So where was I? Ah yes.
On two separate occasions, I had a similar discussion with two designer friends. One of which was a very senior designer almost two decades older than I. We were discussing how designers have “Use by Dates” and how we all will eventually get there. This is because the older designers would eventually get surpassed by new blood that has access to new training, technologies, skills and thinking.
So I pondered: “How can designers remain relevant in today’s fast pace design world?”
For one, designers, especially in the senior levels, should not forget how to do actual designing. A few years ago, I spoke to a design educator friend that researched on how a number of design managers and above don’t actually do much design work these days. It seems the higher up you go, the further you get from the day to day design work.
This is true to a certain extent, but from my view, staying hands-on and relevant is something that I have always been very vehement about. Even if I don’t have the time to design at work as I’m spending time on strategy or management, I would spend my free time producing my own design projects instead. Designers on all levels should never forget about their core assets in design.
More importantly, what about that new Thinking bit?
My answer came from a friend who is currently doing his MBA at INSEAD. He shared with me a Toyota case study he worked on in his innovation management class. Apparently Toyota’s manufacturing line is an open book. They frequently invite engineers from their competitors to visit, stay and learn how they are able to be the world’s number 1 car company in quality and reliability. They believe in sharing their advanced techniques, thinking and management philosophy with others, even competitors, as they feel that by sharing they will make the world a better place to live in.
As the story goes, a group of engineers from a competing car company went to Toyota to learn their techniques so that they could apply it on their own production line. When they returned, not only could they not repeat or emulate Toyota’s quality and efficacy controls, they could not even improve their own production process!
Unperturbed, the management from the competing car company did the reverse. They invited Toyota engineers to come and see what they could do to improve their own line. The result was a tremendous success, the Toyota engineers manage to hit double digit percentage improvements on a manufacturing line that was believed impossible to improve.
So what is the moral of this story?
I believe Toyota really understands that even if they share and teach the world their thinking, at the end of the day, it is the Toyota’s culture of excellence and their engineer’s mindset that can never be copied, recreated or reproduced.
Eventually, Toyota will get surpassed as someone will figure out how to do it better. However, Toyota’s culture of sharing actually forces them not to rest on their laurels. This means they will always be ahead of the competitive curve, as they will always be re-inventing themselves with the aim to do their very best!
This is the secret right here.
As time goes on and we get older, the 60-80 hour week is just not going to cut it anymore. However to survive, we will need to continue to stay relevant by constantly reinventing ourselves. We need to identify our strengths, cover our weaknesses and be open to learning new skills. Furthermore do not be afraid to share your experiences, so that you would be always on your toes and out of your comfort zone. This will keep you moving on to the next level and ahead of your competition.
And that was also how my senior designer friend remains extremely relevant in today’s fast pace Internet driven environment.