Beyond the Basics of Design Thinking with Mara Milena Suter
Beyond the Basics of Design Thinking with Mara Milena Suter
In this episode of Science of Business, I will be talking with Mara Suter, a full-time Design Thinking practitioner with several years of practice. Mara is a founder of innovative-teams.ch and D-school graduate. In her work, she combines her psychological background with diverse approaches to DT and innovation.
We will not be talking that much about the basics or principles of Design Thinking. What I will try to get from this interview are some scientific phenomena and tacit knowledge only an experienced practitioner can provide.
The topics we will cover include:
➡ What social phenomena occur during DT sessions?
➡ How do we build Design Thinking mindsets in our teams?
➡ What DT school doesn't prepare you for?
➡ Is DT more about the method or more about the mindset?
Join us to advance your knowledge about Design Thinking beyond what's available publicly!
Radek: And we are live. So, welcome everyone to another episode of Science of Business podcast. And today with me, there is Mara Suter, my very close friend and a designer in, from design thinking, a graduate of d.school. And this is where we met, actually I was super impressed by the fact that you can learn design thinking in more than a weekend, in actually a few years program. We will be talking about design thinking today, and trying to get beyond that. So, there won't be any basics; we will try to understand what's deeper inside design thinking. And just to start off to warm up with a very easy question, I wanted Mara to ask you, is design thinking more about process or about mindset? How do you see what is more important in this?
Mara Suter: Well, Radek, thank you so much, first of all, for having me here. I’m super excited to talk about design thinking and going beyond the basics, today. And about your question, is design thinking more about process or about mindset? I’d say both. So, of course we cannot go into a design thinking project without having the right mindset of being curious, wanting to explore. But we have this process that puts together a set of methods that create a frame, allowing us to actually have the mindset. So, you know, you can't just tell someone, “be creative now” and then that person will have a creative mindset; it's not the way it works. So, what design thinking basically does, is putting together great methods that allow this mindset to unfold.
Radek: That's brilliant. Actually, it twists a bit my plan for this conversation because I wanted to focus more on the mindset, but actually, what might be beneficial is to figure out how to combine the mindset with the methods. So, how to embrace creative spirit using different tools? And maybe, we will achieve that. I had a great paper on my mind that I shared with you also, earlier on. It’s social psychology of design thinking. And just for our audience to brief you in a little bit, this is a paper from 2020, Lee Thompson and David Shontel. They wrote it for California Management Review. And basically, this paper is summarizing some different social phenomena that occur in design thinking sessions. So right now, my idea is, I would just brief you in about different research pieces, different phenomena they explained. And let's discuss, how does it appear? How do you challenge or embrace them in your sessions, in your design thinking practice? Ready?
Mara Suter: So ready.
Radek: All right. All right. Awesome. So, the very first one is that our intuitions are often incorrect, something that we probably struggle to accept that in many ways, when we assume something, it's not necessarily right. And then, dropping our assumptions is really a hard process. So, the question is, I know, you know, from my week in school on design thinking, I know it's quite important to see things from the freshman eyes. But then, like, if trying to figure out how to actually do that, you cannot just, you know, shake off your assumptions. Like, they're always there in your head. So I wonder, during your sessions, how do you support people to let go of what they have in their mind? What kind of approaches they have?
Mara Suter: So, I think first of all when it comes to assumptions, it's exactly what you've said Radek, so we can't just shake them off like it's the way we navigate through our world, like if we wouldn't have any assumptions, let's say about danger or putting also people into categories, we couldn't live, it's basically our way to survive. So, we cannot shake them off and just decide not to have them anymore, that's not possible. So, yeah even if we try, you know, have a freshman's eyes and looking at the problems from a 360 degrees view, it's still super tough. So, what we do in design thinking is that we deliberately put down all the assumptions that we have. So, the first step is that we become super aware of what assumptions are there and we note them down and then we go out and we actually test them. So, I guess that's the big difference. So, we're not just sticking with them but we are formulating them and then we ask ourselves now, how can we test if this is true? And that's what we then do.
