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Reflective Essay

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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References

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.

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Dragons’ Den

Time passed so fast; Dragons’ Den was the final day for the Design Thinking module. We had been through some ups and downs but after all, we were able to manage it. I had mixed feelings; happy because we could celebrate our success and sad because the experience was over and it was great and the people I met were wonderful. However, we will probably keep in touch.

Anyway, we continued meeting in the library to finalise our business report as well as the presentation. Sometimes we spent almost the whole day in the library.

A day before the Dragons’ Den we had to submit our business report and presentation at 4pm so that we had enough rest before the final day.

After the submission, we decided to go home and have some rest. Each of us would then practice our parts individually at home, and meet early on the next day before the final and practice our presentation as a group.

We made a change to the way we presented, based on the feedback we received the week before in the Mock Dragons’ Den. Before, each of us said one long part and we were told that this might make the audience bored. For this day, we tried to distribute the talks equally between us so that each one of us had a short section to say, but more than one. In this way we would keep the interest of the audience.

The same as for the Mock Dragons’ Den, we were allowed to bring anything that was related to our business. We were asked to come an hour before the time so that we could prepare our tables. The arrangement was excellent. Inside the room, there were 11 small tables, one for each group. We were asked to prepare everything before our time slot so that when it was time for any group to present they could just pull the table up to the front and start. This  helped with time management.

Anyhow, we presented our idea in front of a panel of judges. It went well. We received some feedback about our presentation about only having pictures. They said it would make it better if we added some facts, numbers and writing. Honestly, we didn’t know that we were allowed to do this but this is a lesson for the future, to make sure about all the minor details in business.

On the same day, at the end of the day judges chose four groups to present their ideas but this time in front of all of us, to choose two of them to go through to the Young Enterprise competition.

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At the moment of announcing the names, I was nervous. However, unfortunately my group wasn’t nominated but that is fine because other groups did great as well.

 

Useful Link:

https://www.young-enterprise.org.uk/what-we-do/where-we-work/region/london/

 

Mock Dragons’ Den

For this day, we were asked to prepare the first draft of our business report and present it to a panel of judges. The aim of this day was to present our business idea, report and presentation in order to receive feedback and suggestions for improvement for the final Dragons’ Den.

My group and I met many times in the library to write the report, design the presentation and work more on our business. We worked hard because we wanted to make it perfect.

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We received the schedule for the Mock Dragons’ Den –  each group had 6 min to present and 10 min for Q and A.

We were allowed to bring our products, prototypes, posters and any other materials related to the business. We brought the prototypes for the two products we had – the FoldAble Tray and the Customised bags. Also, we had posters and business cards.

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We came to the university before our scheduled time to prepare and practise. We prepared answers for the questions they might ask.

Our time was 4:20pm. We entered the room, prepared our items on the table quickly and then started the presentation. We had PowerPoint slides that showed some pictures of our journey.

The presentation went well. The judges gave us their feedback and showed an interest in our presentation. We as a group agreed to work on the feedback we received for the final Dragons’ Den the following week.

We were relieved, as although we knew that there was still some work to be done, we knew after this day that we were on the right track.

We agreed to watch some videos for the business pitch so that we could improve it more. We also decided to meet the following week to finalise the report and presentation.

I had mixed feelings. I was excited because we were close to finishing our studies and starting the real journey, but also sad because the group meetings that we used to have would not be there anymore.

For any business, choosing the right team members is so important. If you choose the wrong ones, this might delay success and complicate the work. I always have to be sure about the people I work with in the future.

 

Useful Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_bpBRuUcik

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOKzBHr3ulE

 

 

The Second Trade Fair

On Feb 23, 2019, we had the second trade fair at Eden Walk, Kingston upon Thames, from 10am-5pm. For the first trade fair our product was the FoldAble tray (prototype).  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a manufacturer to make it for a good price. Therefore, three days before this big event, we had to pivot and we came up with our second product, custom-made fashion bags. We kept the same target group of 20-40 year-old wheelchair users. We made three prototypes that could be used as a hand-held bag or hung on the wheelchair.

This trade fair was different from the previous one, because it was outside the campus, so we had to meet the public! That was not easy to be honest.

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We went to Eden Walk early to set up our table. Some groups were ready to sell and had their final product, while other groups had only prototypes, aiming to take pre-orders.

For us, our aim was to take pre-orders because our product was custom-made bags. So, we needed to make them according to our customers’ requirements.

We started selling and attracting people at 10am. It was not easy as I said; many people just passed by the tables without stopping and having a look. We tried to get out from behind the table and reach them by distributing our business cards and giving them a brief talk about us. Some of them stopped and listened and some apologised and continued walking.

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Three wheelchair users came to us and showed an interest in buying our product. They liked it because the bags currently available on the market don’t meet their needs and they are not fashionable.

We also had judges, and they passed around all the tables and had some discussion with us because at the end of the day there would be four winners.

The day went well, as we got around 10 pre-orders for the bags. We sent the customers a confirmation email so that we could follow up with them about the design of the bag.

This experience was different; it made us leave our comfort zone, break through the fear, build up our confidence and be determined.

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In future, it will be so important for me to regularly track my company’s progress by using  objective measurements and being able to make difficult decisions at an appropriate time. For example, if something did not work for a long time, I would need to accept that it is time to let it go and work on something else.

