A creative advantage is a strategic advantage

Building a design-driven culture is easier said than done, especially when a company is accustomed to doing business in other ways. Getting people to adjust to new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing can work well in small, agile teams or when a motivated leader is able to create a compelling vision for people. Having the political muscle within a company to execute that vision is another thing altogether.

When the mainstream management consultancies start talking about design, how it can be used and especially how to create design-driven cultures, you know it’s a thing. McKinsey & Company’s article from 2015 on Building a Design-Driven Culture is especially informative. The process described in the article, Frame-Cocreate-Prototype-Validate-Govern, is similar to what you’ll find innovation consultancies using when they work with their customers.

I found the Braided Design Model, with it’s three intertwined thread of Design-Strategy-Technology to be most useful in communicating how a design-driven-culture should work. Design is not something to be bolted on, but rather an integral part of an organizations form, process, and structure.

IBM is a good example of a company that has managed, so far, to successfully negotiate the path to making design a core part of it’s culture. Although the process is ongoing, the situation that company leadership faced, quite simply, was evolve or die.

IBM’s story of how they built a design-driven organization is one of transformation. How does a company as large as IBM pivot, redefine themselves, and create a new future? The leadership had vision, of course, but they systematically pushed design through all parts of the company. Not just training new hires, but also existing staff.

Perhaps the most important point that was made about IBM was that they made sure to build a common vocabulary and language. This is critical because it enabled people to collaborate more effectively at various levels of the company.

That was 2015. What’s happening now?

IBM Design – The homepage.

IBM Design Studio in Poughkeepsie Transforms Enterprise Computing – According to Amy Bildzok, Director, IBM Design for z Systems, “Design thinking helps mainframe product teams reinvent user experience at the speed of the digital enterprise.”

How IBM Is Embracing the Future Through Design – “Shifting trends are forcing technology companies to reimagine their value proposition. IBM has chosen to create disruption through design.”

How IBM uses Design Thinking to design digital solutions to improve users’ lives – Interview with IBM designer, Diego Dalia

Demands of IoT, Quantum and Cognitive Workloads Drive IBM’s Cloud Datacenter Expansion – “The company is not only expanding its datacenters to meet growing individual demand, but to meet the computing burden of new and emerging technologies.”

What to Make of Warren Buffett’s Selling IBM – Questions remain about IBM’s future.

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The more people talk about design, the more it will become normalized and just a simple part of how companies operate on a day to day basis. The focus will then shift to the amount of creativity and growth that you can generate with your design systems and methodologies in place.

Shifting gears, what happens (if and) when design becomes normalized across all organizations everywhere?

This brings to mind a number of additional questions:

  • Will we still be talking about design?
  • Will new schools of thought emerge that will drive organizations to the next level of their evolution?
  • Will we need leaders to guide these new forms of life?
  • If you live in a world where people are self-aware and they understand their role, function, and how to create mutually beneficial value, will life and business just flow without friction?
  • Will we still need designers?
  • What about engineers?
  • Is it possible for people to simultaneously act with awareness of the greater good and to create personal gain? Is there room for both?
  • What does a post-design organization or civilization look like? How does it function?
  • What kind of political system will support a post-design society?
  • Is harmony really achievable?
  • If you stop designing, does that mean you have stopped problem solving, or that you have stopped evolving?
  • Can you be creative without design?
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