-Melissa Quinn via fastcodesign.com
DESIGN THINKING FOR BUSINESS INNOVATION: Topic Conversation
At the age of 23, I did something crazy. I did not shave my head, nor did I get a giant tattoo, or disappear to Europe for a season—no typical coming-of-age, post-adolescent move of defiance. It was a little more radical…
I bought two businesses. TWO. With absolutely no business background. The proceeding 5-plus years were, needless to say, an adventure and a challenge. To venture into the details might overstep the scope of this project assignment, but it does lead me to a moment in my life that holds some relevance.
It was early 2007. I was no more than 2 months into business ownership. I think I was at Book People in Austin, Texas, lost in the the “Business” book section looking for wisdom, guidance, a swift kick in the head… pretty much anything. Amidst a pile of snoozy titles, I found this:
It kind of blew my mind. (I have since bought and given away more copies than I can count. If you haven’t read it, and you have even an iota of an interest in marketing, branding or strategy, you need to read it.) Neumeier makes an amazing, succinct and visually compelling case for the winning strategy for a modern company: Differentiate or Die.
At the time, it was very influential with how I ran and thought about my (new) businesses. And it profoundly changed how I went about developing and building the identities of my stores.
Looking back at it now, I realize this book, pitched as marketing strategy, is really championing Design Thinking. From the Preface:
“As the pace of business quickens and the number of brands multiplies, it’s customers, not companies who decide which brands live and which ones die. An overabundance of look-alike products and me-too services is forcing customers to search for something, anything, to help them separate the winners from the clutter.”
Which brings me back around to the topic at hand, my area of exploration: Why Design Thinking Belongs in Business Education
Pick up a newspaper. It’s not a pretty picture. Economies are struggling. Even what once were titans of business are shuttering offices and stores. It’s difficult, as someone who sees themselves as a part of the business community, to see it in such a desperate place. The choice to get an MBA, even, seems to make less sense than it did even 6 years ago. Of course, it doesn’t help that even the Wall Street Journal is running headlines like this one: “For Newly Minted M.B.A.s, a Smaller Paycheck Awaits” (January 6, 2013). Or the one from Fast Company (September) “Did You Hear? Old School, MBA-Born Strategy Is As Horrifying As It Is Dead”. Hard things to swallow for those of us who have made a serious investment in an MBA program.
The truth is that we are poised at the dawn of a new economy. Our methods and our models are broken. Especially in marketing. Surveys don’t provide real insight. Focus groups don’t get to the heart of the matter: the heart of the customer. Their thoughts, feelings and needs. Enter the designer’s methodology. A methodology born out of deep empathy for and investigation of human needs. Design Thinking is not just the newest buzz-word. It is an essential part of an effective business leader’s toolkit, and should fall in line within business education right along side NPVs and Six Sigma.
Not that MBA wisdom isn’t valid or useful anymore, it’s just missing something. It’s not just that we need to be faster, stronger, smarter strategists. We must be more fluid. More agile. More radical. The future of business, and business leadership, has to be about pushing the boundaries. Breaking molds. Business leaders must be nimble and well-balanced. The truly innovative have feet in both worlds; they think with both brain hemispheres. Education is doing MBA students, all students really, a disservice by not teaching towards right/left brain “hybrid” thinkers. Creativity belongs in the classroom, even the b-school classroom. But programs are rigid and curriculum is slow to evolve.
I would like to make a case for more integration of designerly principles into the business education framework. If not across disciplines then at least at the core of the Marketing, a discipline whose aim is to better understand and cater to the customer. Analytics are useful, and powerful, especially in the age of Big, constant, ever-growing data. But the heart of business is still human beings. And business school is doing a poor job connecting those dots.
In my most humble opinion.