Solving complicated problems with Design Thinking

For the world’s most beloved brands like Apple and Ikea, Design thinking has been the reason behind their intentional and human-centric products. Design thinking encourages the business to be more empathetic in their approach in rendering a solution/product by putting themselves in the customer’s shoes to understand the needs, desires, and potential problems. It is about providing a solution by visualising the product, telling a story rather than selling a feature.

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To explain, I will share two real stories.

The first one is about the company GE Healthcare*
Those of you who have undergone an MRI Scan or got it done for a family member would know that the scan machines, however sophisticated they look, have the ability to scare. Having an MRI Scan is generally not a pleasant experience for adults, let alone children. Children often struggle to stay still during the process (often crying) given the frightening experience. The Chief Designer at GE Imaging Machines was shocked by this and felt as though something had to change. By applying Design Thinking, he decided to observe children going through the scanner while also having conversations with not just children but doctors and educators. Through the conversations and observations, he found that rather than being seen as an elegant piece of technology, the MRI Scanner was considered to be a scary machine by young children. As a result, CT Pirate Island Adventure was created. The MRI scanner was made to look like a pirate ship and it transformed the traumatic experience into a kid’s adventure story where the patient had the starring role. This transformation brought about a dip in sedation of children prior to the scan by 70% Another story is about Starbucks*. The food and the beverage industry were experiencing a drop in sales and poor margins. Starbucks decided to interview hundreds of customers to better understand what they expected from their coffee shops. Through the insights gained from these interactions, it was evident that the customers were expecting an atmosphere and ambience that gave them a sense of belonging and relaxation. As a result, Starbucks positioned round tables strategically to make solo coffee drinkers more comfortable and less self-conscious.

Design thinking is a process that helps us to solve complicated business problems. The concept of Design Thinking questions the prescribed process and steers the designer to be conscious and mindful of the methods that help to get him/her unstuck. It requires a drastic change in mindset to ensure successful application and that itself is a difficult task. The mindset that needs change are about answers that are not clear from the start, the failures that are powerful tools for learning, the focus on human centricity and making the iterative process a way of life for unexpected solutions.

Some of the strategies or mindsets that can help to apply design thinking are :

Human Focus: Your customers are not sheer numbers and therefore it is an imperative to understand their feelings, hopes, fears, and unique stories. Once you get to know and empathize with them, you may think of your product/solution and how you market it, in a completely different light. Ethnographic research and quantitative market research will set your intuition for informed decisions.

Flare-And-Focus: In design thinking, using divergent thinking, or “flaring,” helps to discover opportunities and explore ideas. This helps to broaden the base of thinking and consider different stories before arriving at a solution. Once you have a variety of themes or concepts, using convergent thinking or “focusing,” helps to narrow down choices and make informed decisions. Using flare and focus catalyses your creativity with a focus to deliver the project within time and resource constraints.

Iterative Process Focus: Imagine investing in a big campaign, only to discover that it did not resonate with your customers after having spent so much time and resources on it. For instance in product design, the cost of failure significantly increases further along the process. One of the ways to lower these risks is by constantly testing our hypotheses, by making our concepts tangible and testable with users from the initial stages until the very end. Knowing how to give and receive feedback leads to a culture of openness and constant improvement.

To summarise, I would state that your intention for business changes when you view it through the lens of the customer. In Design Thinking, you solve problems that meet the customer’s need and that for any business is the sole objective of being in business.


Age of the Gig!

I met my ex-boss at the airport the other day and asked about how life was! She was my senior for 6 years, and was serving the 25th year of her employment in the company when I exited. We spoke animatedly and one thing led to another. I expected her to say that she was serving her 30th year in the same organisation but she didn’t. Instead she told me about her fantastic life of doing things at the pace she wants and picking up few projects in the year and that leaves her unoccupied at least for couple of months in the year.

