In this episode we speak to Terry Behan, an expert in the application of design thinking to solve real issues. He shares with us some interesting projects where design has allowed him to pivot, and he defines the measurement of success on design projects.

Terry is currently the executive director of innovation and business design at Nedbank. He has been working in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East for more than 20 years. For the past 10 years, his focus has been on design entrepreneurship, where he has set up and owned many design businesses. This has brought him to his current position as part of a larger, corporate team, looking at design innovation across retail banking.

Terry talks about some successful design thinking projects he has been involved in, as well as others where design thinking wasn’t executed well, and the reasons for both. He talks about the lessons he learnt on some successful projects executed in Africa, and how really understanding the underlying motivations for customer behaviour is what will differentiate you.

Terry shares some of his views on the current education system in South Africa, and how this needs to evolve to better equip children for the future of work. Terry and his team have rolled out an Edutech platform based on an 18-month research project where the challenge was to understand how teachers and learners really learn new skills.

We talk about how Terry is experiencing the reaction of corporate executives to design thinking and the ambiguity that surrounds it. He talks about how he is helping those exco members to adopt design thinking as a method to find out and execute on solutions in the absence of proof of success. He shares some tips on how to go about getting executive management on board to implement and support design thinking in organisations, and how to ensure that its a long term investment across an organisation where everyone is living and breathing design thinking daily.

Terry gives practical insight into the process Nedbank has employed to ensure the ongoing development of design thinking at an operational and executive level, and what the team is doing to master the craft.

In closing Terry shares his views on trends and maturity levels in the design thinking space, and what he sees as the future of design thinking, both globally and locally.

If you are unfamiliar with design thinking, listen to episode 1, where we discuss the methods and mindsets of design thinking and clear up some of the terminology.

The conversation with Terry:

Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading Design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac Media.

Today I’m talking with Terry Behan, an expert in the application of design to solve real issues. He shares some really interesting projects design allowed them to pivot and he also defines the measurement of success on design projects.

S: I’m sitting with Terry Behan here today and he is executive director of Innovation and Business design at Nedbank here in South Africa. Terry I think just for the audience could you possibly just give us a little bit of background first in terms of where you have come from? What you have experienced from a design thinking perspective and how it landed you up where you are today and yeah we will dig a little deeper with that.


T: You can tell by the accent I’m not South African. I was born on the cold but green shore of Ireland. And spent a number of years there. But I’ve been really working in and around sub Saharan Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia for about 20 years. Based in Johannesburg. My background academically is in Design Strategy at Parsons in New York with a couple other post graduate degrees to kind of support that. And my role has so much been a sort of a design entrepreneur  certainly for the past 10 years where I have either set up and owned a series of design businesses. Or as I am currently blessed enough to be part of a fairly large team at Nedbank. Looking at design innovation across the retail bank environment.


S: So in terms of projects that you are busy with currently or previously in the businesses that you are involved with, are there any things that you could highlight that are successes from a design thinking perspective where you think it really worked well? And even possibly the ones you felt like design thinking wasn’t a great application and didn’t really execute terribly well on the project?


T: Yeah I mean sure. I have been blessed enough to have a career that can expand to a lot of different territories. Both in Sub Saharan Africa the most exciting work that’s been on the continent. And a couple of years ago we did a very interesting project for Orange in Kenya. And their brief was a really simple one which was we wanna really talk to young people. We wanna design a product that is going to resonate with the youth market. Having at that point had studied a bit of design. Starting to serve really at the early stages a really a solo design thinking approach because what’s really the underlying reasons people use a particular thing. Academically I think the precariat of this was a guy called Clay Christensen, who speaks about the jobs to be done. What’s a job a product is used for? Why did someone hire that product? Why would they fire that product? And this is a very interesting time because Orange is a very relatively big global player in telecom but very small Kenya, maybe 8-10% market share. We realized that one of the underlying territories, the underlying reasons young people use data in that market was street dance. 

