The famous adage “learn the rules in order to break them” pretty much sums up the stance of most designers when it comes to perception of constraints. In business there are obvious restrictions, such as time, money, resources etc. and then there are the ones that we have to define for ourselves - the “simple rules”. An innovator faced with limitless avenues to explore with the mindset of discovery can get lost in the labyrinth of possibilities. However, simple rules can focus efforts, leading to higher odds of a positive outcome.
An article by Donald Sull, “The simple rules of disciplined innovation” describes four characteristics of simple rules. The first is to keep them less in number and easy to remember, in order to ensure adoption. The second is that these rules must be well-defined enough to apply to something specific such as an activity or a decision. He warns against making them too constricted, while avoiding making general statements. The third rule is to tailor rules to unique cultures and strategy of organizations. If innovations don’t align with the company’s resources and capabilities they become unviable. Finally, rules should leave room for practicing creative thinking, making them guidelines in essence. By putting a restraint on idea generation, companies (or even any team working on a project) ensures that the ideas result in a balance between efficiency and originality.
In “Design and the Play Instinct”, Paul Rand speaks of two powerful aspects of teaching design and really any other form of creative thinking. The first is the introduction of “Play” to the task at hand and the second is the imposition of formal limitations. His analogy between the latent psychological and intellectual factors present in game-playing as well as in successful problem solving is an intriguing one. This helped me better understand why gamification of tasks is being more widely adopted as an effective motivational and behavioral change tool. He then explains how rules bring about a boundary that invites creation, by in essence challenging the designer to think above and beyond. In reality, we are faced with limitations while coming up with solutions in the design management discipline all the time. These could be in the form of economic, legal, physical, material or even representation of our ideas which instead of taking away to the solution, actually add to how unique and well thought out they are.
“A whack on the side of the head” is a witty compilation of thoughts and metaphors that can help stimulate one’s creativity. The author begins the book by explaining the concept of “mental locks” and how they prevent us from reaching our ultimate creative capacity. The book is a criticism of the way we are all taught, right from school, to have the right answers rather than looking out for questions and seeing things differently. Creative thinking, he says, is the equivalent of mental sex! A good way to learning how to think is disregarding our first bright idea and go in search of the second one, that would likely be the result of more innovative thinking than the first. “Inconsistency and contradiction are the hallmarks of human existence”, says the author and then proceeds to explain that nothing is set in stone and we can challenge the rules to completely flip the way we see things. Avoiding contradictions could help clarity of communication but at the same time, inviting contradiction could pose new possibilities.
He tell us a story of how the QWERTY keypad was introduced as a means to slow down typing speed so that typewriter keys don’t get jammed! This is a wonderful example of how we could get stuck in obsolete ideas and forget to escape from them. Creativity is shown to be the collective responsibility of the whole group and a way to ensure this is to avoid “group thinking”, as conformity leads to stifling of multiple points of view. Making light of a situation is also a good way to get creative juices going, breaking away from the mental lock of “seriousness” to get work done. “Humor forces you to combine ideas that are usually not associated with one another”, thus putting on one’s fools cap and being absurd, irreverent, metaphorical and cryptic helps to reverse the view.
I think that a lot of the ideas discussed in the book relates to my understanding of “Design Thinking” The four step method of becoming an explorer, artist, judge and then warrior almost neatly aligns with the design thinking steps of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. Asking “what if” questions to open up one’s imagination, adding constraints to increase creativity, encouraging trial and error, working with the hands to stimulate the brain and the cross-fertilization of ideas are all topics we have explored during our study of design management. Disruptive thinking is what sets our discipline apart and the belief that we truly can make a difference, not just to the profitability of companies, but also the social responsibility and sustainability. The whack on the other side of the head, as Von Oech says, is to “believe in the worth of your ideas and have the persistence to continue building on them.”
It’s no surprise that the term ‘Design Management’ has sparked much debate, as the two pillars that it is built on; ‘Design’ and ‘Management’, are both far from exact sciences. Design Management is shown to be present in the operational, tactical and strategic levels of organizations. Its goals are either to control a creative process, support a culture of creativity or build a structure for design to function in. The key roles of a Design Manager are to i. Align design strategy with corporate strategy ii. Manage quality & consistency of design outcomes and iii. Develop new methods of user experience through human centered and cross disciplinary design.
