Co-authored by Airine Kariuki and Saper Sahbaz
“There is only one valid purpose of a corporation: to create a customer” (Drucker, 2006). As called by some “the father of modern management”, Peter Drucker drew attention to customer-centricity 67 years ago, dividing the management practice into two camps: those who strive for customer value creation vs. value extraction. But today, it is clear who the winners are.
However, firms that strive for customer value creation face newer and newer challenges today. As Daniel Pink writes (in Brown, 2008): “Abundance has […] over-satisfied, the material needs of millions—boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning”. In response, truly customer-centric firms need to deliver not only products but experiences wrapped with both tangible and intangible value propositions (Brown, 2008). More, contemporary customers demand more and more complex experiences.
Building more complex experiences and delivering intangible value requires a deep understanding of users’ emotions, desires, aspirations, wants, needs, expectations, and experience (Kolko, 2015). What’s more, it requires interpreting the complexity of the context in which the users exist and interact. This is where Design Thinking comes to the rescue by providing the approach and the tools for “sense making” through “empathy” (Tschimmel, 2022; Kolko, 2015; Mootee, 2013; Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009).
In the real world, user problems don’t exist as problems but present themselves through problematic situations (Mootee, 2013). The task for the organization is then interpreting these problematic situations. Empathy provides us a way to relate to the user, understand the situation, and understand why certain experiences are meaningful to people (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009). It enables us to capture information that can’t be transcribed in quantitative means but in the form of stories—or as Koupre and Sleeswijk put it (ibid.): “[an] understanding that goes beyond knowledge”. It provides us the perspective to “frame” the users’ reality to define the problems in a way that users face them instead of what it “seems to be” for the firm (Dorst, 2011).
Only by such deep understanding of the user, the firms can exercise “thoughtful restraint” (Kolko, 2015) providing a simpler, streamlined, and authentic experience that goes beyond mere functionality, appealing also to emotions such as pleasure and satisfaction; eventually capturing a sustainable competitive edge in today’s market and business landscape.
Sense making through framing goes also beyond experience design. It enables organizations to make sense of complexity of any sort. It can be, for example, used to learn about a sudden shift in markets, value migration between industries, emerging behaviors associated with disruptive technologies, or the reason why a previously successful business model expired and needs a redesign (Mootee, 2013).
While Design Thinking provides the means to compete in a brand-new age, it requires a change in attitudes, world views, ways of working, and interacting. Being more than just mere tools and prescribed frameworks, the question for the future-looking organizations is whether or not they can achieve the cultural transformation that is required to become a Design Thinking organization (Mootee, 2013). But perhaps, the key to success probably lies in Design Thinking itself to achieve this cultural transformation.
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