Design Thinking is a fancy term for a human-centric approach to problem solving where a problem is approached from multiple angles and the potential solutions are continuously refined until a single track is brought to completion. The basic premise of this approach to problem solving is to keep a client’s best interest at heart while providing the simplest solution. Design thinking brings multiple ideas to the table, iterating on those ideas but bringing the best to market. This has the double benefit of providing backup plans as well as “beefing up” any solution with a number of variables explored via the idea generation phase.

Case Study: Ford

In our example, Ford finds a potential issue with their onboard navigation system on 2017 models of the new model T. The issue is large enough that a recall may be required. Historically a recall would have been the defacto solution however utilizing design thinking, it is possible to approach the problem from a number of different ways. You could connect to each car via the internet and send new firmware updates that fix the issue as Tesla have done in the past. Alternatively, you could ship out the update to the client or their dealership in physical form, as a pen-drive or via a new to install navigation system. You could replace the entire car at no expense to the customer with a vehicle that does not contain the flaw, although this may be overkill for a simple software patch. Utilising design thinking, each of these ideas would be explored with the easiest implementation being presented to the car owners at the time the flaw is announced.

Multiple Solutions

With a design thinking approach you develop multiple solutions, some outlandish while others would be considered traditional, without judgement. In the case of previous example, the idea that replacing the entire car for customers with ones in which the defect has already been fixed is just as valid a solution as replacing the navigation system itself. The reasons for each idea can be explored too. For instance, the dealer could be empowered to give the newer model to the customer, making sure the customer does not lose out on the use of their vehicle. While this may not be an optimal idea, at the idea gathering and exploration phase it should be treated such. Over-The-Air fixes and physical replacements both resolve the issue to the navigation system for the owners of the vehicles with minimum disruption to their lives. Idea generation should be treated as a safe place for potential solutions, no matter how wild since these ideas can be brought into later iterations of the chosen path, providing a more robust solution as a whole for customers.

Generation to Iteration

When all the potential ideas have been gathered, they should each be explored to see how acceptable they are as solutions. Each could have their own benefits and limitations In the case of our faulty navigation system, the obvious solution of updating via the internet would be optimal but alternatives can be explored. What if the client’s vehicle is not connected to the internet? Having an alternative solution developed for these customers is just as important since it is through no fault of the customers that the problem exists. It also means that a multi-faceted plan can be released to customers detailing exactly how they can go about fixing the issue with minimum disruption to their lives. Exploration will also highlight potential issues with a selected path, like in the case where the car is out of range of the firmware fix. Another example is car replacement solution I mentioned earlier, vehicle registration may be an pitfall for customers highlighting this would not be the optimal solution for the client. It may be better for the client than waiting a number of weeks without a vehicle although I doubt it would not be a firms first choice. Iteration of an idea leads to better understanding of the problems that faces customers when it comes to providing the selected solution. This also has the added benefit of removing paths that would be too costly to impliment by a business. Issuing new cars to effected owners may bankrupt the firm, so some owners would not gain access to the eventual solution. This is obviously bad for both the firm and the client.

Thought Experiments

I think the best thing about design thinking for business strategy is that it can help explore solutions to potential problems that may arise in future. An idea that is not picked up today can be recycled should it be required in the future. In my example, all of the work the Ford did on the navigation issue already exists should a more serious issue with the engine of the model in question arise at a later date. Teams would not have to start from scratch, leading to increased efficiency. Matured ideas can be applied to the issue of the day as potential solution, cutting down the time frame needed in developing the eventual fix. These thought experiements can be catalogued, documented, and contingency plans put in place should there come a time when it is required in the lifetime of the product.

While a single solution may be required in the heat of the moment, we all know that sometimes a quick fix is better than no fix, adding design thinking to a firms everyday business strategy can increase creativity when those quick decision. Firms who utilise design thinking can take ideas from multiple employees, leading to better employee engagement which is proven to lead to bette moral. Finding solutions to everyday issues can generate unorthodox solutions that can have other beneficial outcomes, while the example of Ford navigation is an outlier, utilising these problem solving principals are a benefit to small firms just as much as multinational businesses.