Design Thinking  | 3 MIN. READ

Get Started With Design Thinking: Part 2

Andrew Webster, September 11, 2018

These simple exercises will help your team stretch their creativity and push ideas to new limits

These simple exercises will help your team stretch their creativity and push ideas to new limitsOne of the defining principles of design thinking is that focusing on the customer — rather than the company — inspires more insightful ideas that have a greater impact. Of course we all want to reduce costs and improve the bottom line, but these goals don’t drive passion and enthusiasm. Coming up with ideas that will delight customers, and make their lives better, easier, safer or productive is how we innovate.

In my last blog, we talked about the importance of starting with the problem (not the solution), and making sure the customer (not the company) is at the center of every idea. When you drive this shift in the way teams brainstorm, the business benefits will naturally follow.

In this post we explore how to take this brainstorming process even further.


Think About Outliers

When coming up with ideas to solve customer problems, most companies look at the needs of the average user. This makes sense. The typical consumer represents the bulk of most customer groups and represents the biggest potential revenue source. But focusing only on the average customer stymies creativity, and prevents you from finding opportunities to innovate.

When creative thinkers in search of inspiration focus on outliers, it pushes their ideas in different directions. At one end, ultra-passionate and highly experienced customers have refined needs that force teams to think beyond the current limitations of their products or services to imagine a future state. At the other end, novice users help teams identify opportunities to simplify and streamline the product to make it better for everyone.

Looking at extremes helps companies arrive at insights more quickly, and push their thinking beyond the average. In one recent example, ExperiencePoint worked with a firm that makes software for finance professionals. When they interviewed a CFO from a major organization, they found he was using a spreadsheet with more than 70 tabs because different business units felt ownership of these tabs. They felt the reports produced by the specialized software made them feel like consumers of the data rather than authors or owners. This insight opened up a new business possibility for users outside of their finance base.


Stretch Your Ideas

Another simple strategy to incorporate design thinking is to let go of first ideas, and to push the team through provocation.

We all tend to fall in love with our first idea, clinging obstinately to the notion that it is the best approach. But this creates barriers to brainstorming. As the Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas.” And the only way to have lots of ideas is to be willing to abandon your assumptions and look beyond the obvious to find better solutions.

In design thinking workshops we encourage this approach through “idea stretching.” In this activity we challenge participants to come up with lateral ideas that push us in new directions by asking thought-provoking questions. For example:


  • What could you do that would get you fired?

  • What could you do that would cost more than $100m

  • What could you do for less than $1?

  • How could you bring a new technology to bear?


The answers to these kinds of questions may not be your ultimate solution, but they force participants to stretch thinking, and to go to lateral spaces where new ideas will emerge. Getting people to think beyond what is currently defined as “possible,” and then redefining possibility at a later point, is the first step in mobilizing your people so they can disrupt and innovate around the customer.

Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.



Andrew Webster

VP of Transformation at ExperiencePoint. Andrew leverages over 15 years of experience designing and delivering working models, design sprints, change interventions and training programs to develop and apply user-centric problem solving approaches and solutions. Andrew has worked with global organizations including Walmart, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, MetLife and Microsoft. He has also taught executives at leading universities, including Harvard Business School and IMD.

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