in Business Design

Burning questions

I had an interesting discussion today with a graduate student who is honing in on a thesis question in the intersection of design, innovation, and business. Along the way I remembered I had composed a list of questions that came up during a project last year. These are not necessarily great thesis questions, but they’re certainly things I’d like to know more about, and worth releasing just in case someone is inspired to work on them…

  • How can we introduce the uncertainty of wicked problems into organizations accustomed to certainty gained through analysis and hierarchical decision making?
  • How does top-down strategic innovation mesh with bottom-up product innovation?
  • How can teams seamlessly fuse analysis and creativity?
  • Which combinations of skill sets help individuals be innovative?
  • How can design theory be applied to business planning and strategy?
  • In each of our industries, which skills and techniques are proving successful?
  • In each of our situations, which language helps us communicate with colleagues most effectively?
  • How does culture determine what kinds of products and services are possible, and vice versa?
  • Are there attitudes in our fields that hinder innovation?
  • How do organizations accustomed to making decisions based on hierarchy or quantitative analysis alone become more customer-centered and make use of qualitative analysis?
  • Can we teach process in a heuristic, modular way that makes it easier for people to use a toolbox of processes as easily as they use a toolbox of techniques?
  1. I believe that there is a common challenge to the organization-specific questions, and could be the topic of its own paper: how to make the financial argument for innovation, design thinking, and user-centric processes. Scott Hirsch from your own Management Innovation Group has written a great paper on the ROI of good user experience design on websites, and it is a great start for a higher level look at the ROI of innovation and wicked problem-solving.

    The flow of money in an organization — its ability to generate cash — is the arbiter of any strategic question, even more so than the social value inherent in a strategic or product decision (I feel ugly saying it, but I think it is true). I believe that it is incumbent upon us as a group of socially conscientious business-people to begin documenting how our attempts to inject design-thinking benefit shareholders, because this is the only language that The Street speaks. We need to show The Street (who ultimately commands the behavior of public companies) that design-thinking provides value.

    This is not to say that this is the ONLY challenge, but I believe that, in affecting this change, we can change the attitude and expectations of The Street in terms of the demands it makes upon public companies, and thusly affect companies and their approach to innovation from the top down.

  2. RE>I feel ugly saying it, but I think it is true

    A lot of us feel that way, and we need to get over it, for the reasons you mention. Money makes good design possible.

    With a more sophisticated understanding of the situation, we can differentiate good money (which helps us achieve higher aims) from bad money (which is money for it’s own sake).

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