Have you ever considered why you need water to mop a floor?
If so, you may have thought that the water doesn’t really help clean the floor – it just turns the dirt into mud. Mud that then must be cleaned from the mop.
That’s exactly what a small research design team realized when Proctor and Gamble directed them to explore how, when and why people mop their kitchen floors.
Not only did mopping floors with water mean more time was actually spent cleaning the mop than cleaning the floor – but better mops required even more mud cleaning from the implement.
That’s when the research team questioned P&G engineers: Isn’t there something better to clean up the dirt? Their answer: dry cleaning cloths that use electrostatic forces to pick up dust – no water necessary.
The Swiffer was born. The disposable pads and the tool to hold them have made the company billions of dollars.
“It was solving the right problem – a problem that P&G didn’t even know existed,” says Thomas Lockwood, who has a PhD in design management. The Swiffer development is one of the stories he explores with Edgar Pike in “Innovation By Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas and Deliver Meaningful Solutions.”
Solving the right problem, Lockwood explains, is the first tenet to design thinking. So is a deep understanding of the user through observation, fieldwork and research. (The P&G team initially went to people’s homes and watched them mop, timing the process and compiling results.)
Design thinking, the authors write, makes it easier to reach the desired outcome faster and in a much more focused way because it’s not based on guesses or pursuing an answer to the wrong problem.
The second tenet of design thinking is collaboration. “This should be across the board,” Lockwood says. “Everyone, everywhere in an organization. You don’t want to stymie people. People naturally want to contribute and be engaged. You want to create an environment where their ideas can bubble up.”
The third tenet, he says, it to accelerate learning through hands-on experimenting, visualization and creating quick prototypes so that organizations can get usable feedback as fast as possible. The fourth tenet: integrating business model innovation during the design thinking process, rather than adding it later or using it to curb the formation of creative ideas.
Unfortunately, not all companies have truly grasped these tenets and as a result are suffering through some costly and time-consuming mistakes, he says.
Lockwood shares the example of a large insurance company that wanted to be more relevant for young customers. So, it staffed an innovation lab with 150 employees. But at the end of four years, the company came to the conclusion that no meaningful data or innovations had resulted. The group was disbanded.
But at the same time, another department within the company had built an application that allows customers to take a photo of their accident and then send it to the company as a way to file a claim.
“It works fantastic,” Lockwood says. “And there’s no large data that was associated with it at all.”
Instead, workers defined a problem and then found a solution that was based on their customer’s needs, he says.
So how do companies drive innovation without wasting time and resources? The authors studied companies that have been successful in design thinking and came up with a list of attributes that they say are qualities of the “truly innovative.” Those attributes are:
“The true power of design thinking is that it engages the collective imagination and offers the ability to explore the underlying motivation that leads to human motivation,” the authors conclude.