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A Shift Of The Mind’s Eye – Design Thinking With SAP


“A great thought begins by seeing something differently, with a shift of the mind’s eye.”
– Albert Einstein

This week, my five year old son brought home a book from school called “See, Hear, Touch, Taste, Smell” after he finished reading it, we discussed the human senses and he was most intrigued at how these sensory messages are sent to the brain.  My son’s learning experience reminded me of the importance of our human senses in Design Thinking.  Sometimes we feel that we “need to see it with our own eyes” and  have a first-hand experience which fully engages all of our human senses; often other people’s knowledge, views, explanations and perspectives are just not enough.

So what has this really got to do with Design Thinking?  Design Thinking is a set of tools and mindset for problem solving & finding based on empathy.  Design Thinking uses iterative cycles of Look, Think and Do, here I focus on the Look phase, and in particular the importance of exploration through the use of observation, which is fundamental foundation for Design Thinking with SAP.

Here at SAP we are challenging ourselves to go beyond the traditional methods that most would typically use to conduct ‘discovery’ with customers.   In the business world we often work with extremely formal requirement and solution specifications; the problem here is that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend real human meaning and build true empathy from just reading a document, hence the need for exploration through observation.


Observation usually starts at the beginning of our Design Thinking journey with customers, however Design Thinking is all about small iterative cycles of look think and do, so observation becomes part of the iterative cycle, it’s similar to buying a house; it’s often the second viewing that reveals additional insights after you’ve had time for reflection; you see things with a fresh pair of eyes! Techniques used for observation can take the primary form of observing a customer office, site or store, and also be complimented with the secondary form of reviewing social media (sentiment analysis), market research reports, company reports, websites, newspaper articles, plus many more.

The best observation results come when multiple people and therefore multiple perspectives are engaged; each of us operates with our own mental model – which is essentially a personal lens through which we see and perceive the world around us – therefore it’s highly effective to use a diverse group of stakeholders to conduct observation and collate feedback.  We must also acknowledge that sometimes the obvious is ‘hiding in plain sight’, multiple and external views on a situation can often bring new insights, frequently those who think they have the best understanding the situation can suffer from ‘Wilful Blindness’ – a state in which they quite unknowingly ignore the obvious i.e. “cannot see the wood for the trees”.


Why do I feel so passionately about this?  If someone said to you when thinking about buying a house “it’s just a house, a house is a house” would you just sign the paperwork and buy it without a viewing it a couple of times?  Most probably not!!  During my previous role in the Logistics Industry I frequently encountered cynics who believed that exploration and observation were unnecessary “you don’t need to visit that site, I can tell you all you need to know about it…” or “a warehouse is a warehouse, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all,  why do you need to go and see another one?”  I never agreed with these points of view and still don’t!  I always requested (insisted) on site visits to see with my own eyes and experience first-hand the situation (sometimes working the nightshift), interviewing staff (truck drivers, warehouse operatives, office personnel etc.) – this always gave me and my team a great foundation during projects and allowed us to truly empathise with the situation and often bring new insights that were previously not considered.  It’s great that I am able to continue this approach within SAP and take it even further with a complete Design Thinking mind-set and approach – I can tell you that we really are making Design Thinking part of SAP’s DNA!

Thinking back to my son’s schoolbook “See, Hear, Touch, Taste, Smell” Observation is about experiencing and using our human senses to develop a deeper understanding, associate real human meaning and build genuine empathy which provides a very powerful foundation for Design Thinking partnerships with our customers.

This is just one part of the Design Thinking Journey with our customers, it is the fundamental and foundational stage that helps to set the scene for everything that follows. 

Interested in finding out more about Design Thinking with SAP?  Visit:

Have fun!

Matt Champion

Business Solution Architect & Design Thinking Practitioner, SAP

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  • Matt,

    Great post  – would love to hear your thoughts on the power of second hand observation via social media, etc. I have seen it be very powerful – curious about your thoughts?


    • Hi Nicole,

      Many thanks! 🙂   Yes, I do believe that the secondary research is equally important as primary – an example of this would be using SAP social media analysis tools, such as Netbase to monitor Social Sentiment analysis across multiple Social media sources.  Understanding the mood of your customer base and correlating that to events and campaigns etc can be very powerful indeed.



      • SAP Social Media Analytics by NetBase is a great asset especially for getting a feel for what cutomers really want from a brand. Can be super powerful when applied to Design Thinking!

  • Thanks Matt, great post.   I totally agree with you….we need to use all our senses to observe and explore to find the unarticulated, hidden needs that will lead to true value creation.

  • Hi Matt, thanks for writing and sharing a great articulation why observing und understanding is so important vs. jumping to conclusion and solution proposal.

    It is also wonderful to hear or read how your open mindedness lets you seek inspiration from your son and his perspective 🙂



  • Matt,

    Thanks for the Blog. When I’m lucky enough to get on a “new” SAP project, (i.e. a first time installation in a company), one of my most favorite parts is do what I’ve called a DILO.  Day In the Life Of.  Since I’m in QM, I would always try to plan to spend a day, (or more if I could get it!),  in the laboratory shadowing one of the techs.  We’d chat, I’d learn what they do, help out if I could, which was rare, have lunch, take breaks, etc.. And yes, on a few occasions… even visit the local taproom or pub after hours with them and hoist a few. 

    If it was a 24 x7 plant I’d always try to do it at least once for each shift.  It’s absolutely amazing all the “dirt” you can get from folks at 2 or 3 AM in the morning when most of the management is home sleeping!

    You are right in that it’s hard to convince some folks that this is a big value added process.  But for me and often times for the project, it is.  Not only do I see and hear the problems and issues first hand, but I get to know some of these people personally.  As a result I think it gives me more empathy for what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  It makes me want to try harder to give them something that helps them, not necessarily just management and the bottom line.

    I get a benefit by letting them get to know me firsthand. I become a person to them, not an IT resource in another state or country.  I get a chance to sell myself and the project and to allay fears, (usually unfounded), about the project.

    And what’s really ironic, many of the best benefits I have been able to introduce via an SAP project over the year, have originally come from these employees.  They know their business, they just usually need someone to listen to them and give a voice to their thoughts.

    It’s not always possible to do these on every project, but I’ve always felt that my better projects were those where I was able to do these DILO’s.


  • Love how you sum up Design Thinking Matt

    Design Thinking is a set of tools and mindset for problem solving & finding based on empathy

    Have been looking for a quick one liner that gets the message across.

    Good blog.

    Thanks for sharing.