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Business and Design: Can They Co-Exist?

The subject of "designing business" in a way that increases profits is an often discussed trend in industry publications. Virtually everyone agrees that design does belong in a business environment, and that it has the potential to have a significant impact on ROI. Managing a blend between the two worlds is often not that easy, as businesspeople and designers by nature tend to think in totally different ways.

In an article published in Fast Company magazine Roger Martin, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School in Toronto, believes that to stay competitive, "businesspeople have to outimagine the competition as well. They must begin to think - to become - more like designers." While traditional corporations are run by logic and proven reproducible systems, design leaders make their decisions based on judgement, experience and gut instinct. Traditional firms depend on the completion of a series of ongoing, permanent tasks, while in design shops everyone lives "in the projects" - to quote management guru Tom Peters.

Having worked as an Account Manager in design firms, I also sensed a disconnect in the thinking between the worlds of management and design. While designers focused on the artistic and visual aspects of the project, my job as an Account Manager was to harness their talent and apply it in a way that addressed the needs of the client. All too often, this didn't happen without an argument or two.

As Martin and numerous other thought leaders have suggested, perhaps the best way to move towards the future in today's fast paced business environment is to invent it. Many of today's most successful business leaders have applied a common sense approach to decision-making, yet have also at times shunned market reports and data to take a chance on their gut feeling.

Martin calls this a businesses' IQ quotient - or imagination quotient. In this turbulent economy, the advantage will go to those who can outimagine and outcreate their competitors. In the "design economy", he says that real value creation will come from a designer's most competitive weapon - his imagination. By taking on a challenge, most designers are able to come up with solutions still unseen by those in traditional management roles. A combination of exploration and invention will be the keys needed to uncover successful new product design, a process still shunned and misunderstood by traditional linear thinkers.

Picasso once said that "Everything you can imagine is real." Perhaps the businessworld would be wise to take the words of this world-renowned artist, and use them to build their own masterpiece.


Karen Hegmann

I agree Valeria and thanks for your comment.

Visualization is an untapped resource that many businesses haven't taken advantage of yet.

It's not even a new concept. Communications experts and motivational "gurus" have been preaching the benefits for years...from Norman Vincent Peale, to Dale Carnegie - to numerous world leaders and company CEO's.

Whatever exists today in physical form, once started as an idea in someone's imagination.

Valeria Maltoni

There are neurological studies that demonstrate the brain does not know the difference between real and visualized. The experience can be just as vivid at cellular level. Athletes have used visualization as part of their training for a long time. It's about time business starts stretching in that direction as well.

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