You know what they say about couples. Opposites attract. A similar dynamic exists between business leaders and designers. It's as if business people are from Mars; designers from Venus

Business people and designers are substantially different species. Which is what makes their partnership so valuable. Business leaders that collaborate with designers and businesses that incorporate design into their organization grow exponentially. 

"2015 results show that over the last 10 years design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211 percent," according to the Design Management Institute Design Value Index Study.

Opposites attract. So what makes us so different? I reached out to Alexander  Osterwalder, creator of the bestseller, the Business Canvas Model, which has become an indispensable tool for mapping out business plans for entrepreneurs and innovative organizations. He is also the lead author of Business Canvas Generation, together with Yves Pigneur, professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Lausanne.

Osterwalder is a business person who is fluent in design, and I am a designer who is fluent in business strategy. I wanted to bring clarity to why we are so different and yet so complimentary. 

Here are eight reasons why business people and designers think substantially differently, according to Osterwalder:

  1. Business people manage and execute. Designers create and imagine.
  2. Business people are trained to find the right solutions. Designers are trained to create and imagine solutions that don't exist.
  3. Business people focus on what is. Designers on what can be.
  4. Business decisions emerge from a given knowledge set. Designer decisions emerge over time from what you learn as you explore and ideate multiple alternatives.
  5. Business is a culture of perfection. Design is a culture of rough prototypes, continuous iteration and throwing away what doesn't work.
  6. In business, you know therefore you are. In design, you imagine therefore you are.
  7. In business, solutions come from knowledge of what exists. In design, solutions come from the process of exploring new options.
  8. Business values efficiency. Design values ambiguity and divergent thinking.

Business thinking is especially skilled at "exploiting" what is. Design is highly skilled at "exploring" what can be. 

Osterwalder reminds us that 80 percent of all companies in the world are to disappear and that, where organizational structures are so broken, we need to fundamentally rethink them.

"Human cost of companies disappearing is so high, moral obligation is helping them stay alive, to help them live."

To help make organizations better, we need both Exploiters and Explorers. Or as I call them, Evolutionaries and Revolutionaries. Knowledge-based business thinking and imagination-based design thinking. It's the ying and yang of good business. 

Opposites attract and that is how successful partnerships are formed.

Published on: Dec 13, 2018
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