Using IDEO’s human-centered design approach, entrepreneurs can take their ideas to a new—and more powerful—level.
In the current fast-paced, global marketplace, many of the problems and hurdles that entrepreneurs face are on a scale that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Suzanne Gibbs Howard, IDEO partner and Dean at IDEO U, helps educate emerging leaders on new, exciting ways to approach the ever-growing technological and social problems of today’s business landscape.
After realizing there was a hunger for impactful, action-based problem solving, IDEO built a set of online educational courses focused around their human-centered design philosophy called IDEO U. The goal of human-centered design is to seek out as much information as possible about a specific problem in order to approach it in a sound and educated way.
With courses such as “From Ideas to Action” and “Insights for Innovation,” IDEO Ustrays from the traditional online course environment to push students out of their comfort zone in an effort to create a more interesting way of thinking. With 50% of course attendees coming from outside the United States, IDEO U offers a diverse, inspired class of students who are eager to aid and develop meaningful ideas and projects. Howard shared with The Venture the three steps that entrepreneurs can use to better refine their visions and develop their ideas in an effective manner.
1. Let your ideas get weird.
Finding the best way to develop and channel your idea can be a complicated process. One method that IDEO U uses is providing students with fun, unique challenges that encourage thinking outside the box.
One of those challenges required students to take two very separate ideas and find a commonality that would help improve the direction of their projects. For example, students who were asked to combine the elements of a hotel with the environment of a sterile hospital room came up with an unorthodox but creative idea: healthy mini-bars for friends and families of patients.
“You need to go to something that’s not just out of the box, but almost ridiculous in order to get to the ideas that are really, really good and really solid to move forward with,” says Howard.
2. Don’t overthink it.
One of the biggest obstacles of getting an idea off the ground is the well-meaning desire to constantly tinker as you build.To avoid micromanaging, IDEO U encourages its students to attempt rapid prototyping. Howard describes rapid prototyping as “finding the quickest and dirtiest way to make it real.”
One of its greatest benefits is that it helps innovators let go of expectations while also providing immediate and beneficial feedback. “I think [prototyping] is one of the biggest phases where people are stopped from being creative and developing amazing innovations because they’re so inhibited,” says Howard.
Rather than perfecting your idea before you share it with funders or potential end users, IDEO U believes that getting your idea out in its rawest form is the best approach. “Don’t worry about finishing it and don’t worry about it being perfect,” says Howard, “That’s how you move it forward.”
3. Answer the questions as they come, one at a time.
One of the most important aspects of the problem-solving process is identifying what works and discarding what doesn’t. IDEO U calls this process iteration—the act of addressing questions and making changes as you go.
IDEO previously partnered with the San Francisco Unified School District to begin a pilot program aimed at providing healthy and free lunches to a larger number of schoolchildren, an endeavor that required a complex balancing act of logistics and new ideas.
“You can imagine working in public schools, working with payment systems as well as food and nutrition, it was a behemoth of a project,” says Howard. “What we did was to move forward over a series of experiments and pilots and slowly answered all of the questions that we needed to answer and now we've got some new, really successful things out in schools.”
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