by: Idris Mootee

There are three types of businesses in this world. Either you are selling "Bandages", "Transformation" or "Snake Oil". I guess 50% of products out are are simply "Bandages" but they have places. Big solutions is about selling "Transformation" and all innovative products, services or business models fell within this category. The remaining 15%-20% are "Snake Oil". The problem is it is hard for us to distinguish between them because there are so many things we don’t know.

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Take sustainability as a example, the German branch of the environmental group World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has finished a study together with IZES (German institute for future energy systems) on the environmental impact of electric vehicles in Germany. Germany is years ahead in green policy compare to US and Canada.

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Germany has an ambitious goal of introducing electric vehicles. Germany, which today has 41 million cars, aims to have 1 million electric cars or plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2020. The conclusion of the study is that these electric cars only reduce greenhouse gases marginally. Despite all those investments.

The surprising result was even in the best-case scenario, the WWF assumes that the 1 million electric cars or plug-in vehicles running on renewable electricity and used at maximum mileage, the reduction is only 1%. The overall national carbon dioxide emissions would only be cut by 0.1%. And these cars will drive the demand of electricity and that means more power plants. It doesn't really solve any problem?

Nathan Shedroff (a designer by training and the chair of the MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco) has just released his latest book, Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must Be Sustainable. It deals with many interesting dilemma of design. He believes designers should be pro business.

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His point is designers have to be "pro-business" if they want to make change happen, it's only because we have to reset the conversation from those who are "anti-business" in order to have the real conversation, which is: What should business be doing to change the world for the better and what can we do to encourage this to happen.

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According to Nathan, “’Business’ is never bad or good. So, it's ridiculous to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ it. It's a really great, helpful, powerful, and (because of all of that) problematic endeavor but it's not something to be for or against. Government, NGOs, unions, non-profits, and individuals all have their own, similar issues. So, when I say designers have to be "pro-business" if they want to make change happen, it's only because we have to reset the conversation from those who are "anti-business" in order to have the real conversation, which is: What should business be doing to change the world for the better and what can we do to encourage this to happen.”

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In his book, Nathan Shedroff examines how the endemic culture of design often creates unsustainable solutions, and shows how designers can bake sustainability into their design processes in order to produce more sustainable solutions. He explains how sustainability isn't as difficult to understand and address as many would have we think and how to insert sustainability into the development process that we're already using. Lots of practical ideas to help designer to create more sustainable designs.

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I’ve criticized how the lack of  understand in basic economics and business in the design field in my last post. Over the years majority of designers I’ve come across are either 1/ do not like business 2/ have no idea of how business works. Can a Design MBA solve this problem? So I asked Nathan the question: Do you think a designer can ever be a good business person? His response is as follow:

“Absolutely. In fact, our Design MBA program is predicated on the idea that these aren't so much different domains but two approaches to the same issues and concerns. Designers are, typically, divergent thinkers that expand possibilities and "get" qualitative aspects and qualities. ‘Traditional’ business people typically focus on convergent thinking and adhere to quantitative metrics to manage. In truth, both are needed for any venture to be successful and it's easier for designers (who are already accustomed to dealing with ambiguity) to see and integrate both than it is for traditional business people (who tend to run screaming in the face of ambiguous results and squishy metrics). However, everyone can get there if they desire to and apply themselves.”

May be I should talk to a few recent graduates and see how they compare to those other 1,000 traditional MBAs that I’ve hired during my career? May be it will set the stage for new types of MBAs such as MBA in Design Thinking or MBA in Sytem Thinking.

Original Post: http://mootee.typepad.com/innovation_playground/2009/05/there-are-so-any-things-we-dont-know-take-sustainability-for-a-example-the-german-branch-of-the-environmental-group-wor.html

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