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Design of Business – Roger Martin’s New Book on creating “integrative” organization December 7, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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Roger Martin’s previous book “Opposable Mind” was about how innovative leaders think.  Martin argues that it is their “integrative thinking” that helps them to overcome the dichotomy/duopoly trap and to generate something new and meaninful.  His new book “Design of Business” takes this innovation generating force into organizational level.  

In his mind, market disrupting businesses such as McDonald’s has been created through the process of going through mystery, heuristics, and algorithm, the process that he names as “knowledge funnel”.   Mysteri is about asking question, heuristics is about generating hypothetical explanation or running prototypical operation about the matter in question, and the algorithm is about getting rid of subjectivity and uncertainty out of  the prototypical operation to create a folumaic process of  scalable and sustainable output generation. 

Most of the companies are focusing their effort on the sophistication of their heuristics or algorithms, the tentency that Martin calls “exploitation”.  However, to grow sustainably, an organization has to find new opportunities by serving untapped needs in the market, which necessitates whole new circle within the knowledge funnel.  This work of going through the whole circle in knowledge funnel is called “exploration”.   It is only the organizations that are balanced between these two activities who can achieve sustained prosperity.  He calls this kind of organization as “design thinking organization”, noting that design thinking embodies the harmony of intuition, the key requirement for ‘validity’ that supports exploration, and declaritive reasoning, the key requirement for ‘reliability’ that supports exploitation. 

The major portion of this book is devoted to the ways that an organization can transform itself into design thinking organization walking through the example of P&G since A.G.Lafley as its CEO.   Above all the details, what was most impressive to me was his arguments that the core  competency of those design thinking organizations should be nothing but “the speed of movement through the knowledge funnel, which produces perpetual advantage in both cost and innovation.”   To enable this, the most fundamental device for the organization was to have a management capability of ensuring freeing-up of resources for exploration through extensive or intensive building of algorithms.   For instance, P&G’s ‘exploration’ project teams were only possibly created after developing manuals for brand management.  With these manuals, junior managers were able to do brand management themselves, while senior managers were freed up from those tasks to engage in new mysteri finding, i.e. new exploration of new brand creation.   This reminds me of Geoffrey Moore’s recent book “Dealing with Darwin” where Moore talks about managing resources so that a firm can constantly invest in trying and developing new “core” withough having its resources bound by encumbent stable (and sometimes stale) business that he calls “context”.

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The Creative Priority – Only half true about organizational creativity? December 6, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in The Creative Priority.
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This book, Creative Priority, is about the way an organization can be formed and operated with creativity as the founding and operating principle not as some good-to-have add-on.  The author, Jarry Hirshberg, suggests what leaders need to do (or not do) to create an organization with creativity as the number one priority under eleven “strategies” in four mutually linked categories – Polarity, Unprecedented Thinking, Beyond the Edges, and Synthesis – based on his experiences of founding an independent design organization, Nissan Design International (NDI) as an affiliate of that Japanese auto maker. 

Regarding these four categories, the follwing is the most interesting takeaways from each.

1) Polarity is about iginiting creative spart by retaining conflicting cultural and disciplinary viewpoints in the organization.  What was interesting about this section was the author’s emphasis that the constructive polarity should be created from the very starting step of recruiting members of the organization.  He mentions that the  consideration of the mix, balance, and texture of the group is of critical importance when deciding whom to hire.

2) Hirshberg say unprecedented thinking can prosper by creatively digesting the precedented ideas and thinkings.  For this, he says “It is essential for an organization to ensure that as much work as possible remains, be they blunders and miscalculations, appreciated, visible and available to everyone.

3) In “Beyond the Edges”, Hirshberg argues that the active exchange with different cultures and disciplines (e.g. with foreign nations, different industries, different departments) helps the organization and its members to identify the assumptions that they were taking for granted.  One of the first step of creating something new is to rethink those assumptions.

4)  In the forth section “Synthesis”, creativity can only come to life through mental muscles that can bring everything together into coherent whole.  Hirshberg argues, the mastery of information collection and interpretation are the key foundations.  To emphasize this, he quotes “statistics are like a bikini.  What they reveal is suggestive, what they hide is vital.”   In this spirit, he also clarifies that “creativity is the mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams.”  

For Hirshberg, creativity is something discomforting, something that has conflicts and confusions as part of its nature.  Therefore, this book Creative Priority is devoted to how a leader can nurture this chaos and tunnel it toward something constructive.   I understand that some culture, environment or even a leadership style should be in place, i.e. the things that Hirshbers book describes, to unleash those creative energies in an organization, especially in business organizations where as Roger Martins says the demand for reliability is naturally dominant.  

On the other hand, I think it is eaqually important to articulate that breeding chaos is not enough for an organization to constantly generate creative outputs into market.   Creativity of the members of the organization should be distinguished from the organization’s capability of generating creative outcome and, especially, the capability of doing so sustainably over extended period of time.   For this, I believe some sorts of discipline, methodology, or process of generating innovative outcome should be in place.   This may even require different look on creativity.  I guess that is what the organizations like IDEO, Doblin or other successful innovation companies have been trying to do already.

