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Design Thinking + Numbers = Holy Shit!

In the entrepreneurial community, Design Thinking has gained a reputation as the pillar for the cleverest way of developing a business opportunity.

This is in a way understandable because the embryo of the whole business idea is the creation of a product or service that is built on a deep and fundamental understanding of the customers et al. So, what can be more important?

Design Thinking cannot do the magic trick on its own


Don’t get me wrong. I love Design Thinking! I preach and practice it whenever I work with entrepreneurs (I have blogposts to prove it!). In workshops and coaching, I still include the ABC Nightline program on when IDEO was given the task to design the future shopping cart. It is just amazing to see that so much of what they proposed 15 years ago has happened.

IDEO succeeded by spending time observing, by talking to customers in a regular grocery store, and by using what they had to piece together a prototype of the next generation of a shopping cart. An amazing example of the importance of Design Thinking.

There need to be numbers! Simple ones like e.g.: How many customers?

Even though, I would like to challenge you in saying that Design Thinking cannot do the magic trick on its own. It takes more to move from idea to success.

The time many early-stage entrepreneurs spend on empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing is valuable, and the work important. BUT it comes a point when the entrepreneurial team has to face the brutal fact that numbers need to be included, tackled, introduced – call it whatever you want.

Short but sweet: There need to be numbers! Simple ones like: How many customers? How much will they pay? How big costs for customer acquisition? Goods sold? When break-even? Etc., etc.


Let numbers tag-team with Design Thinking

I see a little bit of a controversy here: creativeness versus black (sometimes red) -on-white numbers. The first is in the heart of the entrepreneur and the second quite often (as I perceive it) crumbling her ambitions.

So, what if you would start looking at numbers as your lever for what you learn using Design Thinking? Therefore: Integrate some number crunching when you work with identifying your unique combination of Pain, Painkiller, and Customers.


One number follows on another number

You can think of every estimation and projection following a path starting with a guess, followed by a guesstimation, in turn leading to an estimation that, as time goes by, will result in facts.

The facts are numbers that are based on your history e.g., number of customers you had last May, your cost of goods sold for the last 10,000 units, etc. If you do not guess you will never come to a point where you have a history.


Control X

A number can always be erased, removed and by that soon forgotten. A really simple suggestion I give to entrepreneurs who have a fear of adding a number because it might be wrong, is to ask them to guess a number, with an ambition of getting the number of zeros right (is it 1, or 10, or 1,000, or 1,000,000).

As soon as that first anxiety of getting it wrong is released it is much easier to erase and replace with a guesstimation – psychology, not necessarily more or better information. These types of guesses happen in most companies, most days (even though few would admit it).


Keep it Simple

The number-crunching that entrepreneurs have to do – at least - in the beginning is the one that can be done on a smartphone or on a piece of paper. Keep it that simple!

I strongly discourage from buying or downloading sophisticated software that will do it for you. You need to “be in the trenches” (!) with your numbers, writing them down, erasing them, replacing them.

By doing that you really get to know your numbers, get to remember them, and use them whenever you are in a situation where being “on top” of your numbers is going to create a “win” for you. Your numbers are suddenly your allies!


Tell your story using numbers

Part of your story is best told using testimonials, quotes, descriptions, and photos. The other part has to be told using numbers. It is the ability to entwine numbers with what Design Thinking has helped you unfold that makes people shout out loud: Holy shit!

So, if you are going after “Holy Shit!” – crunch your numbers as you crunch your design!

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