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					                             SPECIAL ISSUE

Masters of Design

    JUNE 2005
     In order to do a
  better job of devel-
 oping, communicat-
 ing, and pursuing a
   strategy, the head
    of Ideo says, you
     need to learn to
think like a designer.
Here’s his five-point
      plan for how to
      make the leap.
    By Tim Brown
           Illustration by Dorit Rabinovitch

>> IT’S REMARKABLE how often business strat-    words, and there aren’t enough of those        is ideally suited to this endeavor. It can’t
egy, the purpose of which is to direct action   people out there. What’s more, words are       help but create tangible, real outcomes.
toward a desired outcome, leads to just the     highly open to interpretation—words                Because it’s pictorial, design describes
opposite: stasis and confusion. Strategy        mean different things to different people,     the world in a way that’s not open to many
should bring clarity to an organization; it     especially when they’re sitting in differ-     interpretations. Designers, by making a
should be a signpost for showing people         ent parts of the organization. The result:     film, scenario, or prototype, can help peo-
where you, as their leader, are taking them—    In an effort to be relevant to a large, com-   ple emotionally experience the thing that
and what they need to do to get there. But      plicated company, strategy often gets          the strategy seeks to describe. If, say,
the tools executives traditionally use to       mired in abstractions.                         Motorola unveils a plan to create products
communicate strategy—spreadsheets and              People need to have a visceral under-       that have never existed before, everyone in
PowerPoint decks—are woefully inadequate        standing—an image in their minds—of why        the organization will have a different idea
for the task. You have to be a supremely        you’ve chosen a certain strategy and what      of what that means. But if Motorola cre-
engaging storyteller if you rely only on        you’re attempting to create with it. Design    ates a video so people can see those prod-

2     FA S T C O M PA N Y June 2005
“Design thinking is inherently a
prototyping process. Once you
spot a promising idea, you build
it. In a sense, we build to think.
ucts, or makes prototypes so people can          and what you innovate are design prob-            the world. You can’t just stand in your own
touch them, everyone has the same view.          lems. When you bring design thinking into         shoes; you’ve got to be able to stand in the
    Unfortunately, many people continue          that strategic discussion, you join a power-      shoes of others. Empathy allows you to have
to think of design in very narrow terms.         ful tool with the purpose of the entire           original insights about the world. It also
Industrial products and graphics are out-        endeavor, which is to grow. Here is Ideo’s        enables you to build better teams.
comes of the design process, but they do not     five-point model for strategizing by design.          We look for people who are so inquisi-
begin to describe the boundaries of design’s                                                       tive about the world that they’re willing to try
playing field. Software is engineered, but       Hit the Streets                                   to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped
it is also designed—someone must come up         >> ANY REAL-WORLD STRATEGY starts with hav-       people.” They have a principal skill that
with the concept of what it is going to do.      ing fresh, original insights about your mar-      describes the vertical leg of the T—they’re
Logistics systems, the Internet, organiza-       ket and your customers. Those insights            mechanical engineers or industrial design-
tions, and yes, even strategy—all of these are   come only when you observe directly what’s        ers. But they are so empathetic that they can
tangible outcomes of design thinking. In         happening in your market. As Jane Fulton          branch out into other skills, such as anthro-
fact, many people in many organizations          Suri, who directs our human-factors group,        pology, and do them as well. They are able
are engaged in design thinking without           notes in her book Thoughtless Acts? (Chroni-      to explore insights from many different per-
being aware of it. The result is that we don’t   cle Books, 2005), “Directly witnessing and        spectives and recognize patterns of behav-
focus very much on making it better.             experiencing aspects of behavior in the real      ior that point to a universal human need.
    If you dig into business history, you see    world is a proven way of inspiring and            That’s what you’re after at this point—pat-
that the same thing occurred with the qual-      informing [new] ideas. The insights that          terns that yield ideas.
ity movement. As business strategist Gary        emerge from careful observation of people’s           These teams operate in a highly experi-
Hamel has pointed out, there was a time          behavior . . . uncover all kinds of opportu-      ential manner. You don’t put them in bland
when people didn’t know what quality             nities that were not previously evident.”         conference rooms and ask them to generate
manufacturing was and therefore didn’t               Very often, you can build an entire strat-    great ideas. You send them out into the
think about it. Nevertheless, they were          egy based on the experiences your cus-            world, and they return with many artifacts—
engaged with quality—they created products       tomers go through in their interactions with      notes, photos, maybe even recordings of
of good or bad durability and reliability.       your organization. Service brands have a          what they’ve seen and heard. The walls of
Then thinkers such as W. Edwards Deming          horrible habit of focusing on the one inter-      their project rooms are soon plastered with
deconstructed quality—they figured out           action where they think they make money.          imagery, diagrams, flow charts, and other
what it was and how to improve it. As soon       If you’re running an airline, there’s an awful    ephemera. The entire team is engaged in
as people became conscious of it, manu-          temptation to focus all of your attention on      collective idea-making: They explore obser-
factured goods improved dramatically.            what it’s like to fly a particular route on a     vations very quickly and build on one
    The same thing needs to happen with          particular aircraft. In fact, you can track       another’s insights. In this way, they gener-
design. Organizations need to take design        backward and forward a whole series of            ate richer, stronger ideas that are hardwired
thinking seriously. We need to spend more        interactions that consumers have with you         to the marketplace, because all of their obser-
time making people conscious of design           that are very relevant. If you start to map out   vations come directly from the real world.
thinking—not because design is wondrous          that entire journey, you begin to under-
or magical, but simply because by focus-         stand how you might innovate to create a          Build to Think
ing on it, we’ll make it better. And that’s      much more robust customer experience.             >> DESIGN THINKING IS INHERENTLY a proto-
an imperative for any business, because                                                            typing process. Once you spot a promising
design thinking is indisputably a catalyst       Recruit T-Shaped People                           idea, you build it. The prototype is typi-
for innovation productivity. That is, it can     >> REGARDLESS OF WHETHER your goal is to          cally a drawing, model, or film that
increase the rate at which you generate          innovate around a product, service, or busi-      describes a product, system, or service. We
good ideas and bring them to market.             ness opportunity, you get good insights by        build these models very quickly; they’re
Where you innovate, how you innovate,            having an observant and empathetic view of        rough, ready, and not at all elegant, but they

