Big Ideas

A large part of design thinking is in helping people and organisations develop big ideas. Or said another way, it's helping people be innovative, or strategic, or we might even describe it as the process of being ‘creative’. But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced yourself, it can be hard to come up with big ideas – especially sitting there at your desk whilst you do all your “thinking”. And because coming up with ideas is actually quite a challenge for most of us, we can begin to think that there are certain people who are better at it than others, or that it takes some kind of special skill or requires a huge level of effort to get results.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. Everyone can come up with big ideas. Everyone can be innovative. It’s not rocket science. And it doesn’t even require highly specialised training, really.

So if it’s so easy, why aren’t we all tripping over all the big and innovative ideas that should be bubbling out of everyone’s head every day?

The short answer is that we aren’t developing innovative ideas because most of us aren’t putting ourselves into a position to be able to think big to begin with.

And that raises the question of what is an innovative idea in the first place?

I describe Innovative ideas as those that have a significant impact on what people find valuable. People fine value in things that provide enjoyment or entertainment, or create positive outcomes (wealth, health, stature). Value can be time saved or new opportunities enabled. There are lots of ways to create value across a lot of different situations.

In this case, the problem most organisation have is that they are looking almost exclusively at creating value that would, first and foremost, benefit themselves. That kind of value would be framed better as “the least amount of cost and effort for the highest amount of profit”. That’s a great goal to have, but as I’m sure most of us have seen, it’s close to impossible to reach. It’s terrifically difficult as it almost always becomes a process of removing cost and risk whilst maintaining or increasing profit. The last 30 years of business management has pretty much maximised the potential of that strategy.

So, if you are sitting at your desk or working on a project and looking for a big idea that will be easy for to attain and make your business a tonne of money, you’re going to be sitting there a long time. It’s the wrong basis for big and innovative ideas to be developed.

Instead, we need to think about what would be valuable for people, or groups, or companies outside of our own four walls. Why is this important? Because when we look to solve a problem for someone else, our ability to be objective and creative is at it’s highest. It’s why it’s often easier to get advice from someone else than it is to clearly see and solve our own problems. You’ve likely experience this yourself if you’ve ever confided in someone about a problem which they will only too happily tell you how to “fix”. It’s what we do when we want to help people we care about.

So our real challenge isn’t in coming up with big ideas. The real challenge is knowing enough about the people who will be impacted by our ideas in the first place. If you don’t know what people or other organisation find important or valuable, you will have a very hard time coming up with an idea that is in any way meaningful to them. If you don’t actually care, you can’t really help.

And who are these people that we care about? They’re our customers. And those customers are the people who could engage or buy our products and services. Those customers are the other people we work with that depend on our work product or participation to be effective. Those customers are the other companies we work with in partnership to benefit ourselves and our clients. Those customers are the communities impacted by our policies and infrastructure.

However, if we are to know anything important about our customers, those both internal and outside our organisation, we need to actually, you know, talk to them. You can’t ‘phone this in’. It takes getting off our chairs and going out into the world and really engaging with people. It’s knowing the issues, pressures, and environment of those who work in other parts of our company. It’s having empathy for what it’s like to be the person you are trying to help.

Once you have empathy for what it’s like to be in someone else’s situation, our natural ability to problem solve and come up with creative solutions kicks in and the big ideas start storming through. Your new problem will be how you can choose between all of the great potentials you’ll come up with.

Take the time to think about what would be important for your current and potential customers and ask yourself if you are really addressing what they would find valuable. Ask yourself if it’s valuable to you. I bet you’ll quickly be able to uncover some interesting new opportunities.