This is when the new high of gig working occurred to me. For the uninitiated, the gig economy is a free market system where organizations and independent workers engage in short-term work arrangements. The word “gig” refers to the transient nature of the job itself.


1The gig economy definition encompasses all sorts of contingent work arrangements, for example:

  • Freelancers
  • Consultants
  • Independent contractors and professionals
  • Temps (temporary contract workers)

There was a time when people struggled to find flexible roles and opportunities of that of a freelancer. Not any more – Recently, CNBC reported that the gig economy employed just about one out of three American workers in 2019. These 57 million freelancers represent an increase of about 3 million workers since 2016. While some people freelance to supplement their main income, others rely upon freelancing as their sole source of support. It’s interesting to note that NASDAQ predicted a larger increase, up to 43 percent of the workforce by 2020, in their 2016 report. India alone boasts of 15 million freelancers today.

What motivates the gig workers to take up the flexible roles

  • Gig workers cherish the independence over the fixed, regular and stable income and job. Uncertainties with respect to work patterns, assignments loom large but they pale against the benefit of having to do work at your own pace.
  • They remain away from hierarchy, adherence to authority and other corporate conformance. They take up assignments that interest them and avoid the mundane and the uninteresting work
  • The assignments taken up are more based on choice than need. Parents, family caretakers, and plenty of others have started to understand the benefits of having more control over their schedules. While freelancers sacrifice benefits and in some cases, job security, they gain the ability to set their own hours. Just as important for many, they can choose who to accept work. There is higher job satisfaction and happiness in a choice-based assignment. The key element is commitment over loyalty and committed work creates value and word of mouth to get in more work for the gig worker.
  • Contract and temporary jobs have always served people as a way to gain experience and get their foot inside a corporate door. As the gig economy continues to expand, Harvard Business Reviewmade the case that colleges should note the change and do a better job of preparing students for alternative routes to their chosen career fields. These days, the gig economy provides businesses with more than creative talent, including human resources, accounting, software, engineering, and even executive officers.

How does the future look

The key imperative for a gig worker is to lead a life of discipline and commitment as he /she operates in a non-formal setting. Having a sense of direction and purpose, networking and visibility are parts of being a successful gig worker. Being resilient and resourceful keeps him/her afloat in the competitive and dynamic world.

To conclude, freelancing offers a 21st Century solution for flexibility, productivity, and scalability. Even though it has not grown as much as it was predicted, the gig economy will probably continue to provide a large part of the overall economy and increase in size nationally and globally.

References :






On the right track – Government & RBI

A watershed moment in India’s monetary policy came through last Friday.

While municipal authorities and state governments were busily sensitizing the public at large on sanitizing self, their homes and public places, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) came in and fired a bazooka to let the market participants and the world know that it has the economic might to respond to the Covid-19 crisis

The market was demanding action and the RBI governor delivered effectively on what was required.

So what did they fire –

Reduced interest rate

The first salvo: A 75 bps cut in repo rate and a 90 bps cut in the reverse repo, thereby reducing the overall cost of financing in the country. This was a much-needed step as central banks across the world had reduced interest rates to soften the blow on borrowers in their country – a necessary solution to provide strong support in a recessionary circumstance to support home loans, retail loans, car loans, small and medium enterprises and large corporates especially in an economy which was already stuttering. This effort will reduce the cost of capital for most companies  and help them use the savings to meet growth objectives when the market recovers and provide immediate cash flow relief

Infusion of Liquidity 

The second salvo:  Infusion of liquidity of INR 3.74 lakh crore into the economy through

– Targeted long term repo operations (LTRO) of INR 1 lakh crore. This will enable banks to provide 1-3 year liquidity support to commercial paper, investment-grade bonds and non-convertible bond. The corporate bonds over the past few weeks were suffering due to lack of liquidity which is structural for meeting their working capital requirement and medium-term cash flows. By providing support and push to banks to lend, RBI has provided stability and certainty to the corporate funding needs, thereby mitigating liquidity risk which was pushing corporates into significant turmoil.

