When is Design Led Innovation Not Right for You?

Design Leadership
Nov 21, 2014

We always want the best for our clients, so one of our key business tenets is teach our client’s to fish.

You know the old saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

By doing what we do, we get out clients started down a sustainable path of innovation through a change in mindset (or culture), focus and process.

However this may not always be the right way.

I could not agree more with Bruce Kasanoff when he says: “When a person is starving, that’s not the time to fill their head with knowledge. The right thing to do is to first give the person a fish – banishing their hunger – and only then teach them to fish.”

In the context of a Design Thinking and innovation program, clients who are struggling with running their business, or are in the “red” should really consider the innovation “promise” carefully.

The human centric and iterative nature of Design Led Innovation naturally reduces risks in brining innovation to market, but due to the struggles he or she may have with the business, he may not have the mindshare to follow the Design Led Innovation activities through to the end.

Following on from our previous article, this is one of the key reasons why Design Led Innovation fails.

When face with such a situation, Design is first used to stabilise the business with ideas that can be easily and safely implemented. Some great examples include improvements to existing services as a result of customer feedback that was long ignored, or removing things from your offerings that people won’t pay for etc.

After that, Design can then be used to innovate by bringing in a longer-term implementation “arc” that would cover the more radical (and harder) solutions.

Implementing Design Thinking 4: It is a Full Time Activity!

Design Leadership
Nov 06, 2014

This happens all the time.

After a game-changing workshop, where a whole host of innovative ideas underpinned by ethnographic research get plotted on an actionable plan, I call back a few months later to find out that nothing has happened.

“I believe we’ll have to have them full time, or else they’ll get sucked back into their ‘day jobs’. If we are going to make the skunkworks successful, then the participants need to be full time.”

Via: Innovation Management

Innovation requires a mental space to make it happen. What many organizations do instead is to assign the execution of the required changes to executives as something extra to do, something on top of their day job. Innovation then becomes an extra-curricular activity that cannot be prioritized over daily work. Firefighting problems are just too hard to ignore.

If you want results from Design Thinking assign someone to champion this, or anyone that will and can do this full time. Going one better would be to set up an innovation department with a mandate of making “X” number of Design Thinking projects happen in a year.

Implementing Design Thinking is a (not so) regular series of posts, where I share my thoughts and experiences in helping companies implement Design as a tool for business success and achieving Design Leadership. Check out the rest of my articles here.

Using Design to Build a Great Brand

Robert Brunner (the man more commonly known as the person who hired Jonathan Ives) has achieved something that I always hope to achieve with the clients I work with.

He has helped a fledging company build an awesome brand and thrive in a competitive market thought the use of great design. Not only that, the brand has since been acquired (with much buzz) by Apple for a mind numbing $3 billion dollars. That company is non-other than the headphones brand Beats by Dr Dre.

Amazed? I was. Now check out the video where he shares insights on how he did it.

Robert Brunner: What All Great Design Companies Know from 99U on Vimeo.

Some great one liners like “Technology Enables Design Establishes” or “As Designers we give away our intellectual property too cheaply”, and lots of stuff on the role design plays in today’s business environment. Do enjoy the video as it’s probably the best one I’ve seen this year. Thanks for sharing Robert!

Disruptive and Incremental Innovation go Hand in Hand.

Design Leadership
Jun 12, 2014
If you disrupt and can’t sustain, you don’t win. – Gary Pisano

Gary Pisano, in his article: In Defense of Routine Innovation, argues that the world is so caught up with disruptive innovation that we forget that most of the profit from innovation “does not come from the initial disruption; it comes from the stream of routine, or sustaining, innovations that accumulate for years (sometimes decades) afterward.”

Great article and I totally agree.

However I would like to highlight something that is implied with this article but not overtly stated. Disruptive innovation is risky. Yes, design thinking’s iterative approach can help mitigate some of the risk but there are still risks involved.

So should organizations casts their sights on disruptive innovation they would need to balance the risks of disruptive innovation with the more steady returns from incremental innovation activities. This is so that the business can still be sustained should the disruptive innovation fail. Which on many occasions will fail.

My best analogy at managing innovation is very similar to how you would manage your stock portfolio. Balance the tried and proven blue chip companies with the fast growing (high PE ratio) but risky emerging companies. When you do so, it will be your first step towards smarter innovation management.

Good Luck!

Via: HBR

Next to the Skin Technology Showcase: The Process



As you may know from our last post, we worked with ETPL (the technology transfer arm of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore) to develop 10 wearable prototypes for the Next to the Skin Technology Showcase.

What was notable in this program was not just the 10 meaningful wearable solutions, it was also how design was integrated as a strategic activity in the formation of the program, the way it was run, and the value the program offered the business.


ETPL-Design-Thinking-Bootcamp

We kicked off this Design Led Innovation program with a 3-day Design Thinking Boot Camp where teams of investors, designers, engineers, scientists, technologists and commercialization people got together to create a shared vision of what the future of Wearables could be.