And what would happen was that the data had allowed street dance crews to shoot videos of themselves doing their moves and then they would send them to other street dance crews and they would challenge them. So data had created this big up swing in street dance culture in East Africa, specifically in Kenya. We kind of tapped into this and decided to combine the design process that we following but the real key insight was that you cannot sell data just for the sake of data. You got to understand the real reasons people are using it. On that basis you gonna take it forward. So we packaged this thing together which was really one of the first multi cider platforms that we had seen and that we had put together on the continent. We were able to connect street dance crews with their voters where they would vote for the top street dance crew and they would go to TV series. Vote on Monday, decide on Wednesday, live broadcast on Friday, air on Saturday night. And it was a very very tight cycle but it was very interesting, some really interesting lessons to the design processes. Something I practiced quite a lot when I was doing research creation where you can take any idea. You can have all the right design etiquette behind it but when you put it in the market and too fresh people don’t know what it is. So we built this model and this technical platform to support it and deploy it in the market and nothing happened. I was like what’s going on? And I was getting phone calls from the senior guys at Orange in Paris and they weren’t particularly really happy.

We realized very quickly that when something is new people wanna see other people use it before they use it. We have to check another scenario. So you have to go out and engineer the first couple of experiences. Share those quite widely with your audience. And then people respond really quickly. And then that thing just took off with 2.5 million users for 6 weeks and it crashed. The systems crashed a couple of times which is not a measure of success but it was for us. It did really well. So I think there is lots of, and that was something we learnt by being on the streets. So one of the things I have observed over the years in both teaching design at a MBA level and also practicing it is that you can not solve the world with a bunch of post its on the wall. You got to get into the market, validate your assumptions, validate your thinking and talk to people and really see and kind of hands on. So that kind of worked really well. And then there was something more interesting that we did locally in the last 24 months in South Africa, which was really looking at education. And education from different perspectives. And one of those perspectives was to say that there has been a big up swing in terms of edu tech space. But that up swing in edu tech has really been built off a failed model. Which is the current education system.

The current education systems in many countries hasn’t really evolved since the 1930s. Sorry, the 1830s. A group got together called the committee of 10 and said we are about to go through an industrial revolution, we need young people to come into the workforce who are specifically trained in a certain way. They know how to repeatedly do the same thing. That is why we learn by route. That is why a classroom is structured the way it is structured. But now we are gonna transfer into a very different economic cycle. In the sense that’s really no longer valid. But most of the edu tech platforms in the market are supporting that. They are like we will help you be better at doing the same thing. So we are taking a slightly different approach and really through a process of deep interrogation into emerging markets in South Africa specifically we’re gonna come around the conclusion that we may not be teaching the right thing to our children. So build that with a group of very talented engineers and designers that are quite geographically spread and a team based in Johannesburg but also in Korea, New York and Prague is a sort of education platform to teach kids, but also teachers to teach something called the 4Cs.

So the 4Cs are creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. 

One of the few things that experts of inside and outside of the educational system agree on is that the 4Cs are critical as we go forward in the fourth industrial revolution and these are the critical skills that young people need because many of the things we currently do by route and that translates in the working role is what you are kind of well paid, sort of low skilled middle fast labour are gonna disappear very very quickly. Not necessarily the plumbers, electricians and people that are hard core artisanal skills are gonna do better. But that sort middle is gonna drift off. And our children are gonna need skills where they can collaborate professionally at a young age, they can solve problems, they can creatively think and they can critically apply. So we started to build a platform in the technology bill to execute against that. That was built off an 18 month research process. We really went in and said how do teachers learn new skills? We figured they learn from other teachers so we got the bill back into the platform. How do kids learn from other kids and teachers? So instead of having to rethink some of the educational processes from the bottom up. And that’s been an exciting journey, so I think it’s been a lot of new thinking in the design space in the last couple of years. Which is really kind of taken design and design thinking out of the boardroom out of the workshop environment and onto the streets. I think it’s a very positive one. I think when you are able to kind of combine that level of insight instead of taking those redefined skills hitting the street and applying them in sort of a real time environment you really get awesome results.


S: You can see the value.


T: Absolutely.


S: So in terms of Nedbank and the businesses that you are working with currently right now, how do the executives at the top level of these organizations accept design thinking? This ambiguity that design thinking has around it and design in particular it doesn’t always, from the conversations that we are having, give them that kind of certainty of success. How do you get them to adopt this as a method in terms of finding out and executing on solutions?


T: It’s not an easy thing to do, you have to give trumps to the senior leadership at Nedbank the incredible embracing of it. Because they have sort of seen the value of it at a very early stage. So when you are trying to learn design and sort of establish enterprise out scale there is a lot you got to take into consideration. First of all you got to build idea methodology. And the challenge with design thinking is if you google design thinking and you click on images what are you gonna see? You’re gonna see the same 4-5 stage process again and again and again. There is no evidence of a success. The only piece of work I have ever seen. I think that sort of played out socially is the FMRI machine that a kid sits in, that’s got stickers in it. There is no insufficient, interesting things. If you google architecture what do you see? Building. So you see the evidence of the craft. That’s one of the challenges we have with design thinking. It’s not open to critique so you don’t see the evidence of it and you can’t critique the evidence of it in the business world, in academia. So you’re gonna have to do a few things. The first thing is you got to build your own process. I think the process that everyone subscribes to is very entry level and it doesn’t have depth to it. And it’s a good starting point. It’s a good lift off point for a one day workshop. But you have to kind of detail a much stronger process that you can own. 

