Limiting the limits...

Our last project of the first semester brought us the opportunity to take on one of our greatest challenges; the pairing of a charity and aggressive hyper market. That said, at the end of the four days (five if you consider field research) all four groups came up with realistic, logistically-sound, context appropriate solutions. Turning all kinds of problems into workable actions. Job well done.
Yet, as the first semester drew to a close and long after, I couldn’t help but ponder the real potential of service design owing to two, possibly three major obstacles I’d encountered in these simulated but to some extent, real-life scenarios. Firstly, the barrier presented by the wider culture in which an organisation is embedded. Secondly, the organisational culture itself and the general propensity to resist any change that challenges the way things have worked in the past. And thirdly and relatedly, the tendency of staff to view the service from an ‘insider lens’ – culminating in a resistance to the external perspective. With this degree of push-back, I find myself wondering what if any changes are ever really on the service design table for discussion? The carte-blanche I’d anticipated in service design has morphed / is morphing into a prescribed course of action, a ’superficial nip and tuck’, never mind that in some instances a fundamental level change is required to make a difference.
This mirrors my encounter with many services as a consumer. Imagining customer feedback as invaluable, enviable even, I have taken time to articulate my experience of a particular service from a customer perspective. Yet, more often than not, my feedback is received defensively. On many occasions I have been told that ‘we never get complaints’, and when I indicate that my feedback would fit broadly into said category, and that I just want to help, the statement is repeated in a defensive tone. I’ve shrugged this off as the absence of the discipline in the Emerald Isle and such service design virgin destinations. I believed that once a recognisable framework existed, so too would a correlating increase in receptivity to real feedback. After all defensiveness is something as human beings we can all understand. We are trying our best and we are being told something isn’t working. We immediately defend; we long to hold onto to the idea we’ve invested in, the project we’ve given years to, even at the cost of it’s development. Otherwise surely everything we’ve done to this point reflects badly on us, on our judgement and our role? This is an attitude I recognise in business (in particular in many SME’s) often betrayed regularly by the lack of true feedback requested. Even when the alternative of not asking for or using the feedback amounts to business suicide.
For various reasons I had envisioned a higher receptivity in Milan, one of the few places dedicated to training new service designers, but not so. It transpires that even when knowledge of service design is imminent, in many ways the same outcome is possible. A combination that hinders the capacity for any idea to be truly considered, which leaves me feeling that working with clients will be challenging – on a level and in a way I could never have dreamed of. Namely, that instead of working to the same end goal, l envision  scenario where we end up fighting from opposing corners – even when risk should be a given and necessary element in business. Taking care at the outset to manage this potential friction will mean delivering project options that present a number of solutions with degrees of change; from completely different to almost the same. From risky to safe. From fundamental transformation to superficial ’nip and tuck’.
Apple never shied away from change, but revelled in it, leading several generations into unchartered technological heaven, which even now seems miraculous. Maverick thinking and being open to everything meant unscalable change. But of course, not all businesses can afford to be as bold even when all businesses are invested in a vision of success. So, apart from the obvious, what’s missing? There are many variables to consider but I believe that converting the realistic into the visionary will require an empathic reading of the situation from the service designer. A mirroring of the businesses fears, risks and hopes, which is capable of evoking stakeholder faith and trust. Facilitating them to relax enough to truly consider possibilities could be the foremost step in the right direction to, well… limiting those limits despite external constraints.