Radek: Wow, this already answers to the second social phenomena that I have on my list which is that we are not always aware of our assumptions of our worldview, so writing them down makes you worried of them and then challenging them, testing them is making you sometimes maybe lose them or sometimes maybe just spread them a bit when you're so certain about something and here, just a very interesting piece that I will just scroll through to some of my last things, what like there is an interesting practice from I think from IDEO. They were building a new packaging for pills for people with artresis, so for people who have some challenges to open the box of medication and they went to interview the customers, the users of those medications and one lady says like she has no problem with opening them. Like, basically it's super simple for her, so they asked her to show how she actually does it and she took a knife and she cut the lid off with some butcher's knife, and she got so used to this approach that she, yeah she basically didn't consider there is a problem with the packaging because she had her own solution that she used for years. But so, I don't want to ask you now about how do we observe the customers? But actually from the design thinking practitioner, we also have such tools, we also have such approaches and I wonder, you know, over years of practice I think you have four or five, I stopped counting but you know, over time when you keep on doing those projects over and over again, how do you challenge yourself not to get stuck to your hammer, to your methods of solving things?
Mara Suter: Yeah, so I guess what we use in there, it's actually one of the basics for design thinking projects and I guess it's a simple trick. We work with a lot of different people, so when we set up a design thinking team in the very beginning, so we'd have I’d say four to seven people. I like to work with five or six and we make sure that all of the people in these projects come from a very different background. So, each person in the design thinking team brings his or her own hammer and when hitting actually nails, we first have to decide whose hammer is the right one to use right now because the base design thinking or one of the basics is to really collaborate, like we really, sincerely collaborate which means we basically do everything all together. Okay, sometimes for interviews or so on we might separate but then, we're coming together again and I guess one of the, what makes a really good thinker is that you challenge each other and you're able as a design thinking team to integrate all the different views. So, it's a, yeah collaboration is a completely different story when you're just all psychologists or if you're psychologists’ engineers and so on. You have to actually explain all the steps you're doing, because your opposite won't understand why you're swinging that hammer.
Radek: Wow, this brings me back to the process so, and blowing my mind as a facilitator a bit; the way I work when I have some creative problem to solve and I’m not using design thinking most often. But just, you know, simple diverge, converge in any way just to find a solution but is that I’m always proposing my set of tools. So, this is the way we will create ideas, this is the way we will choose the right result and then, we will have a result. And from what I’m hearing, I understand that you sometimes also negotiate this part with your team, so you try to include them in thinking about the process, not only about the problem. Wow, okay, there was an inaudible nodding for our listeners.
Mara Suter: Sorry.
Radek: Well, that’s cool.
Mara Suter: Well, yes, I think what we really need to do is to get this 360 degrees perspective into our projects and that's what will make it successful. And when we'll be talking about maybe, also challenges later on and when we bring design thinking to companies and it's one of the big challenges that we are maybe, missing this 360 degrees perspective because in one company, everybody might have a similar background. But we would want to have as diverse teams as possible and as a coach, of course I want to profit from all the different expertise within a design thinking team.
Radek: That's super awesome. It's a bit challenging like I would, maybe, ask you how to do that without losing the drive? So, you know, without over negotiating, over complicating because like sometimes it comes probably from leadership perspectives like sometimes you need more authoritarian, sometimes more democratic or laissez faire leadership depending on the time pressure and blah. But, in generally, what sometimes frustrates me as a team member is when I’m asked about everything, when I don't really care, I don't want to be included and then, you know, so I wonder how do you challenge this straight up when there are too many questions to be asked to your team?
