The toughest question to answer in Design Thinking is how to PROVE in ADVANCE that it is yielding the right direction; the same is true for a start up idea.  I can answer those questions over time, in hindsight, but it is anyone’s guess projecting forward on any given start up or design thinking idea.  Yes, over time, looking backwards, you can see that Design Thinking increased your odds of success in growing a business or that a new start up was a brilliant idea.  Business leaders, however, don’t always have that patience.

How do you know it is worth the effort?

To me a good metaphor for any discovery process of mysteries and heuristics like Design Thinking is the planting of a fruit tree. It must be watered and fed, nurtured in order to sprout and grow, eventually bearing fruit. The productivity of the seed is only known after it starts bearing fruit.  However, once it is bearing fruit, we can alter aspects of its care to optimize its production.  Then, we can measure the impact of these adjustments. But, the first act of planting a fruit tree seed is a “Leap of Faith.”

This past month, I heard Steve Blank, on of the originators of The Lean Start Up speak.  He claimed “every start up is a faith based enterprise built upon guesses.”  That is what breakthrough requires.  In Design Thinking, I think the guesses are smarter because we actively engage our customers to understand deeply and then co-create with them.  I suspect Lead Start Ups that are successful do the same thing.  Again, Steve Blank shared his bias toward getting this intelligence upfront stating “the collective intelligence of your potential customers is always greater than your own intelligence.”  So, are we really guessing if we are engaging our customers and building empathy that unlocks new insight and reframes our models?  I don’t think so.  The feeling of love and commitment you have for a parent, spouse or child, that gut instinct that guides you in who you to place your faith and who not to, that feeling that guided what direction your academic studies or career have followed, these were all educated “Leaps of Faith” and were not simply uninformed guesses.

To me, Design Thinking is an educated, inspired Leap of Faith.

So, I propose that in measuring the success of Design Thinking, we consider measuring the following:

  • Did you involve and engage potential customers in the process to unlock new insights to drive the idea? Does it make intuitive sense to you? to your potential customer?
  • How many new ideas were generated through your Design Thinking process versus your typical one?
  • How well did these ideas perform in qualification tests versus the typical processes’ ideas? One business I know found they tripled their success rate of qualified new concepts when they were born from a Design Thinking process.
  • In hindsight, did that seed bear fruit?  This measure often takes 18-36 months to gather and it is best enabled if you track the seed from the very beginning.

Take Action

Establish a tracking mechanism for your Design Thinking efforts. First, capture how the idea was born, the key insights and outcomes from the Design Thinking work. Then, check back in with the team at 3, 6, 12, 24 months to see what is developing and evolving, as well as any “in process” qualification data.  Once the idea is marketed, collect the in market success data, establish the learning from the experience, and craft the story to share with others.

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