Design Thinking and Blue Sky Visualization

Design Thinking is a central tenant of our philosophy at Stonehill, and we love to share the benefits of this mindset. We use workshops and organizational consultations to help bring Design Thinking principles to a wide range of industries. We recently had an opportunity to help a client strategize plans for customer retention and longevity. This client works in an industry that provides both short-term and long-term services, so together we discussed innovative ways to transition short-term clients into longer-term customers.

Part of Design Thinking is adding structure to the brainstorming process. In this case, we employed a technique called “Blue Sky Visualization” to help them explore new concepts for the company.  This approach involves drawing up ideas on poster-boards or large pieces of paper instead of just using words. This process helps executives to access their “inner artist” and discover more creative solutions.  We provided markers and paper and requested they draw new ways to offer their services.

To get their creative juices flowing, we told our client’s VP’s we would be asking them to draw two different ideas.  For the first round, we asked them to draw their most ludicrous, the sky’s the limit, “these will get you fired,” concepts. The resulting drawings were incredibly creative and involved delivery via helicopters, self-piloted vehicles, and camouflage paint; not the sort of thing that normally comes from an executive session! These out-of-the box ideas helped lower their creative inhibitions and prepare for the next step.

For the second round, we asked them to draw concepts that were more practical. If possible, they should try to re-use ideas that could be reasonably implemented from the first round.  During this session we reinterpreted the idea of camouflage into artistic renditions. A seemingly absurd idea became a bigger discussion on visual appeal and opportunities to cross-market. Other ideas focused on improving customer access and expanding times of day services could be offered. We didn’t keep the helicopters, but we kept the concept that the helicopters gave us. 

The next step in the Design Thinking journey is prototyping. Too often companies come up with great concepts only to let them die right after ideation - It is important to maintain momentum by developing inexpensive prototypes which can be quickly vetted and discarded or improved upon for further research and development.  Several of the ideas from this brainstorming session are on their way to prototype as we speak.

The Blue Sky Visualization technique enabled us to reach farther outside the box and enact innovative change in our client’s offerings. Additionally, the exercise helped the team think of different ways to view their products and services and was able to empathize with their customers’ perspectives in new ways.

R. Troy Atlas is President of Stonehill.  Specializing in design thinking and operational optimization, Troy is a “recovering” CPA and former financial services executive who enjoys creating opportunities for innovation with solutions built on the principles of design thinking and customer empathy. Connect with him on LinkedIN or at