-Reduction of Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) of banks from 4% to 3% –  1% reduction releases INR 1.37 lakh crore for a period of 1 year into the banking system allowing banks to lend more in these times. We already did see State Bank of India increasing the working capital lines to corporate on an ad-hoc basis by 20%

-Banks are allowed to borrow another 1.37 lakh crore under the Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) window – meets the same objective as above.

-Liquidity , liquidity, liquidity – the  Three Ls reducing the trepidation that banks had and pushing them towards lending more during the economic lockdown.

Breather through moratorium

 The third salvo: a moratorium on term loans (both principal and interest) and deferment of interest on cash credit/overdraft of clients effective March 1, 2020.

This is a tricky one for banks as credit risk goes up for them as post the deferment of 3 months, there could be a rise in defaults and an already stretched Indian banking system would have to raise significant amounts of capital to meet the future needs of growth. But the Reserve Bank has thought about the economy in a manner in which the deferment helps business to meet their operating costs and keep the lights on till such time we come out of the crisis. This was important to avoid a wide-scale job loss in industries which were going to be stressed in this scenario – Hotels, Travel, Airlines, Oil and Gas, Transportation, Automotive, Metals and Mining.

The Reserve Bank did the above to help the Government meet the objectives of the 21 day lockdown (which could be extended further ) and meet the Finance minister’s INR 1.7 lakh crore economic package to offset the challenges of the economy. The RBI has primarily stamped the objective laid down by the government wherein the parameters on which the economy functions would be impacted.

  • The fiscal deficit is now expected to be in the 4.5% area (1% above the defined target in budget 2020) – just the cost of 21 days of lockdown translate to 50 bps – 75 bps reduction in annual GDP
  • While lower oil prices support the economy, the government has only decided to pass on 50% of the same to consumers with the balance being kept in the form of increased taxes. While this provides some money for consumption growth, I expect the same to be muted  (barring the hoarding which has happened in the last week of March) in light of the lockdown.

So why is this required?

This is important to sustain an economy, it is the duty of the government to save its citizens, meet their day to day needs and ensure that each of us have reasonable access to healthcare. Globally, we have more than 6.8 lakh people affected with the disease in over 202 countries – of these we have over 15% needing hospitalization,  5%-7% needing intensive care and approximately 4% have died . In some countries, the cases have risen by over 50 times. So for India it is important that we agree to early contamination measures, lockdowns to protect Indians from going through the same cycle.

While the government has pushed the economic and social agenda, it is now upon to us to understand the magnitude of the effort, stay safe and stay home. Each of our contribution to this thought and measure will stand us in good stead and benefit the country.


The Power of a Story

….the king and the queen happily lived ever after. I visualize a young person looking deep into the eyes of the narrator with amazement and joy as the story ends on a happy note. Stories from time immemorial have been one of the best ways to engage children – fairy tales and folk tales, bedtime stories, stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata have formed our childhood memories teaching us values and truths of life, early on.

Our learning through stories continued in the next phase of life when we watched those interesting and creative advertisements on television. The most memorable advertisements were the ones which depicted a story and till today we remember the joy of celebration and the ‘real taste of life’ through the advertisement of Cadbury’s or the depiction of the ‘perfect man’ through the advertisement of Raymonds. Each of these adverts that we remember till date were life’s events that framed a story for us.

Stories have had a magical way of connecting, making you believe in the unbelievable because they were stories. When we moved away from a stage of listening to Panchatantra and Ramayana, we were given facts to learn and the more we learned facts, the more we became precise and sharp in our communication. The final nail in the coffin was the PowerPoint presentations that we created burning the midnight oil, creating what we believed were strategies to win the world or action plans that would change the face of the earth. Sadly what we shared in the presentation in the expensively done up board rooms were forgotten within 7 days of the 5-day Strategy conference held at a fancy location.

