The following is the eighth in a series of conversations about digital innovation and the intelligent technologies powering the Intelligent Enterprise, with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss the power of design thinking.
Jeff Janiszewski: Throughout this series of blogs, we’ve had a good time mocking, debunking, and demystifying some myths about technology.
Ginger Shimp: We love a great science fiction story as much as anyone, but we created the “Searching for Salaì” podcast as an acknowledgement that there’s a huge gap between fact and fiction.
JJ: There’s no dark technological underworld trying to steal your personal information, subvert society, or take control of the financial markets. Analysis doesn’t cause paralysis. And there’s no Bermuda Triangle-like cloud that mysteriously sucks up data … although that could be where my missing socks are.
GS: However, there is one very scary thing that we can’t disillusion you about – change. Business is changing slower today than it ever will, and faster than it ever has. Change is inevitable, and the whole purpose of leveraging new technologies is to cope with that change. It makes things run faster, more smoothly, or more efficiently.
JJ: However, before you can employ these new technologies you need to know how, what, and why you need to change. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
GS: So what do you hope this transformative innovation will achieve?
JJ: Most businesses never ask those questions. They react quickly to solve problems that they haven’t completely defined and ignore problems that they aren’t aware they have. Their focus is inward toward the company and not outward toward their customers.
GS: As we’ve pointed out over and over in these blogs, truly transformative innovation happens when data, technology, and people are combined. Up until now, we’ve talked a lot about data and technology, but we haven’t said much about people.
JJ: This is where design thinking takes focus. We’ve talked a lot about tangible things like hardware, software, data, and algorithms. But now we need to get a little more philosophical.
GS: I live near a very large university, and sometimes I go to the library or the student union to work because I’m inspired by all the thinking that goes on there. It’s manifested in everything on campus. The university itself makes all those thoughts and ideas palpable.
JJ: That’s the goal of design thinking—to move concepts from the ethereal to the tangible.
GS: I’m one of those people who love to learn. I want to soak up as much as I can from the university. But not everyone’s like that. Time and again, I hear students ask their professors, “What do I have to do to pass?” They’re literally asking what the minimal amount of required effort is. It seems to me that those students aren’t there to learn; they’re there to succeed. They want a degree more than they want an education.
JJ: This points to the distinction between engineering and designing. In many ways those two fields are similar, but while engineers look to solve problems, designers look to find solutions. The engineers’ focus is on meeting the requirements. Once they find an answer, they don’t revisit the problem unless something breaks, or another problem arises.
GS: The old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
JJ: Exactly. Engineers try to eliminate problems. Designers, on the other hand, look for problems. They’re inspired to find the most elegant and creative solutions possible. And even when they find solutions, they’ll continue to revisit them to make them better. That’s what design thinking is.
GS: Hasso Plattner, one of the co-founders of SAP and chairman of the supervisory board, recounts that in the early days of the company, there was an entrepreneurial energy that required SAP to truly understand their customers and find elegant solutions to please them. Undoubtedly, this is true for every new venture. However, just as people mature and take on new responsibilities like homes, cars, and children, companies also mature and become more inwardly focused, switching from pleasing customers to keeping the enterprise going.
JJ: They become more pragmatic. They want to know “what they have to do to pass.”
GS: This was the case with SAP back in 2005. We had matured as a company and shifted our focus from our customers to keeping the company running. Plattner was dissatisfied with this approach. He was certain that SAP could run more efficiently while still putting our customers first. The answer was to introduce design thinking across the enterprise.
JJ: Design thinking is an iterative three-step process, including a discovery phase, a design phase, and a delivery phase. The discovery phase is about connecting with people, whether they’re customers, partners, or employees. To gain empathy for their needs, pain points, or even desires. It’s also about precisely defining those issues to help facilitate the design phase.
GS: The design phase requires the ideation of multiple solutions, from the pragmatic to the fantastic. The goal is to seek innovative alternatives. Then the alternatives need to be prototyped. This is the stage where designs go from theoretical to practical.
JJ: Finally, in the deliver phase, the focus shifts to implementing the potential solution. The entire process is highly iterative with many feedback loops throughout. It’s likely that something in the design or delivery stages will spark a new idea that will need to go back to the discovery phase. The aim is to yield a feasible and viable solution that produces a tangible and quantified outcome linked to the organization’s objectives.
GS: At SAP, we use design thinking to help companies achieve their digital transformation. We do this through business model innovation, business process innovation, design and co-innovation services, and building competency.
JJ: Hasso Plattner believes that the world can be a better place with the implementation of technology. In fact, the only reason to implement technology is to make an improvement. And making an improvement necessitates change – a transformation.
GS: Without question, change can be scary. It often means going through volatile periods where people, long-held ideas, and institutions are abandoned. But change is inevitable. Even if you remain stagnant, the world around you changes. You can resist the transformation and try to do just enough to pass the class, or you can embrace innovation by bringing people, data, and technology together in a thoughtful innovative way.
To learn more about SAP Leonardo and how Design Thinking can help you innovate at scale, visit https://sapinnovate.me/leonardo/.
For a more imaginative experience of how technology has become integrated into our lives, listen to our cool new podcast, Searching for Salaì.
Searching for Salaì is also available wherever you listen to podcasts:
Continue the experience at www.searchingforsalai.com.