Solving Problems Through Design Thinking

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On today’s episode we interview Hannah Berson, Founder and CEO of the Design Thinking consultancy, SALT Collaboratory. Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to creative problem solving. Hannah introduces us to Design Thinking and to MURAL, an online tool that allows people from all over the world to collaborate in a creative, productive and engaging way.

Hannah shares an enlightening story of how a global company used Design Thinking to address the challenge of returning to work post the pandemic. We are certain you will enjoy discovering how Design Thinking can be a key skill set in today’s world to effectively team from anywhere.

What is design thinking?

The types of problems businesses face today are too complex for any leader to solve on their own.  Design thinking can take the pressure of leaders by providing them with tools to engage diverse stakeholders in a disciplined approach that delivers creative solutions to complex to their most complex challenges.  .  

Design Thinking creates the space for leaders and team members to examine the challenge from the perspective of those most impacted by it.  By exploring the experiences of key stakeholders, deeper insights into the problem space can be identified.  Once there is alignment on the key challenges, teams can ideate to create possible solutions which are then prioritized and tested before launch.

“If I had an hour to solve the problem, I’d spend the first 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is, because I’d only need five minutes for the solution.” – Albert Einstein

3 Step Problem Solving Process with Design Thinking

#1 Understand the Problem from the Perspective of the People Who are Experiencing It

We all have a tendency to want to move quickly to define solutions to problems.  Design Thinking forces us to pause to better understand the problem from the perspective of those experiencing it first hand.  

Design Thinking offers a rich array of tools and methods to help teams uncover insights into the problem space.  These include options such interviews, fly-on-the-wall observation and participatory research methods such as “What’s On Your Radar”.    

By spending more time on this important step, you can get a really clear definition of what the problem actually is versus what you originally thought it was. 

#2 Ideate to Identify Creative Solutions

Once the problem has been clearly defined, teams are positioned to start ideating.  Again, a range of tools and methods can be used to help this step in the process be interactive, productive and fun.  

Teams are encouraged to “diverge” and think of many possible solutions without any constraints.  Once solutions are put forward, prioritization tools and methods can help teams zero in on those solutions that are most feasible, viable and desirable.

#3 Prototype and Test 

Key to achieving a successful final outcome is the minimization of risk.  In this final step, the team selects aspects of the proposed solution to prototype and test before finally declaring it ready for launch.  

Design Thinking Guidelines 

#1 Use of Expert Facilitators

One of the tools for successful Design Thinking execution is the use of expert facilitators who have the requisite skill set to facilitate an engaging and productive session.  Having a facilitator who is not a member of the team allows leaders and team members to focus solely on the content of the work.

#2 Use of Mural or Similar Technology

Mural is a digital visual collaboration tool that mimics the experience of working with a traditional whiteboard.  The tool allows facilitators to engage a diverse group of participants across geographies and timezones by creating a shared virtual space for Design Thinking sessions.   Participants can interact with the board by adding sticky notes, affinitizing content into groups that reflect patterns in the findings and voting as a tool for prioritization.   

Design Thinking Case Study:  Return to Work

One of the most complex problems that companies are facing today is the creation of a plan for employees to return to work.  Should employees stay fully remote, follow a hybrid plan or return to the office full time?  By applying Design Thinking, companies have effective options for engaging their employees in the design of return to work solutions.  

Design Thinking Exercises to Support Return to Work Engagements

Participatory Research – What’s On Your Radar

One way to get a better understanding of what is top of mind for your employees is the “What’s on Your Radar?” exercise. In this exercise, each team of 5 is given a blank outline of a radar diagram that is divided into several segments, such as Career Development, Work-Life Balance, Tools and Technology, Team Connections, etc. In Zoom breakout rooms, each person on the team is assigned a segment of the radar to complete.  Each team member first notes key elements of their segment that are top of mind for them in the context of Return to Work.  They then arrange their elements on the radar with the highest priority elements in the center.  If there are several participants in the session (e.g. up to 20), four teams can be working simultaneously on the exercise in their breakout rooms.  The facilitator can then capture the center of all four “What’s on Your Radar” sessions to create a consolidated version of prioritized aspirations for the group to review.  

Prioritization – Buy-A-Feature

Another way that companies can discover feedback through Design Thinking is a tool called Buy-A-Feature. With this tool, you can create a “shopping” experience where participants “buy” items from a “store’ using a defined amount of money.  For example some may spend their money on flexible work days while others may spend theirs on outdoor spaces or hybrid conference rooms.  During this exercise, participants share their priorities by balancing the cost/benefit of the items in the “store”.  The resulting information can be invaluable to leadership in crafting optimal Return to Work strategies. 

Resources Mentioned in this Podcast:

SALT Collaboratory


LUMA Institute

Using MURAL to Facilitate Virtual Workshops

Design Thinking and Consulting:  A Match Made in Heaven

About Hannah Berson

Hannah is the founder and CEO of SALT Collaboratory, a consulting company that helps clients acquire Design Thinking skills to amplify focus, collaboration and creativity in their work.

Prior to SALT Collaboratory, she held Principal positions at leading consulting firms including Point B in Seattle and Cap Gemini Ernst and Young (CGEY) and AT Kearney in London.

Hannah uses Design Thinking to help clients develop deeper insights into problem spaces and create more innovative solutions to their prioritized challenges. Her work helps teams become more engaged, aligned, productive, diverse and optimistic in their work.

Hannah has a CFA, an MSc from the London School of Economics and a BA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a LUMA Certified Instructor in Design Thinking. 

Online Courses for Leaders Leading a Team From Anywhere:

Check out these online courses for remote leaders from the Team Anywhere Team.

How to Be an Effective Remote Manager | How to Build Virtual Accountability

Design Thinking Quotes

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