Take Design Thinking in the Startup Environment with Venture Design

As designers, we are usually people who are focused on perfection – getting the details right pixel by pixel. While it’s wonderful to be detailed oriented, that approach shifts our view from the overall objectives of a business, to the microscale to just the project itself. As a designer, of course you want your work to shine, but at the same time, the time, energy and money spent into perfecting a product can actually hurt your company’s ROI.

Venture design is marrying the ideas of both the Lean Startup and Design Thinking into a manageable workflow that can thrive in a high risk environment, such as startups or large corporate environments’ incubation teams. It allows our teams to balance taking risks and stability in a sustainable business model that is both flexible, and allows for constant, rapid decision making. This empowers teams to innovate into the unknown under these four guiding principles: grant and defend autonomy for the team, continuous engagement via design thinking with co-ownership of projects, prioritize forward progress over process, and design impact.

Staying competitive as a business
In order to stay relevant and competitive, businesses need to be able to mobilize during various phases of a project’s lifecycle. An opportunity is identified in the market and the business mobilizes resources to capitalize on it by creating the minimum viable product or service needed to launch. Then there is the ramp up of the idea to develop the infrastructure to bring it to scale. 

For businesses, the period of exploitation in the launch of a product or service is shorter than in the past. This is due to technology, globalization and an increase in rivals in the market. Many times, a rival will emerge from a completely different market share. An example is Apple going from selling computers to music devices and services (the iPod product and iTunes service). Competitors can be totally from left field as well, such as normal people replacing taxi drivers through the wide adoption of Uber or hotels being replaced by people renting out their rooms with Airbnb.

For companies to keep competitive, they have to maintain a sustained advantage with various launch and ramp up phases of project lifecycles. You can’t have too much off balance in this process, say many projects in the ramp up, and none in the launch or pre launch phase. Then you lose out on staying relevant and innovative.

Many organizations fall into the trap of being endemic—cost optimizing to higher margins but not for growth, rather than emergent—keeping the advantage in the ever changing digital and competitive world, as the lifespan of advantage has shortened dramatically.

Principles of Venture Design
The period of exploitation of a competitive advantage is shorter now than it was in the past. Now we must refine and disengage from projects sooner in order to strive for innovation. Transient advantage is our new reality, whether we want it to be or not. As designers, we must accept this new dynamic of innovation and sustainability. Innovation and playing to win must be on equal footing with playing not to loose and sustain the core of the business.

Playing not to loose
Many corporations lean towards this approach rather than play to win. In order to play to keep the status quo, companies focus on the core of their business, measure near-term performance and aim for stable growth. This is a defensive stance and limits the amount of failure. However, it also limits innovation. It’s what they know, and what’s comfortable.

This is where human centered design falls under. You do the research to discover the problem in order to generate a finished solution. Market penetration, which is growing existing offerings in existing markets and market development, growing by using existing offerings in new markets, falls under this category. Product development falls under this as well, where companies grow using new offerings in existing markets. It’s the safe route.

Playing to win
This is where venture design fits in. You aim for future performance of the company with growth on the line. This is an offensive stance that maximizes breakthroughs. You’re building beyond the core of the company’s established business and markets to operate in new ways, new arenas with very high risks.

Diversification falls under this category when businesses present new offerings in a market that they are not currently in. This is the highest risk option as it requires both product and market development, which are time and money. Resources are diverted from the core to diversification.


How does your business play to win? Where do you struggle? Share below!


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