One of the first things I think what we did here was we got to go with the business at scale and we said we got to learn design as a critical skill and critical capability within the retail banking environment. What we wanna do it with you. So help us build this process. We are not gonna force it on you, we are not gonna tell you what it is, we are gonna work it out with you. And together we built what we call, with some consulting parties as well but a world design process. And then we started the hard work which is implying that into critical innovation projects in the bank on a frequent basis. We were 48-50 at any given time. To do that you got this constant ebb and flow between the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. But most importantly in an established enterprise you always need that executive mandate and executive support to do that. We have been really blessed in this business in that we  have both the Chief Digital Officer Ray Naicker and the head of retail  business Ciko Thomas. Two amazing human beings that both want to see change happen socially in South Africa, economically in South Africa and from a business point of view within the bank. 

And they know what standard design brings so they know you are gonna have pitfalls along the journey. So our job is to really honor the process that we worked on to work with our colleagues and the rest of the bank. Equally so to roll up and get our hands dirty. You can not design solutions for customers from inside the boardroom. So you got to hit the streets, you got to talk to people, you got to be in the market and design with your user. But equally so you got to involve the rest of your organization in that process as well. And you got to deliver success. So if you talk you design now, in lead institutes like Stanford, the D school, MIT, Parsons or the Royal College of Arts in London, there is a tops and a tails to the process that’s evolved quite dramatically. The front desk of the business is design. So we are rethinking about the business modeling around what you are doing and how you are doing it. That’s something that we face a lot of emphasis on, because you can design the depth out of something but you haven’t reformed the business model upfront you maybe just designing another product in a category that is already saturated. So how reinventing those business models is critical to the future of financial services and critical to the future of many product categories, specifically banking. And then at the backend of that process we talk about that commercialization. You have to be from a design point of view where the commercial success of the product.

Otherwise you lack and lose support over time. You can not just design something that is not used by people. The definition of a disruptive product is not the idea, it’s the uptake. So nothing is disruptive until people use it at scale. There is no such thing as a disruptive idea. Ideas are ideas. What is disruptive is people acknowledging that by buying or using your product at scale in the market and that’s disruptive. You got to make sure not just redesign the business model, develop a great product. Do the digital aspects of that, the UIDX but you also have to figure out how to enter the market. How to ensure that you can get that product where it needs to be and put it in the hands of users that they want to use it. That is an end to end process that is incredibly important. so you can’t just from a design point of view retreat into the studio do what is perceived to be great work and then pray someone else will take it forward. You have to own the process. I think that’s certainly something that the business is requested of us. And it’s kind of something that we believe we are up to the task for and something we wanna do. Because it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you learn that process to help transform the organization. Banking is going through a massive transformation process globally; it’s no different in South Africa infect even tougher in South Africa. Because you have got very large institutions. You have got a few of them and they are all fighting over what’s technically a very small market. 50 million people. Middle class 6.6 or 5.2 million with a very very small tax base. You know there is, it’s a big country but it’s not a big market. So you really have to think carefully about what you are building and why you are building it before you go ahead and do it.


S: So interestingly enough in the beginning you were talking about putting design into an organizational scale and getting as many people, giving them access to this I’m assuming at a scaled version of accessibility. So how do you see them taking on these mindsets and the principles of design carrying them forward, but then also maintaining that? Because I think if you are not practicing design on an ongoing basis it’s very often that you can fall back into the old way of doing things. So how do you keep that fresh with a scaled team?


T: That’s a really interesting question, I think we ponder on a very frequent basis. I think you got to set it up correctly. You certainly can’t be shy. There is an old Xhosa saying that says closed minds don’t get fed. So you have to stand there and go, this is design, this is the value of a house it’s gonna get delivered in the following way. And to that end, my colleagues at Nedbank have been quite exceptional. We are the only bank in the country that’s hosting design week every year. We take over most of the building. We have hosted 15 master classes, with the auditorial sections with almost mini design Indaba inside the organization to kick it off. And then we have practitioners, subject matter experts, who own different phases of the design process that showed it out widely within the organization. And then you got to manage that on a day to day basis. And that is the hard part because it’s easier to show up at a seminar or at a workshop or at a training session. It’s another thing to live and breathe  that on a daily basis. 

