What do people need next? Most of our jobs revolve around determining the most important needs of those we serve, designing solutions to meet those needs, and then delivering the solution in a way that creates the highest satisfaction possible. Company and non-profit leaders in every industry have the same core responsibility to meet the needs of others as do coaches, teachers, doctors, pastors, priests and parents.
Organizations that both understand the needs of those they serve and meet those needs are more successful than organizations who fail to adapt. The key to meeting and exceeding needs is the design process. The consulting firm McKinsey studied the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries. The results were conclusive. The companies whose design practices ranked in McKinsey top quartile had 32% higher revenue and 56% higher total shareholder return.
Leading companies, universities, medical, and non-profit organizations use design thinking to understand needs and create solutions.
Five Stages of Design Thinking
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the d.school) describes design thinking as a five-stage process.
Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions.
Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users' Needs
Here, you should gain an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as design thinking because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs.
Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Needs and Problems
It’s time to accumulate the information gathered during the Empathize stage. You then analyze your observations and synthesize them to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements. You can create personas to help keep your efforts human-centered before proceeding to ideation.
Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas
Now, you’re ready to generate ideas. The solid background of knowledge from the first two phases means you can start to “think outside the box”, look for alternative ways to view the problem and identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created. Brainstorming is particularly useful here.
Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions
This is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. Your team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping.
Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out
Evaluators rigorously test the prototypes. Although this is the final phase, design thinking is iterative: Teams often use the results to redefine one or more further problems. So, you can return to previous stages to make further iterations, alterations and refinements – to find or rule out alternative solutions.
The Difference Maker
I believe that those who follow Jesus have a distinct advantage when it comes to meeting the needs of those they love and serve. The difference maker for discovering and meeting needs is moving past empathy, continuing to sympathy, and ultimately arriving at compassion. Full use of the empathy, sympathy, compassion continuum leads to an understanding that allows individuals and organizations to meet the presenting needs of those they serve and go further to meet their deepest needs — the needs behind the needs. Let’s look at each stage individually to better understand how to move along the continuum.
Stage 1: Empathy – The ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, perspective, and emotions of another person. Philippians 2:4 “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Rarely, if ever, do we observe empathy without action in the biblical story. One example of empathy in the bible are Job’s friends. Job’s friends do many things wrong, but in Job 2:11-13 we observe Job’s friends doing something right – weeping for their suffering friend, Job. Yet, here we already see Job’s friends moving from empathy to sympathy.
Stage 2: Sympathy – The ability to share in another person's feelings and concerns, with the accompanying delight in their joys and grief at their sorrows. In the New Testament, sympathy is a requirement of the Christian life. In Galatians 6:2, Paul commanded the church at Galatia to, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And, in 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” It is clear that sympathy is a requirement of the Christian life.
Stage 3: Compassion – The feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to help alleviate the suffering or distress of another. In the New Testament, we observe Jesus having compassion on many diverse people groups. Jesus has compassion for the hungry (Matthew 15:32), the sick (Matthew 14:14), the widowed (Luke 7:11–15), and the poor (Matthew 40:45). Not only does Jesus have compassion for these people, but he commands us to do the same.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” - Ephesians 4:32
When a leader (or organization) develops true compassion for those they serve, the design thinking process has even more power. Now, filled with compassion, the non-linear process takes on more wisdom in the defining phase (James 1:5), more faith, hope and love in the ideation phase (1 Corinthians 13:13), and an enhanced aim for the beneficiary to have a more abundant life in the prototype phase (John 10:10). And, you can test the process! God loves it when we test our ideas to see if they really are helpful to others and conform to His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
One Who Meet All Needs
Good products and services do not distract people from God. If our products or services unnecessarily draw people further away from their creator, we must go back to the drawing board. Even great technology, such as an iPad, is not good for a person if it doesn't ultimately point them to God. Our best designed solutions should not distract the people we serve, but instead point them to the One who meets their needs perfectly.
Often, our “good solutions” can end in abject failure. Yet, when our solutions look worse in reality than they did in the business plan, we have an incredibly gracious God who uses our best efforts and biggest failures to point us to Himself. All things, even our failures, work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. - Phillipians 4:19