Paying attention – the starting point of design thinking

Design Thinking

Great innovation does not come from focus groups. It does not come from surveys. It does not come from interviews. It does not come from looking at months and years of statistical data. It does not come from guesstimates. It does not come from past successes.
Great innovation comes from paying attention to people. Yes, you read it correctly. Great ideas and innovation come from paying attention to people and empathizing with them.
In Design Thinking, empathy is, as explained in IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Toolkit, a “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for”.
Great ideas come about when you gain a deep understanding of people’s emotional and physical needs.
The power of simply using ‘numbers’ has caused about 17 plane crashes a day in the 1940’s. The leadership of the US Air Force attributed these to the ‘fact’ that planes were getting faster and more sophisticated. The Air Force leadership were baffled by the real reason for the crashes until one day the real reason was observed. The cause of the crashes was the cockpit equipment dimension. The cockpits were supposed to have been designed for the ‘average’ sized pilots. It was then observed that none of the 4,000 Air Force pilots fit the bill of the ‘average’ size pilot.
It became clear that the discomfort had been causing all the crashes. The problem was resolved when the Air Force designed adjustable equipment to fit the pilot’s body.
Just recently, I had been observing our HR recruitment people. They were clearly at a loss and inconsistent with the way they were managing their workload. I brought in a consultant to interview our HR Recruitment officers and document their processes. The resulting work was six different processes done by the Recruitment officers.
Weeks later, I still noticed that they were at a loss. They could not come back to me with simple things like how many applicants did we get for a certain position? How many candidates came from different sourcing channels. Why are some positions more difficult to fill than others? Actually, since they were clearly at a loss, they would simply not reply. One time, I walked over from my office and asked them why they had not replied to a particularly important inquiry from a hiring manager. I saw the ladies gazing at their laptop seemingly lost in thought. I asked them about the inquiry and they said that we have over a hundred job openings and they were trying to pull together the answer to my question. Long story short, they spent an hour on the inquiry only to come up with nothing.
Having observed this, I then gave a challenge to the same consultant that documented the Recruitment process. I asked him to pull all six processes spanning multiple pages into a one-page Recruitment process. I said that the process must be partially an image and links to the necessary tracking sheets and templates. The consultant was given a day. After the one-page process was drafted, I then walked two new HR recruitment officers through the process and invited their inputs. The process was tuned on the spot based on their feedback. We piloted the final version.
The ultimate test of compliance and a clear understanding of what’s happening in recruitment were the digital folders that are supposed to contain the CV’s of applicants. As applicants are being processed, their personal folders (containing their CVs, recruiters’ notes, employment requirements, etc.) move from one status to another. A master tracking list should also be capturing who is applying for what position along with their status.
I checked these digital tools a few days early and they are being properly and accurately populated. I asked the new recruiters questions about the process and they were able to answer properly.
We did not hold surveys or statistical analysis. We simply observed the recipients of a core HR process.
If you want your company, department or team to come up with meaningful innovation or ideas, start with paying attention to people. Pay attention with empathy and you will get to the heart of their problem and issues. Only then will you come up with sensible solutions.
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