How Design Thinking Helps Find the Hidden Opportunity

Finding the Right Problem to Solve

There’s a lot written about design-thinking and people new to the concept often think it’s only about design. Really, it’s about a way of thinking and finding the hidden, or not so obvious, motivations or problems needing to be solved.

Ok, that’s a mouthful.

Think iceberg.

Steve Vassallo, of Foundation Capital and author of Way to Design, beautiful visualizes with an iceberg drawing, how the power of good design thinking happens beneath the surface, where different variables are interacting with each other. Unfortunately, he says, we often only solve for problems we can see:

Mostly we live at the level of events, because it’s easier to notice events than it is to discern hidden patterns and systemic structures. Even though it’s underlying systems that are actually driving the events we’re captive to.

systems and design thinking
Courtesy of: The Way To Design

He warns not to focus on just one problem but on the variables affecting it. For any entrepreneur or innovator.. heed this advice!

“It’s there, at the tip of the iceberg, that we expend most of our energies and attention, and like the Titanic, it’s there that we run aground because we don’t see the truth of the problem—the variables and influences lying below the surface. We take actions without understanding the impact of those actions on the system, making the situation worse.   Steve Vassallo

How to do this? Ask good questions; not just facts about what happened or when…but how and why? As a former reporter, I find the how and why far more illuminating. They allow your consumers, employees, suppliers to share far more insight and motivation behind their thoughts and actions.

Vassallo also says to analyze the whole system around a product to find leverage points. “Rather than attempt to design a wholly new, perfect solution, oftentimes it’s better to find areas where an incremental change will lead to significant renovation in the system. The smallest nudge for the biggest effect.”

Silicon Valley startups are starting to do this. The smart ones are building this kind of design-thinking process into the early stages of their company so they can constantly iterate. Vassallo says, “It might not make sense if you’re only, say, four people, but sometime before Employee #40, all startups should follow suit and design not just a great product, but a process for continuously designing great products—a system for repeatable genius.”

Helen WhelanHelen Whelan is a serial entrepreneur and consultant. She has 15+ years experience creating strategic partnerships and designing new business ventures. Her passion is in assisting start-ups and established companies innovate successfully through design-thinking and good leadership. Follow her blog at SuccessMedia or on Twitter @SuccessTV.