Design-Based Innovation

Integrating Design for Success in Innovation


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An Airline Without Pain Points

by Guest Contributor, Uri Hess, Hess L&D Inc.

Even your typical gold frequent flyers will tell you about their difficulties with airports and airlines. These “pain points” can begin the moment you enter the airport, and can continue throughout your flight all the way to your destination.

Companies that have subscribed to Design Thinking approaches aim at the removal of pain points as part of a continual innovation process. Design-Based Innovation incorporates the search for customer problems as a means of stimulating potential for new breakthroughs.

Design-Based Innovation includes the early steps of observing, questioning and networking, followed by divergent and convergent thinking exercises that can lead to new insights. Airports make for interesting settings to practice the first skill of observing customer behaviours because pain points are quite evident and easily recognized there.

One way of developing an understanding of customer pain points is to appreciate the opposite and recognize airlines that have seemingly found ways of removing them. Rewarded as one of today’s leading airlines, Air New Zealand demonstrates unique approaches that eliminate typical customer pain points where they commonly occur with other airlines.

Having recently experienced Air New Zealand on several flights, I personally observed these pain-free check-in and take-off procedures:

  • Air New Zealand’s check-in kiosks are heavily staffed to assist passengers with a quick and efficient starting point.
  • Lines to check luggage and obtain boarding passes are few or non-existent (the result of an efficient kiosk process). This can eliminate the typical pre-check-in and printing of boarding passes before arriving at the airport — another pain point removed.
  • Gate agents use a systematic method of maintaining a clear gate area with a simple, row-by-row boarding procedure that actually works, likely because it begins much earlier than on most other airlines. The result is a calm, smooth boarding experience.
  • On board, Air New Zealand grabs your attention with a humorous, yet serious, safety video. It features the popular New Zealand actor, Bear Gryllis, known for his outdoor survivor TV programs. The outcome is clearly greater attention of passengers to the importance of safety.
  • Air New Zealand even offers an “Economy Skycouch” for relaxing during long hauls. Economy Skycouch consists of a row of three economy seats that convert into a couch-like space, allowing you to stretch out and relax.

By providing something different that has a positive impact, Air New Zealand defines innovation. And, Design-Based Innovation provides the processes that lead to this type of outcome.

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Design Thinking – The New Selling Skill

by Guest Contributor, Uri Hess, Hess L&D Inc.

Ever wonder about the fact that we’ve more or less had the same selling skills training for the last 30 years? Oh sure, they’ve improved, especially with all the technical advances for teaching these skills. But, think about it: people are still trained to ask the right questions (open, closed benefit tags, etc.) to adapt discovered needs to the features and benefits of whatever they are selling. We are still reminded to listen and communicate effectively and, of course, to remember to ask for the order. We are so caught up in the demand to sell a particular solution that we fail to recognize the importance of focusing on the problem.

The newest selling skill being advocated takes into account Design Thinking (DT). This new focus encourages astute sales people to take more time for exploring. DT suggests that we need to increase the allotment of time to observe, network and question to reveal customer problems (not so much on needs at this early juncture). The customer may not even know or realize that there is a problem at hand. This form of effective interfacing is an important segment of Design-Based Innovation. It will reveal those opportunities for solving feasible, viable and desirable problems. Roger Martin, in his book, The Design of Business, advocates the importance of taking the time to search out those wicked problems that can reveal an entirely new and valuable direction. Roger states, “DT is a form of thought that enables movement along the knowledge funnel, and those that master it will gain a nearly inexhaustible long-term business advantage.”

Even if you believe that you are sitting on the advantages of a new wonder product, unique service or exciting new program that customers may want now, try stepping back. Stop and observe for problems that could interfere or could open the door to additional attributes that will provide a greater sustainability for your initiative. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have we exhausted every opportunity to scope out the problem(s)?
  • Have we taken the time to thoroughly prototype, test and assess our product, program or service?
  • How can these important steps for a complete innovation occur without understanding the problem first?
  • How many times have you said, “I wish I would have discovered this interfering issue before our launch?”

Incorporating DT interface practices into your selling skills program will provide the basis of newfound growth opportunities.


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What is the TRUE Problem?

In Design-Based Innovation the upfront focus on the problem is extremely important. An estimated 90% of the time the pursuit of a solution is not directed at the true issue.

In business we are so quick to start thinking “solution” and to take actions that implement the way forward to solving the stated issue. From a Design-Based Innovation approach the initial activity should always be to execute a divergent/convergent thinking process around the first statement of the problem. The solution focus is still way down the road.

A diverse group, working together to hear each other’s comments when possible, should expand the problem statement in as many ways imaginable. Once the first view of the issue has many restatements and many varied associations, it is then time to look for patterns and converge the list to one or two high impact root causes. This revised view of the original problem statement would be the true issue to engage.

The team will then have the ability to create insights and eventually opportunities that may lead to a solution of the true problem.