Arun Jain is one of the business leaders in Chennai that I admire and had the opportunity of listening to few of his talks. As a founder of Polaris Labs and now Intellect Design Arena he has build successful organisations.  So when I saw he was conducting an one day workshop on “Design Thinking” this Saturday in Chennai I registered immediately. The event was titled “UnMukt” the Hindi word meaning Unleashing (the potential). Oh Boy I am glad I came for the event, it was insightful and thought provoking.

He started with 3 main examples to highlight the power of Design, answer the question on what can be designed and to what extreme we can push it.

1.Design a religion that survives for three hundred years: Sikhism. In many practices of the religion like the common food everyone eats which are made in community kitchens,  washing of floor by volunteers or the cleaning of shoes by devotees you can see principles of design thinking that are aimed in team (community) building. Guru Granth Sahib, their holiest is a sacred scripture, a book showing knowledge is most important for them, it has to be protected and shared. They figured that Slokas are the way to do this with music as the encryption to protect the integrity of the message. Every person interprets the design and product in his own way but because of the rhythm in the music you can’t change the words without messing the original.
2.Let us think of designing a food system in South India. Bacteria is your enemy, so make it as your partner. Idli batter is an example, easy to cook and it is nutritious. There is zero waste in preparation. For variety in taste and for getting vegetable nutrients and vitamins you supplement it with different chutneys and vary the recipe for each day of fermentation – Dosa on Day 1, Idli on Day 2, Uttapam on Day 3 and so on.
3. Designing a languageSanskrit. 
The arrangements for the workshop in Taj Coromandel, Chennai were professionally & tastefully done. It was a round table seating for all 150 audience consisting of both employees of Intellect, invitees and external attendees like myself. Each seat had a complete kit for practicing Design Thinking including a white board, markers to write on, cardboard boxes of various shapes to play around and a 100 Cue cards (seen above) containing the workshop presentation used by Arun. Instead of reproducing everything from the presentation I am recording here in this post the ideas he shared in the workshop.
Arun the followed with general background to Design Thinking:
  • Technology the word originated only in 1920, before that there were only techniques
  • Customer gives requirement based on past. Change requests come up because of you not taking into account customers unstated needs
  • Design thinking is never an individual exercise. It’s a group activity. That’s the only way you will see the blinds spots that need to be spotted
  • When you travel to many cities, it will trigger new thoughts, you will see blind spots due to the exposure
  • For example in a seminar don’t publish agenda, you will not have spontaneous ideas or have an opportunity to see the blind spots. Corridors discussion will identify it, non published agenda will foster it. For me, blind spots are spotted in meditation sessions
  • Imagination is the critical or the unique feature for humanity as a species. We don’t have any of the bests – we can’t swim faster, run faster, hear more, see more, smell more but we still rule the world
  • Design mind is one which is curious
  • There are six knowledge clusters in every organization – Human Resources, Customer Facing, Finance, Product Development, Execution & Operations, Branding & MarketingThe mindset required for Design Thinking happens when we have people moving between knowledge clusters, it happens when team rotation is done 
  • Knowledge is given by education institutions, industry has to give skills 
What is Design?
It is the intersection of experience of Human, Business & Technology. There are four steps to design – Understanding Requirements (Stated & Unstated), Observing (Patterns & Anti-Patterns),  Connecting the Dots (Within the box and Outside) and Unearthing the blind spots (I don’t know). 
What is Learning?
I am talking about Learning – the insatiable curiosity that drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or her or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his ‘cruiser’. I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me” – Carl Rogers.
Arun asked a question to the participants on why we design, below picture is what I draw on what I thought on why we design?
He then talked of Five Drivers of Design and gave it an acronym SEPIA to remember it easily. SEPIA standing for Skill, Expertise, Perspective, Idea & Alignment.
  • Something gets done regularly in an organization only when it gets bored. Don’t change often. It takes five years for something to get institutionalized in an organization. Otherwise we are killing it without giving it a chance. Keep asking the same question multiple times, in an interview ask the developer three, four times only then blind spots about him/her will emerge
  • In a dialogue both parties must listen and not be focused on telling their views only. Discussion, the word origin is from conflicts
  • Even if SEPIA is there, there are five frictional forces that stop it – doubt, ego, conflict, anger & fear. You can remember them as DECAF
  • When you feel vulnerable your brand works ten times faster. You learn more. When you force yourself to unlearn, you make yourself vulnerable
  • When I was in Nucleus and then changed it to Polaris brand, I made myself vulnerable, more possibility were in front for me. Same thing when I demerged Intellect from Polaris. Demerger generally goes against market expectations, but it gives an opportunity for each unit to focus on its strength. Create your own vulnerability, Adobe got out from selling software licenses to selling subscriptions; only the paranoid survive 
  • Appreciation – how many times you have written emails to your customer appreciating his work. Each of us have appreciation needs or appreciation hunger. Your letter has to be genuine, honest and to the point
  • Limited Beliefs. When someone says you are not good in something especially at the age below 13, you will be limiting yourselves to that throughout your life. They are capacity holders. We generally want to avoid failures. Similarly these hold back a company, you start believing it across the company

