According to neuroscientist Dr. William Calvin, author of Ascent of Mind, we’re hardwired with a natural ballistic prowess—the innate and uniquely human ability to throw an object and hit a moving target. Only humans have the genetic ability to think ahead, to project ourselves into the future, and to launch a plan of attack that hits the objective.
Design thinking and design-driven innovation is all about developing that natural ballistics ability into business marksmanship.
Consider the following graphic.
Where do your efforts lie? How well matched are your designs with changing customer requirements?
- Are you still tackling yesterday’s problems with today's solutions? If you are, you’re living in the past, which can be deadly.
- Are you solving today’s problems but using yesterday’s solutions to do it? If so, you’re trying to play catchup in an ever-accelerating race, and probably drifting back in the pack.
- Are you solving today’s problems with today’s solutions? If so, congratulations, you’re current. But that doesn’t last long in today’s hyper-competitive market.
- Are you solving today’s problems with tomorrow’s solutions? If yes, you are an innovator! This is the sweet spot of design-driven innovation.
If you’re trying to solve tomorrow’s problems, be careful. Absent a clear and present unmet need—however unvoiced or unarticulated—your great ideas may remain just that. As the late Peter Drucker once said, “Don’t try to innovate for the future. It’s not enough to be able to say ‘In 25 years there will be so many very old people that they will need this.’”
Many have made the fatal mistake of thinking they can create a future need by designing an ultra-futuristic product or service. So they overshoot the mark and wait for the customer to show up. That’s a very risky wait, because it rarely happens as hoped—the customer keeps changing direction—and the cost of capital is huge and punitive.
Innovation requires a firm grasp of the market, society and the customer. We need to know where they’re headed. But don’t expect them to tell us. They won’t. Usually they can’t, because they don’t know. We have to figure it out. The parade is already in progress. All you need to do is get out in front of it.
The task is one of exploiting the market, societal and demographic shifts occurring around you. They represent constant change. And huge opportunity for innovation. More important, since the events behind the shifts have nearly always already occurred, it’s opportunity you can hang your hat on.
The requirement is paying sufficient attention, accepting facts perhaps contrary to our belief, and acting in the now to employ our best marksmanship. Failure to exploit the changing requirements of the market and customer is a failure to innovate.
Here’s a quick exercise that may help hone your marksmanship.
1. Identify the critical issue or decision. (e.g., What is our social media strategy? Or, should we develop a mobile app?)
2. List the uncontrollable forces—the market, societal and demographic shifts—underway at the moment. List only those with factual evidence.
3. Number and map the factors according to relevance using two characteristics: potential impact and certainty. Create a simple four-square matrix to plot impact versus certainty.
4. Develop at least three scenarios, preferably four. That way you won’t fall into the natural tendency to take the middle choice by default.
5. Decide a course of action based on the selected scenario and your company’s values, core purpose, vision for the future.
Ready, aim, fire!
Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change, forthcoming from Jossey-Bass. He blogs at MatthewEMay.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @matthewemay.