Jim Kalbach on mapping experiences

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Collective alignment, shared value, and design thinking.

By Mary Treseler
July 21, 2016
Reduction gears. Reduction gears. (source: Sparkignitor on Wikimedia Commons)

In this week’s Design Podcast, I sit down with Jim Kalbach, designer, instructor, and author of Mapping Experiences. We talk about the relationship between design and design thinking, how to get started with mapping experiences, and the notion of shared value as a strategic competitive advantage.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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Mapping experiences: The great aligner

The strategic function of the activity of mapping experience that I focus on in my book, is about helping organizations to really see the world differently through the eyes of the customer to the degree possible. That’s just one tool that helps us do that. It’s not a silver bullet, and there’s other things that people do, like personas and other types of research, and other types of activity, so I think it fits in with a range of things that we’re doing to help us understand the complexity of end-to-end experiences.

How is that value perceived by the customers? Sometimes the value that we think we’re creating isn’t perceived that way. It’s really about that outside-in perspective. It starts by aligning to the outside, toward the customer perspective. That’s a collective alignment. It doesn’t matter if there’s one user researcher, one business stakeholder who has that perspective. Is the team aligned? I talk about two levels of alignment in the book. That one is aligning the perspective toward the customer, but then it’s getting on the same page as a team.

… I think there are five questions that you need to ask. I recently just wrote a blog post on this. … The five questions are, what’s your point of view? What’s the scope? What’s the focus? How are you going to structure the information? How are you going to put it to use?

Design vs. design thinking

Design thinking is not what designers do. I always say, ‘Designers design.’ Design thinking is a way to apply that type of thinking to other problems, so we use design thinking to solve business problems, or we use design thinking to solve marketing problems, right? Obviously, we use that to solve service design challenges as well. What design thinking does, in my opinion, is it kind of demystifies that magic wand that they think designers have.

Designers feel comfortable with uncertainty, I think—you have to be to be a designer, because you don’t know what you’re going to end up with at the end of the day. To some people, that’s kind of scary, and I think what design thinking does is it gives them a framework to feel comfortable. To say, ‘It’s okay if you don’t know the answer. We’re going to show you a way that you can consistently get an answer, even if you don’t know what that outcome is before you get started.’

Shared value: Doing good while turning a profit

Shared value is a concept that Michael Porter, the famous strategist, Harvard Business Review professor, literally wrote all of the classic volumes on business strategy. The concept of shared value is something that he pioneered, I think it was 2012; it was articulated in a landmark article in the Harvard Business Review called “Creating Shared Value.”

He’s thinking about, what’s the next thing? What he’s saying is companies aren’t solely about maximizing profit anymore: it’s about maximizing profit and contributing something back to society. He’s saying that’s where companies are leaving money on the table. It’s actually a strategic and a business move—he’s saying that we have to not only think about the products and the services that we deliver and what the competitive advantage of those are, but also how are we creating those? Who are we partnering with? What are the materials that we’re sourcing with? What’s the environmental and educational and societal impact of the way that we do business? You can turn that into a competitive advantage. … I think this idea of moving from shareholder value, maximizing your bottom line, to shared value, how do we maximize the bottom line and contribute back to society—I think that’s just a fascinating movement.

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