An R&D scientist once said to me, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way,” after sifting through more than 20 in-depth consumer narratives of their condition. These people went into great details about their lives, their struggles, their rituals, and their beliefs. As we unpacked their learnings, the scientist understood the complexities of having a rich, full contextual understanding of the people for whom he will design new, innovative solutions. To summarize with a metaphor, he walks in their high heels, sneakers, and Crocs, embodying their situation as if it were his own.
Instead of creating another product barely distinguishable from the sea of sameness that surfeits the shelves of food, drug, and mass stores off of a job brief that solves a marketing line problem, this scientist can now collaborate on a new approach to these problems with a deep understanding of the situation.
The insight at hand is that we are not solving business problems here. We are solving human problems. In this era when landfills and the seas are gutted with enough plastic to choke the planet, do we really need another product for the sake of making money solely? Wouldn’t it be better if we create things people need, people use, and that help people? Please do not tell me that this is idealistic.
This is the business-world paradigm shift of our era. Forget business-to-business. Forget business-to-consumer. That is outdated thinking.
We are crafting solutions for real people. Instead of creating a me-too product for an ambiguous market segment, real innovations seek to connect with the fate and fabric of their users’ lives. This is human-to-human business and smart product design, part caused-based and part entrepreneurial horse sense, but it makes business good and it also, no surprise, makes good business.
Following this human-centric process, Design Thinking, begins with empathy with real people. Later, product ideas are co-created with real people. This hand-on-the-pulse method creates new, breakthrough products and services that make a positive difference in the lives of many.
As the scientist says, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way.” Welcome to the new era.
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Michael Graber is the cofounder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.