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Applying design thinking to business and international development

SOM prides itself on its integrated curriculum, which also bleeds over to clubs and other activities around Yale. After starting our Fall-2 core classes, our first foray into the SOM’s integrated curriculum, I have been incredibly impressed by how concepts have blended together, to the extent that it is almost hard to tell which class is which given the overlap in cases and coursework - all presented from differing perspectives (customer, competitor, investor, CFO, etc.). This overlap also overflows to SOM’s clubs and extracurricular activities. Last week, SOM’s Design and Innovation club sponsored a talk by one of 2012’s Yale World Fellows, Ayush Chauhan, Co-founder and Managing Director of Quicksand.

Quicksand is a “multi-disciplinary design and innovation consultancy working at the intersection of business, development, and culture.” Yale’s World Fellows program runs annually and its intent is to bring in world-class leaders and immerse them into the Yale community by acting both as teachers and mentors to students, while also taking advantage of the wealth of resources at Yale. Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to hear from Ayush and his company from its inception to its innovative design-thinking work with clients including the Gates Foundation, PATH, Unilever, and others.

Design thinking is often applied to product design, made famous by firms such as IDEO, which have used innovative techniques to ensure that the user is at the center of its designs. However, design thinking is also being applied to alternate fields including business, international development, and leadership. Leaning against a table, standing in front of a more intimate audience at the new Yale Center for Engineering and Innovation Design building, Ayush spoke about some of his projects in India. One project in particular was fascinating and made me think hard about how I have approached international development in the past. Ayush described the innovation process in creating solutions for UNDP to prevent the problem of open defecation in India. He talked at length about some of the problems of current toilet solutions, including long lines and an inefficient traffic flow. At the center of the discussion was the need to truly understand the user and to not have current thinking cloud future design. Instead, designers should really seek to understand the root causes of the problem and how users interact with products in their own environment and context. Many of these principles draw from the learnings in our MGT 411 Customer class, which advocate for a customer-centric view related to marketing, product design, and sales. The discussion spurred numerous internal thoughts about strategies working at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) and the need to not only develop products at a lower price-point, but to develop products resonate in the BOP context. I pondered numerous thoughts. How could I reconcile my behavioral economic learnings (which will be the primary focus of my International Experience trip to Indonesia) with design-thinking? Could design-thinking concepts truly be taken outside of the product development realm and applied to more esoteric problems or processes? Suddenly, I realized that the talk had concluded and I needed to go to Yale SOM Crew Practice.

As I walked to the crew tanks (where we simulate rowing on the water) at Payne Whitney Gym, I could not help but be thankful for my decision to come to Yale and take part in such an integrated curriculum and school – full of resources, leading thinkers, and great friends!