Don’t solve the wrong problem perfectly, says d-school, Institute of Design Thinking

Don’t make the mistake of solving the wrong problem perfectly. You’ll end up with a product nobody wants and a massive marketing bill trying to sell it.

Instead, think like a designer unpacking the human-centred problem and underlying need first, before jumping to solutions that only make sense on a pie chart.

This is the message the director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT Richard Perez had for corporate leaders, intrapreneurs, and innovators at Creative Leadership Collective’s Lean Innovation Safari.

Launched early 2016, the Cape Town institute, known as the d-school, is one of three in the world – including the famous d-school at Stanford University and one in Potsdam, Berlin – where students and corporates are trained and capacitated in Design Thinking.

Instead of focusing on design as an end product, Design Thinking unpacks the framework of designing as a process and then applies it as a strategy to finding solutions for problems across any and all industries.

‘Although there are many different processes and frameworks within this, we aim to teach a practice and a mindset of creative confidence, multidisciplinary collaboration, and a human-centred ethos of empathy,’ says Richard.

‘This means that we don’t focus on trying to solve the problem, but on understanding why the problem is there in the first place. And to do this we first aim to understand what the problem actually is, to understand who we are designing a solution for, and what their real needs are.’

Richard adds that since this is a process it can be applied to any business or disciple, from civil engineering to commercial law and paediatrics and business.

‘Our primary focus is around training and capacitating a mindset of a design approach to solving problems and achieving innovation in the process, no matter the industry.’

Apart from their work in the public and private sectors, the d-school works closely with UCT and GSB, training up students to prepare for the future workspace.

According to the WEF, the top job skills that will be needed to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, co-ordinating with others and emotional intelligence, among others.

Dr Keneilwe Munyai, the d-school’s programme manager, says: ‘We’re preparing our students for this future by training them to think creatively, with empathy, to work in multidisciplinary teams and to be innovators, to be intrapreneurial and independent.

‘Traditionally we’ve been taught to work in silos, but in a diverse society – especially one such as South Africa – no one individual can solve the problems that we face.

‘We need the richness of diversity – and by this I mean diversity in personalities, skills and disciplines as well as culture – to contribute to workable outcomes.’

As the Cape Town chapter of the d-school enters its third year, Richard is hoping that more private-sector leaders come to understand the power of Design Thinking in South Africa.

‘We research ways of teaching it within a local context, and then empower and train people up in it. Everyone has the ability to practice this way of thinking,’ he says.

‘We want people to know this and that we’re here, that when it comes to Design Thinking there’s an academic level institution promoting it and exploring it. You don’t have to send your people abroad or get in outside consultants.’

The CLC would like to extend our thanks to Richard, Keneilwe and the d-school for hosting one of the events on the CLC’s Lean Innovation Safari.

The Safari was held 22–24 April 2018 and provided delegates the opportunity to explore the innovation ecosystem in Cape Town.

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