Strategic thinking is a process that defines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others. It is the ability to come up with effective plans in line with an organisation’s objectives.
5 approaches to Strategic Thinking for Designers:
- Cultivate curiosity
Human-centred designers share one quality—they like to ask questions, lots of them. Adopting a posture of humility and curiosity is how you develop empathy for your customer’s needs and desires, and when you’re in constant contact with the people you’re designing for, it creates a productive feedback loop. But that can’t always be a one-to-one conversation. In order to scale curiosity you need to collect and analyze data in a rigorous and human-centered way.
- Experiment early and often
Designers never stop at one sketch. Likewise in business, being able to “sketch” or test the viability and desirability of several ideas at once is a critical skill. Now that we have collected and analyzed quite a bit of data, what we’ve found is that teams that explore and iterate five or more solutions at once produce 50 per cent more successful launches. Experimenting like a designer means valuing divergent thinking as much as convergent thinking.
- Collaborate across disciplines
Designers don’t subscribe to the myth of the lone genius. Alighting upon breakthrough ideas requires collaboration across disciplines. And today, the challenge goes even further than getting internal departments to talk to one another. To predict the disruptive solutions of the future, one must now go outside the building and cross the boundaries of industry. That’s the only way organizations can avoid making a common mistake—defining the competition too narrowly. (Who would have thought, for example, that a search engine like Google would end up becoming the biggest competitor for the media industry over advertising dollars?). A lot happens across the boundaries of silos, so adopt a practice of gathering knowledge from unexpected places.
- Spread ideas like a virus
Developing a storytelling practice isn’t typically seen as part of the designer’s toolbox, but it’s an essential skill. The ideas you generate will die on Post-It notes if they don’t have an animating force. Tell a great story, activate networks who can help you build your idea, and do anything you can to make the idea contagious within the organization. Don’t let the idea get tossed back and forth between teams—that’s a quick way to kill it. If the idea started with a leader who has low visibility, the trick is to quickly assign it to a product owner who can spark a movement. The earlier you have an owner who sees it as their job to generate excitement and momentum around the idea, the better chance it has at survival. Research has shown that leaders and product owners who foster clear purpose and consistent intent have 20 percent more successful launches.
- Go big and go fast for the win
Design-driven organizations understand that more is more. Start with a surplus of ideas. Companies like IKEA have a firehose of new products every year; it’s become habitual for them to produce at that rate. Such abundance requires all of the above qualities to create a sprint-like design process that builds early prototypes, garners evidence and feedback from the marketplace, and responds quickly—all mid-stride.
Conclusion: Lists of important qualities have limited value if they’re seen as mandates. A design-led culture requires skilful and steady cultivation. One way creative team members can start is to fancy themselves, gardeners. In that role, they must seed a common purpose that can take root across the organization. Once that purpose is planted, smart, emergent ideas will sprout up everywhere, across the company’s halls. Everyone must understand why the company exists, and that reason has to go beyond making money. It has to be about designing something extraordinary—something that people dearly want.