Perspectives

The ROI of Wicked Problems: Using Design Thinking for Digital Transformation

The digital tsunami is invading all aspects of your business. If you were to assess your digital preparedness – you realize it’s not just about technology, competitor moves, processes, customer experience or employee experience. It’s chaotic as you recognize the need to redesign the stakeholder engagement across the entire organization. So, the question is: “How messy do you like it?”

In the shift from product-centric to a customer-centric digital organization, the mess and wicked problems your are facing is inevitable. You may feel trapped in the malicious cycle of accumulating digital tools and trying to figure a way to change the company culture to become agile. That said a piece-meal approach to solving this complex problem is ruled out, and you require new tools and thinking to “Do Things Differently,” paving the path for design thinking, one of the most visible and promising approach to non-linear problem solving.

Digital Transformation – Is It A Wicked Problem?

Today the digital transformations of your business are influenced/driven by the following factors: changing customer behavior and demand, disruptions because of technology innovation and external environmental factors.

According to Wikipedia, “A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.

Digital transformation is a wicked problem because, it impacts all levels of the organization (every stakeholder, task, activity, processes, business model, department, supply chain). The frontline and backstage employees have to work in sync to drive innovation while checking feasibility, making you future ready.

To add to these woes, it is usually messy because of:

  • A lack of clear understanding that ‘digital’ is not just another channel or a technology tool, but it is a lifestyle for the customer
  • Vaguely formulated or unrealistic expectations for an “Always-On” culture
  • Not having the customer at the epicenter of the initiative
  • Running the program as a standalone information technology/marketing/sales/customer service project
  • Shortage of talent who are digitally competent and literate
  • Not investing time and effort to align the whole organization for this new way of thinking and doing, and to communicate the digital vision
  • Fear factor – why change and fix something that is currently profitable.

Look At The Big Picture

Research indicate that the key drivers of digital transformation are improving customer experience, differentiation,  profitability, reduce cost and an increase in speed-to-market. In my experience, this is easier said than done, especially when there is no clarity on the common ground. It’s like asking stakeholders to pick two out of three: “You can get it done cheap, done well, or done quickly.”

To differentiate and provide wow customer experience, you need to innovate. You need to break the departmental silos and collaborate to create and deliver value to your stakeholders. Moreover, to innovate, you need to create new rules to clean the mess by finding the best possible solution. You need to fail fast and recover fast, to maintain the lead.

As a designer of this transformation, you need to really take a big step back and become the detective and be the witness to the wicked problems along with your journey. Look at every nook and corner, every speed bump, and ask yourself – What is it that your customers want from you?

However, you can no longer afford to be seduced by the linear problem-solving approach and jump at the first available solution. This could be the possible reason why

  • only 5% leads are converting when it could be 60%,
  • your employees are actively or passively disengaged as they are clueless what digital means to your business and what’s expected of them,
  • many of your digital innovation never make it to market,
  • your change initiates have not been successful, and the list goes on.

With this mess, I will not be surprised if you believe digital innovation has not delivered high business impact, so why to invest in digital transformation?

My response: The mess because of the complexity is synonymous with both waste and failure. However, holding on to this complex problem for long is expensive. Though you may be a big fish, lots of small and fast fish are out there to eat you, with their innovation. Startups are nimble and build upfront solutions to wicked problems using latest tools and techniques. They don’t have much at stake and are agile to proceed in any direction that will help solve this complex problem.

However, when you put the customer right at the center of your transformation initiatives, and use design thinking and digital technologies to create ultimate customer experiences, you will see over and over again that high impact is the result. So, think about how fast can you learn from the failure to meet the desired outcomes.

ROI of Wicked Problems – Apply Design Thinking

According to IDEO, “Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

The creative process is designed to solve complex problems. It draws upon systemic reasoning, logic, intuition, creativity; making it both unpredictable and yet unfailingly successful.

Design thinking helps you:

  • empathize with your customers and learn about their frustrations, wants and unmet needs along the different touchpoints and channels in their end-to-end journey
  • understand how your employees, stakeholders, processes, and systems support in the front stage, and backstage are directly or indirectly impacting the customer’s experience
  • define new end-to-end customer experiences with innovative solutions.

Concluding Thoughts

In this digital era, most businesses are finding it difficult to attract and retain good talent and customers. The crux is to identify new market opportunities, explore different alternative solutions, gather customer feedback to determine its effectiveness and make the necessary maneuvers to refine the offering and transform your customer and employee experience. The design thinking methods and tools can help you regain competitive advantage by analyzing your current customer experience across organizational silos and identifying future state opportunities.

The mess is pretty natural, when you are solving a wicked problem, so don’t rush to solve it with a linear approach in a rush to get to the finishing line. Apply the design thinking an outcome driven approach to become a digitally ready organization.

About Vidya Priya Rao

Vidya Priya RaoVidya Priya Rao is the Founder and Director of Innovatus Marketers Touchpoint LLP, a marketing and sales consulting and services firm. She is a Service Design Thinking Decoder, Executive Coach, Trainer, and Keynote Speaker. She is also a visiting faculty at S.P.Jain School of Global Management. She has been trained for Business and Leadership Coaching following the PCMKTM methodology and other schools of coaching. She is also a Basic NLP Practitioner.

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