Design Thinking Helps Businesses Think Out of Box and Identify Problems
The 21st century is a time of rapid changes, bringing along a highly uncertain business environment. Some people characterise this era as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Mr Marcus Lui, the Executive Director of Design Thinking in Action (DTIA) and an experienced advocate of design thinking based in Hong Kong, encourages us to abandon the conventional model of predicting future development using past data in the new era. As people’s behaviour and activities will evolve at a faster pace, applying design thinking can help organisations and companies capture the emerging opportunities.
He compares the different levels of applying design thinking to the skin, skeleton, muscle and heart of a person. At the “skin” level, many organisations try to introduce design thinking training. At the “skeleton” and “muscle” levels, organisations will take a more structured approach involving relevant departments and internal processes. The heart, which keeps all organs working, relates to the management’s commitment to promote the application of design thinking.
Encourage Application through a Seed Team
Marcus points out that most companies in Hong Kong tend to focus on the key performances indicators (KPIs) and try to offer quick solutions without understanding the real problem. Therefore, nurturing a design thinking culture will be the key to breaking away from the established framework and operating model. “Companies in Asia, even in Hong Kong, usually adopt a top-down management style, so the management’s endorsement is crucial for applying design thinking,” notes Marcus. He shares that businesses usually starts with setting up a small seed team that allows the most creative and open-minded employees to try solving problems with design thinking. The team can then share their successful experience and encourage other colleagues to follow suit.
“Failure breeds success” is how design thinking works. Marcus explains, “Mistakes must be allowed in design thinking. Hong Kong people are afraid of failures, but design thinking can only find the best solution through rapid trial and error.”
Banks Accelerate Digital Transformation during Pandemic
Over the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the city hard and all industries have to become more agile. Marcus believes that it is a good opportunity to see how businesses responded to the challenge through design thinking. For instance, the banking industry was relying heavily on physical branches in the past decade, whilst online and mobile banking were underdeveloped. “The pandemic has created an extreme environment in which the public must maintain the social distance and stay at home, thus accelerating the digital transformation of banks.” Marcus points out that user behaviour changed little before, yet the pace has picked up significantly due to the pandemic. Applying design thinking can help banks redefine the role of traditional branches and evaluate the services available at different touchpoints.
SMEs Adapt Easily with Structural Advantage
Design thinking consultancy is mainly offered by the Big Four and their associated companies in Hong Kong, but the service is more readily available overseas with many mid and small-sized consultancies and design thinking training organisations like DTIA Academy. However, Marcus stresses that training can only raise the awareness of design thinking, and could not benefit a company unless the concept is applied and supported by a suitable structure.
“The biggest advantage enjoyed by SMEs is that it is easier to convince the business owners of the value of design thinking. And the smaller scale also means higher flexibility in terms of structural adjustments.” Marcus also points out that large corporations already have an established system, and applying design thinking will need major adjustments. So some of them will set up a new and independent subsidiary to focus on practising design thinking independently of the mother company.
Rapid Trial and Error without Losing Sight of Corporate Heritage
Marcus adds that before starting the five steps of design thinking, a business needs to develop clear objectives. “Many people overlook this ‘step zero’. When practising design thinking, we need to respect and understand the corporate traditions and refrain from negating all existing practices. We need to review the existing data to identify gaps, and evaluate the short, mid and long-term objectives of the company.” He suggests businesses to solve simple problems through design thinking first. Since the process involves rapid trial and error, there should be priorities when defining the problem and forecasting and back casting the solution. He also reminds companies and organisations to set up specific benchmarks for performance evaluation and review.
Inspiring e-Forum Ideal for Novices
To promote the application of design thinking, the Hong Kong Design Centre will present the Unleash! e-Forum on 30 and 31 July with the theme of “Managing VUCA with Design Thinking”. As the facilitator of the forum, Marcus thinks the event will benefit both novices and those with some experience with design thinking. The forum will feature four panels: “Rethinking Medical & Health Services”, “Co-Creating Innovation”, “The Digital Transformation Imperative” and “Building a Human-centric and Innovative Workforce”. He believes that digital transformation and medical and health services are closely related to our everyday life, so these panels will be easier to understand for those who are new to design thinking. “The online forum will give participants a basic concept of design thinking and the efficacy and benefits it can create. If they believe that design thinking may help their organisations, they may join the interactive workshops after the forum to gain some hands-on experience of design thinking too.”