How Design Thinking Can Help Your Clients With Their Retirement Goals

It’s not that you are asking clients to think outside the box, it’s that you are asking your clients to build an entirely different box. Allowing for clients to feel uncomfortable with that process can help them loosen up to be more creative.

One of the most talked about business tools in 2018 may be design thinking.  It’s a shift in how companies and people think through problem solving.  Design thinking imports the principles for design and architecture into business and personal planning. How is it different? It flips the problem solving to zero in on the problem instead of the solution. It’s an iterative process of drilling down into what the exact nature of the problem might be. Iterative here meaning, a series of questioning elements of the problem to further refine it.  For example, a couple might complain about not having enough time together. They could drill down into what spending time together might look like, say, eating dinner together and continue to drill down into what prevents them from sharing a meal. It could be as simple as picking up healthy takeout once or twice a week, or it could be totally different – say, the couple doesn’t have a workable kitchen table to share a meal.

Considered the leader on design thinking, Evelyn Williams asks that leaders get into the details and make solutions, instead of focusing on theoretical approaches to a particular problem. Her extensive research backs up this innovative approach with measurable results in sustainable business performance. She focuses on the hands on approach to problem solving, providing the rock, paper and scissors to decision makers to construct a model of a solution, rather than asking them to duke it out with those options. Her focus is to get decision makers, and those they collaborate with, to literally see the solutions, to touch the possible answers, and to form a model of the new approach.

The crux of design thinking, as a problem solving tool, is that it’s much more concrete and therefore evocative in how people react to it. Because it’s so hands on and creative, it can be a method for clients to find utterly non-linear answers to their problems ASB Bank in New Zealand used design thinking to develop video banking applications for mobile devices. Design thinking gets clients, and advisors, out of the problem solving approach based on performance or activity and into the tactile, hands-on details. Because it’s focused on hands-on, and specifically, on the tactile, the results of problem solving via design thinking help reduce complexity in systems, like 401(k) onboarding programs or retirement calculators, into more intuitive systems.

Design thinking relies on physical models plus the iterative approach to disengage linear thinking about a problem and its solution. By taking on a physical model, usually a diagram or sketch, elements involved in the problem lose their attachment to each other, and it becomes easier to change multiple items. Some folks use prototypes to engage design thinking.  Having client draw or diagram both the problem, as well as its solution is one method of using a prototype. Advisors may already be using elements of this approach by proposing multiple options to clients, or soliciting feedback on the user experience to upgrade its dashboards for employees. The difference with design thinking is to get the employees or clients to play with prototypes and suggest changes themselves.

How can financial advisors encourage clients to collaborate with them to solve problems using design thinking? Here are a few tips:

           Emphasize the iteration: The main idea of design thinking is to continue to strip down the question, and its potential solutions, to find roadblocks and identify new solutions. To do that, clients need to be encouraged to continue to ask and answer. Even more importantly, they need to be encouraged to fail in their answers, as finding out what doesn’t work (and why) is critical to finding new approaches.

           Simple is better: The easier a solution is to use, deploy or adapt, the better the solution probably is. Remember that the whole idea behind design thinking is to make complex topics, like financial planning, as simple and easy to use as possible. Simple, in this context, is more human.

           Allow for risk aversion: While the goal of design thinking is to get at new answers the process itself may feel too new or odd for many clients, and the idea of thinking in a collaborative and physical way may be too much. It’s not that you are asking clients to think outside the box, it’s that you are asking your clients to build an entirely different box. Allowing for clients to feel uncomfortable with that process can help them loosen up to be more creative.

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