Design Thinking

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Change by Design, the long-awaited book by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, has just been published. And it’s getting a lot of press: it was excerpted in Business Week’s October 5, 2009 issue, and was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal on October 9, 2009 (“The shape of things to come”).

The book’s genesis dates back to a legendary article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Design Thinking.” It’s IDEO’s approach to innovation–to focus on “new ways of communicating and collaborating.” Designers have always done these things, using a toolkit that includes user observation, brainstorming, prototyping, storytelling, and scenario building. As Brown writes,

“Design” is no longer a discrete stylistic gesture thrown at a project just before it is handed off to marketing. The new approach taking shape in companies and organizations around the world moves design backward to the earliest stages of a product’s conception and forward to the last stages of its implementation–and beyond.

Something interesting happened a few years ago, when IDEO was asked to redesign the patient health care experience at Kaiser Permanente hospitals. IDEO had previously focused on product design, but was now being asked to apply its innovation methodology to a service organization. The result is now legendary (a famous business case has been written about the project) and the result is that “innovation and design thinking [have been introduced] across the Kaiser system.”

Yes, the iPhone looks beautiful and works well, and that’s the result of design thinking. But we’re not just talking about making cool things; we’re talking about changing the way we experience the world. As Brown writes, “In the process [designers] are helping to make our societies healthier, our businesses more profitable, and our own lives richer and more meaningful.”

Inventing the Future of Management

How can we maximize human potential to make the world a better place? How can we make work more fulfilling–whether in a business, a school, or a government agency?

For the past two days, I’ve been attending a high-powered conference here in Half Moon Bay, California, hosted by Gary Hamel (Wall Street Journal’s “top business guru” and author of The Future of Management). Our goal: to use the latest management research to re-design organizations to release the full potential of their employees, and to generate maximum innovation, adaptability, and engagement. Our starting point is the observation that management today–whether businesses, government agencies, or educational systems–is deeply flawed (think of Dilbert’s cartoons and you’ll know what we’re trying to fix).

C. K. Prahalad, Peter Senge, Gary Hamel (standing), Eric AbrahamsonMost of the 40 or so in attendance were thought leaders, authors of best-selling business books and/or professors (The photo shows, from left to right, C. K. Prahalad of University of Michigan, Peter Senge from MIT, Gary Hamel (standing), and Eric Abrahamson of Columbia).

But the high point, for me, were the presentations by a few CEOs, representing innovative styles of management: Gore, Google, Whole Foods, and IDEO, all companies I describe at length in my book GROUP GENIUS.

Tim Brown, IDEO

Representing Gore was CEO Terri Kelly; Whole Foods, CEO John Mackey; and IDEO, CEO Tim Brown (in the photo). If you’ve read my book GROUP GENIUS you know that all of these companies represent a new sort of management technology, one that is designed to tap into the power of collaboration.

A high point of the event was when Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, answered questions from the audience about Google’s unique organizational culture (sitting at the right of Gary Hamel in the photo). I haven’t written as much about Google, simply because that company has been so widely reported in the media already; but, like Gore, IDEO, and Whole Foods, Google is a company that maximizes the collaborative potential of its employees.

Gary Hamel and Eric Schmidt

“Inventing the Future of Management” was designed to be a beginning, so we didn’t come up with concrete advice so much as challenges, obstacles, and important issues. But I was delighted to see that the consensus emerging from this group is directly aligned with my message in GROUP GENIUS: that innovation can’t be forced in a command-and-control organizational design. Innovation always emerges from the bottom up, in teams that form spontaneously and interact improvisationally. In the future, we need organizations that enhance the power of collaboration, managers that facilitate the unpredictable creative work of everyone.

Attendees: Eric Abrahamson, Chris Argyris, Julian Birkinshaw, Tim Brown, Lowell Bryan, Bhaskar Chakravorti, Yves Does, Alex Ehrlich, Gary Hamel, Linda Hill, Jeffrey Hollander, Steve Jurvetson, Kevin Kelly, Terri Kelly, Ed Lawler, Andrew McAfee, John Mackey, Tom Malone, Marissa Mayer, Lenny Mendonca, Henry Mintzberg, Vineet Nayar, Jeff Pfeffer, C.K. Prahalad, J. Leighton Read, Keith Sawyer, Peter Senge, Rajendra Sisodia, Tom Stewart, Jim Surowiecki, Hal Varian, Steve Weber, David Wolfe, Shoshana Zuboff.