Taking stock of my journey through the Design Thinking module of my Master’s degree is an invigorating exercise as I reflect on challenges I confronted that took me out of my comfort zone. I thought that starting a business or bringing a product to market was a strictly formulaic endeavour and I was convinced that very rigid steps were necessary in order to be successful in business. I thought that the approach to business was mainly standard, concerned with producing a spreadsheet with profit forecasts or maybe an innovative product simply showing that I had a patent. This mindset of mine was gained by watching programmes such as the BBC’s Dragons Den and the Apprentice. However, as I navigated through the module, I learnt that being an entrepreneur was about collaboration, creative thinking and market research, to name just a few things. It was more exciting and unpredictable than I had thought.
At the start of the module there was a strong emphasis on terminology and defining the terminology. At the time I was content with Cox’s (2005) reasoning that innovation is concerned with being a conduit for new ideas and subsequently transforming ideas into practical solutions. I was also satisfied that creativity was the establishment of unique ideas (Amabile, 1996). However, as my development progressed, I came to the conclusion that there is a level of interchangeability between creativity and innovation, edging towards the terms being homogeneous. This is also evidence of my growing confidence in challenging theory or interpreting theories in a way that makes sense to me. This will allow me to use theory more pragmatically as I take it out of text books and use it as a guide for my product developments.
The first week’s pragmatic exercise, which I did in collaboration with one other classmate, really brought to life design thinking. We had to discuss what we liked and disliked about giving gifts and as Lockwood (2010) purports, design thinking is concerned with empathy and finding creative solutions to overcome an issue. I experienced empathy in this exercise by listening and being able to relate to the reasoning for gift giving as a means of bringing joy and happiness. The problems with gift giving, my colleague said, were the selection and wrapping of the gift.
Market research really was something I experienced in a comprehensive way with my classmates during a visit to the Victoria and Albert museum. This was a real eye-opener for me and brought out my ability to critically review innovations. After being impressed with innovations such as an intelligent robot that did the laundry, driverless cars and cryogenics, I started to apply deeper thought and started to think about the impact on society of introducing such innovations. How would these products affect employment, add value or be ethical? I have recently been encouraged to read Hertz (2002), where it is stated that in order to impress globalisation on the world, people’s political representatives, and the people themselves, are undermined. This has relevance to my questioning of the innovations I saw at the Victoria and Albert museum because the products did not seem to have people at their heart but profit. Cryogenics is very much a gamble, where the seller guarantees profits but the customer simply has to hope. Driverless cars will impact working-class people who work in taxi or delivery businesses.
My confidence and motivation were boosted when I attended a festival of women entrepreneurs at Kingston University in October 2018. I felt that this was the right point in the course to have award-winning advice and seeing the Mayor at the event added weight and significance. It also made me think that although it was good having a chance to network in this way, what would be even more beneficial would be to have mentorship. Having a mentor with a clear framework (Cull, 2006) for the learning relationship would mean that I would capture more business acumen than at sporadic events.
I had mixed feelings when we started assessing what would make an innovative product by undertaking experimental brainstorming through body storming. Body storming is the concept that role play and actions can help to uncover an issue that needs improvement through design or production (Santos, 2018). I had mixed feelings because, although we were trying to empathise with different customer needs, I felt the role play with a disabled person trying to carry out tasks may have helped us come up with the solution of easy access cards, but it also made me wonder why we didn’t do real-life market research with disabled people. Pretending to be in a wheelchair could be seen as gaining only a superficial understanding of what disabled people’s needs are. I view body storming as something that needs to be used in conjunction with many other service design methods and I kind of reject the notion that it is a comprehensive tool as described below:
“Service Design can benefit from the adaptation of existing creativity methods and tools derived from conventional product and graphical design. However, in many situations these tools are not capable to deal with the multiple, and often simultaneous, interactions that occur throughout a service and the complexity of bringing together, on an empathic fashion, the perspectives from various stakeholders. Bodystorming is a tool that seems to be adequate to such characteristics” (Santos, 2018).
The business canvas model was a real revelation to me and I recall how one of my middle-course blogs captured my excitement about finding a tool that seemed efficient and easily interpretable for people with new business ventures. Creative minds tend to pick up things visually and the layout and framework of the model allows for discussion and easy user comprehension (Osterwalder, 2004). One thing I do regret is that during the course, and after feeling such joy at learning about the business canvas model, I didn’t use it more. However, in my future endeavours as an entrepreneur I will apply the model more liberally.
