Design, Research

Slow, Complex, Hard: Finding Opportunities amongst Ambiguity & Change

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been developing stakeholder research related to two wicked problems. Here is a clipping from a piece I recently authored on the intersection of human-centred design research and stakeholder analysis when defining problem direction, generating insight, identifying unmet needs, and finding innovation opportunities:

The concept of creating lasting, systemic change is an important one. All too often it is dismissed in the name of quick fixes, tight deadlines, rigid assumptions, and using surface-level information to (mis)diagnose complex challenges. Society rewards those who are quick to think and quicker to act, yet there is immense value in the ‘slow, complex, and hard’. In this piece, I wish to explore human-centred design research as a methodology for solving problems that matter through empathy, relational understanding, and pattern- finding. That is, affording the time to develop the deepest possible understanding of a problem through the intricate and connected lens of those affected.

Specifically, I’d like to examine the intersection of human-centred design and systems thinking as discovered through rigorous stakeholder research. This means understanding not just the individual parts of a particular system, but the relationships between the parts which significantly impact how the system as a whole operates.

Developing empathy for a stakeholder within the context of a dynamic situation, then, is not a linear process. It requires a triangulation of sorts, pushing and prodding our assumptions of that stakeholder from every angle with newly discovered perspectives and insight, and then colliding that understanding with the profiles we develop for other stakeholders to see how those assumptions bend and break. Exposing assumptions to the light cast by other parts of the system is where we discover glimmers of insight, which starts to create a holistic picture of where a problem might actually exist and, therefore, where it might be solved.

The more angles we examine, the more ties we draw between stakeholders, the clearer and more objective our insights become, and the closer we get to real, systemic change. This is the power of empathy, relational understanding, and pattern finding. And it is something I am now determined to master.

The research process behind developing a deep understanding of stakeholders is excruciatingly painful, particularly for those who self identify as ‘problem solvers’. For much of the process, there are no clear answers, an overwhelming amount of data, and barely recognizable hints of what might be insight – not to mention a deeply engrained desire to just ‘get to the answer’.

Design thinking is hard. It is ‘slow, complex, and hard’. But the grind to question, understand, and test assumptions represents an emerging capacity to methodically unpack a deeply complex situation through a human-centred lens. Ultimately, it offers a new set of capabilities to systemically understand and accelerate change in a more meaningful way.