First of all, I must admit that I am a movie buff. And though being in the mid-forties, I still enjoy catching up every Avengers series with my kid and also other animated cartoon movies. However, there are a few of them that left a deep mark in my thought process. One of them is undoubtedly this movie “How to Train Your Dragon”. I have at least seen this movie 7-8 times and its sequels.
To be honest, the movie has some very in-depth learning and particularly when you start imbibing Design Thinking in all that you do, the movie starts talking to you. I have watched the movie (as I have earlier mentioned) a number of times and each time it has thrown ample insights to me.
The story revolves around our hero, a young Viking named Hiccup, who solves a huge problem not only for him but for the entire Viking clan, neither by weapons nor by any deep divine power but purely by methodical and correct approach. As the movie suggests, it’s not the goal but the process, the journey, that is important. A meticulous step-by-step guide to innovating something that is capable of changing the world.
Let me analyze and take you through the process –The Design Thinking. Conceived byTim BrownofIdeoin the year 2006, the method initially started as a 3-step process ofUnderstand, Create & Deliverwhich later evolved as a 5-step process ofEmpathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.It should be understood that Design Thinking is not a miraculous cure. But it can certainly help. It is not a sure shot solution but a journey to a better solution. It is not the design that is important, but it captures the quality of the designers and can motivate and encourage the ecosystem. It is not a Quick fix and it takes time to implement.And yeah, it might not guarantee successbut if done in the right intent and correct manner, it can be revolutionary.
Allow me to take you through the journey keeping the movie as our central theme. So how was the situation for the Vikings? It was pretty bad. They had a grave problem, fire breathing dragons raiding their homes and destroying them, stealing their sheep. Clueless about what could be a better solution to solve this problem, they embraced strategy based on physical violence. The strategy was to kill the dragons whenever they were seen. The second generations were also brainwashed and forced to see the world through that key hole. This model is entrusted by the Viking chief, Stoic, who had enormous strength and huge build. His motto was very clear “Kill on Sight, Kill on Sight, Kill on Sight”.
However, his son Hiccup neither had the build nor had the mental frame. He could at best become a mechanical engineer. He dreamt to become a “maker”. But he was the minority and always mocked at by peers. By a sheer chance he was able to capture the mysterious and most terrifying “Night Fury” dragon with his ballista (a catapult used in ancient warfare for hurling large stones).But he chose to keep it in secrecy.
He knew if he kills it, he will no longer be a minority, he will be a champion. But he chose to take a different path. He chose to free the dragon. The dragon also chose to reciprocate.
Breaking the dominant model:
Hiccup took pity and chose to free the dragon.
Next few days he deliberated that there can be another way other than confrontation. He tried to validate or confirm if it was only an instinct. InDesign Thinking, it is important to make an equilibrium between what youknowand what yousee. While it is important to read the subject, it is equally important to go to the field to find new learnings.
Finding a gap between what society believes and what is the reality is a great start and is called insight. Hiccup quickly realized that what he had experienced in the form of an unspoken peace with a dragon, is the proof that the dominant process had major flaws.
By consulting some existing literatures, he realized that the Vikings do not know much about the dragons as they were so obsessed by their violentbelief. All they knew is the dragon’s fighting abilities, they knew nothing about their way of life, how they felt.
Thus, started Hiccup’s journey of the first step of Design Thinking, i.e. Empathy.
Empathy corresponds to understanding. As he started visiting the dragon repeatedly, he started shadowing him, following his mannerism, characteristics, what he eats, how he behaves, his anatomy, movement, and making sketches time to time. He had been lucky as “Night Fury” got stuck on the edge of a lake surrounded by cliffs. This allowed him to conduct his research in ideal conditions. The luck factor should not be neglected in a design thinking approach as it sometimes influences the process.
Hiccup’s approach was user-centric, and not entirely technique. He could have perfected the ballista that allowed him to catch more dragons, but he started studying the dragon and made the effort to understand the needs of the dragon. It was no longer seen as a target to conquer but as a thinking being with needs, constraints, and desires.
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Hiccup had that essential reflex in Design Thinking. He always used to carry his drawing pad to take notes, whether to establish a map or to make a sketch of a dragon. This approach allowed him to define the problem of the dragon and understand why he couldn’t escape. He lost his ability to fly because his rear wing got torn. This conclusion came from his anatomical observations of how dragons fly and his knowledge of the dragon’s recent past. He gathered everything he knew to define a problem statement.
In his mind he might have defined the problem statement like:“How may I help the dragon to fly again.”
