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A Different Way to Innovate

Are you curious


Innovation is not just a stroke of luck. It is the product of an incredible, revolutionary process.

There’s actually a skillset and mindset that can help you come up with novel ideas.

The end goal of all design thinking processes and skills is innovation.

Innovation is about applying an idea that exists out in the world in a new context. When you look at changing the context and understanding a problem in a deep way, that’s when new and novel ideas emerge.

Most of the things that you see and touch every day have been influenced in some way by part of the design thinking process.

Design thinking was created initially as a way to create more innovative ideas, specifically in the area of product design and industrial design. But what has been developed is a really rigorous and flexible methodology that now is being applied to healthcare problems, organizational problems, leadership problems, process design, and service design.

What’s really neat about design thinking is that, unlike a blanket creativity process, it really helps you hone in on which of these ideas is going to be most useful to your target audience, your users.

Discovering what your user really needs and wants is the focus of design thinking. What are the problems that they experience? And how are they using your innovation in the real world?

By answering all of these questions through this design thinking process, you really can remove a lot of the risk from your innovation.

This is revolutionary because often one of the reasons why organizations don’t innovate is because of risk.

Even in our own lives, we often don’t innovate on our own life patterns because it feels too risky to change things up. But do you want things to stay the same?

If you want to make some powerful changes, this is one way to do it. You can use design thinking in your life to shake things up and get some better results. All the methodologies you can apply in your business to boost user experience can also be applied to yourself and your life to create what you want and need.

Design Thinking Mindsets:

This simply means starting with questions rather than already presuming any answers.

Open, honest question checklist:
It’s not a leading question
You don’t have a preference for the answer
You don’t have a preconceived idea of what the “right” or “wrong” answer is
There is no judgment involved


Essential to design thinking is getting into the mindset and the heart of what it’s like to be the user and what they really care about. Empathy is extremely important and unique to this design process. This is where you get to know your users and get to know the world through their eyes. Feel their feelings and get into their environment, into their mindset so that you can create a better solution for them.

There is a focus on learning and a growth mindset. With design thinking, you’re always seeking to improve and not seeking to be right or to justify your own idea. There is a level of contextual thinking, the context is important. You want to understand the problem of a user, not in isolation, but in a social, cultural, and emotional context.

You define the specific problem, not from your perspective, but actually from the user’s perspective. The empathy process helps us to better understand the problem and design it from their perspective, define it from their perspective.

After you understand the problem, only then do you begin to ideate, and come up with new ideas.

This is the big game-changer element of design thinking.

In lots of organizations and creative work, you begin with ideation. And ideation is super fun, but we often don’t have enough information yet to design something extremely useful or extremely novel for a user who’s not us. The empathy process is essential so you hold off on jumping to solutions until you get through that phase.


When a team can really feel creative, it’s much more engaged in finding these new fresh ideas and greeting all things with a beginner’s mind, open to any and all possibilities.

Iteration and Rigor

Rigor is important in design thinking because you want to make sure that we have the processes set to really draw out the most novel ideas.

And the last key mindset is iteration. In design thinking, the cool thing is, that you’re never done, but you can be done pretty quickly. You try, learn, add, take away, iterate and make things better. This is a highly flexible process. If you lean into this mindset you can expand your mind to all the possibilities (or should I say iterations?)

Brainstorming 101

Once you empathize with your users and identify their problems, the fun begins…brainstorming!!

Here are some parameters to keep your brainstorming on track:

Frame the brainstorming session with a specific pointed question that’s grounded in insight.

One of my favorite questions to kick off with is “how might we _____?”

So you might point back to some user research you’ve done and some customer journey mapping and ask “how might we alleviate wait times for drivers at the airport?”

You can get as specific as you want and bring data into the conversation, and bring everyone back to the place of user empathy and remind them of what’s been learned out in the field, talking to real users in their native context. You can also bring in inspiration from other sources such as competitive research.

So what are some competitors in this space doing? Or from analogous areas?

Use creative warm-ups

After framing the question, applying some data and insight, and you sharing some inspiration, it’s time to facilitate your brainstorming session. Always begin with a creative warmup.

Most of your team will be coming in pretty cold, in a different mode of thinking. A warm-up is a great way to boost comfort and get those creative juices flowing. Name the movie that’s the most similar to your life. Share what superhero you would be.

Commit to a judgment-free brainstorm

The first and most important rule in brainstorming is to defer judgment.

Deferring judgment is a commitment to having an open mind and holding off on believing that our answer’s right or that someone else’s idea is not feasible. There are no wrong ideas with deferring judgment. You don’t judge the ideas of others and you don’t judge your own. There will be a time when feasibility is assessed. For now, it’s about getting as many ideas out and into the world as possible.

Often we get in our heads and become self-conscious and scared to share our ideas. In brainstorming, you’re allowed to let go of that self-judgment and let the ideas out. You never know what idea it might spark in somebody else.

Go for quantity not quality

When you get a massive quantity of ideas out there, you have a much higher chance of one of them being highly original and highly useful, and one that nobody else would have thought of. So you need to get a lot of the predictable ideas out before you start getting into the really interesting, innovative stuff. Let the ideas flow, and get as many out there as you can. Don’t hold back or censor yourself because they’re not the “best” idea you’ve ever come up with.

Go for wild ideas

The sky is the limit in brainstorming!

Push to the extremes, go for things that are risky, that’ll never work, or are out of budget. Come up with earth-shaking, wild ideas that leave you a little shaken up. Refusing to limit yourself idea-wise will help you get to the original ideas and strokes of genius.

Prevent Group Think

You’ve probably been in brainstorming sessions where one person is dominant and they say an idea, and then suddenly the whole group starts only focusing on that idea and building on it. Maybe it’s a person who has a lot of power like the CEO or a high-level manager and so there’s a pressure to follow that person. But that groupthink is death for the brainstorming process because it won’t create diverse ideas, which is key.

One way to prevent this is to have everyone write down a bunch of ideas without talking to each other. Individual brainstorming. Then you can share and begin to build on each other.

Use each other’s ideas as seeds to inspire you and build something else. When someone on the team shares an idea, take that as a seed, and see how it can inspire you and help you build another idea.

Make it visual

The more you can bring visual aids and even tactile experiences into this, the better. Get creative! You can draw pictures, use photographs, and use colors or shapes representatively. Making ideas visual stimulates the brain and helps generate even more ideas.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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