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7 Takeaways from Google's Design Thinking Workshop for Entrepreneurs

Who better to learn from than the best in the world?

As an organization, Google is one of the all-time best at Design Thinking. It’s a tool they use to change the world, and one they regularly teach – for FREE – to anyone who feels like stopping by their NYC Learning Center.


Grow with Google is a program that hosts free workshops, coaching, and events on 21st century skills, job search strategies, using Google apps, and much more. The Grow with Google NYC Learning Center was supposed to open for just 5 months from April to August 2019, but due to incredible demand, they’re still going strong.


Being a nerd for topics like Innovation, Design Thinking, Startups, and more, I recently attended their Design Thinking for Entrepreneurs workshop.


Here's Google's description of the course:

“Discover how to create a collaborative environment where everyone is responsible for design. You will go through design challenges and sprints that can be incorporated into any workplace or startup to unlock creativity and innovative thinking.”

In a minute I’ll be sharing the points that really stuck with me, but first I have to commend Google on a few points:


  • First, it's amazing that they offer this workshop at all, but it's also in-person, in a beautifully Google-y facility — for FREE. It's one thing to give away free merch or donate, but like the old "teach a man to fish" maxim, the best way to give back is often to teach.

  • The class attracts an incredibly diverse group of learners. There were attendees from around the world, at various stages of the entrepreneurial journey, and no two businesses were the same. It was eye-opening hearing others’ stories, perspectives, and ideas.

  • The content itself is, of course, well thought-out and extremely valuable. More on that in a moment.

  • They had free snacks.


For those in the New York area, I highly recommend attending in-person, but if you’re too far or want to know what to expect first, here are my biggest takeaways:


1.) Design Thinking is both a mindset and a process

Design Thinking is not just a tool for creating cool, marketable things. It’s a problem-solving paradigm. It’s where actual user needs intersect with commercial opportunities or priorities, implemented in boundary-pushing, creative, commercially viable ways.


Google's Design Thinking process has 5 steps:


  1. Empathize

  2. Define

  3. Ideate

  4. Prototype

  5. Test


2.) Empathize with your user

The first step of the innovation process is to observe the end user, engage with them, and immerse yourself in their world and way of thinking. (This should sound familiar for those in the Startup world.)


Don’t make assumptions. You need to understand who they are – through interviews, surveys, research, etc. – and their pain points. Key insights should start bubbling up, which leads to our next step…


3.) Define

Once you’ve connected with users, their stories, and their emotions, you should have a good sense of where their biggest, most frustrating problems are hiding.


Analyze your observations and synthesize them into a problem statement, which is a valuable, insightful statement around the pain point.


The key is to understand what the problem is and why it’s a problem. The better the insight, the better your starting point. As the old saying goes:

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” — John Dewey

Importantly, you’re not having the user tell you what to build. Users are not great at proposing features. But they are great at telling you about a problem, pain point, or need, around which you can build solutions.


4.) How to craft an insightful problem statement

Here’s a great way to create an insightful problem statement: identify your user, explain their need or problem, and provide your insight around why it’s such a difficult problem.


Operationally, this looks like:


[User] is a [characteristic] who needs [user need] because [insight].


For my example, being a burgeoning motorcycle enthusiast, I chose a common concern among all riders: minimizing risk while riding.


Here’s my problem statement from class:


Larry is a motorcycle rider who needs to feel safe on his bike because he refuses to stop riding but is increasingly worried about getting hurt.


5.) Here’s the fun part: Ideate

This is where you engage in unfiltered, unrestrained brainstorming, aka “Blue Sky thinking.” Google famously encourages 10x thinking to coax out bigger, bolder ideas and solutions. Brainstorming with others always helps, allowing for more divergent thinking and collaboration.


Generate lots of solutions, build off others’ ideas, and be as crazy and creative as you can. With the proper encouragement you should be able to generate an effectively endless number of possible solutions.


If you find yourself struggling at this step, revisit your prompt and definition of the problem. Remember: better problem statements allow for better solutions.


6.) Turn your ideas into action

It's time to create a prototype. Narrow down your options until you land on a workable solutions. Draw out or craft what's possible, and then work toward a functional prototype. You're looking for a quick and dirty Minimum Viable Product (MVP), described by our facilitator as “a very basic, fully-functioning version of your product that you can put in front of users.” This is another great parallel to the Startup world. Once you have a workable MVP, it’s time to….


7.) Test, test, and test again

Your engagement with the end user isn’t limited to just identifying their pain points and beaning them with a finished product. You need to bring them back into the fold to test your MVP.


Your users or customers test, experiment with, and provide feedback on your MVP, and then you refine and alter it as needed. This is an iterative process, and you repeat it over and over until you've refined your MVP into something with real commercial value.

The workshop was invaluable for Design Thinking rookies, but might have been too high level for practitioners. But no matter your level of experience, these themes extend far beyond product development.


The recipe for a successful endeavor starts with the end user, client, or customer. Get in the weeds to understand what makes them tick and what problems they have. Build solutions, be creative, follow through, and pivot as needed, and you're well on the way to creating true value.


P.S. — If you enjoyed this and want more content on Innovation, Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, and Startups, subscribe to my newsletter below!

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