This makes me wonder, why we remember what we learned in our childhood and forget what we learned a week ago. Is the learning and teaching at fault or was I a different person who has evolved to be forgetful and mindless.

I am convinced beyond doubt that it is the way the communication took place that kept the event alive in my mind.

Communication through Storytelling has emerged to be one of the most powerful tools for conveying an important message, learning or action, the length of the story has less impact on the listener’s mind. A story leaves a lot to the imagination and that perhaps creates the experience.

Stories always make an impact

Visualise a 6-word story: For Sale: Baby shoes, Never Worn – Earnest Hemingway

Or ponder about a longer one: A gentleman was walking through an elephant camp, and he spotted that the elephants weren’t being kept in cages or held by the use of chains. All that was holding them back from escaping the camp, was a small piece of rope tied to one of their legs. As the man gazed upon the elephants, he was completely confused as to why the elephants didn’t just use their strength to break the rope and escape the camp. They could easily have done so, but instead, they didn’t try to at all.

Curious and wanting to know the answer, he asked a trainer nearby why the elephants were just standing there and never tried to escape. The trainer replied; “when they were young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it was enough to hold them. As they grew up, they were conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believed the rope can still hold them, so they never tried to break free.”

The only reason that the elephants weren’t breaking free and escaping from the camp was that over time they adopted the belief that it just wasn’t possible. – Anonymous

Stories convey a complicated message in a manner that is simple and easy to understand

A film like Taare Zameen Par dwelled on a story that conveyed several learnings beautifully. Parenting, tapping the potential, the importance of mentoring were some of the points among others that etched a poignant tale of hope and action.

Stories denote the real and the plausible

Simon Sinek in his book – Start with Why explains his theory with a credible story. “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? He writes elaborately about Apple’s WHY and goes on to explain his theory by stating what Apple’s marketing tagline could be “We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”, against what it possibly is “With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Stories are changemakers

“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behaviour; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.”

Stephen Covey in his book – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People mentions this story about a paradigm shift of listening to others before judging them. Changing behaviours and attitudes are as important as changing the course of our life’s journey or the organisation’s objectives.

Stories inspire purpose and action

Colin Roberson, writer of ‘The Will of Heroes’ which was a product of 5 years research on how 12 of the world’s greatest successes willed themselves to greatness wrote about his procrastination and how he overcame it.

“Think about when J.K. Rowling was writing her first Harry Potter book. Her bills were piling up much worse than mine, she had a baby girl to take care of…no one depends on me. She had to face cold rainy winters in Edinburgh…meanwhile, it’s January and here and it’s nice enough outside to go to the beach. She was in a constant battle with depression…and I’m only battling with procrastination. And she had no guarantee that anyone would even read her book, let alone have thousands of dollars in pre-orders for it. Despite all of this, somehow she managed to spend 5 years writing consistently.

If she could handle all of that, I can handle 4 hours of editing my manuscript like I planned. Let’s do this. I wanted to share this one with you to show you my hard thought process as I worked through my desire to procrastinate. I felt that I couldn’t bring myself to keep up my writing schedule, but J.K. Rowling’s story inspired me to take action. “

Stories have a mass appeal and they spread

Charismatic leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King inspired millions with their tales of freedom and hope that transcended boundaries. Whether it was Ahimsa, Apartheid or civil and economic rights, the stories/speeches of their resolve spread far and wide and these inspiring and humane individuals went down in history as few of the most respected leaders that the world had produced.

Businesses today are using storytelling and visualisation as a part of their Design Thinking process. Stories increase attention and empathy and that help the audience to open up. Studies show that stories are far more effective than statistics as 5% remember the statistics, whereas 63% remember the story and stories persuade twice as much compared to using just statistics. Progressive schools are using the services of expert storytellers for teaching and engaging young students.

Use story-telling to convey a compelling message, to educate people, to sell a product or to inspire action.