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Tom Peters Essentials – Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate April 18, 2010

Posted by Ping Hay Lam in Creativity, Design Thinking.
1 comment so far

Named the “father of the post-modern corporation” by the Los Angeles Times, Tom Peters is the author of the bestseller, In Search of Excellence, published in 1982 and the book, Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, published in 2003.  Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate, captures the essence of business innovation from the previous Tom Peters’ books in redefining business thinking.  The main message that Peters conveys in the book is to have his readers “so pissed off” that they will do something after reading the book.  The book explores topics in the design of new business enterprise, systems, experiences, and branding.  Basically, “it is not optional” anymore to stay in the status quo and do business the same way it was in the last era.

As a student pretty much most of my life at this point, it is a bit hard for me to be really “pissed off” at the existing practices in companies that are exactly the same few decades ago and have not yet incorporated innovation and design into their core business models.  However, as a consumer, I do see how different firms have realized the importance of design and changed their value propositions to provide more innovative services and experiences during the last decades.  As Peters mentions in his book, the traditional business model “deals with one of your needs” while the new one “helps define who you are”.  One of the compelling arguments Peters make n the book is about designing women, the fact that men cannot design for women’s needs.  He uses a story, from his female architect friend, about the location of the laundry room in a house to illustrate the fact that men has traditionally neglected the needs for women in designing products and services that are shared by different genders in the society.  In his book, Re-imagine, he devotes an entire chapter that further elaborates on designing women as part of the new trends and markets nowadays.

The elements of design can also be seen in the presentation of book.  Unlike most business writing, Tom Peters uses a very informal and colloquial tone in his writing and incorporate different font sizes and colors to emphasize certain ideas in the book.  Each chapter starts with a list of contrasts comparing the business “was” and “is” and ends with a Top 10 To-Dos such that the ideas not just merely ideas but concrete actions which has made the book a very practical guide to business design.  For an “amateur” reader like me, who have not read a lot of design books, it was quite hard in the beginning to follow the flow of ideas in the book because the style is very different.  There are lots of figures, diagrams, and side notes.  But, with a little more effort in trying to understand the book, the message becomes very clear to me that it is necessary to “be weird” and different to invoke innovation and changes in people’s behavior and businesses.

Overall, I think that the book is a really good read because it provides a very good foundation on why and how to redesign business thinking in the 21st century.  The book is especially helpful for “novice” people who is interested in design in business but do not have a lot of exposures and ideas about design.  The birthday cake example, discussed in our Design as a Competitive Strategy class, was presented in the book to illustrate the change in the dynamics of value conceived by consumers.  The concept of bio-mimicry is also talked about in the book with the example of elephant dunk and termites to show how beautiful system could be.  The book, Design, also does an excellent job in summarizing all the important concepts in the previous book, Re-imagine, which goes into more detail explorations in innovating business through new context, technology, value, brand, markets, work, people, and mandate.  As a closing thought, here’s a quote from book on the staple of successful business:

“Stick your neck out.”