To be honest, I get a bit bored about the mantra that design thinking will solve the problems of large corporation. Well, when I go through the case studies at Ideo I am extremely impressed by their client list but not about the output. I have seen several design thinking sessions and I am not impressed at all with the output. The results are very often: More-of-the-Same but with fancier design.
Where is the invention from design thinking that changed the industry? Where is the iTunes or the Kindle of Ideo? The problem with design thinking starts very early in the process with the problem definition phase. And that is where large corporations fail. They define the scope too narrow and than you get nice new things that sustain your current business but not new business models that rock your industry and yourself.
Ideo is a very good (self-) marketing & design firm but not an industry rocking firm. Large firms just love Ideo because Ideo just offers such a well designed process to solve the big problem of “being not innovative”. You hire Ideo for comforting yourself for not using your own common sense and your own customer insights. You just outsource your understanding of the customer to Ideo.
Thinking in business models helps you in change projects, particularly in the unlearning of unwanted tacit assumptions and knowledge of the past. Forgetting what made you successful in the past is the key challenge in any change project, learning new things actually the easy part.
I am currently involved in a large change project. The company involved was living in a cozy environment. Demand was stable, predictable; project cycles were measured in years to decades and due to high entry barriers the firm was sure to “win” all business from its customers. Quality was so defined that the products lasted for eternity, most of the time longer than they had to last. Due to the heavy duty nature of its customers’ business everything was engineered to customers standards and very little of the components were bought off the shelf. Cost was not a major issue as long it was in budget.
And now the world has changed. Their customers had to change due to pressure from their clients. So the world of my firm will never be the same but since the change is coming slowly, there is time to adapt. The question is now: How can the firm change? How can it forget the habits that made it successful in the past but impede the future?
I teamed up with a coach that has a background in social psychology and constructivism. We had long discussion together but also with the customer’s management that was new on board. The question was where to start the change process.
Should we just have McKinsey, BCG or any other top consultancy fly in to have them develop a new market oriented strategy and then implement it? Our question was: Can you just implement a strategy into the heads of people that were not involved in the process? I think you can in certain cultures but not in nordic cultures. The danger is that you lose the strength any company has and particularly lose the commitment of the employees that make up the difference between a mediocre and a good to great company. You just losethe soul of the business and get mercenaries as employees. So that was not an option.
The other approach often used in change management is soft, typical HR driven. Management does some seminars on change, culture and innovation; and, what a miricale, people then will understand the need for change and then they will change. Unfortunately this is an illusion but big business for trainers and coaches. The problem here is that it sounds so right but people will consume not engage.
The problem and also the chance for our client was that they still have cash and time to change. Some units are in trouble others still earn money with the traditional way of doing business. So there is little sense of urgency (bad) but also time for a deeper change (good).
Understand your business model as a start, Understand what business are you in