Why companies must focus on creating a culture of innovation through design thinking

In a fast-paced world where market incumbents can get toppled by start-ups, creating a corporate culture of innovation has never before been more important. A culture that is obsessed with improving customer experiences and encouraging a more open, collaborative approach to innovation. Putting customers at the center of the innovation process, can spark a cultural change.

The success of your solutions (be it software, product, service or process) and hence your company is determined by your customers. Start the innovation processes by deeply understanding the customer, defining solution success in customer words and then continuously looking to improve the Net Promoter Score (how likely your customers are to recommend your solution to others). It is not about training employees but about affecting a mindset change to have the customer at the core of innovation and enabling them to think differently so that they come up with the right solution.

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The cultural change happens at the top and at the frontline, simultaneously. Leaders need to understand the importance but also role model the customer-focused mindset in every communication and decision made. Leaders can ask the right questions to help teams focus on measuring the improvement in the customers’ life with the innovation or introduction of the new feature. Frontline employees need to be able to apply this mindset every day. This means they need to have access to customers, to be able to connect with them and understand the challenges they face so they can solve them well.

Everyone thinks they know what the customer wants or needs before they truly and deeply understand the customer. We live in our own version of reality. A reality that is limited by the way we see things and our own experiences. It is pertinent however, to make an active attempt to understand your customers’ perspective - their emotions and their reality. Being able to distinguish our own emotional state from that of our customers. Empathy is actually a natural reaction (a subconscious reflex) that we have as human beings. If we simply observe, listen and be really curious to understand the customer, we can truly & deeply understand the customer.

Innovation happens through collaboration. The best organizations are using open and collaborative approaches to innovation. It is rarely the success of a lone genius but the success of a group of creative individuals who have diverse perspectives. Diversity of thought allows teams to come with interesting ways to innovate, ways that others have missed. We can however do this when we stop judging our diverse team’s ideas but instead build on them. We want to be told all the time that our ideas are gold, imagine how much better the idea gets when built up with diverse perspectives.

Collaborating with your customers aka co-creation not only gives you customer input throughout your innovation process, it increases the customer intimacy and deepens your customer understanding. More importantly it increases the odds of success for your solutions! When customers realize that you are listening to them and engaging with them, they want to be more involved and are happy to help in ways you couldn’t imagine.

In conclusion, I would say creating a culture of innovation through design thinking is about developing a customer -focused, collaborative mindset. A mindset that transcends every level of the organization. As you would imagine mindset changes take time, sometimes years. You will however, see the change in NPS, the confidence teams have in solutions they create and as such, you will improve your chances of launching a successful solution.

(The writer is CEO and co-founder of Pensaar - a Bangalore-based design strategy and innovation consulting practice)