Customers And The Future Of Innovation

We all want our organizations and work force to be more innovative. If we want to achieve progress, develop new services and create more value for our community members – and especially with constrained resources that prevent us throwing money at possible solutions to our problems – we’ve got to get innovative. Innovation can generally be understood to mean creating something new (or new for your organization) that delivers value. It sounds easy enough but coming up with novel ideas that are within our means and resources to develop and implement, well, it’s not so easy. The organizations that demonstrate a good track record of innovation usually succeed with a structured management approach that helps to build the innovation culture. Innovation management isn’t something I’ve thought about much, so I was intrigued by a new report,from the consulting firm Arthur D. Little, titled “The Future of Innovation Management: The Next 10 Years“. So I took a look and here is what I found.

The report is based on surveys that A.D.Little conducted with approximately 100 CTOs and CIOs. There are five innovation management concepts discussed in the report, but I’m only going to mention the first of them. You can explore the others if they interest you. The first trend to watch is customer-based innovation, and it reinforces some of the important points made about the user experience here at DBL. What is customer-based innovation?

It’s all about finding new and more profound ways to engage with customers and develop deeper relationships with them.

The operative word here is “relationships”. A.D. Little advises its clients to “explore ways of designing an ownership experience”. A car manufacturer, for example, should put as much effort into designing service and support at all customer touchpoints as they do with the design of the cars themselves. That’s the path to designing what is referred to as a “total customer experience.” We need to think more like that in our libraries. A high-fidelity experience should be about totality, not just what happens at any single services point or where usability matters.

A.D. Little sees another trend they refer to as “design-in emotion”. Many products can now offer more features than most consumers will ever use, so competing on features is of diminished value. Instead they should compete on style, design and emotional connection. Apple is the leader in design-in emotion, but other industries are paying close attention. They are learning how to “make an emotional connection with the customer through the design of products, services and experiences, and how to build community, loyalty and advocacy. I recently wrote that libraries will continue to struggle if they try to connect with everyone in the community. Instead focus on the users who are most likely to respond to an emotional connection – and become passionate library users.

I was glad to see that the report reinforces how important relationship building will be for innovation management. It goes so far as to say “As the battle for relationships continues we expect to see a blurring and shifting of sector boundaries…as the basis of competition moves from price and service offering to relationship and customization.” I would suggest that although A.D. Little sees this as the future, it does sound an awful lot like “The Experience Economy“…from 1999.

Here’s another innovation-related item worth a read. The author, Jack Springman, argues that we should drop innovation from our vocabulary. Given how overused it is, maybe Springman has a point. But replace it with what? He writes that “Most innovation efforts, however, are doomed to fail; they direct focus away from what is required to succeed…Creating something new is the goal of most innovation initiatives, but new does not mean valuable. Increasing the value created for customers should be the focus of initiatives intended to generate business growth.” Springman suggests we stop looking at innovation as a cure-all for what ails our economy. Instead, we should focus on the eight ways we can create value for the customers. These include improving our productivity, convenience, speed, choice, feel-good factor, security, low price and gross profit margin (Okay, those last two don’t quite apply to libraries). I do think Springman has some good advice for us:

Thinking in terms of creating value for customers rather than innovation ensures the focus is on customers rather than the company.

So there are two things for you to keep in mind as you go about designing your better library. Manage innovation by building relationships with community members and then focus on creating value for them.

From Design Thinking to Design Process

Since writing this post focusing on Bruce Nussbaum’s essay about design thinking as a failed experiment I have come across other posts and articles referencing the essay and commenting one way or another on the state of design thinking. One in particular titled “The Short Happy Life of Design Thinking” authored by Damien Newman was published in the August 2011 issue of Print magazine (sorry but this article is not online), and though it’s a rather short piece I thought it did a good job of capturing the essence of the main critique of design thinking: design thinking doesn’t actually get the desired results. Newman writes:

And here lies the difficulty with the term “design thinking”: It didn’t offer an actual, repeatable process but rather defined how a designer should think, a kind of mind-set that would set in motion the process of design. Design thinking alone didn’t have the results that the simple process of design did…Organizations that bought into the concept of design thinking were not getting what they wanted, which was to produce better, more innovative results.

