"To personalize an experience in the context of the moment--to understand what makes a customer human--Reinventors don't just plumb lots of data, though they do that well. They're design thinkers. They approach problems with a sense of empathy for their customers, which helps them explore and consider the right questions." IBM 2017 Global C-suite Study

The Reinventors, above, are CEOs who lead in innovation and outperform their peers in both revenue growth and profitability over the past 3 years by 27%. To understand how these Reinventors use design thinking, I reached out to Don Norman, the best selling author of the seminal book, Design of Everyday Things

Here are the basic building blocks of design that every CEO needs to know, drawn from Norman:

Design is a way of thinking.

Norman's 1st sentence was, "Design is a way of thinking." So many people still think that design is making pretty things when in fact you can design everything--from your life or any particular aspect of it to companies, governments, countries... 

"Here's the issue. Design Thinking is the rage. Executives love it. But how does it change things? Design Thinking is worthless on its own, what you need is "Design Doing" (developing, fast prototyping, demonstrating and testing the ideas generated by design thinking)."

According to Norman, business people don't understand what modern design is and see designers as an adjunct or a tool, not a driver or decision maker. "Modern design" in this context is design of human-centered experiences that uncover needs (often unsaid or unarticulated) and answer them in intuitive and delightful ways (think of Nike, Apple, Tesla products as successful examples of modern design).

The right thing to do is to have designers in the C-suite and at the table. Designers are taught to solve real issues, going in novel and unexplored directions that can help businesses create new and unique value.

Design needs to be taught by doing.

Design is about solving problems. Instead of lecturing, give your team an actual problem to solve. If successful, demonstrate to others to show what can be done. 

Innovation can help companies grow 10 times bigger or go bankrupt. And, yes, that is risky. Norman is keenly aware that companies need to survive and continuously make profit. His recommendation is to first start with a small project, demonstrate and learn what it takes for design to work, then you can move on to the bigger, riskier projects.

"CEO's want innovation but then they say, 'hold on, no one is doing that.' We need to educate CEO's about design."

Everyone needs to be in.

Design Driven Transformation requires buy in by everyone in the company. Everyone needs to be on board. You want entry level staff, managers, managers of managers, all the way up to the CEO in agreement.

Important point is tradition gets in the way of innovation.

Norman finds that it is easy for the CEO to say we need more innovation and for juniors to say they have great ideas. It is in the middle management that it gets stuck. The reward structure is not there. If you gamble and you fail you're dead. "It should be, you fail and we reward you", says Norman.

It needs to be transferable.

Have a repeatable process that can survive changes.

Design Driven Transformation takes a long time to build. Norman says the biggest danger is when people change--they move on, change roles, retire.

Important processes are the ones that survive these changes. Toyota's Just-In-Time, Manufacturing flow and methods of marketing are such processes. They're engrained. Design is not, not yet.

"Innovation needs to be thought of as a system and not as individual projects."

You need to develop methods for the average person, have it work for everyone, not just the 1%.

Couple Design Thinking with Design Doing to get to Design Driven Transformation--that's how real change will happen and value will be created. 

Published on: Jun 30, 2018