Mara Suter: Okay, so I think, we have to differentiate in here between working with design thinking novices; people that haven't worked with it before but they might be experts on the subjects or you know, chosen people within a company to work on a certain topic but they're actually not experienced with design thinking as a methodology at all. Then, on the other hand, we have very well-functioning design thinking teams that know the method and they actually work with it quite a lot. And I think these are two completely separate cases and I’m a completely different kind of coach in each of the cases I’m working with, right? So, in general, when I work with a team within a company, maybe it's also worth touching responsibilities, just a little bit. Let me know if I’m going too far, off topic here but I’d say the team, they're always responsible for the content. As a coach, I’m always responsible to facilitate the process and the company or yeah, the company is responsible for the frame, so giving us a room and budget and so on. But then, of course you have some overlaps because the company also has to be in line with the content and my methodology has to be in line with the content. And so, when I have a very novice team that isn't experienced using design thinking and I coach them, then it's mostly also working with humans and taking them by the hand, guiding them very slowly through all the methods and it's also a change process, so it's very much at the same time. So, if I want to actually solve a problem that might also be emotional and at the same time use this completely new framework, that's really hard. So, I guess in this case, I wouldn't let them decide on methods, I guess. But in that case, it's more making sure that they also feel comfortable with the methodologies that we use and that the methodologies to a certain degree fit the mindset within the company because if I bring in a method, that's maybe, you know, involves a lot of moving around and colorful post-its and maybe, also you know, we always have the example putting grip bricks on top, they might look at me and say I’m not doing this, everybody will laugh at me.
Radek: Okay, I get it.
Mara Suter: You have to find a way that you challenge them, you bring them into this mindset, but it can't be too far out of the conversation.
Radek: Enough of an answer for me, I think. So, what I’m taking is that you kind of empathize with your team. So, it's very kind of, you use design thinking just for setting up the team. You will be working in a way because you understand them better and then only you create the process, that's what I’m taking. Awesome, all right.
Mara Suter: Yes. Exactly.
Radek: Coming back to the random research pieces, I have another one on “thinking beyond the borders.” So, there was a research where the participants were asked to figure out a solution to a particular problem related to cancer treatment. So, they were presented two strategies, either you use too little radiation and then, you cannot really defeat the tumor but the healthy cells around it are okay, or you hit it hard with a lot of radiation, you kill the tumor but then, the cells surrounding it are also killed and there is a risk of other damage in your body. So, this is the problem that the participants of the research were asked to solve and then, only 10% of them has proposed and asked if this would be an option, that you just use the little radiation several times? Only 10% thought okay, maybe there is a way we can actually cure the patient without harming the cells and yeah the majority, yeah let's damage the cells, that's the only way. So, basically, we kind of set the borders, we set some whatever problem we solve, we build it around some boundaries that when they are there, you think within the boundary. So, in this way, there was two solutions. Okay, it's a problem of alternatives, so I choose the one that actually makes the changes instead of figuring out what else can I do? And I wonder how do you avoid that without being very ambiguous, in setting the problem? Because you also want to solve some business case, you want to help the company but probably avoiding losing some great alternative that would come from very free approach to the problem. How do you manage this trade-off?
Mara Suter: It's a big topic. Especially, when you go in with clients that already have quite, you know, a view of what, where they want to go? I think, first of all, it's really important to set this stage and make sure if design thinking is even the right method because design thinking needs to be open for whatever solution is there that could come out, right? Am I going in the right direction?
Radek: So, like first, it should be ambiguous to some level and then, where is the boundary? This is what is interesting to me.
Mara Suter: Yeah, where is the boundary? Like, let's say, it's really not interesting for me to propose a million dollar project to a client with a $100,000 budget, right? So, this is what often happens, right? But I think what's important in here is that you first create all the solutions or you even think about all the solutions. So, you don't limit yourself from the beginning. So, when you ideate, you don't think about any limitations. You want to move limitations completely out of the way. So, in case of the example that you named, we could, for example, reverse the question and ask ourselves, not okay. So, how can we get rid of just the cancer without touching the healthy cells? We could be turning that question around and ask ourselves, okay, how do, how can we harm as many healthy cells as possible? Then, brainstorm, I’m getting very interested.