A_STAR Workshop Observation Card

We also got the scientists out of their lab and into the field to observe or speak to humans doing what they do best. We gave the participants one of our Design Thinking Tools, the Observation Card, and showed them how to be amateur ethnographers for a week.


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Through this ethnographic activity, we manage to get the scientists and technologists in our teams to shift their thinking from one that is technology driven, to one that is user centered and focused on how their customers would experience the benefits of their technology.


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After that, it was a design implementation activity where we worked with the core team, the scientists, and external industry experts to fine-tune the design of the 10 wearable propositions. It was a fully iterative process filled with mad scurrying and sleepless nights. Luckily we had Apples and chips to keep us sane!

Anyways, this short video pretty much documents the process of how we did it. Do have a look and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below?



Can’t see the video above? Check it out here on YouTube.

Stay tuned to our website for the full case study where we will be showcasing the complete project and the deliverables soon.

This is why Large Corporations need to INNOVATE or DIE

Design Leadership
Apr 25, 2014

In the recent months two significant technological driven disruptive events have happen that could bring about the downfall of two of Singapore’s largest corporations. Singtel, or Singapore Telecoms, is the first and biggest Telco (they own all the infrastructure) and Comfort one of the largest taxi operators in this island nation.

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SingTel’s Chua Sock Koong. Photo: Bloomberg

Singtel chief executive Chua Sock Koong, at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, has called on regulators to give Telcos like Optus the right to charge or the use of Apps like WhatsApp and Skype on their networks. [Source]

Not only has this got the majority of their customers fuming mad (customers already pay for bandwidth), the company had to do release a statement to clarify that despite what the CEO said they were not going to do it. [Source]

Unfortunately the damage has already been done, particularly when you look at it from the point of view that WhatsApp leverage on SingTel’s network for “free”, and through this, Facebook bought them for USD $19 Billion.

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Image Source: TechInAsia

More recently, the GrabTaxi App is going to do the same thing that WhatsApp did but to the taxi operators here in Singapore.

For too long, Comfort has relied on its market dominance and has stagnated in improving its services. The usefulness of its electronic terminals (developed in the early 2000s by ST Electronics and running Windows CE) for bookings is probably at an end.

The arrival of GrabTaxi has quickly shown how outdated parts of Comfort’s business model are. Seldom have I seen a market so quickly disrupted. To survive and thrive, Comfort needs to refocus on its core business, that of leasing cabs to drivers.

It needs to compete on offering better rental rates to drivers, and on providing cabs that are more reliable than other operators’. This means, among other things, a reversal of its policy of hollowing out its maintenance crew, which has seen an inexorable replacement of experienced local mechanics with cheaper foreign labour, and which many drivers have complained about.

[Source]

It’s not about just focusing on their core business, but it’s also about listening and understanding the needs of their customers. GrabTaxi is shifting the power dynamics from the Taxi operators back to the Taxi drivers (who just want their fares quick) and most importantly to the customers (who just want to get to their destination as soon as possible).

———-

This is two great reasons why companies, particular those invested in infrastructure and systems, need to take a customer centric approach to running their business and innovation. Both Singtel and Comfort need to move away from the thinking that they are infrastructure providers or owners to providing customer experiences.

For Singtel, it is all about ensuring people can stay in touch in the most efficient and low cost manner. For Comfort is about getting people to their destinations above all else.

In both cases the companies were so preoccupied with running their organization and business they forgotten their real value to their customers.

The amazing thing was that these technologies like WhatsApp or Skype (and even to a certain extent GrabTaxi) have been around for ages. Had they listen to their customers (in all cases people were already yelling at them) they would have been sensitive to it and with all their resources could have easily developed their own competing product.

So Innovate or Die, or perhaps in this case, they better buy these companies that make these Apps as soon as possible.

No One Really Cares About Your Great Idea

Design Leadership
Apr 08, 2014

I stumbled over a great Q&A over at Quora. Someone asked about what to do with their great ideas and inventions so that they won’t get cheated. I’ve decided to reproduce the question here and the answer by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, as I often get asked the same question but in many different ways.

The question:

If I invent something which has a chance of earning billions if brought to market, what should I do to prevent others from cheating me out of what I deserve?
History is full of people who killed themselves after inventing something legen-wait for it-dary because they found out they earned much much less for it than what they actually deserved. Suppose I invent something great, what should be my plan of action to earn as much as I can and gain proper recognition for my invention.


Jimmy’s (almost legendary) answer:

Before I answer your question directly (and I promise I will) let me just offer the opinion that young entrepreneurs often think this is a real problem which faces them, when in fact the opposite problem is much much much more likely to be the case: far from other people seeing your thing as “legen-wait for it-dary” as you put it :-), no one will care about you or your idea at all.

Notice that this is more true the more paranoid you are about it. Just a few days ago I got a 3 page pitch letter from someone who simply described to me in stereotypical buzzwords how I could add synergistic brand value to their revolutionary value-add concept that would blah blah blah – 3 pages with absolutely no information whatsoever about what the hell the person wants to do.

