Business Management

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.

Addressing the Heart of Business

Lewis Green, Marketer "extraordinaire" and author of bizsolutionsplus, a top-rated Marketing blog, decided to give one of his clients the "Heart Award" for their ability to practice happiness by being trustworthy, honest, fair - and for believing in a collaborative approach to business.

He believes that if we all practice happiness, the world as well as businesses would prosper. In his consulting and writing work, Lewis' approach is to capture the essence of a clients business, so that they can make it their own. In the end, he defines happiness as the ability to create a piece of work that touches the audience.

The link between happiness and business success is an interesting one. It seems logical to conclude that a happy workforce is a productive workforce, yet many companies still do not take steps to eliminate "toxicity" from the workplace. A toxic environment could result from inept management, bullying bosses or co-workers, or an environment of fear that breeds cover-ups and fosters the blame game.

It makes me wonder why we all can't just get along and play nice together (remember Robert Fulghum's Bestseller "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?")

With globalization and technology changing at an increasingly rapid pace, it would make sense for businesses to stop for one moment and ask themselves..."Are our employees happy?" Those businesses that don't care will be faced with increased turnover and higher costs, as they continue to hire and train new employees. There's also a little something called bad PR.

For those who do "get it"...the internal rewards will no doubt translate into rewards in the external world, with a huge positive impact on the bottom-line.

Perhaps Lewis' idea is an idea whose time has come. Perhaps it's time to formalize the "Heart Award" and give winning companies the recognition they deserve.

In the meantime, take some advice from Robert Fulghum..."Share everything, play fair, live a balanced life..and don't forget to flush."

I Wish More Businesses Were "Green"...!!!

Sitting at my computer on a Friday afternoon, I thought it was time for a more lighthearted post. By wishing that more businesses were "Green", I'm not preaching about yet another environmental concern. Call me an idealist, but I wish that more people in business were like Kermit the Frog. That's right, Kermit.

One of my all time creative heroes is Jim Henson. Through sheer determination and imagination, Henson built the Muppet empire and inspired people of all generations to follow their dreams. He was a great man, and drew respect from big name celebrities all over the world. At one point, to be on The Muppet Show was a sign that you'd really made it in the entertainment world.

But what does this have to do with business? Throughout my career, I have worked with some really, really, great people. I've also worked with some real jerks (for more information about dealing with jerks in the workplace, take a look at Stanford University Professor Robert I. Sutton's newest book, "The No Asshole Rule").

In his own way, Kermit represents what's really right about this world. He's a decent, fun loving and creative (amphibian), who wants the best for everyone. He's always trying to improve the relationships around him, and strives to make the world a better place. Some say that Kermit was a mirror image of Henson's character and personality.

Like many in the corporate world, Kermit still found it tough to "fit in." As the song said, "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." He eventually finds a way to stand out from the crowd, and realizes that his "green-ness" is part of what makes him unique.

Before he died, Jim Henson was gathering thoughts for a book called Courage of Conviction. The book was never published. Here are a few excerpts taken from notes in Random House's "Jim Henson: The Works": "I love my work, and because I enjoy it, it doesn't really feel like work...I have a terrific group of people who work with me, and I think of the work that we do as "our work"...I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way...My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here."

Yes, Jim, you did leave the world a better place. I just wish more companies shared your views on life!