Exploring New Possibilities and Solving Complex Problems For Stakeholders Using Design Thinking


Authors:  Cathy Goerz and Leslie Lawton, Co-Chairs, CCBA Marketing and Communications.

Conscious Capitalism Bay Area hosted an interactive session on July 27 at the office of Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. We gathered to explore how design thinking, a strategy for fostering innovation and creativity in companies, solves complex problems and how it can be woven into Stakeholder Orientation, one of the Four Tenets that guide and inspire the Conscious Capitalism movement.

Stakeholder Orientation serves as a guiding light for conscious organizations. A firm and unwavering commitment to it, throughout a business ecosystem, helps create and optimize value for all stakeholders. Stakeholder Orientation is underscored with the understanding that strong and engaged stakeholders lead to a sustainable and resilient business.

Knowing that consciously interacting with stakeholders reaps countless benefits, are there other ways an organization can create even more value for their stakeholders? What other human-centered actions can we take to unlock creativity, approach complex problems with fresh perspectives and catalyze transformation?

Justin Zacks and Saul Gurdus, the founders of Method Garage, a human-centered innovation company, answered these questions throughout the session and showed us how design thinking works and creates value for stakeholders.

Setting the Stage

Steve Havill, CCBA’s chapter chair, kicked off the evening and set the context for the session by expressing the purpose of the Conscious Capitalism movement. Simply put: “We are evolving humanity through business.” He added that the Four Tenets of Conscious Capitalism are “universal principles of doing good in business.”

Jess Peabody, Community Manager at Conscious Capitalism, Inc. then walked the participants through an exercise that helped participants identify the various stakeholders they interact with through their work. Some examples of stakeholders include employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, team members, community and the environment.

Applying Design Thinking to Working with Stakeholders

The energy in the room began to build as the evening’s main presenters, Justin Zacks and Saul Gurdus, stepped up. They use design thinking to solve what they call “mysterious problems” for companies. Their human-centered methodology puts empathy and imagination front and center. They showed us how to identify an organization’s stakeholders, and get deeply acquainted with what customers care about. The process leads to the development of product designs and customer experiences that come from new ways of thinking.  

Justin and Saul in their San Francisco office.

Beginning with a Story

Saul shared an amazing story about Doug Dietz to frame the evening and show how design thinking can bring meaningful innovation and value to all stakeholders. As a principal designer for GE Healthcare, Doug had just finished designing a cutting edge MRI machine. The design was his pride and joy, until he saw a seven-year-old patient approaching the machine, absolutely terrified and in tears. She was a primary stakeholder he hadn’t considered in the design of the MRI.  Watch Doug’s TEDx talk to hear his story and understand the empathy that inspired Doug and his team to begin a design thinking project that led to a whole new way of thinking about MRI scans for children.   

Building Creative Confidence

After Saul’s story, the time had come for Justin to take us through the design thinking process. The noise level in the room rose dramatically as event participants joined together in pairs to apply the methodology to problems they were trying to solve with their stakeholders. The purpose of the group exercise was to come up with  a creative idea, innovation or invention for your partner, relative to his or her stakeholder orientation. The exercise compressed the design thinking methodology into a very short time span.  

For instance, one team member wanted to have more human connection in his work selling large scale technology. This required speaking truth to his powerful C-level stakeholders. He felt he could bring his fascination with behavior and psychology to his customers (another group of stakeholders), working empathy and intuition into a less structured sales environment.  As his partner continued to ask questions, it looked like a career transformation was the best path for him to consider. Perhaps he could become a highly paid sales consultant to the kind of people he was working for and transform the way the technology sales process takes place.

If we were in a longer and more comprehensive half-day workshop,  on the subject of applying design thinking to stakeholder orientation, participants would have more time to explore and brainstorm solutions to stakeholder problems more thoroughly, potentially leading to a disruptive innovation or invention that would arise from following their hunches. At the very least, the process of working through problems could go deeper, thinking much bigger, and bringing more humanity to the exploration.

Here are the steps that Justin guided us through:

  1. HEAR A GREAT STORY. Listen to real stories from your stakeholder as it relates to the problem space. This is a deep inquiry and requires delving into all aspects of the problem and more importantly, the emotions of your stakeholder.
  2. INFER MEANING. Look for clues. What’s interesting, surprising, revealing, relative to the problem. What could it mean? Follow your hunches. Allow wonder, surprise, and intuition to be expressed. Ask what if? Make a leap of faith.
  3. FRAME A UNIQUE POINT-OF-VIEW.  Using the new found insight (hunch) of your stakeholder, frame a unique point of view on the problem at hand. One particular hunch suggests a certain kind of innovation. Another hunch might ask you to play with the problem quite differently.
  4. GET RADICAL.  Now’s the time for brainstorming. Let all your ideas fly. Go for volume. Don’t make judgments. Suspend disbelief. This is how innovation happens. Something will emerge that solves your stakeholders’ problems. Something brand new.
  5. BRING IT TO LIFE. Create a very low fidelity prototype of your top idea or concept that can be tested with your stakeholder. Use this prototype as a way to learn more about the problem and the potential solution with your stakeholder.

Not to make this sound simple or easy. It isn’t. Design thinking requires time, imagination, and a willingness to hang out when the answer eludes you for awhile. It will come. That’s the beauty of relaxing into collaboration and creativity. There are many aspects to this kind of human-centered problem-solving and innovation, including rapid prototyping and testing. Justin and Saul encouraged the group to approach any problem, or mystery, with an open, creative mindset.

When you apply conscious, human-centered exploration to engaging with your stakeholders, you will discover that you can create value for all of them, which leads to healthy profits and a thriving organization.  

 

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