The recent 2018 McKinsey report highlighting the business value of design did a good job of connecting the dots between rigorous design practice and relative revenue growth and return to shareholders. This "business value of design" report built on an earlier study that the Design Management Institute published in 2013, the Design Value Index, on design efficacy in corporations. The McKinsey report did not really focus on those companies developing experience design and service design practices. It highlighted that certain companies' commitment to product design has nice payoffs in the consumer-packaged goods, healthcare, and financial services sectors. This is especially significant given that finance and healthcare are highly regulated industries, and therefore, committing to the more iterative process of design can be challenging.
But before a company can build their business value of design, some critical building blocks must be in place.
They must first prime the organization to have a culture of creativity that supports design-centric initiatives. This only happens when companies get really good at leveraging creativity as an innovation resource.
I've written in an earlier article about the significance of "the human quotient" in companies as they grapple with the future of work in the midst of our 4th Industrial Revolution- a time when we are tethered to cloud technology, AI, VR, robotics and data in ubiquitous ways. Pointing out the business value of design is another way of acknowledging that when a company starts with their customers' human needs and desired experiences, and builds products and services around those drivers, it is ultimately a more efficient way to run a business.
The human quotient is grounded in creativity. Creative approaches to business outcomes can positively affect revenue generation, market share diversification, efficiencies and cost reductions. This has to happen in an inside-out manner. That is, the creative impact of your products and services on people's lives will only come to pass when the company builds a culture of creativity. This is especially true at a time when employee engagement, generative thinking and thought diversity in a company are critical means to innovation.
Here are three ways companies can build their creative competencies, and thus prime themselves to build the business value of design.
1. Encourage Curiosity
Leaders need to model that inquiry - versus certainty- gets us to the next level. There are market leader companies- such as Amazon, Whole Foods and Lyft- who would have never anticipated 5 years ago with certainty, where they are today. There are new alliances they now make based on macro-environmental drivers. Encouraging people to ask lots of questions and not equate curiosity with appearing ignorant is a crucial first step.
Companies that design flexible structures and processes, versus rigid rulebooks, are better off. Humans respond well to structure - to an extent. Structure helps us to understand the limits we can push. This is the very nature of improvisation. Like jazz music, all improvisational systems have rules. It's the ability to stretch and rebound off the rules which allows for adaptive and responsive solutions to customer needs.
While most corporate boardrooms don't admit out loud the role of intuition in decision making- because of our culture's leniency on the rational- the truth of the matter is that plans are fiction: they haven't happened yet. Although honing intuition is not something we teach in business school, the majority of successful entrepreneurs can speak to pivotal moments when they followed their heart, paid attention to subtle patterns, and great things happened.
Companies that implement great design practice linked to positive business outcomes, have also created opportunities for encouraging curiosity, improvising solutions through adaptive structures and acknowledging intuition. Try experimenting with implementing your own version of these 3 building blocks, one per month over the next quarter.