In a previous post I outlined the Design Thinking process for creating useful innovation. This is part of a continuing series of posts in which I explain, in brief, why Design Thinking is extremely well suited for use in church communities that know they need to make changes, but don't know where or how to start.
Design Thinking starts with empathy--a deep understanding of the people involved and their wants, needs, hopes, dreams and values. A great example of how the Design Thinking process creates innovation is the story of the development of a product that may be familiar to you--the Swiffer Sweeper/Mop System. Whether you love it or hate it, the Swiffer has certainly racked up impressive sales since its introduction. The team at Proctor and Gamble started out with a simple idea--there has to be a better way to clean a floor. Then they sent teams to actually observe people cleaning in their own homes.
This was one of the first ventures into ethnographic research at P&G. We visited 18 homes in Cincinnati and Boston, spending about an hour and a half in each. We had no elaborate protocol; we just asked the women, and I am sorry to say they were all women, to clean their floors, in particular the kitchen floor. Mostly we just watched, although when we did not understand why they did something, we asked them to explain. We took notes and video recorded the entire process so that we could analyze it later.... But the real epiphany came after we got back to our studio and looked at the videos. We listed each of the steps required to clean a floor: move furniture, sweep loose dirt, locate components, mix solution, prepare mop, and so on. It was a very mundane list, but when we put on our anthropologist hats and tried to see what was going on outside of any preexisting framework, we noticed something strange: about half the steps were for cleaning the floor; the other half were for cleaning the mop. If we had come down from Mars we might have concluded that the women were not floor cleaning, but mop cleaning! Why was this? The experts on detergent chemistry had talked about a successive mixing model: dirt is dissolved or suspended in the soapy water stored in the cells of the mop; when the mop is rinsed, this dirt is mixed with the cleaner water in the bucket. As a result, the water in the mop gets cleaner and the water in the bucket gets dirtier. This might be a useful model if you're in the detergent business, but we were not sure that it was the right explanation for what we were seeing. We looked more closely at dirty sponges. Under a microscope it was clear that most of the dirt was stuck to the outside surface of the sponge. We concluded that mops also worked by the adhesion of dirt to a cleaning surface. And then we recognized the second contradiction: the better a mop was at grabbing dirt off the floor, the more difficult it was to clean the mop itself.
Even if you have been involved in a church community for a number of years, it is possible that you do not have a full grasp of what people think and feel about a particular situation. True and deep empathy isn't always easy to achieve, but it is vital to effective ministry, especially ministry that hopes to innovate for a better future.