Today’s guest post is by Sven Baker, Group CEO Designworks.
I might as well concede defeat before I start. I’m sorry. I HAVE NO BIG NEW IDEA. No profound insight that will shake the foundations of conventional wisdom.
A week ago I did have an idea, and at the time I thought a bloody good one! It was an idea centred on the transformative role design can play in business. Up until a week ago I was convinced of the power of Design Thinking to help transform business performance. I was going to be generous with our IP – I was going to share with you our Transformation process, peppered with illuminating case studies.
Such as how we’re working with New Zealand Post to revolutionise the experience of sending at retail from confusion to clarity. A new experience we co-created with customers.
How for Air New Zealand we’ve helped bust the drudgery of queuing in airports with a world first express check-in experience. And then went on to transform the nightmare of cattle class into the joy of ‘Cuddle Class.’
And finally shifting Telecom retail from selling handsets the old fashion way to selling bandwidth the new ‘smart way’ though engaging learning environments designed around the user’s world.
All of which aimed to demonstrate simply that ‘Design is a good idea’ – that as our name suggests, DESIGN WORKS.
But it appears it isn’t so. A week ago disaster struck. I was checking my email and I clicked on Fast Company’s website link and there it was… My heart sunk. To my horror! A blog post by design commentator Bruce Nussbaum. The headline read: ”Design thinking is a failed experiment. So what’s next?”
The last ten years of my life flashed by in an instant. All my professional endeavours have been for nothing. Design Thinking it appears was making way for a new ‘Conceptual Framework:’ CQ – Creative Intelligence. It appears I’ve been part of a FAILED experiment.
I was in deep trouble. Clearly I needed a NEW, BIGGER, BRIGHTER, BETTER, 10% LESS FAT IDEA and I needed it fast, time was running out.
A very long shower failed to provide any revolutions, so I went to the BIG NEW IDEA trail blazer of our industry for inspiration.
I went straight to the authority. The godfather of Ideas: Kevin Roberts, the first person to recognise that ‘brand loyalty’ was an expired notion and whose BIG IDEA provided the answer to marketers around the word. THE LOVE MARK had arrived. I consulted John Howkin’s 2001 best-seller, The Creative Economy. A brilliant book that became a users guide to, as he puts it, “Making money from creativity.” And finally, Good to Great by the legionary Jim Collins in which he examined the performance of 1,500 companies to find the eleven that became great and concluded their secret was they all had ‘a single organizing idea.’
The list goes on. Just search ‘Design Thinking’ on goodreads.com and you get 459 titles. I didn’t have time to read them all, I only had 2 days left.
A stark realisation was sinking in… With so much already having been written on the subject, the obvious question arises: Is there any room, or indeed any need, for another BIG NEW IDEA in the lexicon of Design? Then it hit me like a left hook to the temple. Many of the BIG NEW IDEAS where fundamentally just variations on a single theme. The same idea. The same principle of applied creativity repackaged in a new form – sorry, repackaged in a new ‘Conceptual Framework.’
Why is this? Why do people feel so compelled to constantly reclassify the same basic concept with new terminology – with A BIG NEW IDEA? Why do they try and validate their NEW IDEA by claiming that the previous ‘Conceptual Framework’ was a failure? The answer may lie in the first paragraph of Bruce Nussbaum’s article: “….I am writing a book about Creative Intelligence, due out from HarperCollins in fall 2012″. (Just $19.99 from all good booksellers and newsagents).
Lucrative book deals aside, why so much academic one-upmanship on the subject of creativity in business? Is it perhaps that it’s far easier to write about creativity and innovation in business than it is to do it? You only need to look at the army of consultants liberally dispensing advice on the importance of creativity in business whose assignments regularly conclude with the delivery of a 300 page report.
Ironically, if it’s a Sustainability strategy it’ll probably be delivered in 50 duplicate hard copies with that bloody non-recyclable plastic binding that will shred a hole in your hand as well as the ozone layer!
But I’m being hash. To be fair, I know some very good consultants and advisors in the field of creative problem solving. But most of them are practitioner designers not accountants.
I digress. Now, where was I…?
