In the FORTH Innovation method, a method that combines design thinking and business reality, we focus heavily on deeply understanding the environment around us and spending up to 6 weeks in the field learning with “New Eyes”. This builds up the most important aspect of human-centred design, having the right mindset.

“We must design for the way people behave,

not for how we would wish them to behave.”

Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity

In recent times, we have seen the term design thinking- being heavily spoken about. There are so many articles out there on how design thinking can be learned and understood. I agree with this completely but I also feel that this is a mindset which should be nurtured.

The way I perceive design thinking is simple. I like to think of it as a mindset that sharpens how to look at challenges around us. A mindset that can help us adjust to the Innovation process of being more mindful, and open in the right direction. But while we do that, we must also know that it is no magic bullet. Methodologies are important, but these are just tools. What one needs to do is to get the right mindset to make that difference, and to really find the right direction towards the right solution.

So here’s what I believe are the qualities you need to get that design thinking mindset:

1. “Remove the blinkers” – Be curious and observe

You will see that design thinking is actually all about being curious. It’s about being a keen observer of everything around you. You need to be curious about why things are the way they are, why things don’t work, or why people act in the way they do. Once you nurture the mindset of being curious, you let go of judgment and seek to better understand everything around you. Being observant is about paying attention to the finer details, observation and curiosity go hand in hand- ask questions when you start assuming and seek to understand what you don’t know. Curiosity will ultimately lead you to gain empathy for both the people and systems in place, help you connect with individuals and deepen relationships, and see problems from new perspectives.

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2. Build “Empathy” 

The next important question that follows curiosity is empathy. When you are designing products/solutions, the biggest challenge is to understand the people you are creating products for. We tend to assume how they experience things. We think that they experience it as we do and that is where we go wrong. The key is to get an understanding of a user’s mental models, and how the world looks from their perspective. This is where empathy comes in handy to understand how they think, feel, and behave every day, especially in conditions and circumstances that relate to your product or service.

Most importantly, why do they feel and behave the way they do? Empathy allows you to understand this. So, how do you gain empathy and get those insights? The best way to gain empathy is by engaging directly with the people. Methods such as ethnography, user research and interviews can help you uncover how and why they see any value in your product. All this information can help you understand how people behave, as well as what they might expect from your product or service.

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3. Challenge the Norm

There is always a first time for everything. It applies to all of us. Steve Jobs said: “Often people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Before the iPhone, we simply did not know how to use a phone without a keyboard. Every day, we make assumptions based on previous occurrences, and a lot of those are based on experiences. However, when solving problems in new and innovative ways, an innovator must challenge assumptions and constraints that are often not oblivious.

The assumptions of what you can and cannot do, how it’s done today, unwritten rules you set up for yourself, and so on. Challenging your assumptions helps you challenge the status quo, and ask: “How can this be done better?” What we call a “problem” is often more a symptom of an underlying cause. When we dive in too quickly to fix a symptom, the effect will eventually come back or happen again. Instead, we need to address the cause to create more permanent change. Innovation happens when the inspiration comes from the underlying cause.

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Creating anything new starts with a mindset. If more of us got a little better being empathetic and curious, we could also get better at providing value in other people’s lives and ultimately creating better products.