I remember when I first had the idea for a freely licensed encyclopedia written by volunteers. I remember a feeling of urgency and panic because the idea seemed so obvious that I thought lots of people would be competing with me, so I rushed out and hired Larry Sanger to work for me as editor in chief of the project, and we launched Nupedia as quickly as possible. Nearly two years later, with the project generally unsuccessful at that point, no one else was competing with us at all. My panic about someone rushing to compete with me was not justified.

Now, to answer your question directly because, despite my view that in general this isn’t really the problem that you face, sometimes it is, and it’s worth a few words about that.

First, if your idea is the sort of thing that could be reasonably patented, then you can work to file a patent. I’m not a big believer in this for most things (particularly not software or dot-com ideas, where I find patents to be useless for protecting startups and pernicious for the industry as a whole), but if your legendary concept is a genuine scientific/engineering invention, then by all means, get a patent.

Second, and I’m stealing this line from Facebook (probably Mark Zuckerberg said it first, I don’t know): Move fast and break things. This is particularly important if there are “network externalities” in your idea, or any other kind of genuine “first mover advantage”. (Though notice: both those concepts are much much much overused.)

Just get moving and don’t look back.

Ok, so that is my direct answer, but now I want to go back and remind you of my first answer. THIS IS PROBABLY NOT THE PROBLEM THAT YOU REALLY HAVE. Far far more entrepreneurs have lost out on great opportunities because they were so paranoid about someone stealing their idea that they were unable to raise capital, unable to get started, unable to actually DO anything.

I would also like to add that ideas are cheap, it’s the execution that counts. The world is filled with great ideas, many of which are similar. It’s what you do with it that really matters. So go DO something today, no matter how small!

Via: Quora

Can we fall in love with our computers?

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We don’t talk a lot about movies at Design Sojourn. Maybe we should?

Renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil, also a Googler working on machine learning and voice processing, reviews the latest Spike Jonze movie Her. Predictably the movie is about a man who falls in love with his operating system, or perhaps the artificial intelligence (AI) of his computer? Anyways the movie explores the notion of love and its manifestations.

While I’ve not seen the movie, I did feel troubled after watching the trailer. Though Charlize Theron, the voice of the AI Samantha, did help ease the discomfort. How about you?

Anyways Rays indicates that such learning and interactive “human level” AIs should come in about 2029, in about 15 years. A time of which with many of us would still be around. This would be made more possible with advances in tactile virtual reality systems that allow people to touch, shake hands or even kiss remotely.

I won’t go into too much more detail to spare you the spoilers, but Ray’s vision of the future is worth sharing:

In my view, biological humans will not be outpaced by the AIs because they (we) will enhance themselves (ourselves) with AI. It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations. We are doing this already. Even though most of our computers — although not all — are not yet physically inside us, I consider that to be an arbitrary distinction.

Enjoy!

Via: Ray Kurzweil and Verge.

Nimble Design Firms should Do Good

Design Leadership
Feb 06, 2014

So it seems that Frog’s Chief Creative Officer, Mark Rolston, has left to start Argo a “new type” of design firm that is a hybrid mix of design agency, incubator and product development group.

With argo, Rolston is looking to create a nimble design group that can develop independent products in house, as well as work on more traditional design projects with customers, he told me in an interview. When it comes to launching products, argo could help raise funds to get those products to market. The group is already working on a cloud-based piece of software, and another product that’s further down the road that will be a physical product, Rolston said.

Indeed a great idea for a design firm, but this is nothing new. Many design firms, both big and small, are already doing this. I would consider this is a big name validation of a business concept that works.

With Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter moving the economic power from the corporations and/or VCs to the customer, the only missing link is knowledge. The knowledge of how to create stuff. So it’s only natural that the people WITH the knowledge jump on the bandwagon.

However I also am seeing a great opportunity for designers to be finally empowered with the financial means to create both meaningful and sustainable solutions that people want, rather than having to accepting briefs from organisations that are too financially driven.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Victor Papanek’s Design For The Real World to ponder about:

There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second. Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered file boxes, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before (in the ‘good old days’), if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal-mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people.

In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practise design and more insight into the design process by the public.

Now go be awesome!

Via: Gigaom

Beyond Design : Explorations Towards a New Practice of Design

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I thought you might like to know that I’ve been invited by my friends at the Shih Chien University Industrial Design Department to conduct a workshop to explore the future of the Design Practice and the Practice of Design.

Participants will understand and explore the changing roles of design and designers as a result of evolving industry trends and consumer needs. Central to our workshop discussions will be the function of Design Leadership and Design Research. I also think it will also be an interesting take on the application and evolution of Design Thinking from a Designers point of view. Have designers found a comfort zone with Design Thinking? Can designers better facilitate meaningful conversations? I’m really looking forward to this discussion!

Beyond Design is a 5-day workshop that will run in 2 phases. Phase 1 is from the 14 to 15 November 2013, and Phase 2 will run on the 8 to 10th of January 2014. Unfortunately it is by invite only, but I’ll see if the findings can be published soon.