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The Creative Priority, Jerry Hirshberg December 1, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in The Creative Priority.

I believe the accolades that Jerry Hirshberg received for his book, The Creative Priority, must have been an incredibly well-deserved when it was written. Reading it after 10 weeks of a Design Thinking class, it seems clear that most of Hirshberg’s ideas serve as or mimic the foundations of the discipline. As such, I am choosing to treat this blog posting a little differently than my others, and am chronicling what I find to be his most impactful ideas (along with a few quotations that merited double-underlines while I was reading).

By way of background, the book is about Hirshberg’s founding of NDI [Nissan Design International], Nissan’s beach-head in the U.S. The company decided to mix Japanese technical expertise with American design expertise, and hired Hirshberg from GM by offering him free reign to create the organization however he wanted. In Jerry’s own words, the entire NDI organization was structured around the creative process, as opposed to most companies that hide the creative people in the corner. Now, on to some insights!

1)      One must explore everything. You should be naïve and open before rejecting anything

2)      Don’t forget to play! Hirshberg fashioned NDI into a “sandbox” and in fact accepted contracts to design other products (e.g. a vacuum and a world-class yacht) in order to allow his team to stretch their creative minds

3)      Incorporate different viewpoints – “the probabilities for unexpected juxtapositions are sharply increased”

4)       NDI restricts its earliest brainstorming to figuring out what are the critical questions! This goes against a common desire to race for a satisfactory answer. In fact, if we were to consider the counterfactual for a lot of the “answers” we have arrived to in life and business, we may find that we satisficed instead of maximizing.

5)      Be comfortable to let your ideas – and to steal others’. Similar to Bill Buxton, Hirshberg encourages people to let their ideas free, so that others can comment and the team can iterate to create a great product.

6)      Again, like Buxton, Hirshberg calls for the intentional blurring of responsibilities. An example: in terms of designing a car, he believed that the engineer is responsible for the coefficient of drag while the designer is responsible for the coefficient of “beauty.” Yet, both are responsible for creating a great car, so they must work together.

7)      Beware statistics as the be-all-end-all. Attack difficult problems, even if data is sparse

8)      Always re-examine decisions and assumptions on a project.

Random lessons

9)      Hirshberg tells of the time he was told, by his boss at GM: “Kid, the secret to great leadership is being able to say “fuck you” in the morning and “how ‘bout lunch” by noon”.

10)   It’s okay to say that you’re not satisfied with a product: “At NDI, the rules were: Anyone from any department in the company who was interested was welcome; if they felt the design was stupid, they were to say so; and they didn’t need to have a better solution”

11)   If customers seem to want contradictory things . . . be creative and find a way to do it!



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