Embracing Slow Innovation: A Pacemaker for Design Thinking

UI/UX Design

An abstract photography of lights shining from all angles into the middle
An abstract photography of lights shining from all angles into the middle
An abstract photography of lights shining from all angles into the middle

The inspiration for this article came from a fantastic piece published by The Board of Innovation (TBI). The article talks about the impact Slow Innovation can have on overall decision making, particularly in the early phases of a project. They call this the ‘innovation process’. We love a bit of innovative thinking at KOMODO, and it got us thinking about how the concept behind Slow Innovation can apply to Design Thinking practices.

The Concept of Slow Innovation

We know what you’re thinking: This is crazy.

How is it possible to slow down in a world that is driven by the pace of constant change? Where one minute you’re happily listening to a hip pre-recorded podcast, only to be told the next minute you’re doing it wrong if you aren’t listening live *cough* Clubhouse *cough*.

Clubhouse is an interesting example because it shows the often counter-intuitive nature of innovation. Is it just radio with extra steps? Perhaps. Will it stick around beyond 2021? Not a clue. Is it revolutionary? Quite possibly. Has it applied Slow Innovation concepts? Absolutely.

The Three Tenets of Slow Innovation

TBI demonstrate Slow Innovation by breaking it down into two phases. The ‘Slow’ and ‘Fast’ phases (see image below). Usually the fast and the slow are back to front, with businesses spending less time ‘innovating’ and more time ‘solutioning’. This can lead to breakdowns later on when early planning isn’t given its due diligence. Think ‘make haste, slowly.’

Slow Innovation can be broken down into three ‘tenets’, here is a quick summary:

Slowing Down for Decision Making

We are usually forced to make speedy decisions to get a product to market without stopping to consider whether the needs of users have changed. They suggest that when it comes to slow innovation, the key is to create space in your process to pause and reflect on changing context.

Slow Down for System-Wide Thinking

Systems thinking is broken down into two types. Type 1 Thinking is based on our intuition, whereas Type 2 Thinking focuses on rigorous logic and analytical thinking. Employing the two modes, particularly Type 2 Thinking will help account for all the needs of a project. Especially by taking into consideration the ‘ripple effect’ high-level decision making can have across the whole ecosystem of a business.

Slow Down to Think More Proactively

The final tenet is the most difficult. It requires you to take the time to regularly scan for signs of change to identify opportunities as they emerge, not just reacting to them when they’ve become too big to avoid. A behaviour shift like this requires a different perspective but will allow you to move from the defensive to the offensive.

Infographic depicts the slow innovation process. Credit: The Board of Innovation

Innovation Vs. Design Thinking

So how does Design Thinking fit into all this? Design Thinking is certainly a creative process, much like innovation. Both are types of abductive reasoning. They are used to create novel approaches to problems. Although, they do have different goals.

Design thinking is concerned with finding new perspectives and new ways of thinking from a users point of view using the five stages of design thinking: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Taking this iterative approach to design helps product designers arrive at solutions tailored to the user. Therefore, Design Thinking is a user-centred process.

Innovation employs a similar type of thinking, but from a different angle, by exploring disconnected ideas to form new ones. Much like Design Thinking, it requires skills such as creativity, agility and experimentation. However, innovation takes a more business-focused approach. Innovation is generally more aligned with strategic thinking to tackle complex business problems like lowering costs, reducing risk and discovering new solutions.

Innovation is interested in providing better products and services to a business’s customers. Therefore, if Design Thinking is user-centric, innovation is customer-centric.

Integrating Slow Innovation & Design Thinking

Although the two may have different goals, Design Thinking and Slow Innovation do work hand in hand.

Looking at the Slow Innovation model above, the so-called ‘innovation phase’ of brief, research and solution is comparable to the initial stages of design thinking. While the ‘execution’ phase works alongside the latter phases of design thinking. You can break it down like so:

  • Communicating Innovation: Empathise, Define & Ideate.

  • Executing Innovation: Prototype & Test.

In addition to having similar processes, the ideas behind Slow Innovation complement Design Thinking. Here are some examples. Think More Proactively Using Empathy. Thinking proactively is about having ears to the ground and consistently being tuned into changes happening around you. Proactivity coincides with the empathy stage in Design Thinking by monitoring your user and approaching them from a place of understanding. For example, being prepared to think proactively could be conducting better user research to understand where possible trends and behavioural shifts are happening within your industry or niche. Slow Down to Understand Problems & Make Better Decisions. A crucial phase of Design Thinking is taking time to understand the problem you face within a project. In the Define phase, it is essential to slow down and spend time making decisions. To focus on what you need to achieve throughout a project’s duration. Essentially, measure twice, cut once. Taking this time to reflect on problem definition will be decisive going into the execution phase and running better product development cycles. Applying Systems Thinking to Ideas & Solutions. Find the right balance between creative thinking and commercial logic is essential. Systems Thinking and ideation can at times be at poles with each other. However difficult it may be to find the balance between creativity and logic, you should always make space for new ideas and solutions. Remember that ideas don’t just *happen* either. Often there is a timeframe that Steven Johnson calls ‘the incubation period’. Leaving time for this stage is usually a trade-off early on, but you should always make time to INNOVATE. Of course, we aren’t suggesting you sit around all day talking. There is a point where you have to do. That’s where executing innovation takes centre-stage and you hit the ground running. However, by providing secure foundations and mapping out your strategic thinking, you will be able to grind out iteration after iteration. Moreover, with a better understanding of your direction, your user testing will be far better ensuring each prototype takes your product to the next level. Closing Thoughts Going back to Clubhouse, you can see how they’ve applied concepts of Slow Innovation by being proactive, taking decisions slowly and carefully thinking about their plans - just look at the stats. Did they reinvent the wheel? No. Are they being compared to the likes of SpaceX, Uber and Airbnb? Absolutely. However, with competition lurking around every corner, only time will tell if they can maintain their cool under pressure. Holding on to the advantage with such an accessible idea against some of the internet’s juggernauts will be their next mountain to climb. But if they keep demonstrating an expert understanding of Design Thinking and Slow Innovation, they won’t have a problem. Design thinking for strategic innovations! At KOMODO, building working partnerships is central to what we do. By investing time into client discovery, we help you add value to your digital products and services. We leave no stone unturned. We use our 18 years of experience to create the digital product you need. Once we’ve got our collective goals in mind, we put our foot down on the pedal to quickly and efficiently deliver digital products for our clients.

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