Design in Action

Sarah Lloyd, Senior Strategic Designer at BCG Digital Ventures, shares her advice for budding innovators following a recent mentoring workshop at MGSM.

We recently went back to university to resume our role as MBA mentors for the 2016 intake of budding MBA students at leading graduate school MGSM. We’re big believers in the power of design to create the future, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to share our experiences of applying design-led methodologies in the real world to a new group of students. Here we offer a few reflections from our experience and what this tells us about what students are eager to learn:

  • Collaboration dynamics. Students were keen to learn the “hands-on” tactical aspects of the typical activities that take place during the innovation process and eager to understand which of those activities would be done in a team versus in collaboration with the client. We explained that one of the main tenets of design thinking is sharing, analyzing and building on each others thoughts from our different perspectives. From this were we able to form insights from deep consumer research and pursuing customer-centric opportunities for every venture, whether that occurs within specialized innovation teams or collaborative relationships with corporate partners. It’s all about teamwork regardless of how each team is formed, and the end goal is to disprove assumptions, test hypotheses in order to create a “good design brief,” which identifies customer needs and pain points and utilizes customer-centric thinking to build beautiful, functional products.
  • Vision anchoring. If you are clear and confident about your opportunity area as a venture team, you have more focus and the freedom to creatively problem-solve and iterate as a starting point. If you lose your way, then you have an anchor to return to if you truly understand your customer. Without identifying opportunities for design, you run the risk of getting lost in the sea of possibilities, so always build on the objective first and balance your creative ideas with constant tests for viability and feasibility.
  • Research, research, research. That’s right! Quality research is the foundation for any successful innovation sprint, and we showed students how to turn insights from their research sprints into opportunity areas that address real customer needs using structured frameworks (e.g., clustering, affinity mapping and identifying customer pain points, needs, hopes, fears and “work around” solutions). After the opportunity areas are created, we ask “how might we” framing questions to lay the groundwork for the initial ideation phase. Focusing on what customers want to achieve and having a deep understanding of their emotional and behavioral drivers are key aspects of how we work. We also believe that good design should address all aspects of feasibility, market trends and viability. Also, the ability to synthesise multiple sources of information and the capacity to identify new opportunities that tap into underlying customer needs with a strong business rationale, an understanding of market trends, logic and creativity are essential skills a budding strategic designer needs to learn.
  • Embracing the unknown. Many of the students asked us how we navigate end-goal driven clients who want to know what the solution is before we’ve even created or tested a concept we discussed the importance of having a rigorous methodology with numerous client touch points and the need to take clients on a journey, involving them in co-creation activities so they truly understand the value of each step and its role in landing on an opportunity area. Managing client expectations means testing the partner’s appetite and approach to learning and collaboration, as well as being clear about the objectives and context of the session. It’s also important to share best practices and industry examples that bring the client engagement experience to life.
  • Workshop intelligently. Workshops can be very valuable and rewarding. They are good places to learn, collaborate and form group consensus and ownership. They are also a prime opportunity to view a challenge from multiple perspectives, which is often needed to encourage lateral, divergent, objective and creative thinking. However, this comes with a but, as such experiences tend to do. By nature, workshops can be intense experiences where people are asked to work under pressure and time constraints. Mitigate the risks of challenging team dynamics in these situations by using structured frameworks and planning which activities and outputs should be done individually, in working teams or as an immersive client engagement ahead of time. Workshops are really just tools to set up teams for success and provide designers with the stimulus needed to kick-start concept development and business model innovation, but keep in mind that this can happen in many forms.

We learned a lot from the emerging innovators at the MGSM mentoring workshop. It’s clear they have a passion for disruptive thinking, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they employ their own design-led methods for years to come.

BCG Digital Ventures invents, launches, and scales industry-disrupting new businesses with the world’s most influential companies.

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