Adverts

For the Design Thinking start-up module, we were asked to create an advert for our business that was no more than 1 minute long, and to present it on a specific day.

My group and I met to discuss how we wanted to make it, what the scenario would be and what things we should include. We came up with a great scenario and we agreed to borrow a wheelchair from the Business School to use in the advert.

The scenario was to have a video of a wheelchair user, sitting in a café with her friend talking and living her life normally. Another shot would show another wheelchair user in the café, meeting her friend for lunch, but this time the table is not suitable for her. So, she takes the foldable tray out from her bag, fixes it to her wheelchair and starts eating.

The person acting as the wheelchair user was one of our team, Aman. Some of our classmates and I were acting as friends of Aman. We laughed a lot during the shoot; we repeated some parts a few times due to that. It was an unforgettable experience.

It was an exciting experience, as none of us had made an advert before, but one of the team members, Claudia, is a photographer. She has a camera so she was responsible for taking the videos. We were able to do it in two days, shooting and editing.

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In the class, each team showed their advert and received feedback from the other teams as well as the teacher. Also, each team was given marks by the other teams because at the end there would be 2 winners for the best 2 adverts. Janja brought chocolates as prizes.

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For our advert, the feedback we received was about the sentences we used. We had added all the words as subtitles on the screen, and the main comment was that the sentences were too long in some scenes and there was not enough time to read them. They were also confused about whether they should watch the scenes or read the words.

Another comment was that we didn’t put our contact details at the end, so customers wouldn’t be able to reach us.

 

 

Lessons for future:

1 min video is enough to deliver a message without losing the interest of the audience.

Avoid writing. Instead, you can use your voice to deliver the message or make scenes that show your business talks!

Always add your business contact details to adverts so that people can reach you.

Be creative and attract your customers.

Before publish your advert, let people close to you watch it and work on the feedback.

Bright Idea competition

My group and I received an email that we were in the final of the Bright Idea competition. We were excited to pitch in front of experts because it would be a good experience to go through and we would be able to add it to our CVs as well.

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The competition day was Feb 6, 2019. There were 50 ideas. They were divided into 7 categories. Each category had around 7 or 8 ideas. The plan was to choose 2 winners from each category. The first winner would receive 1000 pounds and the second winner would receive 250 pounds. The competition was at Kingston Business School. It started at 1pm and finished around 6pm.

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My team and I prepared very well for pitching, we practised a lot and we tried to cover every aspect of our idea in our pitch so that the judges would have a full picture of our business. We went there with our prototype (foldable tray); we pitched in a good time and then we had some questions from the judges, which we answered very well. They liked our idea and the way we pitched as well.

We were so happy when we left the judge’s room, but honestly, we were not sure if we would win or not because we knew the other ideas in our category and some of them were excellent. What I mean is that the competition was very hard.

After that, the Bright Idea team conducted short interviews with the competitors to share on social media. We talked about our idea in 30 seconds. They published it on Twitter and Instagram. This is a good way to spread our ideas and to encourage other students to participate in the next competition.

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After all the groups had presented their ideas in front of the judges, we all gathered in a room to hear the announcement of the winners. It was an exciting moment but unfortunately, we did not win a prize.

After that, we went out of the room, had some coffee and drinks and networked. In my opinion, networking was like the big prize!

Now, we should work more on our idea, and progress it for the second trade fair.

Learning points:

Not winning a competition does not mean that your idea is not good. Keep working on it.

Feeling disappointed should not happen in the business field. Learn to accept failing as well as success.

Networking, networking and networking should be always your aim.

Useful link:

http://www.kingston.ac.uk/bright-ideas/bright-ideas-competition/

 

First Trade Fair

On Jan 24, 2019, we had our first trade fair at Kingston Business School. Unfortunately, we had not been able to finish our product (FoldAble tray). Actually, we struggled to find a manufacturer that could build it for us. Eventually we found one, but it cost a lot so we decided to introduce the prototype instead, thinking that at the trade fair we might find engineering students or others who could help us to progress with the FoldAble tray. We borrowed a wheelchair so that we could let the customers have a real experience using a foldable tray on it. Our goal for that day was to get feedback and connections that would help us.

We were there early to prepare our table and to practise how we were going to introduce our FoldAble tray.

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The trade fair was from 1:00 pm until 5:00 p.m. The day went very well as we had many customers who liked our FoldAble tray. We received some comments and feedback that would improve it. Also, we obtained contact details for some engineers to help us go further with our product.

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There were Judges who went around the tables to evaluate the products because at the end there were 3 prizes for the winners. The judges were so helpful as well; we benefited a lot from them in terms of having some contacts, support and feedback.

Proudly, we got Best Sales Team Award. We received 40 pounds, which we put into our business bank account. We won this award because we were able to deliver our feeling and empathy to the customers.

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After the trade fair, in the class, we had a critique session. Janja took pictures of our tables and gave us her feedback on them. For our group, we made a mistake when we put the wheelchair in front of the table. This made customers think that we were doing wheelchairs! The FoldAble tray was not obvious for customers. Also the posters we had on the table were not clear.

Actually, each group received feedback and I benefited from all the comments.

This experience was so important and helpful. I learnt many things that I can use in the future. For instance, when you meet your customers, it is important to put the focus on the product you have, more than anything else. Also, you have to show your empathy and connections to your products so that the customers can have the same feeling as well. Moreover, networking is essential in business in terms of finance, ideas, support and business improvement in general.