that life (especially work) is filled with puzzles and mysteries. Puzzles, he states, are best solved by analytics. Mysteries, on the other hand, require creativity – or more precisely, design thinking.
One of the most useful takeaways from the first week came from a matrix that I would summarize in this fashion: Four questions to ask – (1) Is the problem human centered? (2) How clearly do you understand the problem itself (trick question – we often “think” we understand the problem – whoops, a trap)? (3) What is the level of uncertainty? And (4) What data is already available to you?
You use traditional (linear) analysis (1) When there are few humans involved in the problem or the solution. (2) When the problem is clearly understood and you are sure you have the right one. (3) The past is a good predictor of the future. And (4) There are several clear sources of analogous data.
However, design thinking is preferred when (1) There is a deep need to understand the people – the users – involved. (2) There is a need to explore and get agreement. (3) There are many unknowns big and small and past data is not going to be a good predictor of future outcomes. And (4) There is very little relevant data to analyze.
I also learned about the importance of and skills required of an ethnographic interviewer. Want to know what that is? Ha! Watch the videos!
If you prefer reading over watching, Professor Liedtka has two recent books available: Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers (2011) and Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works (2013). I am sold. I have placed my Amazon order!
If I haven’t convinced you yet, maybe I can talk you into a 5-minute article in BusinessWeek by Professor Liedtka. Read the very cutely titled “The ‘Moses Myth’ of Innovation”.
Happy learning and catch you later.