Have you ever wondered what it takes to have that genius spark that leads to groundbreaking, brilliant ideas? How do people get to innovative solutions? And most of the time you probably assumed it’s a matter of mindset or pure luck. Oh well, it is not. It’s actually a process, a complex process that starts right at the beginning of our lives.
One of the first questions we start asking as a child is Why. Consecutive Why’s, are sometimes annoying for those at the end of the question, yet full of insights for those plunging into the unknown world. The repetitive Why’s are our means of acquiring information about the world we started living in. And since we have no set of initial knowledge to justify any answer, we ask as many times as needed to get to the root and really understand.
So why do we stop? At some point, we start filling in the gaps with assumptions because we either believe we know it all or because we’re afraid. We succumb to societal conditioning – whether it is that we should know it all, keep silent for the sake of not exposing our ignorance, yield space to a louder person in the room or just take a comfortable seat on the fence of scepticism.
We ask more practical questions: what, where, how, when.. but rarely Why?. We go to school to learn history, geography, math… and all of these teach us about the ‘Whats and Wheres’ of the world, but rarely the Why. Our brains naturally crave clarity and firm answers, which is in direct contradiction to the very nature of being human in all its richness, diversity, and let’s be honest – messiness. Would it not be more beneficial to teach skills that allow us to navigate the ambiguity instead?
Why do we study history? To learn about our past, some of you might think. And why should we learn about our past? Because we don’t want to make the same mistakes. Why? Because history repeats in a cyclical way. There is a high probability that we get to a similar situation as we did in the past and we should know how to deal with it better.
The world’s greatest innovations, like the printing press and electric light just to mention the obvious, started with the human desire for knowledge.
While it’s arguably much more difficult to come up with a groundbreaking discovery these days, the Why remains at the core of today’s biggest innovators.
Let’s take Apple, which has continuously revolutionised the tech landscape since its launch in 1977. Their original mission statement was ‘Apple is dedicated to the empowerment of man—to making personal computing accessible to each and every individual so as to help change the way we think, work, learn, and communicate‘.
NASA explores the unknown in air and space, innovates for the benefit of humanity, and inspires the world through discovery.
Airbnb’s mission statement is ‘to connect millions of people in real life all over the world so that they can Belong Anywhere’.
IKEA – Offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
And so on…
Of course, all those companies have a vision (how) and there are various products as touchpoints of their business (what). But they always circle back to the most important aspect, their mission: Why are they in the business?
If we plan on building the next generation of technology we shouldn’t just go ask people what they need, how they use their current solution and when they use technology most often. Of course, these are very good questions to gain insights into their current behaviour. But innovative products try to answer the Why questions, before getting to the ‘What’. Luckily, we can tap into a rich source of the answers to these questions in many ways. We can do user interviews, surveys, workshops and gather quantitative and qualitative data. But the most valuable insights we get from using research methods which involve direct observation of people. There is a famous and often thrown-around quote (somewhat dubiously) attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A better question would be formulated with a Why: Why do they want faster horses?
A keen observer in the time of young entrepreneur Henry might notice that 20th-century society that emerged from the industrial revolution, wasn’t just keen to get from A to B faster. They were also drowning in tonnes of horse manure piling on the streets. Marketing opportunity it was certainly not, but what a great problem to solve.
Best entrepreneurs fall in love with the problem.
People can easily describe a problem they’re having but are notoriously unreliable narrators when explaining the solution. Identifying the root cause of the problem is the critical challenge we’re having and it is where asking ourselves Why, iteratively, leads us to the core of the problem.
Here lies the importance of UX discipline early in the process. Validating user needs with user research can be very powerful. As UX professionals we have that curiosity built in and the right tools and processes at hand to unravel the key needs that our product must solve. This helps us define and clarify the overarching vision for our design efforts. Once we have a shared understanding of what problem we are trying to solve, it becomes much easier to break it down, solve and pivot – if needs be.
A lot of the UX is about understanding why people interact with technology in a certain way, and mapping design to the way they think, behave and what they value. It’s not a matter of knowing everything there is to know about the subject matter, but it’s about understanding it well enough to be able to collaboratively figure out the solution and a way forward.
Why does it matter?
It is not just about uncovering and meeting the expectations of today’s consumers. Design is a well-known differentiator in most successful organisations across the industries because it brings to the table a set of behaviours and mindsets that when cultivated, empower individuals and create a culture of innovation and growth. This is what drives organisations to outperform the market and a reason why curiosity tops the list of behaviours and mindsets with the biggest impact.
Ultimately, it’s about the ability to move beyond the most obvious answer in search for new solutions, exploring with childlike curiosity and backed up by solid business cases.
If you have a new concept or product idea you would like to explore, we would love to discuss how BoatyardX can help you achieve your vision. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
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