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Design-centered Entrepreneurship: creating the products and services customers will love

Design-centered Entrepreneurship: creating the products and services customers will love

By Dr. Min Basadur, Basadur Applied Creativity and Dr. Mike Goldsby, Ball State University

Innovation is the driver of business growth, but there is little guidance on how to make it happen.  Yet, we know it happens in successful companies, because we read about the exploits of business mavericks every day in the paper.  How can they do it while others struggle so much?  Perhaps they have access to research labs and scientists that the average company doesn't.  But we know this isn't true.  Fledgling biotech companies close their doors every year because they couldn't develop a new product the market wanted.  Maybe they have more money to throw at ideas.  If this was the case, the same companies would always remain at the top, but that doesn't happen either.

So if it isn't about resources, then maybe it's simply about brainpower.  Might breakthroughs happen because some companies are led by geniuses who have the uncanny ability to see opportunities others can’t?  Maybe their brains are simply wired differently, and the best solution is to lure those geniuses to your company.  Fortunately, our research and experience with innovation over the years proves this isn’t true either.  After working with many students and businesses, we have found that anyone with the right attitudes and skills applying an effective process can create innovative products.

An even better finding is that these attitudes, skills, and processes can be learned and applied in any setting.  And the best insight is that you don't have to be blessed with money to make money.  You just have to be patient in learning how to apply a time tested methodology for creating products and services customers will love.  

Design-Centered Entrepreneurship (DCE) is a process that adapts a proven creative problem solving process to entrepreneurial pursuits.   DCE helps entrepreneurs and companies create new products and services by solving their real customers' real problems.  It identifies who the real customer is the company must win over for a sale, what that customer's real problem is, and then provides guidance on designing a solution that will delight this customer. These three elements are the design part of DCE.  The concluding stage of DCE is the creation of a "get to market" strategy to deliver the solution to the customer.  Challenges and obstacles that must be overcome in getting to market are addressed in this stage as well.  Essentially, the DCE approach sees entrepreneurship as a creative problem solving process of designing a winning solution for the customer (problem finding and problem solving) and then delivering that solution to the market (solution implementation).  It is a helpful process for anyone trying to create new sources of revenue and value, whether that person is in a startup, a Fortune 500 company, or a non-profit. 

Imagine a creative approach that helps your business thrive in your chosen market by solving problems no one has figured out yet.  Think about it.  A company dedicated to finding and solving the problems in the world around it.  It’s quite a vision, and it’s one you can build by developing the skills and applying the process in this book.  Our entrepreneurial approach is right for where the world is today.  It prepares you for an economy and world where empathy, creativity, smart risk taking, and savvy execution are needed to thrive and flourish.  It’s an approach that helps you take charge of your future and connect deeply to the world around you, just as an entrepreneur should do every day.

We base our methodology on the premise that entrepreneurial activity is first and foremost about creative problem solving.  No matter how great your technology or idea, if it does not solve an important problem for enough people, you have little chance for success.  However, with very limited means but the right insights, you can build a successful business.

This perspective is wonderfully evidenced in a book by Clifton L. Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger. Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Lessons From an Unlikely Entrepreneur, tells the story of Taulbert’s Uncle Cleve.  Uncle Cleve was an unlikely entrepreneur during the Jim Crow days in the Mississippi Delta.  While his neighbors were working in the cotton fields, Uncle Cleve ran a successful icehouse business.  How was he fortunate enough to live a more prosperous life than his contemporaries?  He knew that opportunities existed within problems.  As Taulbert recollects:

 “At the time, I didn’t view Uncle Cleve’s ownership of the Ice House as a solution to a problem.  I simply saw it as a good business for him and a great job for me.  Looking back, I now know that at some point along the way, before his business materialized, an opportunity existed within a problem. Everybody needed ice. The heat in the delta was overwhelming and the humidity was everywhere.  Without ice for cold water to keep food from spoiling, life would have been unbearable (page 27).”

Like Taulbert’s Uncle Cleve, solving the problems of your target customers and then offering ways to solve your company’s own problems in getting to market is paramount.  You may find it odd to talk about innovation and problem solving in the same breath.  For most people, problem solving is a distasteful task they have to do when something goes wrong.  By contrast, most people think of innovation as an exciting pursuit that results in something new.  Yet innovation is actually a problem solving process.  Innovation begins when you recognize a challenge your customers are facing.  It happens further when you design a breakthrough solution for meeting the challenge.  And it ends when you provide your solution.  From that premise, a successful business can be built.

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