Wikipedia takes us through the history of Design Management and talks about its transformation over the years. Design Management first emerged in the early 1900s with Peter Behrens’ vision and work for AEG but the term only first appeared in later years amongst architects. In 1956, IBM is believed to have created the first enterprise wide corporate identity in the US, shifting the paradigm in the way the value of design is perceived. In the ensuing years, different disciplines of design began to flourish bringing with it a method based approach to Design Management. Various consultancies materialized and books on the subject shed further light on it. Today, its extended understanding has grown to include terms such as sustainable, inclusive, interactive, co-create, open innovation and design thinking.
As the definition of Design Management remains in a state of flux, there is much research into how Design’s value to business can be measured. The Danish Design Ladder defines 4 stages of design application in organizations. i.Non-design ii.Design as styling iii.Design as a process iv.Design as innovation. Research has shown that companies in the fourth stage grow more consistently than others. Design Management advocates are constantly looking to find ways of measuring the impact of design. And who knows? Maybe one day there will be a standard commonly accepted across design and business.
In the late 1700s, when the industrial era was ushered in, it heralded a demise of handmade products. Machines and automated systems made production faster, cheaper and reduced the need for human input. The economy changed, the people changed and the way we work changed forever. In the early 1900s there was a brief movement called Bauhaus, to revive handicrafts with a modern outlook. Though this period set the trends in design for a long time to come, the meticulous and painstaking work of a craftsman was forever relegated to the shadows. Throughout the past century, there have been advances in technology that have placed tools in the hands of people and begun the inevitable elimination of the practitioner trained in that craft. Think iphone and instagram, think low priced digital cameras which have accurate preprogrammed settings, all of which let the user take a near perfect shot.
However, we as designers know it is not the tools but the way we ‘see’ that sets us apart. In our training as designers we inculcate a sense of awareness, of connecting the dots, the ability to ‘just know’ that a particular font or color will work magic for a brand. We are able to create coherence where there is none and perform the very important task of differentiating the brand. Using templates is akin to shopping at giant retail outlets where you know that thousands of other people would be dressed just like you. Can we afford to dress our brands up like everybody else? Even though templates have gained popularity in recent years, I know from experience that many laymen have trouble customizing templates to their needs. This can lead to a new breed of designers that fill this need. This is especially true of website templates such as Squarespace and Themeforest and more so for Wordpress, which requires some basic coding knowledge. This does create an ethical dilemma for the design community as it fosters the usage of such templates but sooner or later, we have to join the inevitable. (Disclaimer: This website has been made on Weebly). The cost and time saving these web templates bring in terms of integrating responsive and e-commerce technology is huge. In a way this phenomenon might drive designers to innovate more, come up with new and exciting media which requires skill and training to use.
In today’s environment, a business can only be successful if it constantly innovates, and to innovate it must adopt design in its processes and strategic planning. Design’s role has moved beyond the creation of products and services. Design thinking and design management each now have their place in design minded organizations, the former being an essential addition to the repertoire of a person even from a non design background. One of the major challenges faced by design managers is having to constantly reinforce the positive contributions of design to others in the organization. The leadership, culture and environment that design needs to function around, largely influences the amount of value design is able to create in an organization.
The incorporation of design in small and medium enterprises with little or no prior history of adopting design thinking, can be challenging. The management’s personal vision or other seemingly more urgent issues tend to interrupt the effective adoption of design, while creating strategies for the future. In the book, “Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value”, Thomas Lockwood suggests a ten step method to create empowerment and transparency of ideas and methods; all steps towards becoming a design minded organization. The emphasis is on evaluating the outcome of design in the light of its contributions to the triple bottom line of companies. Authors of management books such as Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Kelly, Daniel Pink and Richard Florida have each in their works written about the adoption of design in creating truly successful organizations.
