top of page

Reiser's Pieces: Demystifying Design Thinking: Setting the Stage for Successful Innovation

“Innovate by starting with the customer and working backward.” That’s what Jeff Bezos says. Who wouldn’t agree? From new products to packaging to consumer experiences, you’ve got to walk in your customer’s shoes. Dig deep to understand what they really want and need. How they think. Why they act. Essentially, design thinking.

Design Thinking and successful innovation

Given today’s super-charged, omnicommerce environment, it’s no wonder that design thinking has become a major focus for forward-thinking organizations. In a marketplace where the bar of entry has never been lower, competition is fierce, with ankle-biters around every corner. Smart innovation is critical to staying competitive – critical to fueling increased share, revenue and customer satisfaction.

But many companies are struggling with how to use design thinking in a way that quickly gets them to the finish line, moving new offerings out the door to success at shelf.

Some face challenges of internal fiefdoms. Others are stymied by overly complex processes used by no one. Still others have taken the credo, “Innovation is everyone’s responsibility,” too literally, without the right tools in place to lead them to best bets. We’ve all been to numerous ideation workshops over the years, no? Great energy. Lots of brightly-colored Post-It Notes. Fast and furious writing on whiteboards. Ideas, ideas, ideas! And yet, without the right process, very little that sticks.

Is “design thinking” more than just a buzzword? Can it really deliver?

Yes, when done right.

Research shows design-led companies can better respond to the turns of today’s dynamic environment and so see improved performance as a result. In fact, companies with an innovative culture are five times more likely to be successful than those without one.

What makes for a successful path forward?

First, don’t make it overly complicated. Yes, a disciplined process is needed, but it must be a usable tool. If it’s not simple, I guarantee it won’t be used.

Then, explore positioning and innovation opportunities through six lenses:



Cultural Context,

Science/Technology Environment,

Retail Environment,

and Brand Equity or Assets.

Next, zone in on the top brand positioning territories, drawing inspiration from six trend areas:





Engagement (Entertainment and Technical),

and Shared Values.

Throughout, ask, What opportunity gaps exist? How are potential consumers discovering and choosing products in this category? What’s the current brand perception among consumers, retailers and influencers? Are there close-in science or technology developments that may impact?

To set the stage for successful innovation through smart design thinking:

  • Don’t make assumptions about your target consumers! It's important to dig into not only their needs, but also their satisfactions, dissatisfactions, and feelings about competitive products to develop relevant positioning, an innovation pipeline and claim opportunities.

  • Go through all your “stuff” (we all have “stuff,” don’t we?) – all of the data you can get your hands on, with an eye toward translating consumer and shopper insights into product and brand ideas. Make sure you’re also leveraging a keen understanding of the key dynamics of your particular category. The goal: Unearthing the rich, meaningful insights that are buried within.

  • Re-think “new.” Being new to a consumer segment or a retail outlet can be “new”; every idea doesn’t need to be a disruptive revolution.

  • Avoid being inauthentic. Don’t chase the “shiny penny” because it’s doing well NOW; have the courage to say no to an innovation if it doesn’t fit your brand. I like how Steve Jobs put it, “I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

  • Avoid unconscious bias. Experience matters, but don’t stack your team only with “experts” in a specific category who’ve “seen it all”. Outside perspective offers necessary objectivity and takes you outside of your organization’s capabilities and beliefs.

  • Create harmony between R&D, marketing and Sales. Every discipline has a valuable perspective, so involve all early and often. (And loop in legal/regulatory before you go too far down a path potentially leading to nowhere.)

  • Ensure that your team includes specialists in consumer insights and brand strategy, with real-world insights that can help you answer: Who you can be (brand positioning), how you can organize (brand architecture), and where you can go with new product and claims innovation.

  • Remember, creating “issue value” is often the driver for successful innovation. Sometimes, people don’t know why they need a product, but once made aware, they’re hooked.

  • Set up for speed. Once the idea is identified, be prepared to run at lightning speed.

In today’s crowded marketplace, parental heritage is no longer enough for a new offering to succeed. As Bezos said, innovate by starting with the customer and working backward. Smart design thinking can get you there. Think this could accelerate your innovation pipeline?


bottom of page