Change by Design

Image via Pexels

Image via Pexels

Like most of the management guru’s words of wisdom, Peter Drucker’s infamous line: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ holds up ever stronger in the current age of transformation.

In a 2016 survey of executives from over 90 companies and across 20 industries, Innosight found that while 24% of respondents felt that lack of coherent vision inhibited their organization’s ability to respond to change, over 40% believed that day-to-day decision-making is what actively undermined their strategy.

No matter what business you’re in today, odds are your teams are trying to balance continuously optimizing your core products and services while also trying to invent and scale new ones. Fortune, of course, favors the bold, and organizations have invested most of their resources in taking big bets on innovation programs. But that’s only solving half of the problem.

Design as a strategic function

Design may have proven its business value time and time again, yet organizations continue to be challenged by embracing design as a function, not just a service of the business. While strategic design practices have been successfully applied to the front end of innovation, a lack of ownership or even incentive to fully adopt new ways of working lead teams right back to business as usual. As a result, few ‘big bets’ reach maturity. They struggle to make it past prototyping or fail to thrive once they’re integrated into the core business. Ultimately, confidence is diminished in any endeavors that challenge the status quo.

“Everyone likes to take time out of their routines to participate in a well-designed creative workshop…(but) the most complicated task is to cement engagement, maintain momentum, and incorporate the design into the working lives of different people.”
- Giulia Calabretta, Strategic design

Results and impact ultimately come down to how teams learn, collaborate, and respond to change. So how can the strategic design skills of empathy, iteration, and cross-functional collaboration cultivated while participating in an innovation design process be translated into day-to-day work?

We believe that there are five habits of a truly design-driven organization that support meaningful, sustainable innovation:


Radical Collaboration

This is hands-on, in-your-face, up close and personal work. It’s vital for teams to feel that they can contribute freely and openly, without judgment in an environment of mutual respect. A powerful team is one that is empowered to seek input from a diverse network of contributors, indifferent to prescribed functions and roles. This might mean flattening hierarchies, eliminating boundaries, and increasing their autonomy to make decisions.


Starting with the Why

Teams flourish when they’re invested in a shared sense of purpose and connected by an identity that reinforces their goals and values. Diverse perspectives are incredibly important to crafting a well-rounded approach, but a team can only be effective when everyone first understands their mission and defines success the same way. A deep focus on real human needs is simply table stakes. A team who creates a narrative around a central belief in “why” will help bridge the all-too-frequent gap between vision and reality as they assess priority and feasibility.


Building to Learn

When teams measure their progress strictly by their objective successes and failures, they’re only learning by survival. Innovation emerges from teams who learn by doing. These teams build up failure immunity by exploring multiple options in parallel and learning through rapid cycles of iteration. In these circumstances, done is always better than perfect, and the collective risk-taking strengthens trust and promotes agile decision-making.


Liminal Thinking

Favoring synthesis over analysis, the team seeks to understand the whole and the parts at the same time. They’re attuned to the relationships and dynamics that might create disruption (or opportunity). They question the obvious and find potential in the spaces between. The design-driven team will be concerned not just with what’s going on around them, but will also be sensitive to how things are perceived, and how the influence of that perception radiates outward.


Feeding Back and Forwards

A design-driven team behaves like an ecosystem, where energy flows and matter is recycled. This means that the team constantly creates loops for sharing and receiving insights and increasing intelligence inside and outside of its boundaries. Through this process, the team is not only able to develop its own ability to sense and respond to change, but also begins to scale its impact throughout the organization.


Transforming skillsets into mindsets

It’s true that as an ambition shifting mindsets seems a little lofty and not exactly tangible. That’s why we focus on shaping habits. As in the design process, teams need to start small with big ideas.

Rather than imposing a dogmatic methodology or rigidly defined process, habits imply an incremental approach that increases strength through regular practice and set routines.

The mindset shifts occur as small wins demonstrate a team’s belief in their capability, building their motivation to keep moving forward as they see and feel results of their actions.

Building a habit is like building a prototype–testing, iterating, and refining an idea over time. As new ways of working spread from team to team, some being codified and others evolving, these ‘prototype’ habits can move into production at scale, building a design-driven organization from the inside out.

Heather EddyComment