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Develop a Customer-First Business Strategy

Jennifer Hurford, MBA/MPP, Harvard Business School

Senior management should keep a close eye on what the customer wants. Don’t design what you want your company to put out in the world; instead solve a problem for your customers. If you don’t take people with you on the journey, they’ll reject the destination. It is not only about effective design thinking, but also effective collaboration, a concept at the heart of progress and innovation.

Effective design needs constraints, and the following seven pointers help designers as they uncover and analyze customer wants and needs.

• Defer judgment. You never know where a good idea is going to come from. The key is to make everyone feel that they can express any idea on their mind and allow others to build on it.

• Encourage wild ideas. Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. When coming up with ideas that are wacky or out there, we tend to think about what we really want, without the constraints of technology or materials.

• Build on the ideas of others. Being positive and building on the ideas of others takes some skill. In design-thinking conversations, we should try to use “and” instead of “but.”

• Stay focused on the topic. Try to keep the discussion on target; otherwise you can become distracted by going beyond the scope of what you’re trying to design for.

• One conversation at a time. Your team is far more likely to build on an idea and make a creative leap if everyone is paying full attention to whoever is sharing a new idea.

• Be visual. In brainstorming sessions, write down ideas on Post-it notes and then put them up on a wall. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not Rembrandt!

• Go for quantity. Aim to create as many new ideas as possible. In a good session, up to 100 ideas are generated in 60 minutes. Crank the ideas out quickly and then select and build on the best ones.

We need to ensure that we pay attention to both our customers’ desires and our colleagues’ ideas, which means that everyone is journeying together toward a shared destination—and that means we stand a much better chance of achieving success in the long run.

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