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When you don’t know precisely what problem you’re solving, you’ve got what is known as a ‘wicked problem’ on your hands. Wicked because there are too many options, too many possible causes, and too many directions to explore. These problems are extremely difficult to resolve because like a virus, they continue to mutate, opening up even more possibilities that only make matters worse.

Inventors of the first smart phone were likely facing a wicked problem, in that they knew they wanted to expand the potential of the mobile phone but were faced with innumerable options, problems, and challenges. They had to decide which direction to go in and what trade-offs to make, without complete information – all classic traits of a “wicked problem”.

So how did iPhone innovators overcome the challenges of a wicked problem? They took a human centric approach often referred to as design thinking.

Harvard Business Review describes design thinking as innovation, “Powered by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported.”

A lot has been written and discussed about design thinking in product and industrial design, but can it be applied successfully in the development of mobile strategy and innovation? If you’ve read Mobility Minute #2 through #4, you already have an understanding of some of the problems organizations face when defining a mobile strategy.

Like other “wicked problems” data on enterprise mobility is incomplete, contradictory, and changing. If you’ve applied traditional idea-generating methods that rely on a solid foundation of data you’ve likely ended up frustrated. Competitive analysis is also inadequate as it bases mobile strategy initiatives on outside-in analysis, or simply summarizing solutions that are already available in the market. While there is nothing wrong in understanding what the market already provides, true innovation will certainly not be the outcome – which is why many organizations are left with nothing more than simple productivity apps.

Applying design thinking to the “wicked problem” of an innovative mobile strategy may be the solution.  With this approach you focus on problem definition first, i.e. uncovering intent and discovering the unarticulated need instead of approaching the problem with a set of solutions, and tools, then patching the gaps that remain. Design thinking offers a repeatable process that aims to find solutions that users will love, is technologically feasible, and viable for business. Want to learn more about applying design thinking to mobile strategy? Watch for 7 steps to leveraging Design Thinking for your Mobile Strategy in an upcoming Mobility Minute post on April 18th.

Jomy Pidiath

Global Mobile Strategy Services | SAP

Follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/jomypidiath

Tonja Erismann

Global Mobile Strategy Services | SAP

Connect with her on linkedin

Whitepaper: Defining Innovative Mobile Strategies: How Design Thinking Offers an Effective Way to Address the “Wicked Problem” of Enterprise Mobility

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  1. JV Faulks

    Really nice article Jomy. Love the presentation of problem solving the unknown as dealing with a ‘wicked problem’. That’s a great way to represent the opportunities that innovation is now enabling companies to go after. Could potentially extend to previously unsolvable problems…obviously out of scope.  Maybe these were not even broached because they were simply too much to take on. Looking forward to meeting at SAPPHIRE.

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