The Design for Business 21st Century-wise~

Can’t see the forest for the trees?

I think we forget that this is the new century.  The new time.  We operate in so many ways that are just extensions of “this is the way it’s always been” way.  But you know, look at the date: 2010! Wow!  How did that happen?  Remember 2001, A Space Odyssey?  Here we are almost ten years past “Hal”… and it feels in many ways as if we are still waiting for the computer to give us all the answers.

Well, in many ways, I suppose the computer HAS given us all most of the answers… some of them anyway for this new revolution in modern life called ‘social networking’.  While we would have loved to have been this ‘connected’ as kids ourselves, it is our kids who are growing so naturally into the well networked society — and bringing us along for the ride.

The fastest growing segment of Facebook subscribers is women in their mid-50’s…(if you take a minute and watch that video I posted in my LinkedIn page a few days ago you will catch the scope of this revolution. Click on my name below, or Search: LinkedIN: Alexis Wittman, Portland, OR)Alexis Wittman, Portland, OR

What’s that got to do with anything? There are the rumblings out there that this social/computer/networking thing is as much a revolution as the cotton gin and the industrial revolution, as the automobile and the portable society, as the desktop computer and the end of secretarial help.  This invention, these innovations, of social content in networked context will do more to change the way we find information, the way we consider news, the way we buy products and choose media to watch and listen to.

Are you a designer?  Are you in business?

I just finished listening to an exciting video presentation by Roger Martin the author of “The Design of Business”.  He spoke here in Portland at the Ziba Auditorium earlier this year.  See the full video about innovation here.  Roger wanted to solve the business mystery about why companies are not more innovative.  Corporations want to be innovative, but avoid risk.  Designers create risk because that’s what innovation involves.  I’ve captured some of his material below to lure you into watching the video yourself!

Roger explores the classic dilemma of: the “prove it” objective model of thinking vs. “I just feel it” intuitive thinking model.   The problem is that you can’t prove a new idea.  Yet, if you don’t, you can’t advance knowledge.   Roger’s example from the corporate entertainment industry is Harvey Weinstein of Miramax who gave the green light to movies which everyone else turned down: Pulp Fiction, Million Dollar Baby, etc.  This is called, going with the “golden gutt”.  Miramax couldn’t sustain the edge once it let Weinstein go…But the ultimate goal?  Mix reliability and validity with design thinking to achieve great long term consistency in innovation.

You can mix reliability with innovation.  Follow these tips —

*my paraphrasing of Mr. Martin’s ideas are in parenthesis.

For Designers:

Designing in Hostile Territory: 5 Productive Steps

1.  Take ‘design unfriendliness’ as a design challenge. (why not?  The ultimate problem for the ultimate problem solver: the designer, how to get along with ‘the suits’.)

2.  Emphasize with the ‘design unfriendly’ elements. (Emphasizing builds bonds and increases understanding for each others’ role in innovation…remember too, YOU don’t have to report to shareholders, and boards of directors who are looking at bottom lines)

3.  Speak the language of reliabilty.  “Best Demonstrated Practices”, “Business Models”, “Consistency”, “Certainty”; (ie:  Get into their heads and stay there.)

4.  Use analogies and stories. (Come close, reassure the corporate decider with similar case studies, examples from other industries or markets.)

“The designers job is using objective knowledge to invent a future that’s different than the past. So it’s not an extrapolation from the past, and the problem is you cannot prove it [the future] in advance.  While the ‘reliability people’ will want proof in advance before doing something because they need to be able to declare something as true…you can’t provide that..but you can get stories and examples that are proof-like, close to proof…’no one’s done it before, but in another industry, or a different market…, or it’s not quite as big a leap as I thought”

5. Bite off as little a piece as possible to generate proof. (Find a part of the design that can go into a process that will provide proof, a test drive so to speak.)

“The future doesn’t matter to the reliability person who extrapolates the past, its proof that matters…  Six months is in the future, it doesn’t count until six months from now when it will be presto-chango— in the past.  The designer turns future into the past.  Bite a little piece off, predict what will happen, then in 6 months you will have proof, ie: rapid prototyping.”

Are you in corporate business?

Leveraging Design in Business: 5 Productive Steps

1.  Take [designer’s] inattention to reliability as a business challenge. (It’s just another ‘management challenge’ to understand designers and those who don’t use inductive reasoning but rather intuitive reasoning. Figure it out and make it work for you.)

2. Emphasize with the ‘reliability unfriendly’ elements. (Tit for tat: walk in the other guy’s/girls’ shoes for a change!)

3.  Speak the language of validity: “Fantastic”,” Best thing you’ve ever seen”, etc.” (There’s a reason designers get excited about new ideas..they are fun, creative and use a language corporate business rarely speaks.  But in these words lie the future!)

4.  Share data and reasoning not conclusions. (Don’t box out the designer by getting to the answer, but do share background and underpinnings so they can work with them too, to imagine the future.)

5.  Bite off as big a piece as possible to give innovation a chance. (Work out a big chance/big slice of the future that you’re willing to stake out and make real.)

If both sides of this equation, [innovation:proof] consistently turn mysteries into heuristic solutions and then into efficient algorithms, gaining the advantage of huge savings BUT then in turn, reinvesting them into solving the next mystery into the next, into the next…thus “design thinking for the 21st century”: “the ‘antidote’ to the way the dominate form of thinking takes shape in companies: stifling and preventing innovation from happening.

Marin’s fundamental thesis: “Design thinking is the next competitive advantage!”

Roger Martin is the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto.


Published by Alexis Wittman

Artist, Designer, Writer, Facilitator living in Northern Michigan Architectural Engineer/Designer owner of Architectural Research + Design.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: