Leadership by Design

Posted by: Calvin Chopp

Leading by Design

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. — Albert Einstein”

Innovation is an interesting buzzword in business. Many companies claim to be innovative, yet few seem to figure out what “innovative” truly is—what is it that drives innovation? What sets those companies that “get it” apart?

In the area of digital product innovation, there’s a reason it’s estimated that less than 1% of apps succeed, or that nearly 90% of startups never get off the ground. It’s not for a lack of an innovative vision, amazing-looking UI, or slide deck used to help sell the idea to investors. Rather, the trouble is the implementation of these innovative ideas into a tangible strategy that meets an actual consumer or user’s needs. It’s this intentionality that is often missed, which subsequently leads to failure. 

Seeing innovation through to implementation is an intentional process, but organizations struggle to build the systems necessary to consistently deliver new and improved sources of value to customers and stakeholders. It’s as James Clear states in his book Atomic Habits…”we don’t rise to our goals, we fall to our systems,” How then do innovative leaders create the systems necessary to put their plans into action to set themselves up for success? 

They lead by design.

Quite literally. They lead by design, through design led innovation. Design led innovation (DLI) is a relatively new concept within the world of product development.  Prior to the emergence of DLI 10-15 years ago, efforts in innovation and development were mostly marketing-led. But companies are increasingly turning to design-led solutions to solve their biggest challenges in reaching their customers.

This is because of DLI’s human-centered approach to innovation. That approach enables real agility for a process in which efforts to innovate are put in front of customers, validated or unsupported, and moved forward based on what findings are discovered.

Putting an innovative idea to work is like pushing a heavy ball up a hill. As if the act of doing so is not hard enough on it’s own, when you try to take steps that are too large at one time, you’re going to lose your footing, stumble and fall. In the same way, when companies make unsupported assumptions and decisions toward a desired goal during product development, it’s like trying to leap your way up the hill. Only the 1% that are the most fit and agile will make it to the top taking that approach. 

In general, marketers and designers look at users through different lenses. Marketing often asks how they can use data to quantify a company’s current position to best align that data with the stakeholder’s current value propositions. “How is X performing?”  On the other hand, design-led strategy allows a company to consider and evaluate radically new ideas from multiple perspectives. “Who is X, and why should they care what we’re creating?”  DLI typically spans user needs, business requirements as well as technology demands. This in turn gives a broader view of the consumer or user because it constitutes a human-centered approach to the research and data. DLI can lead to smarter product decisions that are good for both the company and the consumer, which helps drive innovation.

Design Led Innovation (DLI) typically spans user needs, business requirements as well as technology demands.Focusing solely on market research also tends to narrow simple questions to the most basic answers that never truly give you the full picture of why users do what they do, or how your product might help solve a problem. Confirmation bias is also a concern when only focused on market research. That is, stakeholders and teammates may look to validate their preconceived notions about what the product will do for the user by looking only at existing data or findings. Too often, they do this without venturing out to determine actual customers’ needs or doing other design-led experiments to quantify their thoughts. Market research is important in regards to a company’s well-being in general, but as it relates to innovative growth, there’s much more that should be done to ensure that your decisions are set up to drive momentum forward in a way that’s manageable, scalable and agile.

That ‘more’ is where DLI really shines. DLI leverages design thinking methodologies. Design thinking is a non-linear process that is used to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. This thinking is the small, controlled steps that allow businesses to move the ball of innovation and growth up the hill.  This is the controlled, agile approach to researching ideas, vetting those to real users and gauging their effectiveness long before large sums of time and money are thrown at said idea. 

Design thinking methodologies encompasses many things and can be researched and documented in a variety of ways. It can include user interviews, ethnographic research, observing consumer buying behaviors, guerilla research, design-led workshops, prototyping, and much more. While there are many approaches to what can be measured, it’s important to determine what strategies would be most effective for your product based on where you’re at in your product development process (something we can help you determine, if you’re having trouble figuring out where to start!).  

In a world that’s moving quicker every day with product development and getting new ideas in front of users—users who are more connected than ever before by our products, economies, thoughts and processes—the need for innovative digital companies to adapt and consider DLI is greater than ever. Especially if you want to keep up with the demands, changes and evolution of these people.

Our team here at Elexicon is well versed in DLI methodologies and has helped startups, software companies and innovators around the globe push that ball over the hill and get it rolling toward great products that people understand, buy, use, and enjoy. Keep an eye out as we’ll be sharing ways that you can start leveraging design thinking within your organization today through practical approaches that help set the tone for innovation to take root and be successful. 


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