Radek: Yeah, that's good, that's awesome.
Mara Suter: [cross talk]: That’s optology that I could propose in here, yeah. So, afterwards you'd be, we'd be turning around the solutions again and then, we might come to the solution of actually hitting the cancer in many different ways, possibly. So, we're using really a lot of methods to not think about borders and constraints. What we do then is that we choose ideas with constraints. So, we would actually in a design thinking project, it's not unusual to actually come up with 500 to 1000 ideas.
Radek: Wow, that's a nice estimate and something I didn't know. I thought my 12 ideas are usually good enough to start with 500 to 1000.
Mara Suter: No, yeah what we do is really, we put quality beneath quantity. So, we're going to, we're going for quantity with the theory, so there's a link between quantity and quality, actually. If we generate 1000 ideas, chances are much higher that the right one, the best one, that is also okay with limitations we have, is going to be in that set of ideas. So, we really try to generate as many as possible and we're not discussing them, we're just generating using also the principle that every idea counts and don't judge. So, we're really going in every direction because if I have an idea, that's really sucky, someone else might have an idea, that's really good, based on that idea. So, we also deliberately asked, what would you do if you'd have a trillion dollars? What would you do, if you'd had all the political power? What would you do, if you were google? To solve this problem, so we really try to expand the room for ideas and then, we have all these ideas like a set up to 1000. And then, we look at limitation or limiting factors, we might have talks to the client or you know, the CEO or whoever is actually deciding on which plans, which ideas we will follow, later on? So, we're creating kind of these limitations and we're writing them down somewhere and then, we're checking okay, which of all these ideas that we had pass our limitations? And then, we reduced them to maybe, 20 or 30, or the 20 or 30 best ones and then, we build prototypes upon those. We write down again what assumptions are in these prototypes and then, we go out and test them. And then, we reduce the number again or we open up again. So, this is how what we would do? And it's not only budget of course, it can be, it has to be a digital project, a product.
Radek: All right and like, since you mentioned ideation and creating as many ideas as possible, there is another interesting phenomena written in this research piece which is about the amount of ideas generated and generally, individual involvement in the process of different people that are in the team. So basically, the outers were citing different articles, different research papers which had the same result that the more people, the less individual involvement in the creative session. So basically, big group creativity doesn't really work and then, like brainstorming, let's not talk about that because that was already talked upon too much. But I just wonder about this amount of people like, do you have any limitations? Did you notice that if you have, I don't know 24 people in a design thinking session, it suffers in terms of quantity or quality or individual involvement, how do you work around the numbers of people?
Mara Suter: I guess the number of people you'd have, again is of course depending on their experience with design thinking as a methodology and also on like how many coaches you put into a room? I do like to work on design thinking projects or like especially, in early stages of an adventure, it's really cool to have a lot of people. So, I’m thinking two things you have to do. So, one of the basics that we basically use in all of the stages of design thinking, we talked about brainstorming. But even in the very beginning or when we collect research questions whatsoever, we're very much relying on that principle that individual work brings out more ideas. So, where, whenever we are starting with something, we take, I’d say five or ten minutes depending on the task we're at, to just write down individual notes before we discuss it. So, this is always the first step because again we want to have these multi-disciplinary 360 degrees view on whatever we are doing. And when we discuss loudly from the beginning, we are already putting the discussion in a certain direction and I don't want to lose the engineer's thoughts just because the psychologist talked first. So, first of all, it's always individual writing down what I think for everyone, in nearly every step, all the methods.
Radek: That’s cool.
Mara Suter: And then, we share and discuss and compare and check okay, are there contradictions or are there things that are…?
Radek: To be honest, like I know the rule, just the brain writing technique also, but I never treated it as a, like universal rule that always applies in a way. It's something that you keep close in your heart and whenever you have any session where ideas come into place, you make sure people first write them down. I think that's a great outcome also for the future and thinking.