Early in my reflections I said that BBC programmes such as Dragons’ Den had given me a rigid view of business and entrepreneurship. However, this was a view based on how such shows state business should be conducted. It was, for me, a different proposition when my team and I were tasked with presenting our Foldable tray idea in the Dragons’ Den format. I was proud that we had come up with this solution for wheelchair users, who can find it hard to find a table when going out for a meal. There is a niggling voice in my head that, as I write, says the Foldable tray could isolate someone in a wheelchair when out, rather than being inclusive. This aside, I learnt how to be a team player and learnt from the professionalism of those I was placed with. Again my confidence grew through pitching successfully, and the group and I were open to the feedback received from expert judges, fellow students and teachers.
Working with the business canvas model came back into my life when preparing for the Bright Idea competition. We were continuing to look at how our Foldable tray idea could come to market. I was starting to see how creating a great narrative (O’Grady, 2006) around a product was paramount, but was disappointed at the same time that we were not able to create a working Foldable tray prototype. In the meantime I learnt that you can hone your entrepreneurial skills by moving away from your current product development and seeing if you can successfully apply your business approach to a different product. This then enables you to see if it is the method or the product that is wrong. As part of the Bright Idea workshops, I valued doing different tasks such as inventing and developing a coffee shop business. This exercise re-energised me and gave me fresh impetus to persevere with our Foldable tray and subsequently we received communication that we had been selected to pitch at Kingston Business School. This is where my communications skills were polished as I realised that delivery, and the ability to influence and convince people (Carnegie, 1936), were nearly as important as the product, as once there is buy-in for a product, it can be further developed.
So how will my course experiences help me in my career as an entrepreneur? One important thing that my learning has made me consider is that the customer is always right and as I seek to be someone who brings innovative products to the market that assist people in some way, I need to focus on quality. To this end I have taken an interest in quality control in the production of consumer products. Parasuraman (1985) points to a contrasting emphasis on what quality product production and service entail in the eyes of consumers and producers, meaning there is sometimes “a set of key discrepancies or gaps…regarding executive perceptions of service quality and the tasks associated with service delivery to consumers. These gaps can be major hurdles in attempting to deliver a service which consumers would perceive as being of high quality” (Parasuraman, 1985). What I take from this is that as an entrepreneur I have to remain in tune with the consumer to deliver something that is relevant to them. This is relevant when planning to use approaches such as bodystorming, which will allow me, the designer or innovator, be in the shoes of the consumer (Santos, 2018). Being totally committed to ensuring that everything I do for customers in the future is solely channelled towards them means turning to the right concepts. I have recently been reading about Juran’s Trilogy process concept (Dale, 2016) for ensuring quality. This concept involves the idea of the customer being essentially the manager. This is due to the fact that an integral component of Juran’s trilogy process is the improvement aspect. This in-built safety mechanism means that the process welcomes feedback and subsequent product improvements.
Towards the end of the course I enjoyed, and thought it extremely valuable for future endeavours, creating a 1-minute video with my team in relation to the promotion of our Foldable tray innovation. This widened my interest in understanding all the different advertising platforms, especially the rising giant in the field: social media. I know that writing or scripting for multiple channels in a cost-effective way will be key to my business success and throughout my course this has been emphasised by expert speakers, expert panellists, colleagues and teachers.
As I mentioned before, the Foldable tray has further made me interested in healthcare and health assistance innovations. I feel that I am now equipped to pursue being an entrepreneur and I know that I need good mentors and partnerships to succeed as if this course has taught me anything, it is that good entrepreneurs use all the resources available to them to succeed.
Amabile, T.M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J. and Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39(5).
Carnegie, D. (1936). How to win friends and influence people. Simon & Schuster.
Cull, J. (2006). International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 4(2), p.8.
Dale, B.G., Bamford, D.R. and van der Wiele, T. (eds.) (2016) Managing Quality. 6th edition. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
dos Santos, A., Müller Garcia, A., Carneiro Alves, M., Lima Silveira, E. (2018). Bodystorming: lessons learnt from its use on a service design undergraduate discipline. Service Design Proof of Concept. Politecnico di Milano Federal University of Paraná.
Hertz, N. (2002). The Silent Takeover: Global capitalism and the death of democracy. Simon and Schuster.
Lockwood, T. (2010). Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience, and brand value. New York: Allworth Press.
O’Grady Visocky, J. and O’Grady, K. (2006). A designer’s research manual: Succeed in design by knowing your clients and what they really need. Gloucester, MA: Rockport.
Osterwalder, A. (2004). the business model ontology – a proposition in a design science approach. PhD thesis, University of Lausanne.
Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A., and Berry, L.L. (1985). A conceptual model of service quality. Journal of Marketing, 49(4), pp.41-50.