Newman then goes on to share the story of a new social change project called Common, described as a community for the rapid prototyping of social ventures. One of their ventures is Common Cycles. Newman’s point is that Common is an example of a post-design thinking organization that brings together experience, intuition, creativity and collaboration. Newman believes this is a good example of the transition from design thinking to design process. As I read Newman’s piece I was puzzled between the difference between design thinking and the design process; they seem quite similar in the components that define them. Then I had an experience with the design approach – which is similar to what Newman describes as the design process – and I now think I see how the design approach is similar to design thinking and perhaps is even based on the same principles – but which gives a more practical process for putting it to work on designing solutions.

Here’s what happened. About two weeks after writing the post about Nussbaum’s article I had a great experience in which I participated in a two-day design process workshop at Temple University. This is a development about which I’m quite excited. It is part of a larger effort to integrate more design approach-based education into our B-school curriculum. Most of the activity is coming out of our Center for Design and Innovationwhich is led by Youngjin Yoo, who was previously at the Weatherhead School of Mangement at Case Western University. I previously wrote a post about the book Managing as Designing, a book that evolved from a conference on design in business held at Weatherhead – and which contains a chapter authored by Youngjin Yoo (which I subsequently realized after writing the post). I’ve since had several conversations with faculty leading the effort at the CDI, and we recently collaborated by having our incoming MBA students conduct a design project (about wayfinding) here at the library. Back on June 16 and 17 I attended the Center’s Business is Design workshop, facilitated by Yoo and James Moustafellos, an architect, designer and entrepreneur (and also faculty at the B-school). I thought I knew a good amount about design thinking, which was discussed in the workshop, but I really learned even more about it, primarily the hands-on aspects of the design process.

Here are a few highlights of the workshop:

* Develop a design attitude as a process for innovation – the process should be an iterative one in which we should be asking ourselves “can we make this better?” and being deliberate about taking action to try to make it better. (an exercise using pieces of paper to simulate a design process and express the attitude)

* Technology is not always the path to innovation. Listening, observing and working in teams is another means to achieve innovation. Constraints such as time or resources move the process forward as they force us to be deliberate in our thinking. (a small group activity involving intense listening and shared observations)

* We use design to deliberately shape the behavior of the user (anecdotes about urinal design with the goal of keeping these areas cleaner). Great design can achieve far better results than text-based signs.

* Empower the organization to get everyone thinking and sharing ideas. Move from the old mainframe/dumb terminal paradigm to the personal computing paradigm where everyone is empowered (of course there is the struggle between innovation and control).

* Systemic experiences emerge from the design inquiry process – composed of five questions:
* What are the problems?
* Who are the stakeholders?
* Why are these needs/issues important?
* What are the solutions?
* What are the resources?

* Use the design approach to move from things to action. Move from nouns to verbs. A library is a thing. Transforming people is an action.

To reinforce many of these ideas the workshop challenged us with many design approach activities. I’m not going to provide those details for two reasons. First, this is already a long post that would become even longer, and second, I am hesitant to divulge too many details that would take away any of the surprise elements for those who may take this workshop in the future. I will say that the second day of the workshop revolves a major project that requires the participants to go through the design inquiry process in a very hands-on way. In a combination of field study – getting out to observe, listen, ask questions, record data, etc. – and team-based workshop exercises (e.g., creating personas, experience mapping, etc) the participants gained a great understanding of what it means to go through the design inquiry process.

When I registered for the workshop I thought it would simply reinforce what I already knew about design thinking. It did much more than that. It moved me from just seeing design as a way of thoughtfully developing solutions to a process in which we have to engage ourselves in a mental and physical way. This is why Damien Newman’s article resonated with me, which it may not have without the design workshop experience. Now I understand what he means when advocating for moving from “thinking” to “process”. I believe there is value in understanding design thinking as the way in which designers approach their work, but it is more powerful when we acknowledge that we also must engage in the design inquiry process when we want to produce the “better, more innovative results” that Newman describes. I plan to continue my involvement with the Center for Design and Innovation at Temple University because I believe there is much more yet to be learned about the design process. I would encourage you to seek out similar opportunities – and encourage your colleagues to join you.