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Pivot. How to use design thinking to keep relevant

As a brand and business leader, the chances are you have made some short term changes to your business to deal with the initial shock wave of the Corona crisis. But you know it’s not going to be enough. How can you stay relevant over the next month or two? How can you come up with answers fast? How can you keep morale high and people positive? That’s what this post is all about.

Photo by Tekton on Unsplash

Design thinking is a way to solve problems fast. To change what is now to something better in the future. To improve. That is what design is. Brands likewise exist to make a positive change in their customer's lives. I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how companies can pivot and remain relevant in the Corona infested landscape we live in. This is my attempt to give you some simple, tactical and relevant things to work on, based on some of the recent work I’ve been doing with my clients. It is my hope this will get you moving in a positive direction. The storm is blowing. Let’s not let it sink us. Let’s chart a new course, catch the wind and push forward.


As with all good strategy, the outlined approach I’m suggesting below is based on three core principles:

  • Customer-first outcomes - always keep in mind who you exist to serve. Your “brand tribe”. Their needs may have changed but your desire to add value to them should not. You may need to adapt to meet the challenge. Put them first.

  • Innovation - As customer needs change brands need to create new offerings or adapt their existing offerings to enhance their tribe’s lives and solve their problems. Now is the time to pivot and innovate to add value. Never stop. Nothing will ever be 100% complete. Keep restless.

  • Swarming - unless you are a freelancer the chances are that you will need to get multiple people to pull together to deliver something that works. Involving people in an agile way so that your team can come up with something considered from every angle fast is key. In a recent post, I advocated setting up an innovation super 'SWAT team' who can focus on this. This team needs to be shielded from the day to day firefighting so they can have the freedom to find your pivot. To focus. So, get a diverse team together for this task, empower them and then unleash them.

  • Deadlines - something strange happens in our brains when we know we have a deadline. We panic a bit. But we focus. In the process below I’m suggesting your SWAT team completes various sprints - sometimes together, sometimes alone. They will come together at the end of these windows of time and will need to offer something to the group. It doesn’t have to be perfect but it needs to be useful. Having deadlines helps us to make progress. Keep it positive and you’ll find that you can make surprisingly fast progress. Ok enough on principles. Ready to roll? Let's begin:


I’m suggesting you run a series of 5 sprints. I’d propose you make each sprint last around half a day (although you can do them over longer or shorter periods as needed). This time needs to include hour-long huddles at the end of each sprint to allow for the team to succinctly report back process, align and make decisions on the next steps.


This is where we will discover, observe and take stock of the current issues of our tribe. Remember - it's about them. Take some time to contact loyal customers. Maybe your top 5%. Not in a survey. But in person, as a person (digitally or via a call). Divide up these customers and get each member of the SWAT team to call a bunch. Reach out and ask these customers if they would be open to a short call as your company is seeking to understand how best they can help and serve people in these times. If you don’t already have good relationships with a group of “champion” customers you may have to offer an incentive. To get the conversation started, have a few ideas of how you think you could help. Ask the customer: "If we did XY and Z would this be of interest?" Get the conversation going. If they say no, ask what would be of interest. If they say it is of interest then ask them what problems it would begin to solve for them. Also, ask them how they are currently trying to solve the problem. Take notes. Note similarities between customers. Basically you are looking to understand your current customer's (your "tribe"'s) pain so you can begin to work on removing it. Ask them if they would be happy to have another call in a day or so to follow up and give feedback on some ideas you will be developing for them.

Tip: if you don't have direct access to your customers try looking on forums to understand their current problems.


After completing Step 1 gather your team (obviously digitally - observing social distancing and all that). Ask everyone to present the top three pain points they had discovered. Synthesise what you have learnt. Group and categorise the various problems. For the main issues you have discovered, write out clear problem statements. A problem statement is a simple description of the pain the tribe is feeling. There’s no wrong or right way of defining a problem but for a suggested template try filling out the following:

Members of our tribe who are [customer description type] are experiencing [pain point] which means that [negative outcome]

Tip: don’t make the Pain point too wide (e.g. “suffering the societal effects of the Corona Virus”). Try and narrow down on the pain based on your research. After you have a few problem statements that aptly represent your research you will need to decide on one to solve. You can either do this via a vote (or a “Poll” on Zoom/Slack!) or get the CEO / MD to decide. Democracy or dictatorship. Make the decision quick though.


In this step, you’ll send your group off to work on coming up with solutions to the customer problem that has been decided upon. However, they are not to simply come back with a verbal description of their solution. In this stage, they need to make a 'low fidelity prototypes' which demonstrate how their ideas will work. This allows team members to begin to give a form to their abstract thinking. Get them to sketch out how the website would need to change, storyboard how the new service would work in reality, or build out examples in cardboard of what the new product or system might look like. The key here is that when the group comes back together they can really demonstrate their solution and walk the team through it. It does not need to be perfect but it does need to be an idea for a complete end to end solution to the problem. This 'prototyping' allows the group to focus on solutions and iron out major stumbling blocks early - improving ideas as they go. It allows them to 'make' and 'play' with their ideas as they form them. When the group comes together get each member to present their prototyped ideas. Ask:

  • Out of ten, how much value will this give our customers?

  • Out of ten, how easy would this be for us to implement?

From this session, you should have a number of new “pivot” ideas which you can filter. Ideally, you’d like to select a number of your highest scoring solutions to take through to the next sprint.


This is where you reach back out to your “champion” customers again. You may need to improve some of the prototypes so that it hey clearly demonstrate the solution - but run through a few of your ideas with the customers again. Explain the problem you uncovered and ask them if they like your solution idea. Why do they like it? Would they use/buy it? What don’t they like about it? What problems could they foresee? Again, take notes. Note similarities between customers. Come back together as a team and playback your findings. Revisit the scoring:

  • Out of ten, how much value will this give our customers?

  • Out of ten, how easy would this be for us to implement?

Hopefully, you’ll now have at least one brilliant idea. Verified by the tribe to be a solution to a problem. Adding value. Making your brand relevant. From here you can move on into the final Sprint.


This is where you get your SWAT team together for the final “pivot” sprint to plan out how you will deploy this new idea. Obviously this will depend on the idea and your setup. I would suggest though you map this out. Put in your key milestones. To keep nimble and limit risk think about how you could supply a minimum viable solution to test out the concept and the process - may be to a small group of interested customers. Customers are very forgiving at this time especially if you were to present the new idea as a new solution and request their feedback. Use this situation as an opportunity to iterate and improve. Fast. Quick. One other thing to think about is who can you partner with to get this solution to market faster? Taxi companies, for example, are feeling it - may be a local taxi firm would be an ideal distribution partner and you could help them pivot too. Get your marketing people on it. Tell the story. Set up the landing pages. Get to work. However you need to do it, map it out. Set your milestones and then mobiles your resources to your new pivot idea and start serving your tribe quickly and create value and relevance in these difficult times. So - I hope this helps and gives you a structure to find your pivot. Good luck and keep positive!


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