It’s like it’s a tug of war. It’s like 10 people at the end of the rope and there is just you as the lone designer or the design practitioner at that particular given moment in time. And often you just can’t win those fights. So sometimes we say to the guys, you know you don’t have to win every battle. It’s ok, let go off the rope and your magic words i will get back to you. Which means you retreat, you go back to your colleagues and design team you say look I’m having this particular challenge what do I do? How would you counsel me and please come and help me if necessary. And then the real answer is just deliver good products in the market that scale and show results. The more you do that the more support you get. There has to be a correlation between the value of design and what it delivers. And that can be a social product and a commercial product. It doesn’t necessarily always have to be about the money. The metrics could be different but you have to deliver it against those metrics. So if you are not, it will weigh in over time and you will not get the support as long as it will not scale on your organization and it will retreat into a small studio in the basement where the creatives go every Friday afternoon to have a beer and that’s not gonna work because that’s not what the market needs. 

The market needs design at executive level in most organizations to help it to reframe, rethink, reimagine the future. And they deliver practical solutions that can help it get there. And depending on their organization its the bell curve, that’s who is good at that who is not good at it. Certainly in the time that I have spent within this organization and partnering into all of this. They have always had what they want. But be careful what you ask for. We will give it to you. We give you what you want but you better deliver it. So we don’t have a problem here around design not having a seat at the table which is a common complaint when we listen to podcasts, the envisioned podcast, and the good podcast series. You often hear design leaders talking a lot about design not having a seat at the table. That is not a challenge in this organization. They have a seat at the table. Almost every table that’s around. What do you do with it when you are there? How do you mature it? How do you honor that? How do you respect the institution that gave you that opportunity? How do you take it forward? And that’s the kind of stuff that we ponder on a daily basis. 


S: Do you see in the couple of years that you have been doing this now at Nedbank, do you see that people are taking this initiative and running with it themselves outside of the driving force that you have had within the organization? Obviously the team that you have built up that is driving it within the organization they have adopted it and said this is a method to solve this problem in my division or area that I’m responsible for. And they are doing it with initiative rather than having to be guided or directed.


T: Ideally that’s exactly what we want to set infrastructurally to do that. That takes time so typically the analogy for me has always been two things that I have don’t as a kid is design and boxing. So everything in life ends up in an analogy somewhere in a box. It’s a very simple one. You often find people going like a design thinking workshop on a Friday and they walk into the office on a Monday going I’m a design thinker in the business You can translate that into a boxing role I can teach you how to box probably within a day, certainly in an hour over the course of the day improve your skill. But do feel comfortable getting into the ring with a seasoned boxer on a Monday? The answer is no. Why? Because you haven’t practiced your skill. One of the coaches in Johannesburg at the Hillbrow boxing gym, the young boxers that we have there. They are like 6- 9 months before we let them into the ring. Because they need to hone their craft. The challenge with the corporate is you are expected  to do that the next day. That’s hard for them. So the enthusiasm is there, the will is there. So our job is to support that. Both at an executive level and at an operational level. So yes we come and participate in what we call a masterclass. So we do a lot of design education. 

And we have meet ups that take place every 2 weeks. But beyond that our role is to support them so over time they get better at it. They feel more confident. But also not to be naive. Is not say do it, learn the content or let’s give you the skills and  then off you go bye. You will come and tell us how it’s working next year. That is just irresponsible. We don’t wanna do that at all. So what we typically do is we partner with them. We deploy into those teams. We support those teams as best as we can. And it’s a process it matures over time. One of the things I have noticed is we completely overestimate what we can accomplish in design within 6 to 12 months, but we completely underestimate what we can do within 3 years. So we kind of have to step back and look at the chronology  over time. It gets better and you have to put that framework down to let that happen. Stick to the plan and deal with the speed humps along the way. If an analogy needs like sailing, I don’t sail. I get incredibly sea sick. It’s a very good analogy. It’s like I’m sailing from Cape Town to New York. I know where my destination is. What do I do? I sail at a 45 degree angle. Every couple of hours I stop. I take a bearing. And I change course based on the prevailing conditions but I know where I’m going. You have to be flexible enough to do that on your journey .


