This is an attempt to condense the learnings from the Design Thinking course at McCombs Business School during Fall 2018. It has indeed been a very refreshing experience, unlike any traditional MBA class and has provided a new perspective of a customer-oriented approach to solving business problems.
The course and especially the group project helped me appreciate the challenges that firms and organisations face in view of the changing preferences of the newer generations. The millennials and the GenZ have very different behaviour and different expectations from the products they use. Taking a customer-oriented view, it becomes evident that an understanding of the new generations and their needs is critical for businesses. It requires a rethink on their part or else they often face a threat to their relevance and existence. The same was true for the client, who was facing a threat to its core content business due to the changing content consumption habits and channel preferences of the young demographic. This change was leading to a clear disconnect between what they had to offer and what actually the new-age tech-savvy consumer wanted. And while this disconnect is very visible to both the people within and outside the organisation, it is very difficult for organisations to respond to these changes and reinvent themselves to keep themselves relevant. This reinvention often requires a very concerted effort and that in my view was very valuable learning for me for my future professional career.
The other key realisation during the group project was the fact that structured data collection and visualisation tools and exercises can help unravel insights which would otherwise be difficult to gather. In our case, we could infer the habitual nature of content consumption by looking at the content diaries filled in by the participants and use that insight to generate solutions. However, it was quite a task to administer the exercise as it required the users to deeply think about their routine and habits and often resulted in uninspired submissions. At the same time, more objective measures like the iPhone screen time analysis were easier to administer as it required no extra effort on the part of the users and were instrumental in revealing insights that would have otherwise been difficult to unravel. These insights were even more powerful as they were not in line with our hypothesis and were surprise findings. In other words, we felt that objective tools and exercises that require less effort on the part of the user are more effective than the more subjective tools. Thus, while we did not appreciate it at the beginning, innovation in design and structuring of these tools can be extremely critical in driving the final research outcomes.
For the project, the part that could have been avoided is the ability to choose the target persona. I felt that most of the team, ourselves included chose the safer options and hence were not forced out of our comfort zones. Staying in our comfort zones, we ended up using our biases to drive many of the aspects of our research, making it easier to accomplish. I fear that we do not always have the liberty of choosing a persona in the real world and the ability and confidence to apply the tools to any persona is something that I did not gain from the project experience. I felt that dictating a persona for the project and removing the choice of the persona from the scope of the project might make it more interesting and also more practical. From a class perspective, it can also have the effect of ensuring that different kinds of persona are covered by different groups and thus a more diverse perspective is gained by the class as a whole. In the current form, a lot of groups ended up taking the same persona and also ended up with very similar findings, which made the outcomes less exciting for the class. In other words, by setting the persona for the group projects to work with, a more realistic environment can be created both for the group and the class in general and better outcomes can be ensured in terms of learning about the tools and preparing for the real professional world.
Overall, the project was an interesting experience. The most pleasant surprise for me was the fact that while I came from a different country and culture, the changes in consumer preferences that I felt were happening in India resonated with the changes in consumer preferences in the US. Further, the views of my teammates often aligned with my views on the hypothesis of the needs and requirements of the target persona, which was a pleasant surprise for me. However, we often had very different perspectives on some issues and that disagreement was extremely helpful in avoiding groupthink and forcing us to analytically think through the key aspects and get more confidence in our findings. The fact that all three of us were open to disagreement and were willing to discuss, analyse and then come to the final conclusion was extremely helpful in keeping us on track. Finally, the most interesting aspect of the project was that all of us agreed that we felt lost at several times during the project and felt that we did not know in which direction we were going. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how various insights emerged and how we could aggregate them to build several prototypes for the client that we were proud of.