Yesterday, I attended Roger Martin’s presentation of his new book, The Design of Business, hosted at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Roger gave a brief overview of his book and then engaged in a dialogue with the host, Michael Dila, and members of the audience.
Roger explained that some organizations are better able to embrace “design thinking,” which he defines as the ability to think both analytically and intuitively. He pointed out in his presentation and in his book that 20th century corporations have perfected the analytical frame of mind, but fail continuously to embrace the abductive leaps of logic that innovation requires.
Audience members repeatedly asked how to equip their organizations to embrace design thinking. Roger advised designers to “empathize” with their analytical peers, and business managers to “empathize” with their intuitive colleagues.
I can’t help but be reminded of the world’s most ineffective coaching in John Cusak’s movie Better Off Dead. Cusak’s character is attempting to win a ski race to impress his love interest. His hapless friend Booger offers this useless advice, “Try to ski…faster.”
Roger’s advice fell short because he could not explain the social dynamics of organizational change. Just like Booger, he simply described; he failed to explain.
Explaining Organizational Change: Innovative Values
One woman in the audience asked specifically what cultural traits design-thinking organizations exhibit. Roger suggested vague ideas such as a concern for the future. The Value Orientation Model can specifically identify value systems that are, yes, future oriented, but have four other qualities that support innovation. Anthropologist Florence Kluckhohn argued that all cultures can be understood in terms of five major values. I have adapted this model to show the groupings of organizations. Innovative organizations, surprisingly, embrace “static” values, thus allowing the free floating of ideas.
Adapted from Kluckhohn, F. R. (1953). Dominant and variant value orientations. Personality in Nature, Society and Culture. . J. a. K. Murrayh, F.R. New York, Knopf: 346.
Being future oriented can be conducive to innovation, as Roger indicated. But if an organization obsesses over its future state, it may have difficulty focusing on tasks at hand. This future orientation is not enough, particularly if the organization prizes “doing” over “becoming.”
Take, for example, “the productivity myth,” which Tony Schwartz explores on Harvard Business Review’s blogs. He complains that writing and responding to ever more emails does not add value – yet it appears to be “productive.” Organizations that consider emails “productive” have a “doing” orientation, instead of a “becoming” orientation. An organization must prize both the future and the process of “becoming” in order to be innovative.
Moreover, this organization must trust its employees. If the organization’s culture implicity believes that “man is born bad,” then it will not provide employees with the freedom and autonomy they need to be innovative. Roger argued Taylorist management styles of command and control have outlived their usefulness. I would agree with him. However, I would argue that no company that believes its employees will “steal time” from the company can ever truly forsake Taylorist principles.
Take, for example, WalMart, which was recently named one of Businessweek’s top 50 innovative companies. Its innovation, according to Businessweek, is its razor thin supply chain and cost-conscious green practices. Does this mean WalMart is innovative? No, it means it is cost-conscious. WalMart will never get out of the business of selling cheap goods at the lowest prices because it does not trust its employees to be autonomous. Individual store managers cannot begin selling locally-targeted goods because they are not trusted to experiment. WalMart will never design an iPhone; it will only figure out how to sell it more cheaply than anyone else.
Roger’s book explains design thinking well, but he only describes how it plays out in real organizations. In order to understand how design thinking is adopted, one must have a sociological lens on organizational change – and that means understanding the nature of socially defined values.
Designing Design Thinkers
Organizational change is notoriously difficult to effect. Management consultants have tried it, now designers are trying it. Building on Roger’s description, and offering my explanation of the underlying value system, I now offer an application designing a design-thinking organization.
- Map your values: understand what values your organization prizes by doing an audit of the “good worker.” What do people say a “good worker” is? Rosabeth Moss Kanter used the “good worker” rubric to explain how women faced subtle discrimination in her classic Men And Women of The Corporation. When you know how your organization thinks, you’ll know what it values.
- Create value goals collectively: decide as a group what values you would like to embrace. This means more than crowdsourcing. This means hosting open dialogue meetings where the only expected outcome is a discussion. Voting will help, but only after you have face-to-face discussions.
- Use art: community theatre, interactive installations, and performance art have transformative properties. Encourage members of the organization to describe their experiences through comedic skits at meetings, collaborative and humorous art projects that can displayed in main areas. Art speaks truth. Knowing your organization’s values requires truth telling — and it especially helps if you laugh a lot.
- Embrace “Static Values” when you can: In her incredibly insightful article on innovation, Carol Steiner argues that innovators reject established ways of thinking, Unfortunately, deeply trained scientists, managers, and social scientists spend so much time learning established ways of thinking, they forget to be open to new ideas. Be open, she argues, but simply BEING.