So where do these BIG NEW IDEAS come from?
The reality is most game changing ideas don’t start out BIG at all. They come from humble beginnings and with any luck grow. But sadly it seems they will too often wither on the vine through lack of support and funding. Falling into the “too hard,” or “are you crazy?” baskets. Invariably it’s not the quality of the idea or its size that’s the problem. Rather it’s the difficulty organisations find with embracing new thinking and their inability to drive the operational changes required to commercialise them successfully.
I believe we need to shift our focus from the obsession with the THE NEXT BIG NEW IDEA to finding ways to help businesses successfully implement what we call ‘EVERYDAY INNOVATION’ – the many small ideas that cumulatively can lead to transformational change. When Steve Jobs was asked why the iPod was such a phenomenal success he didn’t claim it was the brilliant new idea, IT WASN’T. He simply replied: “We got it into the shops.” He totally understood that brilliant implementation and hard work was the key to its success. As my esteemed colleague at STW Chris Savage wrote in his blog, quoting Vidal Sassoon: “The only place success comes before work is in a dictionary”. So what’s the problem?
In my experience many business are just not built to leverage creativity.
While they embrace the concept they struggle to practice it. They’re too often governed by linear, rational and risk averse people and processes. The evaluations of business choices are too heavily informed by category conventions, overseas best practice or traditional consumer research that at best gives them a clear picture of what’s in the rear vision mirror. So, what are the climatic conditions that exist in the businesses that do embrace Design Led Thinking and use it to drive successful innovation or even reinvention?
I’ve looked back over my 30 of experience with clients, where we have been successful and where we’ve failed in the hope of better understanding what leads to game changing outcomes. I concluded the difference between success and failure has often boiled down to six vital ingredients: I’ve called these the “Ideal Growing Conditions.” Together they seem to create the right eco-system for transformative thinking to become reality.
1. An impending crisis .
Transformation is more likely to happen when a company is operating under an expired business model and there is open recognition that the status quo is no longer sustainable. It is the point at which it becomes unavoidably clear that the organisation can no longer just try and communicate its way out of the problem. The time has arrived for fundamental change.
2. A visionary leader.
A business in crisis is a business in need of a visionary leader. These are individuals who enthusiastically embrace the need for change. People with absolute clarity about where they want to go and the ability to communicate it in a way that inspires others.
3. A new business strategy/model .
Visionary leaders inspire new thinking and are able to facilitate agreement around setting a new direction. They ask the tough questions: What is our higher Purpose? What business are we in? What is the future positioning – the market niche we should own? What is the Shared Value that works for all stakeholders? How can we be more sustainable? And they invite participation in the solutioning process.
4. The mavericks inside.
Visionary leaders need inspired followers. These are the true believers, the passionate champions of change inside an organisation – people without respect for the status quo. They are brave and energetic flag carriers for the cause. People with the confidence to go down ‘The new path’. These are the people we seek out in our work. We love them, they get things done!
5. A pioneering spirit.
Mavericks by nature are pioneers, they love going somewhere new. This may mean breaking some rules along the way – The rules of the ‘old business’ and the rules of the category. A pioneering Spirit takes us to the far-side of a brand where we discover the new. This brings me to the final but perhaps most important attribute…..
Rule breaking means risk taking. The key is managing the risk and overcoming the fear of the unknown. It’s about being informed by research NOT led by it. It means ‘Launching to test’ using the consumer as a designer. Co-creating, prototyping, live testing, improving and then perfecting. This all takes courage.
So there you have it. The six attributes I look for in a client when embarking on a transformation project.
In conclusion, my proposition to you is this: Beware of the BIG NEW IDEA. Don’t be paralysed by the pursuit of it. Don’t wait idly for the ‘light bulb moment’. Get on and put the hard yards into nurturing the right growing conditions for ‘EVERYDAY INNOVATION’ to flourish. And focus on implementing brilliantly! As Thomas Edison famously said: “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”
And by the way, I will not be writing a book about this!
This guest post is by Sven Baker, Group CEO Designworks. It is based on a speech he delivered at CIRCUS (The Festival of Commercial Creativity) for the ‘Battle of the Big Thinkers.’