I had a very interesting and exciting week!  I was a speaker at an nGenera Senior Executive Summit, which drew about 60 top executives from mostly large companies – CEO’s, CIO’s, CFO’s, HR and shared service heads, and even a couple of Lawyers and Platform/Brand managers.  It was an auspicious group – both in terms of participants and presenters/session leaders, which included Jim Collins, Michael Treacy, Don Tapscott, Tammy Erickson and Dartmouth’s Tuck School Professor, Chris Trimble.

I introduced my ideas about leveraging Web 2.0 (broadly defined) to significantly drive up the value of business innovation – specifically by following the principles and processes of Design Thinking.  I’ve been getting to this point in my last series of posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)  In fact, those posts were largely written as I was developing my session materials.

Does ‘Design Thinking’ Have Legs?

Part of my thesis built upon the success of the Design Thinking movement that has gelled over the last 5 years.  I have found the success stories compelling, and the underlying principles resonate with my own experiences and values over the last 30 years in trying to leverage IT for increased innovation.  However, I was troubled by the recognition and acceptability of the term ‘Design Thinking’ – especially in the US.  The text of a 2007 speech by BusinessWeek‘s Bruce Nussbaum given in London tipped me off that there might be a problem here.

Nussbaum’s Banana…

In his 2007 speech to the Royal College of Art, Nussbaum noted:

In the US, CEOs and top managers hate the word “design.” Just believe me. No matter what they tell you, they believe that “design” only has something to do with curtains, wallpaper and maybe their suits. These guys, and they’re still mostly guys, prefer the term “innovation” because it has a masculine, military, engineering, tone to it. Think Six Sigma and you want to salute, right? I’ve tried and tried to explain that design goes way beyond aesthetics. It can have process, metrics all the good hard stuff managers love. But no, I can’t budge this bunch. So I have given up. Innovation, design, technology—I just call it all a banana. Peel that banana back and you find great design. Yummy design. . The kind of design that can change business culture and all of our civil society as well.”

One of the first to make the Web 2.0 connection, Nussbaum went on to say:

Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation. That’s what Web 2.0 is all about.”

I tested the waters of my Summit attendees, first by asking how many in the room had some familiarity with the term ‘Design Thinking’?   Three hands shot up, and a couple sort of hovered around shoulder level (presumably meaning, “I’ve heard of it, but please don’t call on me to talk about it!”).  Of the three hands, two were from companies for whom I had Design Thinking case studies about and who were listed in my very first slide (I had not at this point turned on the projector.)  The third hand was from a senior executive at a major Industrial Supply company that I had not expected to be particularly Design Thinking literate.  So, test 1 indicated that the term is not widely known.  Of course, this does not necessarily mean that Design Thinking is not widely practiced – perhaps all 60 companies in the room do in fact excel at Design Thinking, but refer to what they do as some variation of Nussbaum’s ‘banana’?  However, I truly doubt this.  In fact, the many one-on-one conversations that I had with the executives at this summit during the reception and dinner following my presentation supported my sense that explicit efforts to drive up the value of business innovation are relatively few and far between.

Are Design Thinkers Web 2.0 Enabled?

To the larger part of my thesis, there was little evidence at this Summit that any form of Web 2.0 was being explicitly leverage to support Design Thinking (or innovation, or the banana!)  There were a few ‘accidental experiments’ and emergent social networks – both internal and external – but nothing claimed as part of a deliberate, holistic effort to increase innovation through Web 2.0 technologies.  This for me was the big surprise.  The Senior Vice President of Strategy from one of the Design Thinking literate companies told me at the reception, “When you first connected Design Thinking and Web 2.0 in your presentation, I thought you’d completely lost it!  But as you gave examples, the light bulbs began to turn on – I think you are onto something!”  This was gratifying indeed – well worth the price of admission!

Graphic courtesy of RI Nexus

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]