Human Centered Business Design

Whats the “magic word” ?
A close friend once asked me, “Is there a formula to make money?”, “What is it that successful business people know, that I don’t?”, “What’s the magic word to make my business successful?”. For some of you these questions may seem naive, however, for a would-be entrepreneur or someone stuck in a downward spiral in a business, these questions are always on one’s mind. I won’t try to answer these questions, no, that should be left to the Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos and the Bloombergs of the world. I will however, try to synthesize the patterns that I’m observing between the successful entrepreneurs I’ve read about, those I’ve briefly met and those that I have had the privilege of learning from in classrooms over the years.

“Demand Creators don’t rely on assumptions, intuition, or ‘common sense’. They dig for evidence and go wherever it leads – often to the unexpected places where demand is hiding”

– Adiran J. Slywotzky, “Demand”

Human Centered what?

While I was studying how to design products with a human centered approach, I wondered how can such a paradigm be followed in a big, opaque, hierarchical, process centric organization? At that point, my concern was only with the “product” and not the “business” in its entirety. How do you understand the end-userspurchasers orinfluencers of your product in an organization that locks away its designers in silos away from them. The short answer, you can’t. You can hope to get a representation of these customers, lets call it the “Average customer“, in the form of high level personas, but you’ll most likely miss out on the variations in the customer behaviour, which in the long run can make or break a product.

It’s a Thought Process change..

Six Pillars of Demand - Mind Map Style

                              Six Pillars of Demand – Mind Map Style

It’s really difficult the get the bigger picture by focussing only on the product/service; You need to look at the business in its entirety to really understand the various cogs that make the system run, or jam up. You need to put on different “lenses” (like in the movie National Treasure, oh I wish I could get my hands on one of those). Slywotzky’s “Demand” attempts to provide those lenses in the form of the “Six Pillars of Demand” – Magnetism, Hassle Maps, Backstory, Trigger(s), Trajectory and Variation. It’s important to understand that this isn’t an attempt by the author to pull meaning out of thin air, or provide that winning formula that will work for anything in the world out there; In fact, the stories he tells to explain each of these lenses, show how circumstantial and unique each one of those businesses are, and yet there seems to be a common theme between them, their customer centric thought process, almost obsessiveness towards perfection and unyielding desire for improvement.

Being “Effectual”…

How an effectual entrepreneur thinks

                            How an effectual entrepreneur thinks

I believe that instead of thinking about a formula (the analytic side of your brain), we need to master the thought process of a sculptor, an artist who will try something first and then see how it turns out in retrospect and then try to improve it based on real evidence. In words of David Robinson“Try to experience (it) first, make sense of it later”Netflix is the best example of this; Reed Hastings, wanted to fix his own hassle of forgetting to return a movie rental on time. He had an idea that what if you could simply mail the dvd back to the shop? He went out and tried it by sending a few discs via the US postal service to himself. This lay the foundation for one of the most intriguing use of existing delivery network, and ingenious envelope design. The learning is that if you have an idea on how to fix a hassle, go and try it out with whatever resources that are available at the time, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel to carry your idea forward.

Great. But it won’t work for my business. Will it?
Why not? Is it because your business is really spread out and you feel that spending resources on doing such user research might by an overhead? Read Nespresso’s story, a small product idea, budding inside a business giant. It’s fascinating how they kept trying to find that one “Trigger” that would increase the demand of this niche appliance. It turned out, it wasn’t just one, but several triggers, that needed to be tried and tried again to successfully generate more and more demand.

If you feel that your business does not have an end-user(consumer) for you to conduct research on, there’s always the other businesses that you’re dealing with who become your customer. Then identifying the customers’ customer becomes key. To Take another example, TetraPak, their demand creation strategy is so stealthy, most of us don’t even know that we may be consuming  food packaged by them. Their problem, people in the North American continent did not find the tetrapak milk, or juice products as appealing as their European counterparts did. The reasons are buried in the socio-economic differences, which came down to a simple preference of “refrigerated” vs “fresh” food items. So how do you capture a demand, where the consumers in one part of the world don’t yet understand the benefits. You try to capture the distributer’s (their customer) demand who supply to the retailers (customer’s customer) and finally ends up with the consumer (customer’s customer’s customer).

Yea, but I’m no Steve Jobs!
I don’t believe that one needs to be Steve Jobs, maybe we can’t be. But by looking through these lenses, and keeping the customer at the center of the enterprise will give you the edge over others who are product centric or process centric. Another important factor here is not to try to re-invent the wheel and use what resources are available out in the world.

“One of the lessons Hastings had learned was the importance of using resources available in the outside world to create the backstory needed to support your product, rather than trying to create it all from scratch” – Adiran J. Slywotzky, “Demand”

…is that it can seem very vague, the way entrepreneurs behave when faced with decision points or how they work through those decisions to eventually a successful story. However, if you look closely at each story, at the decision points, and the circumstances, there is ambiguity, but not vagueness (oh yea, there is a difference between the two). And from what I’ve observed so far, entrepreneurs thrive in ambiguity, in fact they seek it out, like not settling for the “average customer” myth and finding out the variations between different customer segments and trying to find ways to serve them.

Every entrepreneur’s story is going to be unique, any this synthesis is just my understanding of demand creations; This understanding is bound to change again someday, but I guess that’s the whole point.