How can we take advantage of technology? Organizations can gain a significant advantage if they embrace Design Thinking when considering technology. If an organization fails to embrace design thinking while others succeed, their best possible outcome is 2nd place.
Some have credited Henry Ford as saying “if you asked people what they wanted before the motor vehicle was produced, they would have said a faster horse”. Ford empathized with the human experience and he could see the car as a solution. But what was a vehicle designed for? Was the vehicle designed to transport wealthy people around town? To become a status symbol and a display or wealth? Was it designed to race at a race track, or to transport goods and materials? Was it for transporting sick people to hospital, or to tow a dog washing business around the suburbs? Was it designed to assist the getaway in a bank robbery. Vehicles are used for all these purposes. The end users will adapt the design of an object or technology to suit their temporal needs. An object or technology may be designed for a specific purpose, but it is how the end user interacts with the object or technology that must be considered. Design Thinking is based on a continual cycle of empathizing with the human experience to find opportunities, as opposed to a focus on the benefits of an object or a technology.
A business will gain an advantage by empathizing with the end users and understanding how end users interact with their environment (including the objects and technology in their environment). By using a design thinking approach organizations can help end users reduce cost and gain an advantage. For example:
There is a story about a factory that spent a lot of money on the design and installation of sensitive conveyor belt scales and an alarm system to identify and remove empty boxes from the production line. The number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use and no empty boxes were shipped from the factory. How could that be? It should have been picking up at least a dozen a day. The CEO traveled down to the factory and walked up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A meter before the scale, a $20 desk fan was blowing any empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. Puzzled, the CEO turned to one of the workers who stated, “Oh, that…one of the guys put it there; he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang!”
In this case an emergent solution resulted from the end user’s “human experience”. There is no doubt the conveyor belt scale is a good technology and no doubt it will provide a solution to some problem, somewhere. It could be considered superior technology to a simple fan but it was not the solution in this case. (I deliberately used a story to communicate this idea. Storytelling and metaphor are used in design thinking to communicate complex information.)
Empathy with all personnel in and around a business as opposed to just meeting with management inside the business will help identify the emergent elements of a situation. This is a much more efficient approach than investing in technology and then trying to find an application for it. The old saying goes “When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails”. When we develop technology to solve a problem, we should continue to monitor how our technology is used. What are the experimenters doing with the technology? Is someone using the technology in an unexpected way – and can we develop the idea?
Our focus should not be on technology in the first instance, rather that the future of everything is dependent on the human experience.