From Brexit to this week’s US election, 2016 has been an explosive year for politics. Not just because the unthinkable has indeed happened, but because of the clear announcement that the public is making to their leaders – We are not happy! Our needs are not being met! We need you to understand us better!

As a Design Thinking and innovation practitioner, to whom the end user is the most vital link in the chain, these massive events say to me that now more so than ever, our leaders must learn to 'genuinely listen'. During most political campaigns surveys are undertaken, public community meetings take place and lobbyists voice views on behalf of particular groups, however the fact that both Brexit and the US election ended in such tight, nail-biting results, implies that 'genuinely listening' has not been high on the agenda.

By 'genuinely listening' I mean, figuring out “What is really important here?” and “What’s going on behind the surface?” To hear the unsaid as well as the said and avoid assumptions. And this is just as relevant to business. In fact, I would argue that it is the only sure fire way for businesses and leaders alike to truly understand end users and fulfil their unmet needs.  When 'genuine listening' occurs, a powerful user-centric leadership arises and businesses can better ensure longevity of engagement with their customers.

User-centric leadership and business management is achieved by changing your mindset from focussing on the solution to focussing on the problem, and from focussing on the product or service to focussing on the end user. This means empathising with your end user, experiencing what they experience, talking to them and watching for what their actions tell you, as much as what their voices say. It is this Discovery stage, that can have the most impact in the long run.


3 examples of how to do this are:


1.     Conduct an ethnographic study.

If a client wants to create a product for pre-school children, then we encourage them to visit a pre-school. Watch, interact and understand how the kids play, eat and communicate. The same would also apply to imposing change on any group of people. 

2.     Conduct interviews with end users.

Don’t just send a survey. Speak to people, ask lots of ‘why’ questions. Be curious in order to really understand their pain points. Such an interview is about understanding the problem, not offering a solution.

3.       Develop persona maps.

These are written and/or visual maps that categorise your end users and ensure that when you begin to develop a solution, you have your end users completely in mind.

Whilst watching this year’s political landscape unfold has certainly been tumultuous, there are still positives that both politicians and businesses can take from the experience. It’s time for a shift in mindset away from solution driven leadership and into user-centric leadership. People don’t just want to be heard, they want to be listened to. The same goes for business. Don’t build a business based on what you assume your users want- build a business based on listening to what they are and are not saying. Perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll see a Design Thinking Party at the next election, but I'd happily settle for a few hundred more user-centric businesses. 

If you'd like to know more about Design Thinking, want some help applying user-centric innovation to your business, department or organisation, or just want to know a little bit more about G2 Innovation, then please fill in the form below and we'll get back to you shortly.

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