Monday, December 1, 2008

Leading marketers embrace new way of thinking

Paul Overstreet sings a country song with the refrain "Daddy's come around to Mama's way of thinking."

In the same vein, a lot of marketers are examining a new way of thinking about marketing problems — something called design thinking.

One of its proponents, benchmark-setting Procter & Gamble, comes from a completely different mindset than most marketers. P&G developed its reputation and dominated its rivals with a system that produced only the best new product ideas and marketing innovation to support its brands.

So why has Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafely become such an advocate for design thinking in his new book, The Game Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation?

"Business schools tend to focus on inductive thinking (based on observable facts) and deductive thinking (logic and analysis, typically based on past evidence). Design schools emphasize abductive thinking — imagining what could be possible. This new thinking approach helps us challenge assumed constraints and add to ideas versus discouraging them," Lafely said.

So what is this "new approach to thinking" that is being embraced by GE, Target, Progressive Insurance and Maytag, in addition to Procter & Gamble?

Design thinkers have long been the staple of advertising agencies and architectural firms. The goal has always been to define problems clearly, to produce multiple ideas quickly, to avoid judging ideas too early and, most important, to focus on collaboration.

The design-thinking model understands that a great idea can be generated by anyone and that a comment on your idea might lead you to a better solution.

Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO, believes design thinking is about exploring a "landscape of innovation." Brown approaches the process of design by looking into three buckets: inspiration, ideation and implementation. He encourages people to think differently, to look at projects from others' perspectives.

'Learn by doing'

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, offers this viewpoint: "When it comes to innovation, business has much to learn from design. The philosophy in design shops is 'try it, prototype it and improve it.' Designers learn by doing."

Another business academic, Jeanne Liedtka at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says "design thinking … is primarily concerned with the process of visualizing what might be," and Niti Bhan, founder of Emerging Futures Lab, adds that "design thinking is one of enlightened trial and error wherein one observes the world, identifies the patterns of behavior, generates ideas, gets feedback, repeats the process and keeps on refining."

Design thinking obviously is not the traditional business approach. It is not linear, and it is not as easy to measure or predict. It is, however, the style of thinking that marketers can embrace to promote innovation.

Committing to design thinking as a business strategy involves more than just sponsoring a few brainstorming sessions. There's a much bigger commitment:

>> You must promote a culture that understands play and realizes having fun is essential to promoting innovation.

>> You must establish a structure that focuses on working together in teams of people from various disciplines.

>> You must endorse a philosophy of actively listening to your customers, prospects and co-workers.

>> And you must view failures as learning opportunities that can ultimately lead to success.

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