Ten Lessons for Design-Driven Success

Check out Fast Company’s 10th annual issue devoted to “Innovation by Design”, showing how good design drives innovation. These are their ten key factors that drive the “new kind of creativity”, and each one is elaborated in one of the articles in this special issue:

  1. Design starts at the top. In innovative companies, the CEO is very close to the top designer. “Only the CEO can get the entire company to focus on something,” says Google designer Jon Wiley.
  2. Apple was the first to show the way. Max Chaifkin contributes an oral history of Apple’s design, arguing that Apple’s design strategy has been completely misunderstood.
  3. Good design often takes years, not quarters, to bring results. Sometimes a failed product, like Apple’s 2000 Cube, sows the seeds for later successes.
  4. There are many different ways to build a design and innovation culture. Google, for example, does not have a chief designer and doesn’t have any design “rules.” At other design powerhouses, there’s a lead designer in the C-suite. It depends.
  5. Sometimes innovation and design doesn’t seem to be the wisest financial design. It can cost a lot of money, and the revenue stream isn’t always obvious. Apple stores all have a Genius Bar and their services are free. What other retail chain devotes 20% of floor space to something they give away for free? And yet, Apple Stores have the highest sales per square foot of any retailer.
  6. Today’s consumers want good design more than ever. The examples of success are online bazaar Fab, and Samsung, and new brands including Nest and Warby Parker.
  7. Watch consumers to get new ideas and good design.
  8. Design has to be embedded and linked to every other aspect of the business. Manufacturing, marketing, finance. It can’t just be shape, color, or even just interaction design.
  9. You need both the big picture, and a mastery of the small details. Examples include Jawbone, Flipboard, and J. Crew.
  10. Treat every day like it’s the first day of your business. Jeff Bezos of Amazon uses the expression “day one” to emphasize that Amazon is still just at the beginning.

I particularly liked their timeline of key design moments from 2004 to 2013, starting on page 35. Remember when Chicago’s Millennium Park opened in July 2004? It seems like it’s been there forever! Remember when Dan Pink published A Whole New Mind in 2005? Read these prophetic words:

It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.

This is a must-read issue! (October 2013)

Building a Better Brainstorm

Fast Company Magazine writer Anya Kamenetz published an innovative feature titled “Building a Better Brainstorm” in the February 2013 issue. She interviewed me and also several other experts on group creativity, including Bob Sutton, Gerard Puccio, and Charlan Nemeth. Then she edited and blended together our statements with quotations from our books, and then added in quotations from books by the late Alex Osborn and others. Anya wove all of these bits together to make it read as if we were all having a conversation in the same room. For example, she has me responding to a “statement” by the (long dead) Alex Osborn, saying “That’s not really true” in response to his statement in support of brainstorming.

The feature has several amusing touches. For example, she has author Jonah Lehrer “saying” that “I’m Jonah. I declined to comment for this article.”

I stand by this quotation she took from our interview:

Groups are better for problem-finding, for working on ill-defined or wicked problems, where you don’t know what a solution would look like or even if there is a solution.

Fast Company: 50 Most Innovative Companies

Fast Company magazine’s annual innovation ranking has been published in the March 2011 issue. I like their rankings, even though they don’t use a quantitative methodology to derive the rankings. (Perhaps because BCG already does that for Business Week magazine). Instead, the editorial staff of the magazine collectively chooses the top 50 every year, making it highly subjective, but also entertaining and surprisingly different every year. Here are the top ten:

  1. Apple
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Nissan (for creating the Leaf all-electric car)
  5. Groupon
  6. Google
  7. Dawning Information Industry (for building the world’s fastest supercomputer)
  8. Netflix
  9. Zynga
  10. Epocrates (instant drug reference for doctors and nurses)