How Scalable is Your Human-Centered Innovation Strategy?

This blog post was written in concert with my colleague and Senior Director, Business Development, Gongos, Inc. Crystle Uyeda.

The adage “if you build it, they will come” is an outdated relic in the world of business. Yet, with the rise of human-centered design, design thinking, and similar frameworks that preach a focus on user needs to guide innovation and solutions, many organizations are struggling to truly operationalize it as a day-to-day practice.

Although powerful, these new approaches are increasingly difficult to embrace as organizations continue to up the ante in a consumer-demanding world. Of course, this is compounded by the pressures corporations face as they also seek to meet Wall Street’s quarterly financial targets. These pressures can lead organizations to pursue internally generated ideas and initiatives that may not move the needle with consumers. The result? A human-centered design process that can quickly lose sight of its true north: the human.

Keys to success at the organizational level:

As we’ve discussed, there are always challenges to organizations that embrace a new philosophy like human-centered design. That said, below are several recommendations to ensure your organization’s HCD initiatives remain anchored in the needs of the human beings they are intended to serve:

  1. Embrace human-centered design as your SOP. To truly succeed, organizations can’t think about HCD as a point-in-time solution. In reality, it’s less a “tool” and more of a mindset that the entire organization must embrace. It should become your standard operating procedure rather than the “flavor of the month.” Anchoring your mindset in the belief that the customer needs to be the genesis and beneficiary of any initiative is crucial. That said, embracing a human-centered mindset doesn’t mean throwing out your existing development processes. Instead, find ways to weave mindset and process together to satisfy both executives and customers.
  •  Apply this mindset to more than innovation. Organizations often think of human-centered design as a process that ends with introducing a new solution to the world. However, this creative problem-solving approach can bring value to so much more than innovation. From brand positioning, to marketing strategies, to customer experience, to new business models—even employee-facing initiatives—humans are always at the receiving end and their needs should guide creation. Tap into this way of thinking as a force for customer centricity across organizational projects.
  • Develop guidelines that ensure customer needs aren’t lost in the process. It’s natural to fall in love with an idea and then try to force fit a consumer voice to justify enthusiasm about it. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, and without preconceived notions, truly listen to customers and observe them in their natural environment. Identify their pain points and unmet needs. Use those insights to serve as the anchor for your development efforts. Ensure innovation teams have used enough rigor to feel confident in their consumer insights (perhaps setting a minimum number of consumer interviews, for example). Due diligence spent at the front end of innovation ensures that you’re only investing in ideas that truly hold value for consumers.
  • Articulate your initiative in a language that resonates with leadership. While fundamental, purely focusing on the impact to the customer won’t fully demonstrate to leadership that an idea is worth the investment. They need assurance that your offering has staying power, which requires not only consumer desirability, but business feasibility and market viability. Place your initiative in the context of all three corporate priorities. Build your business case using KPIs that are important to leadership. Balancing the human dimension with evidence of business success is essential to getting senior leadership to greenlight an idea.
  • No need to reinvent the wheel. If your organization has a well-defined Stage-Gate process, don’t throw it out the window. Rather, infuse that process with a human-centered approach. Identify ways of enhancing and accelerating the process overall, reminding stakeholders that investing in deeply understanding consumers as human beings will always generate a powerful ROI.
  • Pilot projects to prove impact. Even in the most customer-centric organization, there will always be naysayers and skeptics in the mix. Starting with a pilot project focused on specific business challenge will demonstrate the value of a human-centered approach by way of example. Choose your team wisely, so skeptics can become part of the process. 

Driving Change at the Individual Level  

While these steps are effective guidelines for the organization overall, truly seeding a human-centered mindset requires change at the individual level. Find ways to create individual and team experiences that encompass the following dimensions:

  • Encourage fresh thinking – it’s not about perfecting a process. It’s about leaving preconceived notions at the door and challenging convention.
  • Pivot – let’s face it. Consumers are fickle, so get employees comfortable with changing on a dime when a new course needs to be charted.
  • Broaden your perspective – about you, your team, and most importantly, your customer. Often the most powerful insights come when we zoom out and see the bigger picture.
  • Have fun – innovation and creative solutioning are opportunities to tap into your own imagination and employ exercises to get your team into a truly creative space. Teams that have fun together ultimately innovate together.      

To truly scale an organization’s innovation efforts, leaders must be masters of orchestrating change at both the macro and micro level. When they work in harmony, the organization will not only be in sync with consumers but will find itself on an innovation path that creates sustained value and drives meaningful growth.  

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Greg Heist




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1 Comment

  1. Fred on April 9, 2020 at 5:26 am

    Thanks a lot for sharing this great article. I totally agree, especially with the point that there’s no need to “reinvent the wheel”. It’s all given, we just have to rearrange the tools we got and use them wisely.

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