Mara Suter: Yes, it's really great and then, this, the second thought I had when working with big groups, what you can really nicely use especially, when you want to make this room for inspiration and ideation bigger is that you can switch them up. So, you start with maybe, you know, groups of through, so you were talking 24 people, so I would have groups of three different one of them. And then, in an ideation session or you'd start, you know, with all the research and so on and then, when we'd come to ideation or prototyping, it constantly switching people from team to team. Because again, we can explore more. Every person brings his own hammer, so you're building maybe, just three of or a group of three, they're building their prototype and then, you have a make it better session with a person from another team and then, you turn around for several times and you can really improve on the concepts because again, I said you bring more hammers. So, I think it's a really great chance if you have a lot of people, it gives a lot of drive and opportunities.
Radek: Oh, cool. One research piece challenged and here is another one. So, yeah.
Mara Suter: Well, maybe, let me just add that of course, when I never work with 24 people all together, I’d always break them up into smaller groups of three to six or seven people.
Radek: Awesome. Yeah, like I’m thinking it as a concrete outcome, something to consider when you're group, dividing people like how big of a group it should be? That's really cool. And about the research piece I was mentioning, so we kind of covered quite thoroughly the process of ideation, the earlier stages. But didn't touch upon that much on the prototyping and then, I realized there is one thing I told you earlier on this illusion of transparency, which is, so there was a very fun new research on students of course, where they were asked to wear some very lame t-shirts like the worst t-shirts you can find on the market and then, they were asked to come to an exam and they were purposefully made to be late to this exam. So, they entered the room when everyone is there already and then, what they were comparing the researchers, was how many people noticed that person coming and the t-shirt they had? And the assumptions of that person like they thought everyone was seeing them, they thought everyone noticed the t-shirt, they thought everyone vote, it was lame but actually no one cared. Anyway, so, like this, in the scientific paper, this was a part of a longer story about how do we think? We know what others think? And how do we present our ideas? And we think we are clear but we're not that clear and I wonder yeah, how do we challenge that in design thinking? And I’m especially curious because I think this goes to everything, this goes to marketing, this goes to sales and whatsoever, like to even a job application. We always tend to think that the people will understand what we mean and in prototyping, it's probably the most challenging, how do you address that?
Mara Suter: Yeah, it's really interesting now because in design thinking, also we tend to like our own ideas the best and I think that's just because we also understand them the best. It really reminds me of the example you brought, so I understand my own experience, I understand my own thoughts, when I have an idea and I prototype it, so I’m just assuming, the others will have the same processes, whereas it's absolutely most of the time not the case. So, it's really important to test ideas, to test prototypes and that's actually the goal of prototyping. Or let's put it as one of the goals of prototyping is that we make an idea testable and of course, when you then go to potential customers, users with your prototype, it's also very human to then, actually talk for 80% of the time and listen for 20% of the time and you've learned nothing because basically, you just explained your prototype to someone else. And then, in the best case, in the end, you ask okay, you also think so, did you understand? And then, you're…
Radek: Of course, I think so, like how else could I think now? So.
Mara Suter: Yes, exactly. So, what we're trying to do in prototyping and testing is exactly the opposite. So basically, a good prototype doesn't need to be explained and you just hand it to your user and let them interact with it and what we use for that is a strategy called “think aloud testing”. So basically, we are asking the person we are testing with to speak aloud everything she or he is thinking and we're basically just noting that and in most cases, it's very surprising and not at all what you'd expect and then, you iterate upon that. The tough part, of course, for especially, new design thinkers is then, to not explain when your user is interacting with your prototype the wrong way.
Radek: So basically, there is no real treatment to that. I mean, we will keep, we keep on thinking or understanding more what we created than our users or is you know, is there any way that I can design it better over practice anything I can do to learn more?
