The other day I read this email from one of Acara teams where a US team member asked his Indian counterpart to ask the following question to the community members during their village visit, “What will you do if I gave you 50 bugs?”. I think that this is a very interesting question and outlines the fundamental philosophy behind bottom-up approaches to solving community problems. That the solution to a community’s problem should come from the community and should not be dictated from the top.

Design Thinking is key aspect of IDEO (and I keep talking about them) , a global firm which uses this approach to solve complex problems. One of the projects of IDEO was with this company called VisionSpring. IDEO was supposed to build a system for eye-testing for rural children. They tried getting a doctor to test the eyesights of a bunch of rural children but the children completely retaliated and it didn’t work out. Then IDEO tried to get the parents of the children to test their kids’ eyesights. Nope. Doesn’t work. And finally, when they saw that children loved acting as doctors and testing each other, they got the solution.

It’s not just a matter of open-mindedness and creativity but also lateral thinking. Being open to ideas and observations is indeed an important aspect of Design Thinking. What a lot of big corporations also suffer from is the problem of forcing products and services on the consumers and not really working with them to build good products. SELCO, for instance, is a great example of a company (or rather, a social enterprise) which got its products (which are very successful) by multiple cycles of moving back and forth between the lab and the customer.

As you start building your product ideas, be sure that it works for the consumer market you are targeting and try to get the solution from them in the first place.