Designing a solution? Start with people.

Steve Blank, the guru of the Lean Startup, describes the early stages of customer development as discovery and validation. This process tests assumptions through interviews & experiments. The concept of customer development is built on the idea that if you are buying, selling or trading something, you are a part of a market. At the center of markets are customers who create demand for a product, service or innovation.

The early stages of customer development.

Knowing what these customers want and need is central to developing desirable, feasible and viable solutions, and “getting out of the building” to talk to customers is championed in innovation-centric communities. But there’s something we can all learn from this, because customer development is rooted in empathy…understanding and sharing another’s feelings.

So, what if we took this idea of customer development just a little further and framed the process as human development– shifting the narrative from currency to compassion?

What if we took the time to discover and validate the humanity of each person we encountered each day? What if we shifted the conversation around innovation from products to people? Some of us have – like the CommunityShare team, leveraging technology to reveal and connect experience in the community to local schools – but more of us need to.

Co-creating human-centered solutions – situated in local funds of knowledge – changes where value is placed and who has access to power. When we take the time to listen, people feel respected and their inherent worth is validated. With respect and validation, trust can take root. Trust among and between teams leads to boundary-spanning collaborations and ultimately, more sustainable solutions.

So, we need to make the time for human development. Listening is often considered time consuming, but as Steve Blank shows us, there are lean ways to discover and validate. Instead of focusing first on opportunities and solutions, discover the knowledge and validate the worth of those around you. Start with people.

Ask BIG QUESTIONS to help you grow… 

  1. Who are the stakeholders?
  2. How would they describe the challenge?
  3. Why would they choose your solution?

More Reading & Resources

  1. A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking, Standford
  2. Human-Centered Design Kit, IDEO.
  3. Racism and inequity are products of design. They can be redesigned., EquityxDesign.

Tools for Teams

Actively listen: Use RASA to help you remember to – Receive: be open to the person speaking, Appreciate: everything that is shared with you as a gift, Summarize: what you heard to make sure it aligns with the intent of the speaker, Ask: questions to deepen your understanding. (We’re bringing this one back because it is THAT important)

Knowns & Unknowns: List everything you know about a topic (on sticky notes). List everything you don’t know. Compare and discuss unknown unknowns. Affinity map unknowns and use these categories to develop relevant interview questions.

About the Author: Carly Croman is the Director of Engagement at LeadLocal. You can follow her on Twitter @carly_croman

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