Mara Suter: Well, I mean, you don't, like so, when you build a prototype, it's basically a piece that makes it, that enables you to learn. So, you don't have to know everything yet when you build it. The trick then is that you go out with your prototype and you're like a sponge sucking all the information from different people and then, you learn and then, you improve. And again, here, and crazy number maybe, okay, so you don't iterate for two or three times but it's rather 200 to 300 times until you're actually at a finished product. So, it's always building, learning and you get better and you might then, also very not practically, notice that some people might tell you one thing and other people might tell you something else.
Radek: Yeah it reminds me like, so what I hoped to get was to have a solution into how to reduce the testing budget from any marketing endeavors? And because, basically, so I’m working on a conference right now and what I did was, I put the date of the conference in the conference logo, so it's out there like right in front of you but that's the only place where the date is and it appears over and over on the page and everywhere and then, people started asking me like okay, when is this conference happening? So, you know, because it's not a usual place to put the date, like it should be some separate space, right? So…
Mara Suter: Yeah.
Radek: I learned, I adjusted, I adapted. So, now it's better but yeah what I was trying to understand is if there is any way to, yeah to know better? You know, to get so skilled in explaining that you, when you create any communication of anything because basically, I understand that's, what's the final stage of design thinking? We have something that really is adjusted to people that they can work through without, you know, a guide of 100 pages to start with and yeah, I’m searching for a speed run but probably the lesson is.
Mara Suter: You were asking how we reduce the budget for testing and of course, we have in the earlier phases of the design thinking process, we already do our research and I suggest not to reduce your research to just interviews but actually, also do observations, see what's out there? See, I mean you touched that with the woman cutting open the medicine bottle, right? So, we would not have figured that out in a pure interview, so you also want to observe and to immerse. So, actually stepping into the shoes of your user before you actually even come to ideating, so ideally, when you come to prototyping, you already have quite a good understanding of how your user acts? What language they speak? What are their problems, how their world looks like if they'd prefer basically a very modern page or something very traditional? You already have assumptions for all these things. We put these assumptions in personas and then, we design four personas. But basically, a persona is just a summary of assumptions we have about user choices or user characteristics and prediction on how they will behave. But if we base our ideas on that persona, of course that already gives us a direction for design and then. So, that's the first thing. So, do your research and do it well before you even ideate and don't ideate into the blue, actually ideate for your user, so that's the first principle and then, the second one is like test early and often and test as cheap as you can, right? So, before you pay a graphic designer to actually develop the logo and before you build the entire page maybe, you can have a simple drawing of the page and ask people, so are you attending? And then, they'd already asked you okay, yeah but when is it? So, keep it very simple and then, just do two or three tests. It can be a simple drawing, right? People are very scared of that because in our society, we always only want to show you something beautiful, but we start quick and dirty.
Radek: That's empowering, awesome. I’m checking my list of random research facts and I think we have covered them all. So, I have one more question I wanted to ask you which is you know, another simple question which is basically, I realized in many areas of life is that, okay? So, we have training, we learned a lot and again, I just cannot emphasize my love as his, my sincere love to the school to how furrowed they are in teaching design thinking not over a weekend but over years. But still, I think some things come from practices, so come from practice, some things you realize for your mistakes, maybe. And I wonder about such stories, about the things that you realize and learned in time of practicing in your actual projects, if you can share?
Mara Suter: Yeah so, okay. Not all people love design thinking. I know that comes as a surprising fact but it's true. When we work with design thinking, we work with humans and I think that's one of the most important things I learned over the years and we've touched upon that so basically, you have to empathize with who you're going to working with first because you're out in the world. You're not going to meet only design thinking enthusiasts, you're going to meet people that in a lot of cases or at least with a lot of clients I’ve been working with are in a mindset of we are doing, what we're doing and we've been doing it since 100 years and they're really good at doing what they've been doing for 100 years.
Radek: This fix mindsets.