Hiccup didn’t have the leisure to take advantage of collective ideas as he was secretively working alone and hence the Ideate stage in the film was rushed a bit. They started showing him gone back to his drawing pad and creating a leather prosthetic wing. In this case, this might be the obvious answer, but in most cases, this step can be longer and required realbrainstorming sessions.Design Thinking is a methodology that adapts to both solo and group work. Hiccup didn’t get the luxury of allowing multiple ideas Yes…and Yes…and Yes…and Yes…and Yes.
Once he was satisfied with his research processes, with sketches, drawings, and models, he started quick prototyping. Please take a note, Quick Prototyping helps one to fail fast and address issues from the beginning itself. Hiccup as I told earlier was a maker, a craftsman capable of working with iron, leather etc. to create the object he needed. A tail fin made with leather.
And thus, he entered the final phase of Design Thinking – Test
This phase is a very important element of Design Thinking, and one must avoid losing touch with reality at all costs. Like the stage of empathy, the Test phase gives certainties to reality in order to make it evolve. To make it relevant.
The test phase addresses several issues. Whether the concept or the product is viable, whether it is feasible as well as if the final product would be desirable. Most often, this validation comes from the end-user who understands how it works, finds interest, and develops a use. This discovery by the user must be observed precisely since they will give the right direction to the final product.
For Hiccup, the proof of the success of his prototype was obtained by the flight quality.
A side note:Test phase can involve substantial risks because we have to be aware that it not only proves that a product or idea works but also points out failures. It is necessary to be able to distinguish the failures that questions the concept and those that are related to the execution. Hence, it is important to consider them as lessons and not as defeats. In Design Thinking this is an important principle,“Fail fast, fail often“. However, it is important not to be get intimidated by failure, which is only a step in the process and not an end in itself.
Iterate, Repeat or the Loop:
The principle of iterations suggests that it is necessary to constantly go back and forth between the prototyping and testing phase. Unfolding and folding the tail fin by hand was a minimum requirement but couldn’t be considered viable. That’s why Hiccup iterated this by trial and error to develop his prototype. He used a rope that he tried operating by hand, then with the foot and finally with a pedal. It is this loop between the prototype and test stage that allowed it to become an optimized product.
And finally, one day, it worked, and all tests were positive. Hiccup planned able to move to an implementation phase. But having said that he must convince the society, the Viking clan to adopt its product and integrate it into practices.
To implement a product or service, we must be able to quickly demonstrate the capabilities of its innovation, sometimes to people who do not want to listen to you. Just in case of Astrid, who succeeded very well in the dominant model. She was a real warrior and when she discovered the chemistry between Hiccup and Toothless, she supported.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a presentation is worth a thousand pictures. This is principle, “Do not tell, show” allows you to remove suspicions and blockages. Having a physical prototype that you can test in front of masses really shows your capability. If you have a product that can cause a wow effect, do not hesitate to play it. This helps you to find valuable allies to spread your ideas.
Finally, do not forget to have an engaging speech, to have values, a vision of the world. It’s the “think different” of Apple. Hiccup’s product had the wow effect for sure, but what he really believed and wanted to share was that the answer to the dragon problem isnot the confrontation,it’s the cooperationand he was ready to challenge his entire clan for this. His innovation was revolutionary for sure. It changed the entire perception. If there is only love and cooperation there is no confrontation. Also, if you can ride and control dragons what is the point of killing them.
Once he had proved that his product is valuable, he was needed to pass it on, to replicate it with others. It was also necessary to amalgamate his ideas with thestory or a speech, to make it compatible for all. This reassured new adopters and allowed them to change.
Hiccup referred to a mantra of the dominant model to describe his activity: “We are Viking, it is the professional risks”. It is an expression that reminded me that the Vikings were not afraid of anything. Using this sentence, he indirectly pushed all Vikings to accept the change. If before, they were crazy enough to fight dragons, today they were crazy enough to ride them.
His emerging model of controlling dragons and living with co-operation became a major find and with the help of the dragons, he constructed his village. We could see that society slowly adapted to innovation. And that became the success of the entire process ofDesign Thinking.
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Design Thinking is a guide, it is not absolute and should not be followed blindly. However, it offers a set of recognized and articulated practices that will allow you to progress without losing sight of reality.
The core idea of this article is influenced by a similar article by Maxim Nialiv of Stormz.
Change by Design by Tim Brown, Ideo
Design Thinking for Startups by Jimmy Jain
I am thankful to the entire cast and crew of “How to Train your Dragon”. Knowingly/ Unknowingly they presented us with a movie that had deep learning.
This article needs to be consumed only for knowledge purpose. My intention is not to earn anything out of it. I just presented a wonderful analogy brought to us by Maxim Nialiv. I do not claim the core idea is mine. However, my analogies and understanding has been entirely mine.
There are number of movies that directly or indirectly brings in Design Thinking processes as part of their story partly or in totality. My humble request, if you find such stories, do share with us.