Brigitte Borja de Mozota devised a research based value model in Design Management that would help to ‘measure’ the substantial or financial value added by design. One of the reasons that design is ignored or not given its due recognition is the difficulty in rationalizing its contribution to the organization. Managers/business owners need a familiar way in which to justify design spends. To this end, Mozota suggests using the well known Balanced score card method devised to monitor the consequences of business actions.The four perspectives of the BSC model neatly coincide with the four powers of design, or the four design values system: customer perspective (design as differentiator); process perspective (design as coordinator); learning perspective (design as transformer) and finance perspective (design as good business). I think this is one of the most important contributions in the field of design management as it speaks a language that is easily understandable by managers and business owners thus leading to less apprehension while adopting design.
I developed a keen interest in the healthcare and health insurance industry after working on a few projects at my internship. Here are a few companies looking to disrupt the way things are traditionally done in health. This is especially difficult with the heavy regulations that surround the industry.
Castlight is a health tech company that helps consumers see how much health care services cost. Castlight operates a platform that helps enterprises better manage their healthcare costs. At the core is a sophisticated Big Data system that pulls from sources like healthcare providers, insurance companies and quality-monitoring organizations to detect trends and provides feedback on actions to take. It can help enterprises control healthcare costs without sacrificing quality or employee benefit satisfaction. Castlight can help improve health and productivity by limiting absenteeism, boosting workplace performance and reducing the complications of poor care.
PatientBank is a platform that makes it easy to gather and share medical records. Patient Bank’s services are available for patients, providers and registries. Patients can take control of their health information with PatientBank's personal health record service. Providers can efficiently gathering and releasing medical records. Registries can Improve data gathering and management and use this tool to boost patient engagement, while letting clinical researchers find data easily. The idea for Patient bank was born at a hackathon event at Yale where Paul Fletcher-Hill and Kevin Grassi connected. The idea evolved after understanding a pain point of patients; having to go through a tedious process of calling and faxing to obtain their medical records from providers.
Aptible is a platform that lats companies and products deploy complex architectures easily and securely, with zero downtime. They can use their existing code and workflows while Aptible runs their ops. When Aptible hosts apps and databases, their HIPAA compliance platform streamlines HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rule efforts. Aptible provides a one-click deployment, is easily configured from the command line or web dashboard. It is designed to consolidate clients’ security program and isolate vulnerabilities so clients can focus on great engineering instead of HIPAA compliance. It offers the flexibility of running multiple languages, frameworks, and databases. Aptible handles servers, network topology, backups, encryption, backend access, and more. Integration is as simple as adding a single file to clients’ codebase.
Oscar is a two+ year old health insurance company with a presence in New York and New Jersey. It sought to enter the health insurance business dominated by large companies that have existed for years and improve the customer experience. Traditionally health insurance has been very non transparent and outmoded in its workings and costs. Oscar sought to disrupt this status quo. Started by a venture capitalist, an ex Microsoft employee and a business consultant, Oscar believes that technology can provide the change this industry needs. Oscar offers slick apps, website, branding and advertisement to give the impression of it being different. It provides some cool features such as price transparency, providing customers with free fitness bands, cash incentives to stay fit and promises of better customer service. Oscar has raised about $300 million from investors, is currently valued at $1 billion and has become a serious competitor in New York and New Jersey
What is Generative Leadership? This is a term I came across while studying different modes of leadership, and found that it’s a fairly recent entrant into the club of styles of leadership; technical, cooperative and collaborative. I was particularly drawn towards this mode as it seemed to draw upon the principles we study in design management and design leadership. To the extent that Stanford University offers a class in generative leadership in which the main areas of focus are Design Thinking, User centered design, The Improvisational Mindset, and High Performance Communication. It is intended for the participants to increase their ability to respond flexibly to novel situations and to generate innovative solutions on a collaborative, creative team. The mindset is cultivated by practicing 5 key principles; Say "Yes, and”, Treat Mistakes as Gifts, Inspire your Partner, Dare to be Obvious and Notice the World. The purpose of the course is to create leaders that are agile and responsive to real time feedback. To better understand this style, let’s have look at the word “generative”. Literally explained, it means “the ability to produce something”. Generate what? Maybe new ideas, maybe new processes, maybe new relationships, anything that doesn’t involve atrophy of businesses that have been around for generations and even those that are fresh in their taste of success.
