Design thinking: get outside your head and get it done
Trying to change the world is tough work. Social and environmental innovators face thousands of decisions every day and operational details can be overwhelming. Bootstrapping an idea into reality, they get mired in the minutia and fall victim to analysis paralysis. While attention to detail is important, building everything from scratch wastes time, energy and resources, impeding success.
Instead, learn from tactics changemakers are using to maximise impact and grow successful enterprises. These tactics provide two essential elements of design thinking: stimuli from fresh perspectives to catalyse iteration and discovery, as well as prototypes of demonstrated pathways to market to speed testing and implementation.
Beginning to end: use tactics to find solutions
Tactics solve design problems. Unbundling streamlines a product or service into its most essential elements. M-Pesa did this with basic mobile money transfer services for Kenya’s unbanked. Today millions of previously unbanked people in 89 countries have access to critical financial services.
Using the power of the people to design or fund new ideas with crowding has become commonplace. Kickstarter alone has funded over 100,000 projects to the tune of over $2 billion since they launched in 2009. Designers and engineers increasingly look to nature and biomimicry to inspire everything from trains and clothing to currencies and turbine blades.
Facing the challenges of distribution and bringing your idea to market, the sharing economy and solutions economy offer two different distribution models that reduce prices, speed adoption and lower environmental impact. Sharing, as the name implies, facilitates peer-to-peer rental. Grameen Telecom’s Village Phone uses shared mobile phones to connect millions of people in rural Bangladesh who could not afford phone ownership themselves. Solutions companies sell a service rather than a product. Zipcar provides transportation on demand rather than selling cars.
In promoting products and services, innovators use regenerative marketing to simultaneously foster sales and solve social and environmental problems. Outdoor retailer L.L.Bean sponsors a free bus system in Maine’s Acadia National Park that reduces emissions and congestion while connecting with millions of potential customers every year.
Whole Foods remakes the food system and grows their business using the service profit chain to build and retain exceptional teams that provide legendary customer service. The opportunities do not end with customer service. Waste=food closes the loop and turns trash into treasure. Rather than buying new materials, Liter of Light has converted over 350,000 plastic bottles into household lights for people at the base of the pyramid creating jobs, saving resources and cleaning the environment.
Return to these tactics time and again for readymade solutions as your enterprise inevitably evolves and new hurdles arise.
Caution: apply tactics judiciously
Tactics are powerful, use them wisely. Applying tactics in a scattershot approach without a sense of purpose or direction can diffuse their effectiveness. Use the Abundance Cycle framework to focus and maximise their impact.
The Abundance Cycle details the core activities of an enterprise. These include inbound receipt of goods, operations design and production, followed by outbound distribution, marketing, service after the sale and unsold production traditionally called “waste.”
Just as with the examples above, tactics offer solutions at each segment of the Abundance Cycle. Apply the tactics to find your own breakthrough innovations wherever your focus and strength. For example, Liter of Light concentrates on unsold production and converting trashed plastic bottles into lights while Zipcar excels at the outbound distribution of cars in neighborhoods across cities.
Every enterprise distinguishes itself by doing certain Abundance Cycle core activities well. As in the examples above, find the area where you excel and maximise impact by deploying tactics there. With all oars pulling in the same direction, you have a powerful combination for creating fundamental change.
- Jay Friedlander is the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at College of the Atlantic and a Senior Social Innovation Fellow at Babson College. He is a frequent speaker on how to create a virtuous cycle of abundance for enterprises, the planet and society. Contact Jay at email@example.com.
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