As part of our ongoing “Interviews with Innovators” series, we interviewed SAP's Kaan Turnali, Global Senior Director for Enterprise Analytics.

Turnali is a prolific thought leader and writer covering a wide array of topics on the integration of business and technology. He is passionate about leading teams that deliver customer-centric solutions. Since 2010, he has been applying design thinking principles to enterprise mobile & analytics projects. He is an advocate of the idea that design thinking can benefit all teams, including those in the back office. He spoke with us recently about how design thinking can fuel enterprise innovation and how global companies can better anticipate trends and opportunities with their innovation programs.

Q: Can you explain how design thinking is (inherently) forward thinking?

A: As I wrote in a recent Forbes article, many principles of design thinking reflect ideas that stem from well-known principles and best practices. However, at its core, design thinking incorporates them into a coherent, repeatable process that applies to all walks of life and not at all limited to a specific industry or area of expertise.

At the start of every design-thinking session, the discussion commonly begins with a reminder that you are embarking on a journey, not traveling to a concrete destination.  We leverage design thinking for problem definition and resolution with an exceedingly customer-centric approach stripped from any insider privileges, professional experiences, biases, or opinions – no matter how strongly we may want to hold on to them.

We strive for a process that encourages diversity of opinion and inquiries. This allows us to ask the right questions to generate ideas that frame and address challenges through human-centered design. This thinking empowers us to go beyond distant observations and gives us an opportunity to design by looking out from the inside out—rather than outside in.

Q: You’ve written about how design thinking is not just about creating new products or services. Can you elaborate on this idea?

A: This is the part where I see most people struggle. I think the term “design,” which is typically associated with new products and services, throws them off balance.

Personally, I associate design thinking with innovation. However, innovation means different things to different people. In its basic form, innovation is how we create new things—whether they are completely new products and solutions or improvements over existing ones.

And that’s the key: Designing solutions that deliver value for unmet needs. It doesn’t matter where we do it.

We need to start looking for ways to uncover value that would otherwise be hidden or does not yet exist. In doing so, we unlock the potential for creating new opportunities. Some of these solutions may present themselves in the form of new products and offerings, while others surface in the back office where roles and functions tend to be tedious and mundane.

Design thinking is a framework for this ingenuity.

Q: Consumers today are more demanding, and have higher expectations than ever before. How can organizations stay connected to their needs and deliver the best solutions to them? 

A: We operate in a business environment that serves increasingly mobile consumers who are more digital and data-driven than ever before. Today’s consumers are not only “demanding,” as you mentioned, but also better informed. And this is the case for B2B as well as B2C. We just need to think differently about how we take advantage of opportunities.

For example, when we deal with new questions or challenges about a product or service, we often focus on pieces that are fragmented and disconnected. We need to consider a holistic approach to understanding the end-to-end user experience. In other words, we need to look at the big picture and connect the dots.

However, we cannot simply stop there. Rather, that same question or challenge needs to be examined with a new perspective to elevate our thinking to an entirely new level. In doing so, we can bend our thoughts at an angle that sheds a different light or reflection point.

The idea is to anticipate the next dot and create the next opportunity. By pushing the boundaries and inspiring the unthinkable, we release a trigger that begins the process for the next set of challenges before they appear on the map. I am always reminded of this notion by Einstein’s quote: “When I examined myself and my methods of thought, I came to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”

Q: How does embracing ambiguity help teams to discover new ideas?

A: On the surface, this can be an uneasy concept for many. Throughout our education and professional careers, we are always persuaded to focus on what’s obvious, what’s in front of us, or what’s already been identified.

Curiosity is a gift that we’re given as a child to explore what surrounds us. Unfortunately, as we age, we risk losing our inquisitiveness. As a result, tolerating ambiguity, so to speak, becomes unnatural to us.

When we apply design-thinking principles, we create both a virtual and physical space where we embrace ambiguity because it allows us to explore concepts through creative and divergent ideas that may be otherwise dismissed under analytical thinking. Ambiguity is often confused as being “out of focus,” “lacking emphasis,” or even “having no context.” This is not true. In design thinking, ambiguity is the bridge that connects our ingenuity with a sense of purpose and focus on human-centric design.

Q: Design thinking involves people, technology and business, while keeping the customer at the center. What leadership & cultural components are important for an enterprise looking to develop or harness the right skills, capabilities and spirit in its employees?

A: When I think of innovation in the enterprise, which as you know is very different from that of a start-up, I initially consider three things. The key here is not to focus on mechanics, but to capture the entrepreneurial spirit.

1. Transparency promotes collaboration and collective insight.

Create an environment where your teams (and I mean, all teams) feel safe to share openly and collaborate freely. Encourage a holistic view of the entire user experience, and look at all parts of your technology solution objectively. This is something we often promote in design thinking. This begins with speaking openly about the challenges or problems you’re facing. The trick is to extend this collaboration beyond the core teams–from development to support, through communication and operations.

2. Use a safety net to encourage innovation.

People tend to be creative and productive when they feel secure enough to take risks. Build safety nets that will allow them to experiment. However, do so without disruption to growth and profitability.

3. Encourage diversity of opinion to allow the best idea to always win.

Innovation is toughest when there’s a lot of ego involved. Don’t bring your ego to the design table. Seek ways to put distance between individuals and their work. Discourage what I refer to as “single-click consulting” so that questions can ignite the critical-thinking process, which is a prerequisite to asking the right questions with data to support arguments, not arguments to support data. When we promote passionately that the best idea always wins, we’re much more likely to solicit constructive feedback and spark ideas that would have been otherwise suppressed or never discovered.

All opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and they do not reflect the opinions of any organization.

About Kaan Turnali

As Global Senior Director, Enterprise Analytics, Kaan is responsible for the development, oversight, and execution of strategy for the business intelligence (BI) landscape across the worldwide user base of the SAP’s Global Customer Operations (GCO) reporting & analytics platform. Kaan led special mobile BI initiatives for the Office of CEO and the GCO senior management team. Prior to joining SAP in 2006, he worked as a senior consultant specializing in strategy, design, and development of enterprise analytics solutions for SMB and Fortune 500 companies. His background and experience in the integration of business and technology span over two decades. He is also an adjunct professor and taught BI in the doctor of business administration program at Wilmington University. Connect with Kaan on Twitter (@KaanTurnali) and LinkedIn.

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