Strategic Design for a Modern World

It may be a terrible cliché that our world is changing faster and faster each day, but the evidence is hard to ignore. As the rate of change increases our choices become much more important. 

The world has moved from a time when problems were relatively simple, noble and independent to an era of complex, fuzzy and interdependent challenges.

In the past, society has been well served by increasingly specific and copious silos of deep expertise, but today’s challenges require us to work at the intersection of different  knowledge domains. 

The solution is no longer in any one silo, but in the mix. As our contexts continue to evolve, a gap has grown between the sophistication of the problems we face, and the ability of our tools to handle that sophistication. This has left us highly skilled at engineering solutions, but often unable to see the true nature of the problems we face. It doesn’t matter how efficient, how perfect and how great our solutions are if they are answering the wrong question.

We see this in large complex organisations that need to shift their focus to outside in, and envision how to survive within a complex interconnected future. It is especially true for governments who are the owners of certain problems that are so vast, complex and important, that no single entity owns them. 

The legacy we have inherited is a three step process:

1. Decision makers come to consensus on what needs to be done 

2. The decision is assigned to a team or organisation

3. Finally, the solution that is decided on is designed and implemented 

It’s time for new tools. Tools that allow us to better understand the problem from the start, and apply future-oriented principles to increase innovation and competitive advantage within the organisation. 

Strategic Design acts as a multiplier within decision making. It enables a broader range of questions and potential solutions to be developed at a faster rate, and is most effective when brought in early.  Strategic Design applies some of the principles of traditional design to “big picture” systemic challenges like business growth, health care, education, and climate change. It redefines how problems are approached, identifies opportunities for action, and helps deliver more complete and resilient solutions. It is highly evidence based and leverages both big data to understand the WHAT, as well as thick data to understand the WHY. 

Let’s see what happens when decision-making is informed by strategic design. By bringing strategic designers into the conversation at the beginning, where key decisions are made, wider and  more comprehensive inputs can be applied to help frame the problem accurately. These inputs are used to play out the possible implications on communities, societies, businesses, families and individuals.

Embedding designers at key stages allows a rapid iteration through ideas, so that outcomes are still relevant by the time they’re developed. Using design to involve end-users also smooths this process.

By collaborating across silos, and by working in quick iterations, strategic design provides outcomes that are far more effective by reducing duplication of effort, and targeting solutions to deliver real and relevant value to both people and organisations. 

The best companies in the world spend up to 10% of their budget on research and development efforts so that they can make informed decisions about the future of their businesses. Very little of that effort is introspective, focussing on new ways of working.

We aim to fill that gap by fostering strategic design as a new tool for government and business, using a holistic lens across doing, thinking, feeling and wellbeing. 

At DesignChain, our mission is to help leaders see the architecture of problems. We assist decision-makers to view challenges from a big picture perspective, and provide guidance towards solutions that are more complete and consider all aspects of the problem. 

We are an innovation and strategic design consultancy with a team of strategic thinkers, makers and doers. We create impact through design, and scale through agile, lean and architecture disciplines. We add value to  organisations by helping to solve challenges in creative & human-centred ways.

We see ourselves as super-mixers, blending many different disciplines together to help our clients adapt faster to a changing world. 

Reach out to us, and see where we can partner with you to jointly solve some of your challenges.

Principles of the failure economy

We have all heard of the fail-fast principle. In fact it’s quite overused now and most folk are developing a laissez-faire attitude to its mention. I do believe, however, that this principle goes hand in hand with another principle which gives it some more context – plan to fail.

Sounds crazy I know. But if you measure rate of failure, and it’s say around 10% of all of your experiments, this is a clear sign that you are not pushing the boundaries. You are thinking incrementally and not taking the types of risks that could produce significant or transformational change. Setting that % is up to each team and organisation.

My advice. Do something bold, plan for failure and measure it. Get that figure up to 30-50%. Shift the thinking.

However, this principle in itself requires a third to “balance the force” so to speak – fail smart.

If you can’t pull the plug when you need to, it could lead to some costly failures and your cost to learn will be big. So avoid the gollum effect…”its all mine my precious”

So here they are:
Fail fast; Plan to fail and fail smart. You need all three. I suspect more, but thats all my train trip allows for.

#innovationmanagement #designthinking

Making Design Open

Accelerating from process to heuristics

5 Minutes with Craig Martin

Hybrid Thinking – The Missing Link?

Recently I was part of a follow-the sun presentation hosted by IASA. An interesting 24 hours of continual delivery of related content over a 24 hour window, from multiple parts of the world.

Within my talk I spoke about the need for hybrid thinking. It’s a term that we had to use to convey a certain message. There is a lot of talk about Design Thinking. Similarly there is a lot of talk about Agile thinking. And then you have some of the “older” disciplines like architecture, strategic planning and business planning. Let’s call this business or architecture thinking.

These disciplines are meant to unify the business and create a coherent organisation that delivers more valuable outcomes for customers in shorter time periods. The challenge is that the disciplines themselves don’t align. In fact each of these disciplines is encroaching on the others, laying claim to territory it now feels would add more value to its “framework” method or approach.

The long and short is that this does nothing to help stakeholders realise their objectives. What is needed are individuals and teams that don’t think in those spaces, but rather think in a space that mixes the good aspects from each of these disciplines into solid outcomes for stakeholders. This is half the problem with hierarchical structured organisations, positioning people into functional boxes where they must stay to deliver their value. However, what we are proposing is the creation of what we refer to as Super-mixers. Individuals that can cut across all these functional silos and not be classified as a designer, architect, analyst, or project manager. But rather as a growth facilitator or an efficiency expert. This is the realm of the Super-mixer.

I believe this is the future of work. You are beginning to see organizational models emerge to try and support this, like Holacracy. To get the greatest benefit from Super-mixers, you need to create a Super-mixer culture, with all the organisational ramifications that entails.

This is our vision, and why we have partnered with organisations such as Questo to bring this type of organisational change to reality.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there who has tested models similar to holacracy. Ping us on our Facebook page or LinkedIn to provide comment. In the mean time, enjoy the presentation we gave to IASA.