Mara Suter: Exactly, fixed mindset. The value of quality is very, is measured very high and quality, you prove quality when you say I’ve been doing this for a lot of time. So, that's in a big contradiction to what we do in innovation, because in innovation we do something completely new that has never been done before. So, these mindsets really clasp, right? When you go out into whatsoever company that's really good at what they're doing but they're just not very good at doing something new because they maybe, haven't done something new for quite a while and then, you get into those situations that okay, now this company is under a big pressure to change. We have this pressure building up, let's put in some words like you know, sustainability, that's raising big pressure to innovate digitalization, that's raising big pressure to innovate corona cases, that's raising big pressure to innovate, so basically, we have these companies and these people that now realize okay, we need to change but they don't actually want. They're looking for solutions to change without changing.
Radek: How do you address that?
Mara Suter: So, most importantly is that you realize that when you bring design thinking into a company, what you're actually doing is you're going into a transformation process and transformation for me, it always starts with the people that are actually ready for that. So, one of the principles I really use is that I only try to work with volunteers even within a company, so people that are actually excited, we could also call them first movers and that we take away more time, this is another contradiction. So, design thinking is sometimes thought to be this method where you fix problems in a weekend but it's not. If you bring design thinking to a company that is very traditional, you will need time and it's really important to make that clear to your client in the beginning, so you take the right people and then, you actually take them through a process of change, giving them more and more methods but also maybe, bigger topics to work on and…
Radek: I wonder any estimations about the time? So, like you know, is it three months, five years or and how regular, like every second day, every week, every month, you have some session, how does it usually go?
Mara Suter: So, there is a company I’m with for, I think three years now.
Radek: But it's the same project? The same?
Mara Suter: It's not the same project for all the time but basically, in this case, the project became also to make the entire organization more agile, more able to actually invent things and to change and to also make their work more efficient. So, what we do in these cases is that you have like pilot projects, so you take certain topics, you work on them but you also want the people involved in the project to bring the new mindset with, to the company, right? And…
Radek: Okay, yeah just wait a little bit of appreciation for a mind being blown. So, I realized, so basically, you can use design thinking just to create innovative culture inside of an organization and then, people can work on better desks or you know, better space in their office or different problems they have like everyone has. But basically, you get people accustomed with the process, with the iterations and then, you actually create this culture.
Mara Suter: Yeah and the very first outcome I might have after a weekend or a couple of days is that some of the people I’ve been working with go into the next meeting and they use silent brainstorming, what we've discussed and posted and then, a structured way to actually discuss a topic so that might be the very first thing we can see when bringing design thinking to a company. And also, so maybe, another very difficult thing then, when we speak pilot projects and bringing design thinking to companies, it's that you need to make really sure that there's change happening and that it's fast and that's very difficult. But if you fail at this point, acceptance of design thinking and these newer methodologies within the company will fail like it's already kind of sometimes a fight to get it accepted, right? And so, you need to show that it will be better for the people working there, if you use design thinking and that's where a lot of design thinking processes, transformation projects fail because we are working solution open which means we don't know what is coming out in the end, and also my work as a design thinker ends when actually the tough part, implementation starts. So, it's really my job to make sure that projects or ideas are also implemented in the end which is really this crucial point.
Radek: Yeah but in the end, like it is solution open but then, that should be a benefit for the employees because that means okay, we are not here to tell you how you will work? We are here to listen to you, how it should be? And then, we will design it together, so you will be included and we'll make sure your needs are addressed, so it's in a way, it's good.
Mara Suter: That is the good point but we still end with a prototype that is tested but it's still a prototype. Design thinking doesn't or the result of design thinking is still an idea, it's nothing finished. So, it's really hard, so you come out with this great idea, everybody loves it. Let's say, okay, we will have this new cafeteria place within our company and it's going to be great because people can work there and it will raise collaboration and everybody loves it. And then, you bring it to the decision making, people within the company and their answer is oh yeah, we love it, okay, great we'll do it. And then, the next question is okay, we'll put it in our budget for 2025 because that's how the traditional organization works. And then, years pass and the drive is taking out of, you know, the idea and then, people get frustrated and then, you have to fight against this oh, that was just another workshop where actually nothing happened.
