Then they would be familiar with these three words: Empathy, Invention, and Iteration.
Empathy – design must start with establishing a deep understanding of those we are designing for. Leaders who thought like designers would put themselves in the shoes of their team or client. More than just “customer-centered” (that’s internal and external customers), the idea here is to know the “customer” as real people with real problems, not seeing them as statistics or targets or a cog in the machine. It involves understanding both their emotional and “rational” needs and wants. Great designs inspire – they grab us at an emotional level. Yet we often don’t even attempt to engage our customer or team at an emotional level – let alone inspire them.
Consider one of my favorite metaphors – the bridge. Now go to New York City with me and look at the bridges there: the Manhattan, the George Washington, the Williamsburg, and others – and then there is the Brooklyn Bridge. The others offer a route across the water. The Brooklyn Bridge does that too, but it also sweeps, symbolizes, and enthralls. It has, like other design icons such as the Sydney Opera House, become a symbol of the land it occupies and an inspiration to generations. Translate that same feeling to leading people, and you can begin to grasp empathy.
Invention – design is also a process of invention. Leaders who thought like designers would think of themselves of creators. Many people have talked about the “art and science” of leadership, but to be honest we focus mostly on the science aspect. All to often leaders play the role of scientist, investigating today to discover explanations for what has already happened, trying to understand it better. Designers invent tomorrow – they create something that isn’t. To get to growth, it is necessary to create something in the future that is different from the present. Powerful futures are rarely discovered primarily through analytics. Analysis is an important role, but it must be subordinate to the process of invention when the goal is growth.
Great design occurs at the intersection of constraint, contingency, and possibility
– Richard Buchanan, former Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design
When leaders start the growth conversation with the constraints of budget and the hard road to success, we get designs for tomorrow that merely tweak today. Great design starts with the question “What if anything were possible?“
To illustrate, let’s go back to New York City, this time to Central Park, one of America’s great public spaces. In 1857, the country’s first public landscape design competition was held to select the plans for this park. Only one plan – prepared by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux – fulfilled all the design requirements. Others were stymied by the requirement that crosstown vehicular traffic had to be permitted without marring the pastoral feel of the park. Olmstead and Vaux succeeded by eliminating the assumption that the park was a two-dimensional space. Instead, they imagined the park in three dimensions and sank four roads eight feet below the surface.
Iterate – Leaders who thought like designers would see themselves as learners. Leaders often default to a straightforward linear problem-solving methodology: define a problem, identify various solutions, analyze each, and choose one – the right one. Designers aren’t nearly so impatient,or optimistic. They understand that the successful invention takes experimentation and that empathy is hard won. So is the task of learning.
The IKEA way of business we know (and love!) today didn’t originally start out that way. Almost every element of IKEA’s legendary business model – showrooms and catalogs in tandem, knockdown furniture in flat parcels, and customer pick-up and assembly – emerged over time from experimental response to urgent problems. “Regard every problem as a possibility,” was IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’s mantra. He focused less on control and “getting it right” the first time and more on learning and on seeing and responding to opportunities as they emerged.
A bridge, a park, and a business model – they share fundamental design principles:
- Aim to connect deeply with those you serve
- Don’t let your imagined constraints limit your possibilities
- Seek opportunities, not perfection
Is there a way for ChurchWorld leaders to think like designers?
inspired by and adapted from Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to fit ChurchWorld realities
updated from an earlier post
One thought on “What If Leaders Thought Like Designers?”
Design takes an incredible amount of sophisticated planning and execution, its result however can have an impact for a lifetime. Being able to analyze both the current state of business, as well as the future is what makes flexible and powerful leaders.
Many CEO’s I would contribute with having the mind to be designers; not all, but many. Seeing future problems, much like an architect, and building a foundation to withstand the elements will be the true test of these plans.
I really enjoyed this analogy you posted.