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Lessons learned on a Design Thinking session: DO’s and DON’T’s

I’m just back from a Design Thinking workshop we organized in Bordeaux (France) for a e-commerce project. The least I can say is it was successful and extremely enriching. We had invited a group of people from different horizons representing the spectrum of the different stakeholders across the value chain. After a day of work new ideas emerged for the different distribution channels we considered during the session. As a sign of how worthwhile this workshop was, consider what one participant told me at the end of the session: “I had little envy to come this morning, but after a day of work I can say I was fortunate to attend the workshop. If you organize another one, count me in”.

This kind of testimony is of course very rewarding and that’s the kind of fuel I need to find the motivation. Yet, let me share a few advices with you on how to make your next Design Thinking session more efficient.


Explain or not explain, that’s the question

WIIFM? “What’s in it for me?”.

At the beginning of the workshop I was hesitating to explain the different tools used, the purpose of the day and the context of the projects, thus risking to get biased feedbacks and contributions from participants. I chose to start right away with exercises (because we had one day only) and to explain the purpose of the session afterwards. Although it was the first time I was organizing a very short session like this, the experience tells me that I should have taken the time to at least explain the methodology and to explain there was a project behind the workshop. This would have had helped participants to avoid being disorientated during the day and to give them the feeling they were part of something bigger and worthwhile contributing.


Resistance is hard to overcome

Participants should be chosen very carefully. Although a dose of skepticism is always positive to challenge assumptions, I found that too much of the same negative skepticism can kill the whole dynamics of a group. This is very dangerous and I found myself in difficult situations at some moments.

Break the participants in smaller groups and make sure you have one ally in each of them to help you overcome resistance. If your customers or your customer’s team attends the workshop, why not splitting the customer’s representative within the different groups? Your customer knows why he’s paying you and it’s in his own interest to keep motivation high.


One day is not enough

We started at 9am and the best ideas came around 4pm. The participants began knowing each other after lunch and trust began to grow between them in the afternoon. With the distance it was not a good idea to hope getting the best of a workshop of one day. In the future I’ll stick to 2-day or 3-day workshops even if the customer puts the pressure. Results come at a cost. This is one of them.


Advice for your marketing strategy

Design Thinking sessions are definitely worth the while and worth the money for customers. We came up with disruptive new ideas; simple ideas that our world is not accustomed too anymore; ideas we can’t have alone because we are overwhelmed by codes, norms, standards and ways of doing we stopped challenging.

The message I want to pass along today is that everything is worth challenging. If you stop challenging the norms you’re dead; not as an individual but certainly as a company. Last but not least, let me finish with this quote that keeps bouncing back in my head: “there are no mature markets. There are only firms that stopped innovating”.


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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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