How I employ design thinking to design my business

Most recently popularized by Tim Brown's book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, his TED Talk, and the growing notoriety of the Stanford, design thinking as a formal method stretches back to the late 1960s. The Stanford, home base for the academic side of design thinking, provides many free materials including their "bootcamp bootleg" which gives a quick introduction to design thinking as a process. If you were to stop reading right now and do nothing else, just load up that link and skim through the first 10 pages. Even better, print it out and leave it in a pile on your desk. I promise you'll get a lot of value out of it regardless of your industry or job status!

Since I started my business barely 2 months ago, I've been employing a rapid iteration model to quickly move past plans or options that either aren't working or aren't worth continuing to pursue. While I started my business with plenty of content and experience in delivering the product, I did not have a formal business plan or model. This is not an advisable way to actually start a business, but from the design thinking mindset I am embracing experimentation. This is all a big experiment. I might go back to full-time work sooner than later. I am literally validating my business (think of it as a testable prototype) against the real world. Not a focus group. Not Q&A with friends and family. Just straight up putting it out there.

With the quick spin-up and launch of NJ UX Web Design Bootcamp, I also embraced the mindset of bias towards action. This was not hard for me, as it's been my natural tendency long before I ever heard of user experience or design thinking. We've talked enough, let's do something! Along the way, I am learning to craft clarity out of the many possibilities out there for how to present my value proposition and business offering. I started with an internal model heavily influenced by my experiences in academia. But "students" are a very particular subset of the population. Out of my entire potential market, it's unlikely I will attract many students who are already engaged with another institution. Instead, I'll be teaching "life-long learners" - and that's a completely different crowd.

As a visual thinker, I've also always employed the show don't tell mindset. In all of my teaching experiences, whether in academia, in tech support, even with friends and family, I lean heavily on visuals. Images, videos, quick sketches, anything to move beyond a bunch of words and text (such as this article). In addition, while not part of the formal design thinking method, I employ learning by doing which clearly embraces the mindsets of action and experimentation. Every bit of one-way lecturing should (ideally) be followed up by an activity to put that knowledge into practice (in groups if possible), and then a period of reflection to cement the concepts and learning in the mind of the learner.

While I have a fairly big network of contacts and colleagues, employing radical collaboration is a bit more challenging for me. It all boils down to geography and time. New Jersey is a place where everyone's plate is already full, and going 5 miles can take 20 minutes. I can only write so many emails, arrange so many meetings (and meetups), and give away so much of my time - after all, this whole endeavor is based on me staying at home with my daughter! But I do have grand ideas to incorporate many different people, viewpoints, and perspectives into my business offering. This will just take time.

Now in terms of the actual design thinking process, I can tell you that I skipped GO and went directly to the final stages of prototyping and testing. I already had a product in mind and content developed, so I began with that. 2 months in and I am just now starting to do the empathizing (aka research), defining (aka clarity), and ideating (aka brainstorming). As I package and offer each training in the bootcamp, I get feedback on what works for the people attending, and of course see how many people register in the first place. Is my location right? Time? Length? Price? Topic and content? In the background, I'm still talking about my offerings with my network, getting their feedback as well, usually in the form of alternative ideas.

With every offering, I have an opportunity to refine my product, create a new prototype, and test it again. In this way, I am failing quickly and cheaply. Rather than sticking with my original plan, it's constantly under revision. It can be both exhilarating and exhausting. In this rapid iterative cycle, I do run the risk of moving past a successful prototype that for one reason or another doesn't work the first time. But this is offset by the fact that with each iteration, I gain clarity in my point of view on my product, and empathy towards my users. So even if I move past a successful prototype, chances are I will produce another prototype that is successful, perhaps even more so.

So, bottom line, I use design thinking - and you can too! You are probably already doing it anyway. After all, humans are creators, and to create is to design.