Not business as usual, but better

Tony Olsson
5 min readMay 4, 2022

Due to the current war and pandemic, the world economy is in a free fall and customers are moving away from certain types of business and many are forced to shut down. These are tragic times where lives are lost and businesses are ruined. People are fighting for their lives but we are also fightingt for our future.

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The world of business is not new to disruption and in a sense, it is the core of new business to disrupt. The term Disruptive innovation was coined in the late 90s describing it as the act of challenging the mainstream companies by creating parallel products that activate the new elements of the economy. This creates a shift towards the new offering moving the customers from the main companies to the new competitors. Its innovation challenges the status quo.
Disruptive companies often utilize new technology or technology with limited functionality at a lower price to enter the market and chip away at the customer segment, usually in segments that are not interesting to the big companies. Here they build their customer base and steady review which they use to improve and innovate more which in turn again chips away from the collective customer base.
Companies that have built upon a proven track record of products and processes are now forced into competition in areas they are not prepared for and need to adapt and act fast.

But what do you do when business, as usual, is no longer an option?

As the world becomes more complex and the challenges become bigger disruptions are inevitable. But change is not always bad, it is also an opportunity to do something better.

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Design, in essence, is disruptive. It’s the act of intentionally creating something new that to some degree implies a change. Otherwise, it would just be the replication of something already existing.
Facing disruption, breakthroughs will not happen by chance, but by studying and embracing the challenges we encounter in our everyday lives in our work, homes, business, laboratories, institutions, organisations and everywhere in between. Innovation happens from rigour and discipline. This is what design thinking offers, a way to move forward when the path is unclear.

The time to design is now, as later might be too late.

Many companies see design as a commodity, not a necessary expense which makes them susceptible to negative disruption and inhibits them to stay agile when challenged with change. Linear processes will always have their place when business is, as usual. However, when things are not, this is when design thinking is needed the most.
Think of design thinking as a midday snack. You eat your breakfast as usual but due to a busy day physically running around the office you feel a bit peckish around 10 and there is no way you can keep your energy until lunch. Your daily routine has changed and you need a snack. This is what design thinking is, a burst of energy when needed. But to have access to it you don’t necessarily need to plan for it but you will need to be willing to invest in it.

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But what is design thinking? In short, it is divergent and convergent thinking in iterations. As designers, we use a number of tools best suited for the situation where we first diverge into framing an understanding of the context and the customer to create choices. Then converge into making choices based on the insights ensuring the that choices we make are well informed. If we cant make a well-informed choice we reiterate until we can make sure that the regression of choices is based on the context at hand and the actual customer we aim to serve.

This type of convergent and divergent thinking are then framed into the process of Understanding, Reflecting and Creating. We understand by diverging into all sources of information by analyzing data, making interviews, surveys and focus groups then we move into deciding which information best helps us frame a solid understanding. We then diverge into the options we have for reflecting in systemized order before converging into the best option to do so.

Finally, we diverge into the options we have for creating that match the intended outcome before deciding what is best for the task at hand based on what we have learned from trying to understand.

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However, as a designer, we are not bound by the process but are free to reiterate when the situation demands it. Remaining agile to change and the unexpected while always moving forward towards a solution. The best part about design thinking! It’s fast as errors are in the process are expected and when they happen at the drawing board they are easy and cheap to fix. Normally marketing and product improvements rarely affect sales or profits in major ways when based on habitual consumer behaviours alone. Meaningful changes in sales can often be related to offerings that are created through substantial or transformational innovation.

Today consumer behaviours habits have been disrupted together with the rest of the world. For business, it’s no longer a fight for relevance but a fight for survival. Design thinking is not the one strategy above all and it’s not a strategy that solves all problems. The hard fact is that many businesses around the world did not survive the current state and in many of these cases design thinking would have not made a difference.
There is no way around an empty pub or hotel. Without on-location customers, it’s hard to see how service companies like this can stay afloat. However other companies that face the same problem have found a pocket of air, like restaurants re-thinking their offer and adapting it to provide lunch boxes for pick up or offering home delivery. These might not be permanent solutions but a good example of applied design thinking rethinking the core business, adapting to change and finding a new solution to fit the customer needs with an offer of service they can provide.

But the current change is also an opportunity to create something new, something better. Not just a more efficient product or a stronger brand but a future that is better for all.

Our past way of living has consequences on the world and if we go back to living as before we have learned nothing and unwanted change and disruption will happen again. Business, as usual, will again fail. By design, we can be proactive and enforce positive change that is not only sustainable, efficient, and ethical but also good for business.

Not business as usual, but better.