Archive for the ‘Innovation Strategy’ category

Seeing Things

June 27, 2007

After about a month of dialogue with Bob Goodman and Eric Reiss, facilitated artfully by GK VanPatter, the NextD Journal publishes our ramblings as “Things you See.” A “brief” excerpt gives you a flavor for my bits:

Looking at the evolution of practices which we play into, I see several converging trends that originated from quite different inspirations: Information Architecture, Design 3.0, Innovation management, and organizational transformation. These are not inherently related trends, but have become interconnected now from the conversations WE have about these issues. Our communities of practice have brought these trends together, not businesses or authors in the research literature. We are creating new design ecologies within our own practices turning the focus of design from the product or service both to the user and back into the organization itself. As GK implies, this is not about creating a new design focus, a new What. Good design practice has always been about evolving the tools or How to’s, as an extension of interdisciplinary design thinking.

Design practice should also embrace and reach mastery of other thinking, research, and creative skills that are not being touched upon in d-schools or Boxes and Arrows. We should be learning and skillfully applying complementaries: organizational design, decision-making, dialogue, strategic scenario planning, work domain analysis, and other macro tools – but we risk losing credibility and leadership if we merely add practices to the portfolio.

Organizations and people’s work practices have their own life cycle and dynamics and are not “designed” by a small team making sketches on the whiteboard or in prototypes. It changes your design role, perhaps forever, to do these complementary design activities well. But to try but not do them well hazards risk to project and client. As with other related competencies, such as field research or project management, we must develop a sense of the environment, and know when to extend the team with deep competencies, and not just extend ourselves as post-disciplinarians (like ourselves perhaps?) As we would not accept a weak designer on a project team, we might not accept a good designer as a strategic analyst. We still need strong competencies, especially as interdisciplinary practitioners.

Design practice evolved in the tradition of following the lead of a defined desirable state, whether structured from a brief, a client proposal, or a value proposition emerging from a prior context such as a product line or user need. I say all design IS redesign, of something. True human needs are very enduring – it is difficult to conceive of a design proposition not derived from a related prior need, something currently supported by other means. We should be very good at this by now.

But we are facing the prospect of removing the imposed frame, designing in uncertainty, and creating better frames that better serve the need. This opens a huge new set of opportunities for future practice, but requires us to innovate collectively, not individually – uncertainty calls for the participation and design thinking of all stakeholders in the space. Not just collaboration or participatory design for a better product/service, but in the collective re-envisioning of the very need for a given artifact, its structure and form, the needs we believe to exist in the world, or the installed base or prior artifacts.


Why Do Good Managers Set Bad Strategies?

April 26, 2007

An interesting confessional from the master of corporate strategy, the Five Forces guru Dr. Michael Porter.

“Errors in corporate strategy are often self-inflicted, and a singular focus on shareholder value is the “Bermuda Triangle” of strategy, according to Michael E. Porter, director of Harvard’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness.

These were two of the takeaways from a recent talk by Porter — titled “Why Do Good Managers Set Bad Strategies?” — offered as part of Wharton’s SEI Center Distinguished Lecture Series. During his remarks, Porter stressed that managers get into trouble when they attempt to compete head-on with other companies. No one wins that kind of struggle, he said. Instead, managers need to develop a clear strategy around their company’s unique place in the market.”

This is a significant change, if it makes a difference. Regardless of the different approaches to strategy, planning, and market development, the non-academic practice of strategy has grown up around Porter’s 1980’s work, which was an is hugely influential. The industry analysis, dominate your sector-based mindset that evolved under Five Forces grew into a set of practices that prevented managers from thinking creatively about internal resource development and product innovation. As long as large companies performed well and made money, and shareholders stayed on the train, there was no perceived need to reinvent strategy itself.

“When Porter started out studying strategy, he believed most strategic errors were caused by external factors, such as consumer trends or technological change. “But I have come to the realization after 25 to 30 years that many, if not most, strategic errors come from within. The company does it to itself.”

Innovation and knowledge-leverage strategies require developing a strong internal focus, according to the Penrose (1959) school of resource-based perspective, an empirical approach that enhances organizational capacities and learning, as opposed to theoretical market forces that are always imperfectly understood. A market must be understood, of course, but the strategic basis for action should be based on resources and practices that are unique and non-transferable or imitable.

How does the Penrose RBV orientation apply to design and innovation? Knowledge management scholars such as (Zack and yes, Jones) have argued that the development of knowledge practices is the primary source of innovation and competitive advantage. Product/service design and innovation are not measured by shareholder value – and we should not be led by outdated views of business strategy into taking guidance from such a singular corporate metric. Shareholder value leads to short-term thinking, which constrains innovation to the immediately doable. As a strategy, it puts the future of the firm in the hands of Wall Street investors, which is no strategy for success at all.

Sources of Innovation & Invention

April 15, 2007

There’s this meme about innovation being spurred by the military and porn, that circulates around new media circles from time to time. I don’t know why it persists, because its so readily faslifiable. But it provokes people, because few are lukewarm about porn and war.