S: Yeah excellent. Taking a step back now and moving a bit further away from Nedbank specifically and looking globally. What is your expectation from a design perspective that you see happening globally and the trends and where you see design thinking fitting into the bigger space in the world?


T: I think it’s at risk at the moment because there is insufficient published evidence to support the results. And until you start to see large scale studies of design. Be very careful when I’m talking about design, we don’t talk about design much with my team. I think it’s a good input because you need a range of different types of designer to make a design process work. You need business designers who are good at business modeling and sustainable business , you need good researchers, service designers, UI UX specialists, specialization specialists to form that team in that design process whether  it’s a big project or a small project so i think design thinking is mature. I mean certainly when I studied design formally at an NSC level in New York. The word design thinking never came up once in my academic career at all. I was learning design. I was learning different components of it, different phases, different stages, different skills. I decided to lean in quite hard and search for it myself and understand that I was deficient in that area. It has to mature. It can not continue to be two words, five blocks that’s it. I think the challenge is having access to design academically is an issue. Certainly you can’t study at a Masters level in South Africa. Not that I’m aware of. 

Most of the courses are more certificate based programs. I teach design innovation on the MBA program at GIBS. I’m very clear on the margin. I’m not here to teach you design. I can not teach you design over 3 modules, I can show you what it is and work with it, have respect for it, get the best out of it. I can’t teach you to be a technically trained designer. It can take 10 years to become an architect and do a designer thing over a weekend. I think there is that sort of what is the long term career progression for designers? And how do they use design thinking in their thinking? And is design thinking actually a career? Or is it a supplementary skill set within other design careers. Which one? we have to take a view on? I think design overall is critical to the survival and success of most businesses anywhere in the planet and those that use it. A lot of studies come out in return and investments are really impressive. Obviously it never shows the ones that fail. There are equal number of successes and failures. It’s still an immature discipline. We are still finding our feet in the new economy, in the fourth industrial revolution. Design plays a key role in that but it’s got to go deeper and we got to deconstruct it. So at design level the sort of different capabilities and skills you need to make design work and grow beautifully over time. 

And I think they will continue to. I think we need to have a big push academically to ensure that there are thought at the right level, with the right level of qualifications, then maybe at some point there is some kind of formal board exam. Like if you, one of my first things I studied when I was younger, I studied to be a professional project manager. A PMP. It’s a certified board exam that you have to get , I think at that point it was a 79% success rate to pass. You get to reseat those exams every 2 to 3 years. Otherwise your certification lapsed. Your certification number  It was legitimate. In the same way I studied recently because I wanted to understand better scrum. I really wanted to understand that. Scrum Alliance which is registered . So there has got to be legitimacy in the process to legitimize the subject matter. You can not. I watched a YouTube video. A few post its on the wall, I took a few photographs, posted on Instagram feed. I’m a designer. And I think that’s where the profession is at risk of juniorizing itself, it’s at risk  decoupling itself from reality. The closer it gets to reality the more successful it’s gonna be.


S: Do you feel design as a skill set within, in your opinion I’m saying, in each and every degree or application of design in studying, like having a module for design is imperative?


T: Absolutely, just to come back to the Gibbs component. We have on the Gibbs program design innovation is a critical set of modules and narrow and elective as well. We really dive deep into as we can in the program. And they get a lot of benefit out of it. Because it’s tangible. So my role in that process is not necessarily academic but you can teach it academically. It’s also saying these kids need to leave that phase of the MBA program with tangible skills they can use the next day. They can apply and reapply again. So I think it needs to land in a more formal environment . In an undergrad level and that will kind of work over time. And sometimes the best place to do that is online. So there long are gone those days when you only needed to get class education, face to face and that’s it. Not accessible to the majority of people on the planet. So they have the ability to take it online. Study it at the right level. With the right institution. Which is absolutely essential. So I think there is a fast track process required there.


S: So Terry thanks very much for your time. For people that would like to follow you or even get in touch with you, do you have a preferential platform where you share your opinions and views on certain designs?


T: I do a little bit. I work a lot with social media but I’m absolutely terrible at it so I avoid it. I look at my LinkedIn profile fairly regularly. If you want to hook up with me just go on and look up Terry Behan on LinkedIn. You will see there is 2 of them, one is my father, the other guy with grey hair. I’m the younger one with less grey hair. Hit me up with an invite and I will absolutely accept and we will connect and chat after that.


S: Thanks so much for your time you shared a lot of insightful information. I appreciate it.


T: Absolute pleasure.


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