The above diagram is a landscape of the three types of problems that exist— those with known/knowns, unknown/knowns and unknown/unknowns. As you can see, innovation projects lie in the unknown unknowns. These unknown unknowns are also our blindspots. Design thinking gives us a creative way to stare them in the eye.
Let's take another look. The top level of this diagram can be represented by the circle in the diagram below. The circle is everything in the world that is possible for your business. But you only know a small slice– that's the known/known and the known/unknowns. What you know you know and what you know you don’t know constitute your view. You know them both. MBA's are adept at tackling these known/unknown business challenges, but a "search, sort, and solve" approach leaves a large percentage of uncharted territory. It's the type of space that draws entrepreneurs and innovators and it's a risky space. It’s also a space with a lot of room for possibility. How do you manage risk and create a possibility that is outside of your view?
As a design researcher, inquiry into the unknown unknowns is an essential part of my work. While secondary research and data may drive the direction of an innovation project, the combination of ethnographic design research (qualitative) AND data (quantitative) grounds us by giving us a larger slice of this pie. How? Well, design research allows us to understand our customer’s reality (or view) of the problem. This shift in perspective is a powerful tool! All of a sudden, the unknown unknowns start to shrink as our view expands.
But design researchers have a view, too. During a project, I constantly need to check my own view to manage innovation. Design thinking and entrepreneurial methods give me a way to systematically test my business and user assumptions and clearly understand the interactions between the view of the client, vendors, and customer. With an integrated business and design mindset, blindspots can be transformed into sweet spots for innovation.
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