5 Ways to future-proof your business through Design Thinking

Design thinking helps business owners to future-proof their companies. Rapelang Rabana unpacks how you can change your thinking to change your business.

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Covid-19 has forced disruption. The key question is whether you’ve responded by scrambling to bring in revenue with short-term quick fixes, or if you’ve taken a longer view and have stepped back to review what’s working in your business, what isn’t working and how you can adapt and future-proof your company.

As a business owner, if you have been scrambling, that’s okay. Unprecedented situations don’t present immediate solutions, however, businesses are now able to place a key focus on what lies ahead.

We’re all adjusting to the idea that even though the future is uncertain, we still need to continue with our lives and businesses. This requires a new way of thinking about ourselves, our businesses, and our customers

Rapelang Rabana is the founder of Rekindle Learning, an internationally lauded technology entrepreneur who was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and Entrepreneur for the World by the World Entrepreneurship Forum.

These are her top five tips on embracing design thinking to future-proof yourself and your business:

1. Learn to differentiate your thinking

The market is flooded with different products and services to choose from. So, how do you differentiate yourself? You can distinguish yourself from your competitors and find solutions to your customers’ problems if you invest your time into it. The key is that differentiation must begin with differentiated thinking. What I say, what I do, what I write, what I create, everything that I do is only a representation of how I think. So, if I don’t change my thinking, I can’t change much else.

We’ve been forced to embrace new way of doing things, including how we do business, it’s not going to go back to where it was. Therefore, the mindset of doing business has to change. If you can shift from the old to keep up with the change in customer needs and develop new processes to match, you’ll build a future-fit business.

2. Keep returning to the problem that you’re solving

One of the things that many businesses forget about as they grow and mature is the problem they were originally built to solve. When we launch, we’re solving a problem the best way we know how given the technology and mechanisms available to us. That ability gets better and better over time, and the goal posts and successful outcome shifts.

Let’s use training companies as an example. Pre-Covid-19, a successful outcome was evaluated by the number of bums on seats. Now, the mark of a successful digital training programme is whether we can link learning initiatives to business performance. This is always happening – successful businesses are agile and constantly adapting. Covid-19 has accelerated what would’ve naturally happened over a longer period of time. However, there’s always a great reason to step back and evaluate the original problem you were trying to solve, and if you’re still doing that in the best way possible, given how the market has shifted.

If you were to launch your business today, what would your solution be? We tend to form an emotional link to our solutions instead of the problems we’re solving, so this is a critical exercise.

3. Engage with your customers more deeply than before

When you fall in love with the problem instead of your solution, you naturally begin to look outwards, towards your customers, instead of only internally at your business. This allows you to engage with your clients more deeply, meaningfully and to build long-term relationships. How much time do you spend with your customers? Are you speaking to them regularly? Remember, your customers’ businesses and challenges are also morphing and shifting. They need to be agile and adaptable, which means their needs change. Your ability to meet those needs is only as good as your knowledge of what’s happening inside your customers’ businesses and the markets they operate within. None of those answers can be found if you’re only focusing on your solutions.

4. Find shared solutions to shared problems

One of the incredible things to emerge from businesses and teams working virtually is that businesses and customers have started collaborating to solve challenges together in a way that wasn’t previously done. We’re not sitting within our businesses trying to come up with ideas in isolation. The days of working apart from customers and then presenting solutions to impress them are long gone. Our customers need additional support and capacity, but that requires us working together and brainstorming together. We’ve had to find shared solutions to shared problems. For example, we’ve learnt that three to five-day design sprints create an environment of shared learning, knowledge and solution generation.

5. Leverage a willingness to change

We’ve all experienced so much flux that everyone is more amenable to change than ever before. This presents an incredible opportunity. If you were considering a new strategy but weren’t sure how your employees or customers would react, now is the time to test it. Most people are ready and willing to explore new ideas that they might have rejected previously. Change is hard but very necessary, and we tend to resist it. There will never be a better time to leverage everyone’s willingness to change than this moment.

If you are able to embrace these five tips to bring design-thinking into your business, you will not only future-proof your company, but you will be able to deliver tangible solutions to your customers that add real value to their lives and businesses.

In a rapidly evolving world, the ability to solve on-the-ground problems will support the growth of South Africa’s business landscape, communities and economy.

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About the Author
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Rapelang Rabana

Founder, Rekindle Learning

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