Competitive Advantage through Design Thinking

November 22, 2010 - by gmorrissett

Last February, I began volunteering for a non-profit group with friends from The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and and designers affiliated with the San Francisco chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).  The group had no name, no mission, and no particular direction at the time.  What it did have was an eclectic mix of six folks, including myself, from different places with different educations, experience, and interests that shared a passion about the role of design for thinking about business strategies to creating meaningful, innovative companies of every size. Eventually, we settled on a name, "DESIGN means BUSINESS" (DmB), commissioned a logo and we were off to the races!

It took some time to get up to speed with logistics and sponsorship, but we held three successful guest lecturer events over the course of six weeks at Wharton's San Francisco campus. The first event on September 30th featured Bob Borchers, who before becoming General Partner at Opus Capital cut his teeth marketing products for Nike and Apple. A packed house listened to Borchers present on his philosophy of successful product innovation.

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, was our next guest. The author of numerous articles and books on business design, he offered advice to business people and designers could better communicate and collaborate. In our last show for the year, we wrapped-up the year on November 18th with David Aycan and Meghann Dryer of legendary design and innovation atelier IDEO talking about a handful of business design case studies.

The audience included professionals from every area of business, representatives from design studios and students. Throughout the process, we had attendees express interest in volunteering to help with the lecture series next year; discussed possible collaborations with the California College of the Arts and the Academy of Art University; and been in touch with Jump Associates about scheduling an upcoming event. Lastly, we learned about the Design Management Institute -- something that we hope to leverage for future events.

But ultimately it's just nice to know how some hard volunteer work and a common passion can resonate with others.

At Martin's appearance, I picked up an autographed copy of his "The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage," and have been reading it on my commute. It's not an imposing tome by any means. The fundamental concepts Martin proposes are "the knowledge funnel," which explains how organizations can turn business mysteries into heuristics into algorithms, and "the prediliction gap" between the reliable results of analytical thinking and the valid results of intuitive approaches, which he argues can best be bridged through approaches inspired from design.

The book's message of getting over right-brain versus left-brain thinking is worthwhile, and serves as a good introduction to the tone and goals of the discussion that we're aiming for at DmB. Who knows, it might just help you unlock your inner designer!