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How Customer-Centric Thinking Creates Innovation

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At the recent Iron Mountain Executive Exchange, experts covered four pillars of an organizational innovation strategy.

At the recent Iron Mountain Executive Exchange, experts covered four pillars of an organizational innovation strategy.

Design thinking – is an approach to problem-solving that places users at the center and seeks solutions that maximize the quality of their experiences. The process involves questioning assumptions, reframing problems in human-centric ways, brainstorming, prototyping and testing.

Human-centered design takes design thinking to a tactical level. It’s about immersing yourself in the customer experience to better understand their needs. An ideation phase identifies possible solutions and an implementation stage vets ideas with customers to bring them to market.

Customer-centricity is a way of thinking and doing business that seeks to create positive customer experiences at every stage. More a philosophy than a discipline, it should be part of the culture of any company that aspires to be innovative.

Design research is a disciplined approach to design based upon active user research. It involves gathering input via direct interactions and surveys, complementing the findings with secondary research and evaluating solutions based upon hands-on user experiences.

The following is a prime example of human-centric design:

At the 2020 International Builders Show, window and door maker Marvin previewed two new and groundbreaking products. Skycove (below) is a projected-glass, insulated boxed structure that extends beyond the wall of a house to provide an immersive outdoor experience with comfortable seating space for two people. It offers a panoramic view from its built-in seating bench, which can be finished to suit any homestyle. A patent-pending steel frame can hold a heavier load than the average outdoor deck without additional support. Skycove also adds up to 20 square feet of usable space to a home’s footprint without requiring additional construction.

The Marvin Awaken Skylight is an automated and customizable skylight that owners can tune to their liking. It uses automated shades and soft LED lights to provide a daylight-like glow even after dark. The skylight helps regulate indoor temperatures and air quality with intelligent rain and environmental sensors that determine the best times to open and close and it keeps bugs and debris out with a unique hidden perimeter screen.

The products were conceived in the 108-year-old Marvin’s design lab in consultation with IDEO, a design and innovation company. Developers used design thinking concepts to imagine new types of products that bridged the indoor and outdoor experience. One of their key insights was that people spend about 90% of their time indoors. “Marvin needed to start thinking about solving the problems that a life spent indoors poses to people who long to be outside,” the company’s strategy and design chief told The Wall Street Journal.

Skycove and the Awaken Skylight are examples of customer-centric design thinking. They demonstrate that organizations of any size and age can nurture innovation with a disciplined process.

The innovation conundrum

Large organizations, such as Marvin, often struggle with innovation because their success prevents them from seeing any solution to their customers’ problems other than their own. That can make them protective, inwardly focused and defensive.

The way to counteract that thinking is to “build new muscles” around user-centric design, said Ari Adler, Managing Director for the Cambridge studio at global design firm IDEO. “Explore questions that don’t necessarily have answers. Build with a focus on learning and hypotheses.” IDEO promotes the idea of “innovation pods” composed of people who like to dream big. Pod members are given dedicated time to get to know each other so they can propose ideas without the fear of judgment and build on each other’s innovations.

The COVID19 pandemic has created plenty of chaos but has also presented opportunities for . Organizations that had never allowed employees to work from home are discovering the productivity and cost-saving benefits of a remote workforce. They’re discovering that videoconferences can replace expensive in-person meetings and that Cloud services can bind workgroups together. As an example, Iron Mountain’s innovation pods have been posting regular updates to a shared video blog to keep each other informed about what they’re learning and to remain connected. These revelations about how we can find new ways to work together during this difficult period will have long-term payoffs for organizations that take advantage of them once we are beyond the pandemic.

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