A word that has cropped up multiple times in my studies, as a prerequisite to producing excellent customer centric deliverables, is “empathy”. How does this apply to leadership? To be an effective generative leader, one must use emotional intelligence as a leadership skill. Building trust, hope and stability through empathizing with employees, could lead to teams that perform better, and add more value to the organization. Mel Toomey, founder of the Center for leadership studies is a huge proponent of this style and founded the Generative Leadership group, a consulting and advisory services firm. He draws on the work of James P. Carse, “Finite and infinite games” to explain the kind of people suited for this style of leadership. According to this philosophical piece, there are some games which are finite; with a definitive beginning and end, they are played with the purpose of winning, losing or drawing. The victor of these games earns a title for themselves and in this way an ability to wield power. Infinite games, as the name suggests, are meant to continue endlessly and the purpose is to keep the game in play. The act of playing is not as important as the consequence that arises out of it. Toomey goes on to define the characteristics of the players who adopt each of these two styles of “playing”. Finite players are seen to play within the rules of society. Society is shown to be a species of “culture” that has limits around it and a script from which no deviation is desired. Whereas infinite players operate in a culture that allows people to exercise choice, a freedom to reinterpret the past and supports people in their wish to act according to their own strengths and impulses. The concept of “self” is explored wherein the state of being is the sum total of a person’s attitudes, vision, thoughts and their focus on being either the finite or infinite player. The finite players are “trained”, self defined individuals who are prepared against surprises and act out the directions of the infinite players. The infinite players are “educated”, self-discovering individuals that are prepared for surprises. So it is probably safe to say that the generative style of leadership engages with systems rather than artifacts, processes or events.
What kinds of businesses should adopt this mode of leadership? “So often, many leaders focus on the desired result, the goals and the direction, without a full understanding of what it will take to move an organization, or create an organization, or build a team that is capable of sustained success. It would not be possible to overstate the role that the Generative Leadership Group team has played here in helping our leaders (and this leader!) to articulate and achieve their vision.”, says a President of New Business Ventures Group, a Fortune 50 Company in a testimonial praising the group. The Generative leadership group website then goes on to list Braun, Philips, Oral B, Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Berkshire, Ernst & Young, BP limited, Accenture, AT&T and YMCA (among many others) as clients spanning the consumer, healthcare, financial, energy, consulting and technology sectors. This could show that any company that intends to stay relevant and not be disrupted by competitors, needs to be led by people who are responsive to changes and are cognizant of the fact that their success lies in the sustained growth of the business. “We live in a time of brutal competition. Fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest threaten the existence of many organizations. Nearly every industry is in the midst of massive upheaval, with the old stalwarts falling quickly to the new breed of innovators. Dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances exacerbate the challenges we face as leaders.” writes Josh Linker in his book “The road to reinvention”.
How does this style compare to the other modes of leadership? Many would classify these differently, but I would like to mention the three following modes. In technical leadership and Cooperative leadership, there is an attempt to control ambiguity and mitigate risks in any actions. In the Collaborative leadership style, an attempt is made to examine ambiguity in order to find a consensus. Whereas in the Generative leadership style, ambiguity is an avenue to finding opportunity, leading to true innovation. As an aspiring design leader and someone who hopes to be a proponent of good design within organizations, it is clear to me, what mode of leadership I would benefit from adopting, as well as working under.
What is an organizational culture? According to “Management Concepts and Practices” by Dr Tim Hannagan, it is a collection of traditions, values, policies, beliefs and attitudes that shape the way individuals and the organization as a whole functions. Some of its influencers are language, religion, technology, education, legal environment and the overall social organization. In the 1976 work of Charles Handy, “Understanding Organizations” four groups of behaviors have been identified. Power Culture, where the power in the organization is dominated by a one charismatic figure or founder, Task culture, where the completion of jobs or projects are paramount, Person culture, wherein the organization is a means to the end of individual growth of employees and lastly role culture, where the organization is seen as a set of impersonal inter-related roles. Today we commonly refer to “open” cultures as a way of enhancing the employee experience and in this way having a positive impact on the performance of the whole organization, and a pertinent question is that if open cultures are a prerequisite today for companies to succeed?
