Michael Koegel is involved with Impact Week as a Design Thinking Lead Coach and Organiser. Impact Week helps students in emerging economies see the challenges in their environment as entrepreneurship opportunities. He was previously at SAP AppHaus as a Design Strategist for 16 years driving human-centred digital transformation projects through co-innovation and design thinking. Currently, he is an independent consultant helping corporations design strategies through human-centred digital transformation via innovation and design thinking process.
Dibesh Dangol interviewed Michael Koegel during his visit to Kathmandu for Impact Week Nepal 2019 and Nepal Communitere’s event to know more about the Impact Week programmes, the concept and process of design thinking, and the sectors in Nepal he thinks have entrepreneurial opportunities. Excerpts
What’s the main motive behind holding Impact Week programmes? How is it different from other incubation programmes?
The main motive that started from the founders five years ago was to give back what he learned in terms of entrepreneurship and design thinking to the youth and countries which have high rate of youth unemployment and show them that they can see opportunities in the challenges they see in their countries and communities as a way to create change and also as a way to create businesses that can create more jobs for youths along with creating change in the society.
Impact week contributes towards promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging economies like Nepal as the basis for sustainable growth. With the help of the design thinking method, local students and young professionals are empowered to develop business ideas of their own and solutions to solve problems in their local or wider community. Impact Week basically spreads through personal connections. The more Impact Weeks we do, the more people invite us through connections and we come to their universities. For Nepal, it started with Aman Bhattarai who is working for zeroG – a Lufthansa Group company – as Senior Consultant and is originally from Kathmandu, and Tilo Hillmer who I met during the first Impact Week held in Kenya. Tilo came with the idea to hold an Impact Week in Nepal and Aman created the network with King’s College and other sponsors. It took almost a year to adapt the whole programme here and finally we did it. It was lot of fun.
I consider the intercultural and intercompany aspect that we bring in like junior coaches from around the world and the other half of the people we are training from the company such as faculty or NGO members different from other programmes. They work together as an international team creating new actions and networks which helps us with funding of the overall programme. The real difference however is that Impact Week programmes are totally non-profit. So, we don’t have an incubator that invests in start-ups and we get money from. It’s totally voluntary work. Our expectation is that within three years these countries will be able to run the programme by themselves. For the first three years, we run the programme. We get hold of local junior coaches and train them in the second year along with local organisation team taking more of the work already. We train another batch of local people and bring less from the international side in the third year. And from the third year, the branch of organisation in the country should be running the programmes by themselves. We have seen that process working very well in Africa.
During your visit to Nepal, what opportunities have you seen in Nepal’s economy and would suggest to students and young entrepreneurs?
We from Impact Week don’t directly suggest the challenges that the students work on. We always identify it together with our local university and NGO partners because they are the people of the country and they know best what the country needs. We only bring in our method, design and teaching knowledge and we define the content together with our local partners which is lead by them.
Agricultural sector is a potential sector and there is a huge opportunity for youths to fill the void in this sector because there are only few farmers. There are also opportunities in the industrial and mobility sector and I think a lot of changes can be brought into these sectors in Nepal.
What are the pressing local and national level challenges Impact Week has found in Nepal?
Being able to grow Nepal’s economy by using the national manpower is one pressing challenge I have found in Nepal because a lot of youth are going to foreign countries. So the country’s government need to find ways to stop this brain-drain by providing them opportunities to innovate and work in Nepal itself.
In design thinking process, we see the challenges from a very broad perspective and we ask the students to really go out and talk to the people on the streets that are really affected by those problems. After that, they come up with many different solutions, choose the suitable one, build a prototype and go back to the streets to test if people prefer their idea/solution. We believe in working together with the people to define and solve the problem. This process can also be used by the government to identify and solve problems the people are facing in the country.
Globally what are today’s start-ups doing right and what are the elements they are getting wrong?
