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Why Accountants Should be Using Design Thinking

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Innovation is more crucial than ever if you want to stay competitive in this fast-changing world. Unfortunately, that statement isn't usually followed by an explanation of how accountants can innovate.

Jun 30th 2022
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Accountants are often being told to “innovate” these days. Many of the articles I’ve worked on recently with writers are all focused on helping professionals stay competitive, especially after two years that really made it clear an advanced tech stack is a necessity to business success these days.

But, most of what people are saying doesn’t explain HOW innovation works – in other words, what the process, the workflow, looks like. As AccountingWEB takes the next step with our readers into the future, I started looking for explanations I could pass along to you about how to innovate successfully.

Interestingly, I found one possible answer in the business space. At his “Innovation Lab: How to Prototype Your Firm’s Future” session at AICPA Engage earlier this month, Matt Rampe talked about design thinking. Essentially, this is a cognitive strategy that helps professionals improve a product – in the case of the accountant, the service offering – so the client or customer has a better experience and so you increase your profits. A quick internet search showed me it’s got three to five steps, depending on who you ask, and they’re mostly pretty simple.

But before that, a quick dive into some background information: as Matt noted, design thinking is a concept that was developed at Stanford University during the 1950s and has been refined over the years. It’s used by some of the most successful, big-name companies in the world, including Bank of America, Nike, Starbucks and Nordstrom. Wow, right?

I’ll admit, I was rather skeptical of design thinking when Matt first mentioned it and revealed it was the focus of his session. How well could a strategy used by companies that sell shoes and coffee really apply to the needs of accounting and finance professionals, who offer a different form of product? I wondered. As it turns out, it works just fine for accountants.

Matt talked about four steps, so that’s what we’ll go with here:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideas
  4. Prototype

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