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The tale of two centricities – Engaging the design thinking mindset

By Terri-Leigh Cassel, Managing Director at Shift

From shareholder centricity to customer centricity – this concept in business has been much discussed and debated across many industries and offerings for a few years now. But what is it really and what does it mean for the organisations of today? Essentially, by unearthing and focusing on an unmet need or problem in society and then creating or designing a solution based on that insight, businesses are better able to drive growth and profitability.

That said, moving from shareholder centricity to customer centricity is more than simply stating a change of intent: it entails a lasting business transformation. However, achieving impactful and meaningful transformation in business requires all stakeholders to transgress their assumptions not only about customers and clients but also those about their own people and the world at large.

Design thinking is not simply a tool to be implemented as an addendum to a business’ practices. It is a radical change in mindset, one shaping both how a company approaches doing business and how that company thinks about and understands the world in which it finds itself. To paraphrase the existentialists, design thinking is about being in the world. More than this, it is about leading businesses to a reliable engagement with both their market and their staff members.

When businesses go deeper to truly understand their markets and their unmet needs and desires, they find themselves in a unique position by actively becoming a part of their worlds. From this vantage point, they can unearth insights from within instead of looking in and missing the opportunity to discover the authentic experiences of their market. This is the core value of the design thinking mindset.

However, knowing that there is a problem for which a business can offer a solution is the easy part. Identifying the actual root cause of that problem through thorough investigation with a view to finding a meaningful and valuable solution is the tricky part. This is where a transformation in business from doing to being is vital: design thinking shows that being open to and curious about genuine human experiences leads to critical insights, and that services and products based upon these insights are far more successful.

Authentic curiosity, however, fades in the presence of assumptions. Empathy stands at the heart of a design-thinking mindset for this reason. More than simply being a passive sharing of a market’s experiences, empathy in design thinking is a way for businesses to consciously put aside their assumptions, reminding themselves constantly that they are dealing with real, living people whose needs transcend any and all preconceived notions held by a company.

For those engaged in a design-thinking mindset, this means that they are observers first and foremost. The design-thinking mindset is about creating a fundamental relationship with people as well as their social and personal contexts; this relationship is impossible without allowing stakeholders to reveal themselves as they are and not how a business might perceive them. Without this approach, businesses risk designing and developing products and services that fail because they are disconnected from the genuine needs of their market.

In this way, design thinking is driving businesses forward towards success through such a transformative approach. The most successful businesses today are becoming organisations, which are actively building relationships with their markets, thereby permitting them to develop purposeful and meaningful solutions to the real-world challenges faced by their stakeholders.

Design thinking entails practice: that cannot be denied. But transformative impact requires transformative thinking. It is the built-in desire to solve real-world challenges, which requires curiosity and customer centricity to bring about true transformation in our world.

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