I embarked on this project curious about the practical ways in which design and innovation skills can help overcome barriers to making change happen in small businesses. Having researched the topic over the last years, I had a good theoretical and practical understanding of what the barriers were and the reasons for them. But the tricky part is that these barriers are often highly obscured, manifesting in surface level issues. So what I was really curious about was what the gap for making change happen in businesses really meant in practice, particularly for the strategic and tactical aspects.
Business leaders want their businesses to succeed and they want to grow. But changing consumer needs and competition certainly don't let businesses stand still – to make sure you remain valuable and competitive businesses need to continuously adapt and evolve. The path towards this change is messy, unpredictable and with many conflicting demands. And whilst the ambiguity and complexity of this creative process can't be avoided, skills and tools exist which help make it less daunting, which help extract, connect and structure ideas to make them truly valuable. And so the question was… How can I support small business leader in moving out of their comfort zone so that they skilfully navigate the path towards growth and success?
How to change
Following the design thinking process, I set out to discover, define and focus what skills can be most valuable and how small businesses learn skills and overcome resistance related to moving out of their comfort zone. I reached out to business leaders learning about their pain points and desires, and verifying how my idea resonated. I also spoke to experts in the area to refine my learnings. I also iterated, refining the offer and its delivery process working on real problems with clients:
- A structured group brainstorming session for a startup, focused on funnelling ideas to actionable output.
- A workshop refining vision and content strategy for an international clothing brand. It explored what makes their business unique and valuable. We extracted, streamlined and created a cohesive content strategy with proposed action points, business goals, unique value offered, and success measures.
- A workshop helping an engineering consultant refine and communicate their services by exploring the unique qualities in which they make it valuable and how this can resonate with their audience.
- A workshop helping a startup crystallise their vision and communicate the value of their offer.
- A workshop helping a craft business crystallise their vision and tailor service and brand touchpoints.
I synthesised learnings from research and practical workshops to create a final prototype. COVID-19 lockdown meant the events had to be run remotely. I pivoted from a public group event to individual sessions which eased the public showcasing of the work but pushed my creative edge by refining the experience of the service offer through coaching and consulting elements. Consulting focused on the practicalities of implementing change and coaching on managing resistance around unfamiliar and ambiguous process. This is how I structured the session:
- Part 0: Understanding your resistance – exploring fears and negative beliefs related to the project.
- Part 1: Problem Space Mapping – exploring problem from the perspectives of 'You and your audience' – what unique qualities make it valuable and how can this resonate with your audience.
- Part 2: Value Proposition building – refining the why, what and how of the offer. Crafting a story that supports this and prototyping the learnings in practice.
- Part 3: Action Plan – further resources and guidance to help apply the results in practice.
Value of change
Each of my prototypes included a feedback section, vital to help me shape and refine shaping value, structure and process of my offer. I asked for feedback on the session and value from the process as well as overall experience. The key aspects participants found particularly valuable to them were:
- Crystallising vision – "Keeping track of your original mission to stay focused and relevant".
- Articulating vision and value – "I find it hard to articulate myself and it really helped that… actual stuff I can use".
- Critique and empathy – "It was harder to do by myself. You don't critique stuff when you are doing it yourself."
- Thinking through the whole experience – "I realised through this exercise that you are paying into the service more than the products. It won’t be packing a box and shipping it. I will have to be much more emotionally engaged."
A key learning on value was that business leaders know their ideas. I'm just there to help them elevate, polish and maximise their potential. However, business leaders often struggle to extract, shape and structure their ideas. They may get overwhelmed by the ambiguity. They try to solve it all in their heads. The essence lies in helping them to truly empathise and structure their idea so it delivers value to the customer.
(Client wishes to remain anonymous until business launch in June)
"I did not have many hesitations before this project - I am always interested in seeing things from another perspective and getting other people's opinions on my work.
After the workshop I noticed a different way of understanding my users and being more open to identifying with them. The best aspects of the project were defining both of my audiences more and constructing a story of how they interact with the brand from start to finish. I liked being able to question aspects of the brand and understand what is valuable for the customer. Dorota helped by identifying the key areas that would resonate with my user and customer, making me confident I’d get a response from people.
I would recommend the experience to larger companies who are losing touch with their brand and their main message. I would also recommend this to someone who has been in the market for a few months and needs to evaluate their progress.
Doing this project has been fun and interesting and I can already see how it will benefit the brand. Dorota is hardworking and always listens to everything you say, no matter how silly it might be. She seems to understand the story you are trying to create better than you do!"
A big motivation for this project was to explore entrepreneurial mindset as a woman coming from a more design-centric problem-focused mindset. I set out clear on wanting to learn how my skills can add value, how to better communicate about the offer and how to deliver it so the change sticks. But one of the biggest learnings for me was to intentionally and systematically promote my initiative. It was a relatively unfamiliar experience in that I was doing it for myself rather than on behalf of someone I work for. It brought up a lot of resistance around self-promotion and shaping my credibility.
I also learnt how to communicate and position what I'm doing and how to best translate my academic background to what this means in practice to business leaders. The academic knowledge gave me a strong starting point but business jargon and analytical language make the challenge seem more stressful: "They won't be able to process it, it will seem too stressful than what they are already dealing with". So gradually I was able to shift to a more emotional, simple and straightforward language… and the funny part is that it's exactly practicing what you preach.
I discovered how to de-couple and improve structure the offer making it easier to absorb and more empowering to the client, enabling them to learn more through practice.
But most of all, by doing what I'm so passionate about and helping others, I was able to discover unique qualities about myself. I learnt that whilst I'm comfortable with structure and planning I can be flexible and improvise and deliver valuable results. This helped me trust my expertise. I also discovered that asking questions is something I do well. I can extract, break down and show how to build on ideas. Clients enjoyed the inquisitive and interactive nature of my approach. Right questions also help me come into an unknown area and navigate the client's world' by using my skills to help them.
Are you interested in learning to immplement change with awe not fear? Please get in touch! Over the next months I plan to continue to refine and shape this project. I'd love to hear from you, whether you ar eintrigued by the process or have a particular problem in mind.