Human-centered design is central to modern day problem solving

Design thinking as a driver of innovation

Doug Dietz is a legend. He is the man that transformed the once miserable experience of receiving a MRI scan into a magical adventure. Doug is a design thinker.

He is an alumnus of our Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) Executive Education program. Doug was on the General Electric (GE) team that designed nuclear scanners (used to conduct MRIs). When they were first installed, he excitedly visited a hospital to observe them in use. What he saw was a small, 7-year old girl hiding behind her mother’s legs, terrified of the upcoming scan. The loud sounds, flashing lights, and deadly-looking stretcher brought her to tears. She was so upset, the family had to go home and reschedule the scan for another day. Hundreds of other children that year had to be sedated to undergo the MRI tests. As Doug describes it, “I went for kudos, but what I got was a kick in the ass.” He found it an incredibly heartbreaking and humbling experience.

Motivated to make a change after this encounter, he came to the Stanford University d.school to learn Design Thinking. He learned that by focusing on his users, he could make the largest impact. When his superiors at GE dismissed his request to conduct this work, he used his personal time after work and on weekends to move forward. He created an advisory board of children in Chicago, consulted experts at children’s museums, and spoke to a number of families in hospitals. As he progressed, his focus shifted many times until he reached a truly magical solution. He turned the MRI rooms into adventures that make children feel they are in forests, oceans, or cities. The machines and walls are painted with scenes, the technicians wear costumes and act, and children receive storybooks the night before preparing them for their upcoming “adventure.”

The results are incredible. When Doug visited after the change, he observed a small girl with her family. After the scan, she tugged on her mother’s skirt and asked, “Mommy, can we come back tomorrow?” The number of children needing sedation has dropped to almost zero.

Aside from the heart-warming change for families and children, Doug and his team have greatly improved the way teams design healthcare services. When talking to hospitals looking to buy either GE’s machines or a competitor’s, GE has secured multi-million dollar deals because the hospitals wanted Doug’s magical designs installed. And now within GE, engineering and marketing teams are asking Doug to join early discussions as they make changes to the machines. Engineers motivated by his story began to think, “How can we make the machines quieter and less scary?” As a result, GE will soon be releasing this new quiet MRI machine – an amazing advancement.

Doug’s story is a prime example that shows if you focus on your users and their deeper needs, you can transform people’s lives. This is so powerful that, naturally, more people will want your product/service. This can also transform how other groups in your organization work, scaling the desire for innovation.

Though you may not work in healthcare or work with children, we all have the ability to bring delight and novelty into our work. I truly believe that all people are inherently creative, but our school and work environments often stifle us. Design Thinking helps us re-engage our creativity. It is a problem-solving process that can be applied to any field. It consists of five process steps and a set of mindsets that radically shift how we work. The key element of design thinking is a focus on the user. Humans are the key to building successful solutions, and only by deeply understanding our end users can we truly innovate.

Design thinking as we know it came to life in Silicon Valley. Startups in the Valley are eagerly applying it to their work, and it has become a key element of many Startup ecosystems around the world. Now, large companies are doing the same. Organizations like Fidelity, Jet Blue, Procter & Gamble, Capitol One, and more have opened internal Design Thinking innovation labs. They are attracting top young talent, developing innovative new offerings, and transforming their industries.

Aside from focusing on your users, what does being a design thinker mean? It means you believe in a bias towards action (do instead of talk), you build on your teammates’ work and make them look good, you seek answers from others who have different life experiences than you (and you really listen), and you work with teammates who come from a diversity of backgrounds and value their perspective. You also believe in iterating quickly and often at low resolution to learn as fast as possible.

Wherever you are today, you can creatively solve problems in this human-centric way. You can start small, by interviewing one customer. Get to know them – what’s their story and how does your product or service fit into their lives? There are free resources on the d.school website. You can run a beginning crash course in design thinking for your colleagues or you can go through the Online Crash Course. The books “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelley and “The Achievement Habit” by Bernie Roth are good reads on the topic. Also look for opportunities to access design thinking here in Lebanon. Every time I am here, I meet more people practicing it.

Design thinking is radically shifting how we work and disrupting industries across the world. And, maybe, with a little listening and prototyping, you’ll find yourself in an imaginative storybook of your own.

‎Tania Anaissie is the course production lead at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), Stanford University

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