How design thinking changed the way I solve problems
At the Montague St rail bridge here in Melbourne a truck gets stuck every other week. There is a story about a similar situation where between the driver, passersby and emergency services, none of them could get the truck out. Then a child walking past simply asks, “why not just let the air out of the tyres?” That type of creativity and outside of the box thinking is what solves problems.
Technology is all about problem solving. When we are resolving incidents, we are solving problems. When we are delivering change, we are solving problems. When we are innovating, we are solving problems. Improving our ability to solve problems is the key to success in technology. So how do we improve? Is it possible to get more of our people thinking like that child letting the air out of the tyres?
At a technology conference back in 2012, I listened intently as Hasso Plattner, a German businessman and founder of the Institutes of Design at Stanford & Potsdam Universities, spoke about teaching people to become innovators through design thinking. I snapped up a copy of his book and then took every opportunity to learn more about design thinking, for myself and my teams. The most important thing that I learnt was that it is possible to learn creativity.
Creativity in all disciplines
Taking a design thinking approach isn’t just for the startups and innovators. GE used it in adapting their MRIs to reduce the sedation rates in children by 80 per cent. East Palo Alto Academy used it to advance the reading ability of children by 2-5 years in just 20 weeks. I admit that I was a little sceptical when facing into tough financial targets and my team suggested that we take a design thinking approach to the problem. It was odd to start a financials workshop with a walk outside, and then throwing away the spreadsheets and using post-its. The same old thinking gets the same old results though and the approach we took that day changed things for us, we were no longer looking at the targets as impossible, nor were we just going harder at the same things. We found new ways to look at it, new problems to solve and we smashed those targets. That day I saw the difference it makes when you unleash creativity in all disciplines.
Creativity in everyone
Last November, in a partnership with Girl Geek Academy and d.global, a not-for-profit offshoot of Stanford d.school, we ran design thinking workshops for hundreds of technology folk and girl geeks over a couple of very hot days in Melbourne. We introduced design thinking techniques and applied them to real life current challenges. We taught creativity, we taught better problem solving. The impact was immediate. That same day, on her way to a risk management forum to provide an update, one of my team realised that the forum was focused on the wrong problem, that closing out the assigned actions wasn’t going to address the real problem, rather a different course of action was required. It wasn’t the type of forum that usually saw such disruption, but disrupt she did and she walked away with not just a new set of actions, but the investment required to solve the problem once and for all. The outcomes across my teams with design thinking have been great -- reducing time required for testing, provisioning or benefits realisation from months to hours. Plus my teams have twice won the Australian Computer Society Digital Disruptor Award. I know that unleashing creativity in everyone is possible, that it makes for better problem solving and for greater success in technology.
In summary, how can you get started in improving your problem solving capability? First, get comfortable staying in the problem long enough to find the right problem to solve. Second, through testing and iteration, be ready to recognise that the problem itself has changed. Third, start your own learning through design thinking. Lastly, keep an eye on Girl Geek Academy for more partnerships coming to Australia with d.global.