An interview with Shyam Viswanathan an engineer, educator and ExperiencePoint associate facilitator
Seven years ago, Shyam Viswanathan was on a flight from Manila, Philippines when he stumbled across an article about design thinking in an airline magazine. It was the first time he’d encountered the concept and he was intrigued. “The concept of human-centered design of products and processes made a lot of sense to me,” says Viswanathan.
Since then he has integrated design thinking into his global training and consulting practice. Over the past twelve years, Viswanathan has led ExperienceChange simulations for more than 2,200 participants and ExperienceInnovation Learn simulations for more than 300 participants in the last 3 years.
We invited Viswanathan to share his journey to becoming a design thinking expert, his advice to participants about how to embrace these concepts, and where he’d be today if he wasn’t teaching.
How did you become a design thinking facilitator?
A business partner at ExperiencePoint is responsible for this. During a phone conversation in 2014 they told me about the company’s ExperienceInnovation products and asked if I’d like to get certified. Though I was interested in the concept of design thinking, I was not initially convinced that I should do it because there wasn’t a great deal of excitement in the Indian market about adopting design thinking at the time. However I kept thinking about it, and when it was suggested again a few months later I said yes. I received my certification in August 2015 in Toronto and have been leading workshops ever since.
What do you think are the biggest benefits of design thinking?
The three biggest benefits to the organization and to the executives who learn about design thinking are:
We all exist due to and for humans. Our customers, internal or external, are primarily humans – and their functional role is secondary.
Our own sustainable success lies in winning a share of our customer’s heart, rather than chasing after a “share of her wallet.”
“Share of heart” is achieved by being a pleasure to deal with, and being eager to constantly and collaboratively seek solutions that are simpler and more joyful to use.
Once your customer enjoys working with you and seeks out opportunities to do so your own success inevitably follows.
What is the most common misconception that people have about design thinking?
That it is only a subject for designers who work on new product development. Most people do not realize that every single person on this planet is a designer. We all design processes, products, ideas, and propositions to be used by colleagues, external customers, spouses, or children. These solutions designed by us have relevance only when the intended beneficiary buys into them and is enthusiastic about making them work. This makes all of us designers who stand to benefit enormously by enhancing our ability to co-create and collaboratively prototype, experiment and evolve solutions.
What is your favorite book or resource on design thinking and why?
Change by Design by Tim Brown is still my “go-to” resource. The author explains with clarity and plenty of practical references the practice of design thinking.
What is the one thing that you wish people knew before they came to a workshop?
I sometimes wish that people were not so conditioned to believe that innovation has to be a “Paradigm Busting Big Bang” breakthrough every time. Innovation is a mindset that defines the way you live and what you do at work every day.
A lot of people also believe that they are only paid to perform their job description. But what they are really paid to do is to create a future — for the company, their customers, and the community they impact. If more people realized this before coming into the classroom it would reduce the amount of time and energy spent on facilitating “unlearning.”
If you were not a design thinking facilitator what would you be?
If I had not become a teacher and consultant I’m sure I would have ended up as an airplane pilot, or maybe even an astronaut. All things to do with aviation and space exploration excite me. When I’m not delivering sessions using ExperiencePoint simulations I enjoy spending time in flight deck simulators and experiencing what it’s like to take off and land at different airports of the world.
If you were stuck on an island with one other person, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
I would choose Gandhi. The man changed the paradigm of “fighting” for freedom from colonization. He defeated one of the most powerful armed forces of his time without raising his hand in anger. He taught a new way of servant leadership, galvanizing a nation of poor farmers to defeat a technologically far superior adversary with the power of conviction, understanding and empathy. He did this by simplifying and humanizing his message to the rural peasant and the urban elite alike. I would give an arm and a leg for an opportunity to spend an hour with him.