Olga Trusova is a tech expert turned executive who has launched her own consulting firm, Blue Fig, that helps organizations jumpstart innovation using design thinking, lean and agile. She believes that design thinking can help many organizations innovate. Olga has experience leading an innovation function at a 100-year-old insurance company, AAA, and has also written a book titled “Calm Living” that leverages design thinking to set up the life you want for both work and life at home.
In a recent Zoom interview, Olga shared a case study with AAA that was forced to innovate when new startups like Hippo and Lemonade emerged and became competitors seemingly overnight. These startups were moving fast, creating products quickly, and testing them with consumers. They were disrupting the insurance industry in an unprecedented way. “[They were] eating some the big insurance companies’ lunch,” Olga told me.
This threat forced AAA and other insurers to think about innovation and how to embrace the startup mentality. AAA had to think about how to respond quickly and rapidly yet methodically. Olga looked at external forces that were impacting the organization. She identified customer centricity, tech disruption from sharing economy and autonomous vehicles, and COVID-19, which forced everyone to be more agile and lean. That led her to use a prominent innovation theory—design thinking.
“We can build on the legacy of design thinking, of lean startup, of agile methodologies to kind of help innovate in a more methodical way,” Olga explains. She believes that organizations should use these kinds of methodologies to de-risk new product and service launches as well as other innovation initiatives. “We’re not just like you’re saying, sitting in a room coming up with ideas.”
What Exactly Is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a process for solving complex problems, finding smart solutions, and innovating products. The origin of the term design thinking dates back to the 1960s and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon is believed to be the first person to mention it in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial. But it was not until 1980s that design thinking started being widely used as a problem-solving approach.
It’s a process that works in an iterative or cyclical manner. First, it looks at the problem from different perspectives – customer, business and technology. Then a team of experts working together looks for solutions to the identified problem. After this, prototypes are created from cheap materials such as cardboard, wood and foam. This is followed by testing the prototype with users to get feedback and improve it before launching a product or service.
Olga believes that design thinking is essential for organizations to succeed in a hybrid work environment. To achieve this, Olga suggests breaking down the organization into three “bubbles”: customer experience, product development and ideation. Focusing on these areas can help build muscle around innovation practices and rituals within the organization.
“For individuals, a lot of the inspiration that I drew was from various things teams and individuals did at these organizations,” Olga explains. She recommends building a tool kit of practices and rituals, be it as an individual or team leader, to get into a growth mindset is the only way to keep up with the fast-paced pace of innovation.
“We’re being constantly challenged no matter what with new trends. Like now, we are in a recession. That creates another opportunity for us to think about how we work and what we work on,” she said.