by: Idris Mootee

I was often asked the question of what "design thinking" has to do with business strategy. When talked about "design thinking" people refer to aesthetics (mainly high stlye design or usability) and generally they cannot relate to strategy (strategy means spreadsheet).

I explained to them that "design thinking" is crucial to any innovation effort if a company wants to break out of its current competitive structure. Today's management concepts are heavily based on "optimization" and "scale economics". It means making better use of your resource and exercise your market power to gain competitive advantage. It does not really address the other side of the problem which is "size" can create a different set of problems. That's when legacys and bureaucracy hinder imagination and opportunities for growth for large organizations.

During the last century we saw the perfection of the bureaucracy -- a form of organization that has been enormously successful and is the result of thousands of years of trial and error evolution. Max Weber outlined the key characteristics of a bureaucracy:

  1. specification of jobs with detailed rights, obligations, responsibilities, scope of authority
  2. system of supervision and subordination
  3. unity of command
  4. extensive use of written documents
  5. training in job requirements and skills
  6. application of consistent and complete rules (company manual)
  7. assign work and hire personnel based on competence and experience

I think this is really a BIG part of the problem. Do you see what's wrong with this?  (I like to hear your views on which ones are the biggest issues before I go into each of those next time). In order to fully explore a full spectrum of growth opportunities, strategists must not only be collaborative but "empathic" as well. Many make the mistake of thinking this is a spreadsheet (market sizing) exercise. This is an overly simplistic view of the world. The key is to bring the emphathic mind set to explore a "landscape of innovation" that has everything to do with people, their needs, their lifestyles, how they technologies and how they make brand choices. It is in fact a process of "applied imagination and creativity". To do that well, you cannot have hard core MBAs alone, you need the collaboration of designers, anthropologists and brand managers, collaborately investigating how people experience the world and objects around them both emotionally and cognitively.

The bigger question is what frameworks and processes are required to support innovation and how "design thinking" come into play? How do we apply "design thinking" to inspire the exploratory process in corporate strategy development? Many companies fail in their attempts to innovate because they lack the balance between business discipline and imagination. It is drastically different from brainstorming. Here I'm sharing with you a short version of a presentation which I often give at b-schools, let me know what you think. Oops, need to turn off my Macbook Air, landing in 15 mins.

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