This post describes an international meeting of legal knowledge management professionals that took place in Toronto in early November. The annual meeting took an interesting turn by selecting Design Thinking for Innovation as its central theme, in a program that included presentations by Mark Leung of Rotman Business Works and Mathew Milan of Normative Design.
Business People As Designers
Mark Leung started the design discussion by suggesting that business people need to become designers to generate creativity and innovation. According to Leung, thinking falls along a spectrum with pure analytical reasoning at one extreme and intuition at the other. Characterized by uncertainty, analytical thinking is convergent, incremental, and essentially risk-free, while intuitive thinking is divergent, holistic, and risky. The tension between the extremes resting at the center is where innovation and design thinking occurs, and the challenge is taking full advantage of this space between the two extremes.
A human-centered approach to business applies design principles and processes to solve business problems and posits design thinking as the new model for business. The basic premise involves getting out in the field – talking to, engaging with, and walking in the shoes of clients – long enough to fully understand the clients’ needs and visualize the ultimate client experience. Leung’s presentation closed with the key traits highly linked to innovative people: innovators tend to make associations, question everything and challenge the status quo, keenly observe all around them, experiment continuously, collaborate and network, harbor huge aspirations, and take risks.
Next up, Mathew Milan – a founding partner of Normative Design – discussed the importance of user-centric design, based on audience, purpose, and context. Milan observed that smart businesses look closely at what people are asking for online in chat rooms, customer forums, and other readily available public spaces, rather than do traditional market studies. To Milan, the goal should always be to change the experience customers are having by listening to and observing them and devising a user-centered solution that balances focus, creativity, and design to meet the audience’s purpose in the given context. The key to success in design work is rapid prototyping and rapid feedback coupled with change and experiment in the field.
User-centered design is all about perspectives and problems that need to be solved, with the focus on how humans behave and interact with products, services, and each other. The primary driver should be trying to understand the nature of the problem being explored, with as much time devoted to examining the problem as solving it. Once the problem is fully understood, the next question becomes, “How do we shape the problem space by creating something new?” Design involves turning something possible into something tangible; the key tools to achieve this include interviewing and observing, spending time in the relevant environment, analyzing and structuring data, modeling, integrating concepts, prototyping, and validating. For Milan, user-centered design is an ongoing process of creating insight, framing opportunities, making prototypes, testing, creating value, and repeating all of the steps. In closing, he noted that the design process should be the same regardless of whether the business sells goods or services.
Implications For KM Practice
With the market for legal services becoming increasingly competitive and firms more and more intent on finding novel ways to distinguish themselves from the competition, KM professionals may find delving deeper into design thinking and process prudent.