Lots of start-ups are always striving to be the next unicorn. It’s all about growth and money. What we try to do differently is that we are taking a sustainable and community thinking process. Not every start-up needs to create thousands of jobs and make billions of dollars. Creating many small start-ups that have a base to survive and create a change is also valuable. If the company grows, a lot of the money goes to investor pockets because the company is dependent on the money taken from the investors. So, if the start-ups stay smaller and connected to the community, you’ll also look more independent.
What is your definition of design thinking?
My definition of design thinking is based mainly on the mindset of bringing people together from different backgrounds. Our student teams also come from different faculties. It’s a process but also a way of working in a space where people can put a lot of ideas on the walls, work for extended hours, change on how they think and do more of the work from the brain than hands. It’s more about nurturing people regarding ‘go ahead and do it’ mindset.
I think the concept hasn’t changed too much but it’s also becoming more common in the corporate world. The trend I see is that design thinking is often considered as a quick fix which is not true. It’s not only about one or two day workshops that will solve the problems. In the design thinking process, it is really about the hard-work that happens between the workshops. So, that’s why we don’t accept half-day workshops because they can only give you a glimpse of understanding the problem and that isn’t enough time to deeply understand people’s needs and define solutions. The four days that we give the students during Impact Week programmes is still very stressful for them, but it’s a reasonable time for them to understand and develop an idea to solve the problem.
Technologically, nowadays people have more tools that can help them to operate online and design thinking is happening in remote teams as well. But, in the beginning, the team members need to be together in a room for a couple of days to build up personal relationship and create a common understanding about the project they are working on and only then they can work remotely. If they just work remotely, I don’t believe that can be very effective.
What does the process of design thinking look like?
Design thinking process has six phases. It starts with understanding and bringing the team together so that they can share their knowledge on the problem they are tackling. The next phase is observing phase where the team members go out in the streets, talk to the people who are affected by the same problems and learn more about the problems. After observing is synthesis phase in which the team members again meet after public observation, share their knowledge and condense it to a problem statement. Next phase is to ideate again and develop the solution because the problems the team members thought are the pressing ones might not be the same for the general public. They might find another pressing problem through which they can have an opportunity to change or modify their current idea to solve the problem. In the fifth phase, the team members make a prototype of their solution/idea. To see how they can actually implement their solution or how could they at least define the solution in a way so they can take it back to the users to get their feedbacks and check whether they are going on the right direction is the final or testing phase.
Impact Week isn’t guiding start-ups per say. We are guiding students or young entrepreneurs to identify local problems and create solutions via starting a project or start-up. For the guiding and developing part, we collaborate with local incubators and we only help the students to run through the whole design thinking process during Impact Week challenge programme. We also encourage students to use our funding for their idea to create a start-up team. But for further development, it’s done with collaboration with local incubators. Sometimes, junior coaches who are very attached to their teams become their advisor. So, the guiding part happens locally.
Can design thinking and traditional quantitative market research co-exist?
Yes, of course because design thinking is used in very early phases of problem definition. If people or companies already have a clear definition or starting to identify the solution very clearly, they want to go out and say how they can scale it, and where is the new market that they can possibly penetrate or which other types of users can we attract, then traditional quantitative market research also goes hand in hand with design thinking. Design thinking usually relies on quantitative researches in the earlier stages to identify the problem and storytelling because the team needs to know what questions they need to ask and observe people regarding the trends or problems to get an understanding about their agendas and direction.
How does design thinking co-exist with emerging innovation paradigms such as working directly with lead users and crowd-sourcing?
Both lead users and crowd-sourcing are involved in the design thinking process. When team members are to go for surveys in the second phase of design thinking process, they’ll already have an idea about whom they want to observe, interview or communicate with. So, if the team wants to communicate with a wider range of people regarding their product or solution, they can do it through crowd-sourcing which is an internet-enabled process, whereas lead users adapt or modify the product beyond its limits to meet their needs. This relates with the fourth phase of design thinking process only if the team members want lead users to help them ideate change or modify their own solution.