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I’ve been blogging about the transformation of CIOs into Chief Innovation Officers, as well as the main ingredients for building a culture of innovation: the right people, process, and space.

Let’s take a look now at the second ingredient, process. As anyone involved in innovation will tell you, to create something new, you can’t keep going about business as usual. It reminds me of the oft-quoted definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So it is with innovation: It’s essential to find a new way to work that breaks free from traditional ideas and encourages a different way of thinking.

Enter the innovation methodology of design thinking, which disrupts tradition by putting the user at the center. The underlying principle of design thinking is that by empathizing with users, we can better understand what motivates them, and once we gain that understanding, we’re better able to design a solution that fits their ideal working environment.

The design thinking process includes three steps: discover, design, and deliver.

Much has been written about this process, but to me, there are three essential elements that make design thinking unique:

  • Observation: During the “discover” phase, the interdisciplinary team of designers, business experts and developers goes beyond just interviewing users; they observe how users work in their environment, with the related goals of teasing out what users are trying to achieve through their actions and also the motivations that underlie their work. It is this research that informs the design of the user experience.
  • Ideation: During the design phase, the team generates ideas on how to design a user experience that improves the way users work. In this open-ended brainstorming session, the group generates as many ideas as they can, before narrowing them down. Rather than working endlessly toward perfection, the team quickly develops a prototype or mock-up of the proposed solution and validates it with users to obtain feedback.
  • Iteration: Perhaps most important, from the beginning of the process to the end, the team maintains an iterative feedback loop with the users they’re designing and developing for, until they reach the desired state. So instead of the traditional approach of asking users what they want or need and then developing a solution in one big bang 18 months later, design thinking supports a fail-fast, fail-often mentality, in which the team continually validates ideas, prototypes, and delivers solutions with end users. Even after deployment, the idea is to continually improve on the solution.

Design thinking feels different than the traditional waterfall process. It encourages the breathing-in and breathing-out, of going broad and then finding focus. It is all about creating choices (divergence) and making choices (convergence).

For me the process is very simple: you need people with design, business and technology skills working as ONE team and from the beginning to the end, iterate with customers and users.

Bottom line: Old processes will not lead to the new types of user experience needed today. It’s time to break from tradition and take a new path toward innovation.

Learn more about design thinking and the process for innovation.