So what really is an “open” culture? One of the important factors is transparency. This is the creation of an open dialogue between the management and the employees so that a culture of inclusiveness is bred. This is said to avoid narrow thinking, bring issues to the surface faster and to keep teams aligned to the company’s goals. Having managers as mentors, rather than task masters helps to turn the traditional organizational hierarchy upside down, with a bottom up approach. On the official Google website it says, “We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.” Google prides itself on its culture and attributes its success to it. Everybody performs their roles and it is rated as one of the best place to work in America and receives a similar ranking in many other countries in the world. On the other hand, one of the most successful and innovative companies, Apple, allegedly has a “closed” culture with a top down approach. Secrecy is of utmost importance and collaboration is only between teams working on one small piece of the puzzle, rather than with an overall view of the end goal. The fact that Apple is valued at $700 billion dollars goes to show that even a closed culture can lead a company to success. Another IT company recognized worldwide for its unique internal organization is HCL Technologies from India. HCL Technologies follows an inverted pyramid structure where the top management is accountable to the lower executive levels. Their emphasis on providing a fulfilling experience to their employees is so focussed that their motto is “employees first and customers second”! The idea is to boost employee involvement and respect, empowering them and encouraging them to create value. The result is a growth in the average revenue per employee, a tripling of its employee base, innovative ideas generated and an overall improved customer satisfaction.
Providing customers with a good quality product and service is no longer a factor for differentiating a company’s offering. A buzz is around about “experience economies”, where only the complete experience that a company provides to its customers is what creates a space for them in the mind and hearts of customers for a long time. It is difficult to find approaches that are truly unique and this is where the role of innovation comes in. Innovation, today, is no longer a luxury but a necessity to survive in the disruptive marketplace. This brings us to the question of how companies enable their employees to conduct their day to day activities as well as to set time aside to add value to the products and processes of organizations. What role does a company’s culture have to play in this and what is to be done when the company is large, well established and cumbersome in its structure? Does the flexibility and adaptability of startups and recent ventures have an upper hand in this regard? Some people profess that an open culture can induce innovative, but does this hold true for all types of companies?
In a Forbes article, Mike Steep, visiting scholar at Stanford writes, there are two popular innovation culture styles, that need to be willfully sustained by the companies that adopt them. The first is Formulaic cultures such as that followed by BMW. Their’s is a process oriented culture with a vision to innovate together. Departments work in sync with each other and innovation is a collective task. BMW’s leaders give as much thought into how people actually work as they do into precisely designing and making their cars. Many large organizations thats have innovation at the core of their vision follow this style. The second style he talks about is Entrepreneurial culture. One of their defining features, at least in their early days, is that they often feature a single, rogue innovator, a leader who is at the center of power and orchestrates the innovation. These kind of companies excel at disrupting the status quo and constantly attacking established companies with new technologies and ideas that were previously unthought of. They also tend to be more successful if the company is small and is a difficult model to replicate once a company is very large. The author also speaks of the drawback of such a style and that is the unhealthy dependance on one central innovator which can lead to suppression of valuable ideas, and such as in the case of Apple, a leadership vacuum once that central character is no longer there.
We have touched upon in the above paragraphs, at least one example from each of Handy’s four cultural styles. Apple’s power culture, Google’s role culture, BMW’s task culture and HCL’s person culture can each be considered an example. Each of these companies, in their own way are stalwarts of innovation, and as previously discussed, innovation is the key to success in today’s marketplace. This goes to show that there is no one culture that is right for an organization. In my view, the culture of a company should stem from its product offering and its vision to bring it to life. Culture should depend on the kind of tasks that is expected of the employees, the size of the organization and its core values. Innovation and change managers need to carefully scrutinize these before implementing any cultural changes in a long standing company and entrepreneurs should make intentional choices at the onset of the formation of the