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Better Business Simulations through Design Thinking: Create Empathy for Users

By Dianne Miller and Emily Ricci - April 21, 2017

Following on our last post, let’s dive a bit deeper into the first rule of Design Thinking:

  • Create empathy for many users. Understand the experience that participants have as they encounter and address the challenge at hand on a purely human level.

Focus on Experience + Outcomes

We’ve seen many business simulations and other leadership development programs focused on telling people how to think or the ways they should perform differently, typically followed by providing an opportunity to practice in a prescribed environment. Rarely do we see organizations trying to deeply understand the experience their people have as they encounter and address issues on a purely human level.

Instead of asking, “What results are important?” design thinking, when applied to an effective experiential learning model, asks, “Who are the users? What experiences are they having every day? What biases do they have? How would they behave if they experienced the problem (and solution) differently?”

Design thinking has the unique ability to generate deep empathy for the user. This is why you’ll often hear design thinking coupled with the terms “human-centered design” and “user empathy.” When you generate true user empathy, you not only solve the right problems, but you solve them in ways that drive real value and business transformation.

Users vs. Learners

Conventional leadership development organizations sometimes use the words “user” and “learner” synonymously. We've learned that this mixing of terms is not only incorrect, but that it subtly gives learning and development professionals the permission to speak on behalf of their learners.

While learning and talent development teams might be able to define the surface characteristics of a target population, we’ve learned that speaking for them is never as good as actually talking to the learners themselves. In design thinking, your goal is to connect with human beings directly, not make assumptions based on a compilation of surveys and assessments.

At The Regis Company, we define “users” as anyone who has something to lose or gain from an experiential learning program. If we limit the meaning of “users” to learners, we’re effectively examining just one group in a vacuum, putting us at risk for overlooking who affects the learner’s performance, who challenges them, to whom they relate, and how their learning is generally enabled. Expanding the definition of “user” to include other groups helps to better predict what will make a program successful. In summary, we find there isn’t just one “user” but multiple user personas.  

In our next post, we’ll explore the benefits of divergence before convergence and why it’s important to resist the urge to reach consensus as quickly as possible.


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