A Semester in Design Thinking

February 15th, 2012 by under Consulting, Marketing, Strategy, Supply Chain and Ops. No Comments.

This semester isn’t just about experiential learning, but it’s also about thinking about design problems and the design approach

Tech Comm – In my Technology Commercialization team, I suggested that we use a Storyline approach to help us research market segments.  We decided that our internal assignment this week would be to come up with 10 situations/problems faced by potential customers and how our technology solves their problem.  Once we identify the situation, their pain (financial, physical, time, etc.), and the cost of their current solution, we can try to quantify the differential value of our offer to them.  This not only helps us set price, but also gives us a sense of the overall size of the market, and the kind of competition and barriers to entry we may face.  Thanks to Prof. Kannan’s Pricing for Sustainable Competitive Advantage course for teaching me this customer centric approach to quantifying market value.

We cut up our storylines on sheets of paper and moved them around a 3×3 grid we stuck on the whiteboard, where Time to Market and Market size were the two dimensions.  This helped us identify common themes (e.g. chronic disease treatment) and challenges (e.g. FDA approval) within the time frames and gave us a sense of how we should prioritize our research and the commercialization plan.

Hult Case Competition – I’m also participating in a case competition to develop new approaches for the One Laptop per Child program to help it reach its goal of reaching 10,000,000 children in the next five years.  With a dream team of classmates with experience in education, venture capital, and bottom of the pyramid product development, we’ve been brainstorming around the product offer, distribution, and funding model by beginning to question our assumptions about the user experience.  We’re trying to focus on the user experience and think about “how might we” rather than the prescriptive “how should we.”

USAID – For my supply chain engagement, my research team is developing an operational model that must serve more than just our client, USAID.  We must also think about how to write a case analysis for an audience of case competition MBA students.  Identifying and modeling goals, constraints, and levers in a manner discrete enough to be quantifiable, yet flexible enough to permit creativity is our challenge.  I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far and I’m looking forward to synthesizing the results.

Imperial Fish Company – My consulting project with Tunisian MBAs also involves designing a marketing strategy for a start up company.  This is exciting because we can build it from the ground up and can pursue possibilities that might be otherwise constrained by opportunity costs in an established firm.  Designing a market entry while keeping in mind the long term growth and business development of the firm will certainly be a challenging task.

Negotiations – Even my Negotiations class invovles design thinking.  Last week, Prof. Langa assigned us to watch an old Frontline episode about IDEO, in addition to our regular reading and out of class negotiation assignments.  Learning from IDEO’s disciplined approach to design by brainstorming, withholding judgement, and letting ideas flow, and only later narrowing down on priorities through a collaborative process might help us think of creative alternative options that can satisfy both sides of a negotiation.  This is also a user-centric approach that requires one to think about design and value from someone else’s perspective; we can certainly use such a technique to better understand the other parties in a negotiation.   Interest based negotiation can provide the information that informs how we can grow the pie for all participants rather than splitting it in a zero-sum fashion.

This is definitely an exciting semester where all my business learnings are coming together to help me synthesize problems and construct novel solutions to real problems.