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Do not fall in love with the first great idea that comes along

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Sanjay Srivastava

Chief Digital Officer

August 5, 2016 - In design thinking, the critical value driver and the hardest-to-implement element comes down to this: How do you have the team collectively suspend judgment, not fall in love with the first great idea that comes along, and instead stay with the problem past the point that it becomes embarrassingly absurd to still be doing so?

When confronted with a problem, our trained response is to find a solution to it as quickly as possible. Most of our education tells us that not doing so would be the appearance and acceptance of incompetence. But what if the problem in front of you isn't the one you should be solving? With a change in definition of the problem, more transformative solutions often become available — options which rarely emerge in our typical rush for a fix.

This is a growing danger, especially for enterprises in the process of transforming operations using straight-line thinking combined with western management techniques and problem-solving approaches. What's more, as operating models become more globally integrated, structurally interconnected with partners, and defined around then-existing technology solutions, traditional problem-solving methodologies like Lean Six Sigma won't always be enough.

Such methods are great for identifying standard deviations in the management of highly systemized and structured information streams and workflows. But the same hard-science methodologies aren't nearly as good at accounting for the softer, more slippery human factor.

In response, more companies are adding another methodology to their problem-solving arsenal: design thinking. This customer-centric approach focuses on redefining the problem in ways that are new and different, particularly by observing the emotional responses that people inside and out of the organization have to situations, and learning what matters to those people based on observations.

Design thinking recognizes the problems most evident to us on first inspection may not be the ones most worthy of further consideration. On the flip side, this thinking recognizes that the problem getting little to no initial consideration may well be the problem most in need of further attention.

Making the most of this wisdom demands that all those tasked with defining the problem stay on it well after instinct tells them it has been sufficiently scoped. Harsh as it sounds, meeting this mandate often entails pushing people to the outer edge of their patience.

In an era where technology accustoms us to expect instant answers, hitting pause in our pursuit of solutions feels especially counterintuitive. Truly seeing a problem, though, calls for the creation of a framework that enables it to be explored through a variety of lenses. Design thinking address this need by assembling teams that represent a cross-section of people and disciplines that can collectively approach problems more fundamentally.

Collectively, it's the job of these representatives to painstakingly arrive at the most objective possible description of the problem. Staying with the problem past the point where it's embarrassing to have not jumped into looking into solving it already is core to getting this right.

Once the problem is defined properly, solving it becomes easier since many tools – including digital technologies – come from, and operate, outside of the box that helped create the problem in the first place.

For more on "staying with the problem," and related topics, read Genpact's new whitepaper Design thinking for enterprise transformation. Its "Digital Reimagination" case study illustrates key principles of the methodology, and recounts "do's and don'ts" and other lessons learned from making it work.