This experience has challenged me to ditch the default setting and to deploy new techniques that really boost creativity. It has taught me to think differently. And as a result, I’m empowered to help my clients innovate. Instead of recycling old ideas, we’re proactively renewing the ideas reservoir.
Jon Hackett is genuinely interested in the power of design thinking. As CEO and co-founder of strategic marketing consultancy h2\, he has long had it on his radar in terms of enhancing his understanding of his clients’ needs – and helping them to better understand their own clients.
Pursuing his Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) at INSEAD has given him the opportunity to choose from a range of elective subjects as part of his degree – specific programmes that map to individual interests, learning objectives and professional goals.
When the chance arose to take the Design Thinking and Creativity for Business programme in 2020, Hackett did not hesitate.
“I started the GEMBA journey in part as a personal challenge to explore ideas and concepts that sat outside of my comfort zone, and to channel that learning back into the services that we can offer to our clients,” he says. “Having the chance to be trained by a world-class school like INSEAD in design thinking as part of my GEMBA was something I’ve always wanted. Here I had an opportunity to really leverage something very relevant to my own work: to build the kind of understanding and expertise to help my clients reframe their approach to product development and innovation.”
Hackett’s expectations going into the programme were nonetheless tempered by a certain feeling of familiarity with the topic; a sense that his own expertise as marketer and entrepreneur would mean that while the programme would be interesting and helpful, its utility might only be “marginal.”
“I felt that there might be some significant overlap with my own experience and what the programme had to teach me about design thinking. Understanding customer needs is, in a sense, marketing 101. So I went into the programme with great enthusiasm but fairly muted expectations around how useful it would be to me personally.”
In the event, the programme was an experience that delivered real impact across three dimensions, he says. It was a learning journey that simultaneously “reminded, taught and challenged” him.
“First off, there was a critical reminder of the sheer importance of building deep user empathy; of that imperative to clarify and define what the users’ needs are, and real innovation hinges on this understanding.”
Then came the learning.
The programme gave Hackett what he calls a “creativity boosting toolkit”
“So much of the time, without realising it, we default to the systems and frameworks that have simply worked up until now. The programme taught me how to systematically rethink and reframe things. It gave me tools and concrete techniques to look at problems and puzzles from genuinely different perspectives, and to really think outside the box.”
The challenge of the programme, he says, was to try a totally new approach to finding solutions.
“The accepted way of doing things in marketing and marketing research, I believe, has historically been to err on the side of caution – and that’s an idea that for me has become kind of baked in over the years. What the programme challenged me to do was to adopt a ‘fail fast’ approach; to go ahead and prototype new ideas or products in the market at low cost. In the classroom sessions, we looked at the dynamics of fast prototyping. It was a lesson in how to challenge classical thinking.”
A key takeaway from the experience, says Hackett, was the “peeling back” of assumptions around perfection in the creative process; a new approach to iteration and innovation that he feels has both complemented and enhanced his experience and his expertise as a successful marketer and entrepreneur.
Another highlight was the Action Learning Project (ALP) – an opportunity to apply the learning directly to the real-world exigencies of an actual organisation.
“For my ALP, I partnered up with a colleague working in a multinational entertainment company and together we applied the techniques and frameworks of design thinking to a challenge that had surfaced during the Covid lockdowns: how to support the needs of children whose education had been disrupted using edutainment – video, games and programmes that are as educational as they are enjoyable. And this was where the learning really came alive. The ALP was a kind of tangible backbone throughout the learning; a really hands-on, practical experience in design thinking.”
Taking the programme in the online environment doesn’t come without certain challenges, says Hackett: chief among these, the constraints on social interaction between participants.
But the experience gave him a chance to think about how to use design thinking to help his own clients who are also grappling with the virtual work environment.
“At its core, design thinking is all about identifying pain points and finding user-oriented ways to alleviate them. And the programme has boosted my capacity to do just that: to help my clients find ways to keep on innovating – even if it’s via online platforms.”
It has also changed the way he does his job.
“This experience has challenged me to ditch the default setting and to deploy new techniques that really boost creativity. It has taught me to think differently. And as a result, I’m empowered to help my clients innovate. Instead of recycling old ideas, we’re proactively renewing the ideas reservoir.”