by: Idris Mootee

Continuing on this topic. Let's start with some key findings from a recent McKinsey survey.  According to the survey, a company's main challenge with innovation today is finding enough talented people.


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In the survey, top managers agree that identifying the right people and aligning them for innovation is their single-greatest struggle and that the most important drivers of innovation are the organization's culture and people. The survey further suggests, however, that companies discourage talented staff from pursuing innovation by offering limited incentives, being risk averse, and having no plan for dealing with failure.

The findings shows that executives have very different perceptions of the struggles related to finding and aligning their people. In short, it is still a lack of common understanding despite its importance. Innovation is not in the core curriculum of MBA schools. Another interesting point is 40% of top managers say that they do not have enough of the right kind of employees. Among respondents who do say enough people are available, however, nearly 50% say the right employees are in place, motivated, and protected by senior leadership, and only 22% say the organization's culture inhibits them from making progress. The question that immediately comes to my mind when they say they do not have enough of the right kind of employees, I wonder if they have a definition of what are the "right" kind of employees. That would be an interesting question to add to the survey. I don't think you will get answers such as "we need designers in the executive suites or we need more senior executives with design thinking".

People who are trained in various disciplines of design are particularly good at using their instincts more than other individuals. Any innovation strategist must develop a keen interest in what works in marketplaces and what are the desirability factor as well as usability factor. Designers have an advantage and a key role to play in this innovation movement and that's why I was saying MFA is the new MBA. The innovation field per se needs to use many different forms of design, crossover, jammed and integrated, to get beyond some threshold level of activity--enough to get commercially produced and, to be strategic. The great news for designers about the rise of a corporate interest in innovation is that it recognizes, more than ever before, the strategic contribution of "design thinking" to product, service, information, and corporate level bsuiness strategy. I think this as a long term trend that will likely to persist for at least another decade. I am not saying any designer should be given the decision making power for important business projects. I think we are talking about new capability. I don't think we can simply put designers together with spreadsheet crawlers and expect innovation will follow. Design thinking is not only about design. It is about applying their mental models, languages and tools to complex business decision making. I'd like to see practitioners, design schools, business schools and engineering schools coming together to create broad new capabilities and professionalism that will actually meet the underlying need for objects, places, human-centered concepts, and distinctive experiences that human beings crave--and enterprises must increasingly learn to deliver to thrive and prosper.

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Photo: Stanford Design School - Masters Project

My friend Bob Jacobson (A planner and technologist, science writer, consultant, a Fulbright scholar and he edited Information Design with MIT Press and is now working on a book on the theory and practice of creating edifying, transformative experiences believes that my notion of "engineering desire" is a bridge too far. According to Bob," Knowing as little as we do about desire, presuming to be able to engineer it may lead marketers in pursuit of a Holy Grail -- or possibly, a wild goose chase."

I think this point is somewhat valid. But we need to look at marketing today which is at its mid-life crisis and in the middle of a complete transformation. Many consumers now experience consumption as part of the journey towards personal development, achievement and self-creation. Marketing is evolving away from a top-down supply-chain-centric approach towards one that provides or facilitates innovations for new ideas and consumer meanings. The co-creation of 'desirable' experiences with consumers has become the basis for value and is experiencial in nature. This, in fact, challenges the convention view of product-centric innovation.


Photo: Parson Sustainable Design Project

Let me post a few questions here. Is design-driven innovation a new profession, or is it a new level of collaboration between existing professions (design, engineering and business)? It's interesting for us to think a little ahead. Industrial design wasn't always a profession - it was packaging for engineering ideas. Then it slowly evolves into a specialist domain. Interface design was an application of psychology. Then there are Interactive design and Service design. Will innovation be part of the schools of business? Or schools of design? Or schools of anthropology? Or school of engineering? Can the discipline be formed without the support of the educational system or professional associations? Should innovation be implemented as a mind-set, a process, or a deliverable?  Tell me what you think.

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Photo: Cup holder designed by Maya Goldberg (a recent graduate of the St Martin's College of Art and Design, London)

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