This was followed by playing of a scene from the Hindi film “Bawarchi” where the cook (Rajesh Khanna) manipulates the owners (the younger brothers of the house) to taking important decisions while making them believe its their own though. Arun explained the learning from the clip to be as “Servant leadership. Management vocabulary here is empowerment. I don’t get empowerment is a common complaint. Think of it, no one can give it to you, you have to take it, it has to be taken.“.

Arun added to this the following points:
  • In organisations we forget the power we already have, it’s in our mind that’s limiting. In design thinking you take authority and influence
  • When you are heading a design thinking session, you need to turn all the buts to ands. “Yes and” should be said instead of “Yes but”. A But stops the other person’s conversion, an and build on top of it
  • You should work like a cartographer, someone can who can turn the entire world into a sheet of paper, that is skill. Then you need to get into detective mindset, that is expertise. Then as a reporter, ask the right questions and then present the findings in easy to digest way – don’t pass a judgement, lastly you need to translate all this into a readable format
  • Instead of thinking on how to reduce attrition, instead we should think on how I can increase retention. Your mind will start to work differently
  • At this stage of Design Thinking we need to define the problem. That’s where Toyota why chain (5 whyscomes into use. In 1980s value in automobile industry was in the repair garages, they were bigger than manufacturing. Toyota with their vastly improved quality of cars changed that
  • Idea should not be a personal idea, it’s focus is to solve the problem only and not ownership. Clustering of ideas will make the team collectively own the idea.
In the last lap of the workshop, Arun was talking about how in a team you need to get convergence and added the following from his experience of managing large teams.
  • A typical movie of 120 minutes has sixty scenes of average two minutes. All scenes can’t be giving same feeling/mood. You need to have variations in a movie, similarly you need to make your presentations. For doing one brochure for a product it took me three months 
  • As  an entrepreneur myself straight without working as an subordinate, I tend to answer immediately when a question is posted to me. There is no need. I can say I don’t know the answer I will work on it and come back. That freed me, gave me lot of energy to work on. That is a better answer.  If a problem is so simple it would have been handled at manager level, it wouldn’t have come to me 
  • Six people teams are more effective
  • Humans are knowledgeable in inorganic chemicals but not able to do organic chemicals. We know the chemistry is carbon, hydrogen & oxygen but we can’t make the organic compounds. That’s why we need oil. If we solve this we will solve food problem. That’s why teams chemistry is important, think of benzine structure 
  • The difference between two similar products, say iPhone and Samsung phone is just 2%, the rest 98% is the same. That’s why we need design thinking, role play environments are useful, but it takes time for people to adopt 
  • Any marketing genius will tell you that you need to create your own vocabulary to have your product/service stand out in the crowd. Instead of saying “Account Processing done faster” you can say “Accelerating the process”, better still you can say it “XAP technology” for Axlerated Account Processing.
  • Lastly 3 magic words you need to remember in your life ” I DON’T KNOW”