Clearly its true that  the porn industry are early adopters of media innovations, as “marketers” are continually looking to expand their distribution. But adoption is not innovation – it helps the diffusion of innovations occur. Likewise, the US military has a trillion dollars a year of US-debt-based income to throw at anything they like. While most of this cash is wasted forever, some ends up going toward experiments – most of which were already innovations being developed in university or private labs. There is occasional in-house investment yielding something more useful than a yet another fighter plane that will never see a dogfight. While the Internet is always mentioned as an outgrowth of DARPA-net, it is an example of improvised infrsaturcture rather than military innovation. The distributed architecture needed to survive multiple nuclear hits was co-opted by hippie university geeks in the 70’s for email and D&D. (Exhale – yes, THAT’s the innovation baby!)

McLuhan in 1964 envisioned – in principal – all that’s happening now. Nearly 50 years ago, Understanding Media (extensions of Man) gave us a framework for seeing into all the variations of He wrote about “disruptive innovation” and tossed the phrase like it was a well-accepted notion THEN. Rogers had just published the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. So now we (every 10 years or so) reinvent innovation as if we invented it. So why does the innovation meme stick, rather than, say, invention or even intervention? (Because its so fuzzy that it means whatever we mean it to mean?)

I say this because we deploy “innovation” to create meanings without defining what we mean. There seem to be few commonly accepted meanings of innovation (and none that I know that would restrict breakthrough inventions to fear, death and sex). These are perhaps indicative of our current economies. Did the Wright Brothers conceive of the warplane? (They were bicycle makers.) It took 30 years before cars were used in battle. Take a look at Forbe’s Top 85 innovations from 1959 – 1971, a fertile time for things that eventually made it big.  Forbes 85

My favorite example of innovation – is that of Solon’s Athenian democracy was invented to solve debt slavery, who was able to imagine and then sell to landowners a truly better world for Athenians, after the ruination of Draconian Athens. In today’s world we need a social innovator like Solon again.

Nielsen’s Hot Top-10 list

March 20, 2007

Nielsen posts another Top-10, hitting the mark on designing for business needs and e-Commerce sites. This time, a neat summary of the Top 10 High ROI priorities for website redesign. 10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities

“I often write about the top mistakes in Web design, but what are the top things you can do to make more money? Following here are 10 Internet tactics with a particularly high return on investment (ROI).”

These include:

1. Email Newsletters
2. Informative Product Pages
3. High-Quality Photography
4. Product Differentiation and Comparisons
5. Support for Reordering

6. Simplified Text
7. Catering to Seniors
8. Gift-Giving Support

9. Search
10. User Testing

Of these, I’ve bolded the ones that I’ve seen the most need for in professional services domains. Factors like high-quality photography should be a given for a professionally-designed site. And User Testing is a Nielsen high-profit item, not a website high-profit factor. More correctly, usability testing is HOW you identify the highest return values for your product, but it is not a factor of the site itself, for example, like a good search interface.

What else would I add from my research? As I started making these up, I realized I’ve also found 10 for certain that return high value. These are more for professional services or B2B, but I think most apply in all cases, such as consumer sites or corporate presence.

1. Findability. Google SEO so that your site is in the top 5 hits.

2. Clearly-defined landing pages from within the site so that search links have a perfect path to decision-making

3. Clustered or categorized search results, designed to the user need – so that WHEN your users try to search inside the site they have a good chance locating their target.

4. Clearly defined navigation (and 7 or fewer tabs) that keeps users within your site long enough to buy or do something.

5. Obvious search box location, and good indexing of keywords behind the content.

6. Useful alternative choices – if the user finds nothing on the landing page, they may find something in a Gallery column.

7. Simple ads – If you gotta have them, ixnay on the distracting flashy bits. It pushes people away from the page.

8. A common-sense Contact Us. Just a page with the facts: Email, Phone, Address, hours available, a map. All on one page.

9. Simple Checkout, simple terms of purchase. Nielsen taught us this one a long time ago!

10. Easy URL. OK, maybe not a high ROI, but a basic point. Your domain name should be easy to say and remember.

Take a look at your sites – which work better for you, Jakob’s or mine?

Generative (participatory) design

February 22, 2007

Liz Sanders, now at, presents this mapping of Design Research approaches – in Design Research Quarterly (1:1). She distinguishes between Design-led and Research-led design, and Expert vs. Participatory. At MakeTools, Liz advocates Generative Design, led by participants as designers. Her article distinguishes generative design as:

Generative tools (Sanders, 2000; Sleeswijk Visser, Stappers, van der Lugt and Sanders, 2005) is a newer design-led bubble in the participatory design zone. It is characterized by the use of design thinking by all the stakeholders very early in the fuzzy front end of the design development process. The name ‘generative tools’ refers to the creation of a shared design language that designers/researchers and the stakeholders use to communicate visually and directly with each other. The design language is generative in the sense that with it, people can express an infinite number of ideas (e.g., dreams, insights, opportunities, etc.) through a limited set of stimulus items. Thus, the generative tools approach is a way to fill the fuzzy front end with the ideas, dreams and insights of the people who are to be served through design. The generative tools approach has been used across all the design domains, although the generative toolkits differ across the various domains. It should be noted that generative design research is not entirely design-led. Generative toolkits are created and developed based on a solid understanding of the context of use that has been ethnographically informed.

Structured Dialogic Design shares a similar “space” on her mapping of participatory, user-led design, but with very different methods and orientation to systems. Generative design is oriented toward products and services that people (users) might adopt in daily practice. SDD generates a space of design possibilities for complex systems and social projects, such as policy or democratic community projects, constructed from participants’ experience and ideas only. SDD adapts dialogue to generate and then qualify ideas, and progresses to organizing options fields and finally actionable plans.  A presentation is available online at