                                                                                                                    June 2005 FA S T C O M PA N Y   3
“We look for peoplethe world
so inquisitive about
                     who are
that they’re willing to try
to do what you do.
work. The goal isn’t to create a close approx-
imation of the finished product or process;
                                                            Some years ago, a startup called Vocera
                                                        came to us with a new technology based on
                                                                                                                     egy early on, in a sense you’re doing a pre-
                                                                                                                     mortem: You’re giving yourself a chance
the goal is to elicit feedback that helps us            the Star Trek communicator—that “Beam me                     to uncover problems and fix them in real
work through the problem we’re trying to                up, Scotty” device. They had worked out                      time, as the strategy unfolds.
solve. In a sense, we build to think.                   the technology—an elegant device the size
    When you rapidly prototype, you’re actu-            of a cigarette lighter that you could wear                   Design Is Never Done
ally beginning to build the strategy itself. And        around your neck and use to connect                          >> EVEN AFTER YOU’VE ROLLED OUT your new
you’re doing so very early in the innovation            instantly with anyone on the network. But                    product, service, or process, you’re just get-
cycle. This enables you to unlock one of your           the team had no way to describe why peo-                     ting started. In almost every case, you move
organization’s most valuable assets: people’s           ple would need the thing. We made a five-                    on to the next version, which is going to
intuitions. When you sit down with your sen-            minute film that played out a scenario where                 be better because you’ve had more time to
ior team and show them prototypes of the                everyone in the company had these gadg-                      think about it. The basic idea for the note-
products and services you want to put out               ets. The storyline followed how one person                   book computer came out of Ideo some 20
in two years’ time, you get their intuitive feel        used the communicator to rapidly assemble                    years ago: Ideo cofounder Bill Moggridge
for whether you’re headed in the right direc-           a crisis team dispersed across an office cam-                is listed on the patent for the design that
tion. It’s a process of enlightened trial and           pus. The film showed that while fixed com-                   lets you fold a screen over a keyboard. Since
error: Observe the world, identify patterns             munications and mobile phones are very                       then, the laptop has been redesigned—and
of behavior, generate ideas, get feedback,              good for expected interactions, this device                  greatly improved—hundreds of times,
repeat the process, and keep refining until             was ideal for reacting to the unexpected.                    because design is never done. The same
you’re ready to bring the thing to market.                  The team used the film to tell their story;              goes for strategy. The market is always
    Not long ago, we worked with a large                it helped them raise VC funding and it acted                 changing; your strategy needs to change
food-processing company on the possibility              as the guiding framework for the develop-                    with it. Since design thinking is inherently
of incorporating RFID technology into its               ment and marketing of the product, which                     rooted in the world, it is ideally suited to
supply chain. After many rounds of proto-               is called the Vocera Communications Badge.                   helping your strategy evolve.
typing and getting feedback, we made a                  But there’s an interesting twist to this tale.                   It all comes back to the fact that in order
three-minute video that described a very                We thought the badge would work best on                      to really raise innovation productivity
complex interaction of suppliers, customers,            big office campuses. The market thought                      within organizations, at the strategic level
logistics, weather, geography, and a host of            otherwise. Vocera’s two largest markets are                  and everywhere else, you have to increase
other real-world conditions that showed                 hospitals and big-box retail stores.                         the amount of design thinking inside organ-
how RFID might work. The video rapidly                      In the end, it didn’t really matter that                 izations. Doing so helps you get to clarity
accelerated the development of a potential              the market opportunity morphed into                          faster, helps your organization understand
RFID-based strategy, because the company                something different. Because you’re testing                  where you’re taking it, helps you figure out
could instantly give us even sharper feed-              and refining your strategy early and often                   whether you’re on the right track, and
back and help us refine it. Rapid prototyp-             in the design process, the strategy contin-                  enables you to adapt quickly to change.
ing helps you test your progress in a very              ually evolves. When the market changes,                      Those are pretty valuable survival skills.
tangible way and ultimately makes your                  as it did with Vocera, the strategy can                          Some companies already understand this
strategic thinking more powerful.                       change along with it. This gives you a big                   and are working design thinking into their
                                                        jump start over abstract, word-based forms                   organizations. It’s not such a hard thing to
The Prototype Tells a Story                             of strategy, in which the first time you get                 do. The toughest part is taking that first step—
>> PROTOTYPING IS SIMULTANEOUSLY an eval-               to test the strategy’s outcome is when you                   breaking away from your habitual way of
uative process—it generates feedback and                actually roll it out. You can’t gauge the strat-             working and getting out into the world. ■     FC
enables you to make midflight corrections—              egy’s effectiveness until you achieve the end
and a storytelling process. It’s a way of visu-         result and do your postmortem. I don’t see                   Tim Brown is the CEO and president of Ideo,
ally and viscerally describing your strategy.           why that’s useful. By building your strat-                   one of the world’s leading product-design firms.

                      This article was originally published in the JUNE 2005 issue of FAST COMPANY, © 2005 by FAST COMPANY. All rights reserved.
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