Women@Austin Founder Jan Ryan on Design Thinking

As the founder of Women@Austin, Jan Ryan has mentored countless women as they launch their companies and grow as founders. Her career path is grounded in the tech world. Working at IBM when it launched the first PC, Jan went on to lead accounts at Lotus and FileNet (both acquired by IBM) before moving to Austin to work for Vignette, just before its record-setting IPO that took them from $0 to $400M in revenue in 4 years. She also has worked with Oracle, Social Dynamics and other leading tech companies.

Jan explained how this lightning-speed paced professional growth is illustrative of the New Day we live in, where the average lifespan of a Fortune 50 company has moved from 75 years to 15, – and experts predict it will be 7.5 years in a decade. Companies are hungry for innovation, – margins are slimmer, product cycles are shorter and competitive pressure is greater.

The act of creation, invention and imagination are deeply human. When approaching a problem, rather than asking “can it be done?” or “will we make money?”, what if we start with the question of “what do people need?” It’s not just what your market knows they need, but also anticipating their needs—creating innovative solutions not just for today’s market, but for the needs we have yet to realize.

Design thinking is a methodology for creative problem solving, based on human-centered design. What sets this method apart is its focus first and foremost onf empathy. Practically, it involves interviews, observation, and first-hand experience of the user.  It requires an open mind, a beginner’s mindset, and prioritization of the customer. Jan posed the simple yet fundamental question: “Do you know what drives them?” Do you know the customer’s metrics, goals and KPIs? If not, you’ll likely end up with a product that may suit your own needs rather than the needs of the market.

Design-led companies consistently out-perform the S&P by over 200 percent. Side Note: So do women- led companies. Jan left us all with some  important questions: What if companies were design- and women- ledWhat kind of difference would that make? We believe it would generate a pretty fundamental shift in the pace and performance of the entrepreneurship community.

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Christine Fahey