Radek: Yeah, I’m thinking this is very close to general, educator, facilitator work. Is that you know, we not always are in position of power to make sure that the things are changed and I wonder yeah what are your practices? Do you do anything around it? Do you have some processes, kind of follow-up processes that support the organization and implementing the ideas that were created?
Mara Suter: So, first of all, even before we start a project, I make sure that the decision makers within the company are aware of that and that they have headspace and budget for things that might come out that. So, it's not enough when the decision-making people tolerate design thinking projects or think it's good that we're doing design thinking now, so we're up to date, right, our company is doing design thinking, now it's really cool, that's not enough. So, we need the leaders of the company to also be enthusiastic and to wanting to invest their time into projects, if that's not a given. So, tolerating change within the organization is not enough. We need leaders that really also want to support change with their time, with their attention. We need them as a backbone, otherwise I can't see success. If they're not with us, that's not possible and then, I’m integrating them into the project at certain points like for example, we'd have 10 ideas, we want to prototype, I bring in the decision makers, the CEOs, whosoever and I actually have them prototype, co-prototype the ideas with us because we've had this, if they prototype the idea with us, they will love it because it's their…
Radek: The Ikea effect.
Mara Suter: Yeah and then, in the end, I try to have people responsible for the products, the ideas chosen, so I try to have some people out of the staff and some decision makers paired up and saying I take responsibility for this project. And if I don't find people that take responsibility for a project, it's dead already. That's in the end, how I choose to, which project should be continued on. We need those drivers, those movers within the company.
Radek: Yeah, I think it's the same for education and some something I can honestly claim I fail in is to make sure that there is someone responsible for the follow-up, for the implementation, for the transfer of skills, whatever. We have a training in feedback motivation, whatsoever, to make sure the managers are in line and will do some activities to support the employees in the information.
Mara Suter: Yeah and how can you as a trainer, support them to implement and get barriers out of the way? If you do your two-day workshop and you leave, it's going to be really difficult to see real change, I guess?
Radek: Great. I have very last question and in your description and in your expertise, there is a fact that you're a psychologist, that you are a trained psychologist which is not always a case in design thinking, I believe, since it comes also from arts, from engineering and I wonder if there is anything else. If there is something that you use from your training in design thinking, something that adds to the general toolbox?
Mara Suter: Well, I mean, I guess as I said, like design thinking is working with people and I guess my bachelor in psychology does help me there. But I don't know, like picking special theories apart. Yeah, I don't know, I think it really comes down to just working with people, empathize and of course, using all the interview techniques and all that, of course that's a toolbox that I can draw from.
Radek: Yeah, well, actually, as far as I know, you have plenty of different interview methods to choose from. That's a good starter and this empathy, I’m kind of trying to grasp the essence of this mindset and I wonder if this attitude towards people isn't the most important one to grow, no matter if you call it empathy or even beyond empathy, just generally, you know, being a good human or whatever. Just it feels like when you figured out humans, you figure out design thinking as a process, you can design it well. If you fail in the first, you fail in the latter.
Mara Suter: Yeah, I would agree on that and I also want to ask, to add upon it that we think of empathy as something you either have or you don't. So, either you're empathic or you're just not that person but I want to very much disagree on that and think of empathy as something that you can train, you can learn, if you have a very curious mind and we're going back on that mindset topic, right? And you really want to learn about other people and you're trying more and more to understand them. I think it's something you can learn and you can really also grow into, so it's not just this thing you're either bored with or not. It's an attitude and it's a technique also that you need to learn if you want to be a good design thinker or design thinking coach.
Radek: Wow and let's close it with this final advice. So, thank you very much for taking your time to talk with me about “research on design thinking” and yeah, we're going to see each other soon. Right now, I’m closing Mara Suter, innovative teams’ founder, design thinking practitioner and a yoga teacher, I didn't mention, was with us today.
Mara Suter: Thank you so much for having me.
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