This Pakistani Shares How Design Thinking Can Solve An Economic Crisis During A Pandemic

By Shahnawaz Chughtai – CEO of Guddu Shani and Chief Consultant at Beetech

It’s just been a few days when I had drawn the following diagram to explain the need for innovation in business to explain it during one of my webinars about Design Thinking. It had three conventional stages of a business lifecycle

i- Beginning/Launch ii- Growth iii- Maturity.

Now just within a short time, I want to add a parallel as CRISIS/EMERGENCY.

As damaging as COVID-19 has been to businesses all over the world, as a Design Thinker, I dare to say that it may bring in many opportunities alongside. The Chinese word “wéi jī” (危机) suggests, when there is a danger (危), opportunities (机) emerge.

“The Best Business Breakthroughs Come From Moments of Doubt”

Design thinking has many functions to do in business, but I will stick to just three core values of it over here and will advise these to all business leaders. These leaders have to embrace this setback with a strong sense of resilience, and a deep belief that it is an excellent opportunity to accelerate towards a fitter business for an evolving Pakistan. Business leaders should not only look to rebuild their companies but to use this setback as a moment to reflect and recreate organizations that are human-centered and focused on listening and adapting to customers’ rapidly evolving needs.

This will help them become more competitive in generating more sustainable and longer-term growth. Extreme constraints will force these leaders to re-examine their leadership philosophies and ask new questions of their businesses.

These are three core values of design thinking and can be taken as a re-imagined role business leaders need to play:

1- THE ACCELERATOR: In Pakistan, a high number of companies have built their success on operational efficiency, allocating processes, and resources into independent functions and specializations. While these organizational structures have enabled these companies to be operationally competitive, it also makes them less agile to pivot from their core competencies in this unpredictable natural disaster causing a business crisis. The capacity for organizations to successfully create, embrace, and execute on new ideas is now more urgent than ever.

COVID-19 has created a reason for organizations to accelerate their transformation. They should use a new lens to reflect on their priorities during this extended “break.” The daily demand that has prevented change has suddenly disappeared. With that, these leaders now need to prepare their organizations to get comfortable with not knowing and becoming learning organizations that are capable of embracing issues that don’t initially make sense.

2- THE EXPLORER: “No one really knows what the future holds; industry norms change in times of crisis. People have lived differently over the past couple of days; new needs and desires are emerging from this new way of living. We are running the risk of our business being fundamentally disconnected from the market and workforce we are trying to serve. We need a renewed focus that has to start with the needs of the market.”

These are uncertain times for many business leaders as they navigate the “new normal,” but it is also a huge opportunity to shape new trends rather than reacting to them. Leaders should take a human-centered view to identify and solve emerging challenges, from having to manage a remote workforce to creating new contactless services for their customers. The human-centered design aims to understand people’s needs and hidden motivations, to discover insights that go beyond what is on the surface, and to identify opportunities that are underserved by existing products and services on the market.


3- THE OPTIMIZER: “Those who can survive this crisis will inherit a new market with fewer competitors and more customers. Now is the time for us to build on our strengths and find creative ways to scale and improve our existing business.”

These leaders should foresee a less competitive market in the not-too-distant future and may make bold bets to scale their businesses further. They should take a “wisdom of crowd” approach in finding new solutions: designing prototypes to gather input, to provoke new questions, and to develop through the ideation of crowd that may consist of users and design thinkers. This approach can create more systemic solutions that balance the needs of many, reduce the cost of doing dramatically, reset for more sustainable growth, and, perhaps most importantly, de-risk their investment in this uncertain future.

It is important to remember that industry in Pakistan has not even started a journey of the innovation economy. Many aspects of these leadership modes and behaviors can activate a more boldly long-term approach. It can trigger an economic miracle in this decade. It may produce an army of highly efficient companies in the country that may be able to produce goods & services that are comparable to the best in the world. The fact is that with the rising cost of doing and threatening diverged young workforce, many businesses have already recognized the need to reinvent themselves in this transforming economy.

We have to acknowledge that our next wave of growth will require acquiring skills that are not about being more efficient in solving problems of the past but solving those and new issues with an innovative mindset. Our inability to leverage digital technologies to inform, communicate, and problem-solve during this outbreak is a point of learning that we also need to be more tech-savvy to overcome such situations.

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