Business, at its heart, is the ability to solve problems. Need a meal? There's a business for that. Engine making a knocking noise? A business has that covered too. Many problems handled by businesses are fairly straightforward, but there are some that don't present an obvious solution. For this, a process exists that takes the guesswork out of finding a solution. That process is called the design thinking process, and it can be used for anything from a promotional flier to the next killer phone app. The design thinking process consists of five steps. Although they are presented here in order, the process doesn't necessarily follow a linear path. It's useful, however, to look at each step in the process to understand how they work together.
In this hypothetical example, Dougie Martinez works for the famous Mariposa Mousetrap Company, and he has been charged with the design of a new mousetrap. However, this new mousetrap must be unlike any other mousetrap that has ever been produced. How does Dougie go about producing a new twist on an age-old problem? He could sit in his R and D lab and wrack his brain, hoping that something will come to him. Or he could employ the design thinking process.
Dougie's first step is to have empathy. In the design thinking process, empathy is the ability to understand the problem. Dougie throws away everything he knows about mousetraps and goes into deep-dive research. He discovers that the trap's lethal qualities are only half of the problem, and the one most easily solved. But another problem is the disposal of the offending rodent once it's caught. Glue traps, bar traps, and even electrical traps require the user to dispose of the little carcass after the trap has done its job. For some people, coming face to face with their little murdered victims can be a little disturbing. There's also the chance that the carcass will have an odor or attract other pests.
With that research in mind, Dougie defines the problem, which is the next step in the design-thinking process. The problem isn't killing the mouse but disposing of it afterward without inconveniencing the user. He writes the problem on his white board:
Create an automatic, self-disposing mousetrap at an affordable price point.
Now that Dougie has defined his problem, the next step is to come up with ideas. This step is called "Ideation." Dougie sets to work, listing possible disposal methods. Heat, chemicals, mechanical grinding, and desiccation all make the list. Each of them comes with its own problems; heat requires fuel, desiccation requires time, chemicals that can dissolve a mouse are almost certainly hazardous to humans, and mechanical grinding leaves a wet, soupy mess that still requires disposal. Dougie is at a loss.
Then, he remembers an article he read in a trade magazine about the new BadCo BFL7 miniature laser. The laser can heat water almost instantly, which makes it ideal for a number of household applications. If it can heat water, it can probably incinerate a mouse as well. He orders one and gets working on the next step of the design thinking process: the prototype.
With his new BadCo BFL7, Dougie begins building the first ever self-disposing, laser-driven mousetrap, the Mariposa MouseFlash. Working feverish, eighteen-hour days, Dougie builds the first prototype in less than two weeks, impressing everyone in the company. It's sleek, powerful, and incredibly sexy, as mousetraps go. The CEO of Mariposa Moustraps is personally on hand to see the new Mouseflash in action.
It works flawlessly, turning an unsuspecting little mouse into its component elements. Unfortunately for Dougie, the casing he used to enclose the laser couldn't withstand the BFL7's enormous thermal output, and the laser burns a crisp circle through the outer shell and sets the R and D lab on fire. The fire science people had already completed their design thinking process, and so the fire is put out before any real damage is done.
But all is not lost. The CEO is so impressed that Dougie gets a big raise and a rebuilt R and D lab. Although Dougie's initial design didn't solve the problem, he quickly gets back to work on another iteration, with a special focus on the problems he'd encountered with his first prototype.
The design thinking process organizes the messy business of creation, giving problem-solvers a clear path to their goal, whether its rodent murder or some other, more peaceful pursuit. There are plenty of resources available on the internet for anyone who, like Dougie Martinez, is looking for new ways to solve complex problems.