Over the past decade, many of us have been involved in market forecasting and business strategy projects that had set 2020 as the horizon year.
Some of those initiatives entailed plausible visions and convincingly enough strategies as part of rigourous scenario planning. Some others would focus on defining and exploring the possibilities of emerging technologies as they were thought to evolve and intersect that time horizon.
In either case, the lion’s share of the work that I was engaged for was driven by what’s known as ‘conditional optimism’ in behavioral economics. That means a ‘trust but validate’ approach to seek patterns and monitor unfolding events, so that we can be smart about what to do next, adapt early and pivot as necessary. Conditional optimism buys you room to maneuver the same way chess players ‘see’ quite a few moves ahead.
At the time of writing this, we have already crossed 2020’s midpoint. We now find ourselves in a changed world at many levels, and across multiple dimensions. Unfortunately, our communities are experiencing hardship.
These are definitely challenging times that put all of us to the test. This is when design ingenuity is needed the most. Ethics commands both moral imagination and the sort of resourcefulness that comes with an entrepreneurial spirit, so we can go beyond wishful thinking to get things done.
Simple and sophisticated creative solutions that positively impact life quality and our wellbeing, generate wealth and livelihoods, take down the digital divide and cultivate progress… make a difference only by decisively humanizing technology. It still pays to state the obvious: the opposite does not make any sense.
Design Foresight orients everyday’s work so that we can deliver tomorrow. In contrast, Continuous Design Operations (CDO) involve timely interventions to calibrate, fine tune, update and troubleshoot what’s out there already. This means optimizing usefulness, utility, usability and affectivity in an effective, efficient and timely fashion. Good design embraces continued improvement, serviceability and sustainability over the lifecycle, including a mindful approach to the end-of-life of products and services.
Design Foresight is largely about scouting, prospecting, predicting and prescribing valid solutions. The job’s success relies on ‘rethinking’ coupled with the smarts behind roadmapping transformation journeys, even in the case of short term projects. Note that paralysis by analysis is not acceptable in Design… and neither are paper exercises that do not involve active hands-on experimentation. Instead, a designer’s obsession with perfectionism should channel that energy to generate creative solutions to make things happen, delivering new data and insights, and innovating in the process.
Design Foresight seeks a clear understanding of (a) emerging formations, patterns and trends, as well as (b) hidden patterns, outliers and anomalies, and (c) unarticulated opportunities to pioneer and, therefore, engage as a ‘trend setter’ and ‘game changer’ rather than just following trends by default.
Though, being first can be unsettling when we find ourselves in a still lonely pool position: ‘being ignored, then laughed at and even fought against’ as the saying goes. Moral conviction and mental toughness matter, and so does conditional optimism… or the power of ‘paranoid optimism‘ as Risto Siilasmaa put it in his book about Transforming Nokia. No doubt, there are ‘first entrant advantages’ as well as risks.
Serial innovation, namely being successfuly first more than once, typically entails high-risk / high-reward scenarios. Accidental innovation is a different matter and it is hard to rely on randomness as a sound and sustainable business practice. Note that accidental innovation and serendipity are also two different things.
Design Mastery is key to going beyond the anecdotal and one-trick-pony to constantly producing meaningful and relevant outcomes, project after project, time after time, which is a source of professional pride. And yet, there is no insurance to guarantee success with everything that is new. However, unconsiderate gambling is not a business answer either.
Understanding success and failure criteria, as well as cascading second order effects is an ever present activity. Mastery is also key to identifying and addressing creative tensions and conflict resolution. We are always cognizant of the fact that there can be more than one answer to work with for any given problem. This is a reason why we embrace Diversity of Thought.
We aim for Design Resonance and, therefore, we assemble interdisciplinary teams that collaborate around non-linear hyper-iterative prototyping to generate valid alternative options to experiment with.
In that context, Cartesian skepticism means that, while working assumptions are outlined, nothing is taken for granted. As Einstein put it, we should not expect different results from simply doing the same thing over and over. Just to be clear, he called that ‘insanity’. Therefore, we claim a creative license to review, rethink, reframe and update problem statements.
Effective design work flushes out critical issues and unveils opportunities early, at a project’s front end. When design experts are engaged late, or capriciously on-and-off thru a project, discontinuities can become mission impossible.
Lack of adequate design and suboptimal efforts can be easily overlooked under the honest spirit of agility… and can get mixed up with some the paradoxical and mind-boggling decoupling of Design Thinking vs. Design Doing: an urban myth that has, unfortunately, taken hold in some areas.
A Deliberate Design Practice is known to predictably succeed by informing the thinking while intensively doing. Let’s be clear, we think by doing.. and Design Thinking is neither just a fancy workshop, a playroom for grown-ups nor is confined to exotic ideation sessions. Professional Designers embrace rigor, experiment, prototype, test relentlessly and generate new precious data and decisive insights. One other observation… no Design is done until users accept and adopt the solution.
When replacing Design with self-defeating ‘kicking-the-can’ and ‘we-know-best’ or ‘hoping-for-the-best’.. project management and investment risk are bound to skyrocket. Back to behavioral economics… ‘complacent (rather than conditional) optimism’ is known to come back to haunt projects in the shape of: cumbersome technical debt, diminishing room to adapt and pivot in a timely fashion, budget over-runs that also trigger a chain reaction of opportunity costs by limiting investments in other growth areas and projects. Worse off: customer dissatisfaction given deficient quality will erode ‘brand equity value’ across the board, impacting other bystander products and business opportunities in the process.
Design engages by exercising clinical empathy and co-creating not only across multiple dimensions, but also around intertwined pathways involving the experience quality, business and technology considerations. That achieves two things: (a) it generates ‘intellectual capital‘ in the form of new know-how and (b) operates under ‘intelligent risk‘ management, which mitigates dissonances: these are the mismatches between an always changing reality and what we are set to productize. Those are the basis behind ‘left-shifting‘ risks to succeed sooner.
Design Dissonance is a common pitfall in the high tech industry. There are plenty of accounts and eye-opening research on: clever but zombie inventions perishing in the valley of death; commercial endeavors failing to cross the chasm between passionate early adopters and scaling in the broader market adoption as needs and expectations can defer; blindsided incumbents inadvertently sinking behind fast-emerging game-changing players that disrupt industries, which is captured by the innovator’s dilemmma; and the last gasp of legacy tech when successive cost-effective upgrades happen to compare favorable vs. the cost of switching to next generation solutions that have not yet reached economies of scale.
There are more well-known worth-knowing and head-scratching paradigms, but the above ones should suffice for any of us to have a meaningful discussion around the unequivocal and proven value that Design-led Leadership.
Design Excellence is a strategic and critical matter for any venture seeking to differentiate with a sound purpose, and to decisively elevate Brand Equity Value, which is the ultimate performance and reputation indicator, as well as recognition measure for business success.
If you happen to be interested in joining that discussion, please reach out over LinkeIn’s messaging. And, in case this other news was of interest, I will be presenting at Design Thinking 2020 on September 11, my topic is Venture Studios.
This is my first post as Nokia Software’s new Chief Designer. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of a business group that is ranked first in the telecoms market and among the top 10+ software companies in the world. These, and many other achievements, credit the impressive work of a collective that involves some of the best minds and leaders in the technology sector.
I am glad to share that my new job comes with a healthy abundance of excitement and an uncompromising commitment to quality. We believe that Human Centered Design is a source of serial innovation. Besides, its success across the board is in everyone’s best interest, whether any of us happens to be a user, a buyer, or a supplier… all human beings after all : )