Good Design Gets You in the Game…

…great design is the game winner.

Welcome to the world where design is king.


In the old days, designers were an afterthought, the people at the end of the production process. Engineers would hand over something that was functionally effective and have the designers make it look good. Those days are over.

Today, design is about experiences as well as products. It’s about services as much as it is hard goods.

Design is now differentiation.

Alan Webber, founder of Fast Company magazine and author of “Rules of Thumb,” puts it this way: Today companies use design to:

  • create distinctive products and services that capture their customers’ imaginations
  • restructure their corporate operations
  • unveil new logos and uniforms that express a fresh corporate identity
  • develop new communications tools that connect with customers and shareholders
  • build corporate offices that encourage and enable collaboration
  • collect and share information across a global platform

Design is a way to solve deep-seated social problems. And design is a money saver, a way to simplify products and make them easier and less expensive to manufacture and sell. Across the board designers have defines a way of seeing that adds to the delight of customers and the profitability of companies.

Application to ChurchWorld

You probably already understand this on some level. You understand that the design of your website says more about you and provides a quick glimpse of your “brand”. You know that the little – and not so little – things like the design of your logo and your letterhead, the print pieces you use, the “flow” of your worship experience all communicate instantly what your church is all about.

But if you are still a design novice, and want to learn more, here are Webber’s three ways to begin to crack the design code:

  • Reading – you may be a word person and you want to try to learn about seeing. Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” Tim Brown’s “Design Thinking,” Tom Kelley’s “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation,” Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie’s “Designing for Growth,” and Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” are required reading. Get one of them today; start reading it tonight, and put it into action tomorrow.
  • Viewing – You need to practice seeing. Go to an art museum; browse a furniture showroom gallery; check out the latest model cars. The more you look at objects like these, the more you appreciate great design. You’re not buying, so don’t worry about price. Look carefully at the lines, interior detailing and design, and the small things that make a big difference. “Seeing” is a critical skill for aspiring diagnosticians – like you.
  • Shopping – Go out and find an assortment of small objects that go in your home or office. Look at OXO products; visit an IKEA store. When you pick up one of these objects, you will immediately understand what “consumer-centered design” means. Go to an office supply store and sit in an Aeron chair. Look at the latest products from Apple: iPhone, iPad, the latest MacBook Air. Go to an antique store and see what great design looked like in the past. Take a virtual shopping trip to your heart’s content. When you have collected these objects (or examined them enough), what do these products have in common? Are they as good to look at as they are fun to use? Is there an emotional content to their design?

You don’t have to buy anything to get the idea. But you do have to buy into the idea:

Design is everywhere, and increasingly, design is everything.



The Geometry of Choice

Take a look at almost any decision-making reference in a book or magazine and what do you see? Most likely a matrix with one desirable feature across the top and another down the side. Conventional wisdom says you read the matrix in straight lines – you have to choose which feature you’re going to favor.

What if you chose both?

I first came across this idea in Jim Collins’ classic book “Good to Great.” Since then, many writers have used the phrase “both/and” to refer to decision-making that references both issues in a choice. Alan Webber, writing in “Rules of Thumb” states it this way:

We’ve moved from an either/or past to a both/and future.

One of the skills that defines an entrepreneur and an innovator is the capacity to generate new lines of sight. That mean looking at problems along a new dimension. It means rejecting old either/or choices and finding new both/and combinations.

It’s like the game of chess. Most of the plays involve moving pieces forward or backward or sideways. But the bishop? It’s a game changer because it moves on the diagonal. Now you have the ability to move across and up on the board at the same time. You have changed the geometry of choice with one move.

How are you going to put into practice the skill of making “both/and” decisions in your organization today?

2 Questions for Your Consideration

Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book “Rules of Thumb“, thinks every leader needs to keep 2 lists:

  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What keeps you up at night?

There is a lot for leaders to think about in those two sentences. Here is a summary of  Webber’s challenges:

Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at.

Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them.

It makes all the difference in the world.

Consider this: you spend at least eight hours a day working, five days a week. A minimum of forty hours a week for at least forty-eight to fifty weeks a year. That’s a minimum of 1,920 hours a year. For how many years? You do the math.

What gets you up in the morning?

The level of energy put out by an organization’s people is one of the things that you are aware of as soon as you enter their space. There’s a buzz in the air (sometimes literally) created by people who are working  hard and working together. They want to be there – they came in ready to go.

What keeps you up at night?

This is a chance to be honest with yourself. Many times leaders rarely get a chance to reflect on the things that really matter to the organization’s goals. Most of the time, day-to-day urgent concerns crowd out broader issues that are the really important ones. The things that often keep leaders up are the things that never seem to find the time or place for serious engagement in the course of an ordinary workday.

We all want to do work that excites us. We want to care about things that concern us. So, about that list…

Take out a stack of three-by-five cards. Use one to write down the answer to the question “What gets you up in the morning?” Keep it to one sentence. If you don’t like your answer, throw away the card and start over – it’s only a card. Keep doing it until you’ve got an answer you can live with.

Now repeat the exercise for the question “What keeps you up at night?” Work at it until you’ve got an honest answer.

Now read your answers out loud to yourself. If you like them – if they give you a sense of purpose and direction – congratulations! Use them as a compass, checking from time to time to see if they’re still true.

If you don’t like one or both of your answers, you have a new question to consider: What are you going to do about it?

Whatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it.

That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for.

Facts Are Facts…

…stories are how we learn.

Facts are facts, but stories are who we are, how we learn, and what it all means.

-Alan Webber

Why are stories so much more powerful than plain old facts or boring PowerPoint presentations?

  • Stories are about people
  • Stories are about people doing things
  • Stories create meaning
  • Stories are how we learn
  • Stories have always been at the heart of starting and leading organizations
  • Organizations celebrate their great successes and even their heroic failures through stories

The work of leading a great organization is the work of telling stories.

What story will you tell today?


Part of the BookNotes Series – brief excerpts from books I have read, or am currently reading

Rules of Thumb, by Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine. A list of rules for the new game we’re in today – a complex, fast-changing, and confusing world.