Why Fear? – Sehoon Min on As Future Catches You September 23, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in As The Future Catches You.
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Overall, the book read like a threat rather than the communication of new knowledge or perspective. Therefore, I couldn’t help but being surprised to find out 41 readers did log on to Amazon.com to give book four stars in average.

It was interesting that we were asked to read this text primarily “online”. This declarative text with somewhat threatening tone actually seemed to have been written and edited with non-immersive reading habits, which is typical among readers familiar with PC-based reading, in mind. The declarative and threatening nature of the content was well matched with the format that conveys the content. I guess this integration of content and format of the book is what led many readers hail for this book.

Three interrelated ‘devices’ of the text caught my attention.

(1) It was not just the format of the text. The author intentionally chose story telling rather rigorous academic discourse as the major tone of the book. Logically read, the book seems be full of false causality or hasty conclusions. (For instance, I don’t think he is proving that countries’ development and underdevelopment can be all traced back to the emphasis on technological literacy of their people. The text is alleging but not proving properly that technological, especially genomic, literacy is the foremost thing to develop an underdeveloped country.)

Rather than resorting to logic, he chose to evoke fear or worries in readers. And he does so very persistently throughout the book. Talking about the hope that the technology can bring to mankind was not the author’s appetite. In most of the chapters, he makes certain countries or a person as a tragic protagonist who had to go through the downfall due, allegedly, to the lack of technological literacy. I felt I was helplessly enforced to identify myself with them. Simplification (i.e. “Technology is THE engine for growth”, “Genomics is THE technology”, etc), repetition and analogy were dominant way of fortifying the story.

To make this story even stronger, the author and the editors effectively utilized some formatting tools.

(2) Images and graphs were fun and striking to enhance the effectiveness of the argument. Quoting numbers exaggerates the righteousness of the story. There remains, however, much room for arguments about whether those data really support author’s argument.

(3) The variation in typography was effectively laid out throughout the book to make the text more daunting and catchy.

Despite all these efforts and those devices in the book, however, I don’t feel persuaded or moved by the book. Monolithic or reductionistic view of the world and life is not usually very persuasive. I feel unpleasant rather than inspired and invigorated to go out and grasp the horizon of new possibilities.

Design Thinking Needs Alter Ego Working with It – Sehoon Min September 23, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in Design Thinking.
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I have been a management consultant over 6 years (and will be for some years to come). While the analytical reasoning and puzzle-solving skills that I’ve been practicing over those years are very effective in constructing competitive strategies, I found we consultants are very clumsy at coming up with something new. It has been some years since innovation has become the primary word among managers. Companies nowadays seem to look for the ways to fundamentally rethink, rebuild their business and the ways to build new businesses to help themselves grow out of the trap between price competition from emerging economies and sophisticated offerings from developed markets. And this is one of the reasons I came to be interested in “design thinking” which I found so far very enlightening.

Innovation, however, is one of the most loosely defined terms just like “art” is. Each company and social entity means different things with this word. For me, the interesting ambiguity about design thinking originates from this fact. Since design thinking is packaged as the major approach to innovation, the ambiguous nature of the concept of innovation, in turn, blurs the concept or potential of design thinking. What kind of innovation is design thinking effective for? Is design thinking an effective tool to create innovation only in product/service/customer experience level? Or can it be a great tool to innovate in rather broader/higher realm of a company’s business direction or business domains? Can it be a tool to incur innovative changes to the cause of a social problem rather than just certain symptoms of the problem? Without the rigorous answers to these questions, the true potential of design thinking seems to be quite ambiguous. Should we leave the answers to trial and error of those innovation companies?

In addition, there seem to be a huge potential in the combination between design thinking and traditional analytical strategy works. In a given problem, the frontier of innovation is always too vast. However, the design thinking process, if narrowly defined, seem to lack the front-end activities, meaning the foundational work of defining where we should seek the innovation. For instance, in the reading material, Shimano’s Coasting product system could be effectively developed because Shimano already defined the under-served population as their next growth platform. Defining this domain of innovation can be better done by analytical work than design thinking process. Knowing that much of business problem solving is done in an environment where stakeholders (e.g., bosses, clients, employees, etc.) exist, it is often required to ‘prove’ the scalability of the suggestion and to provide role out plan. These also seem be the places where traditional consultants can add value.

It has been really interesting to observe a firm like IDEO expand the boundaries of work from product design to space design, real estate development, business strategy, and social innovation. Personally, I would like to find the ways to connect design thinking with what I do to expand the potential of both disciplines. “Design Thinking” article was a great introduction for this but not enough to answer some questions that I have.

You Might Need a Lot of Napkins, Though – Sehoon September 23, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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It needs to be noted that this book is about “visual thinking” rather than “visual communication”. The author tries to ground this term, visual thinking, by emphasizing that “looking” and “seeing”, in his own meaning, should come ahead of “imagining” and “showing”. In other words, the well-structured process of understanding and defining problems determines the quality of solving and presenting them.

For better understanding and defining problems, he proposes rather un-fancy framework of 6Ws, who/what, how, when, where, etc. However, the true essence of this book seemed to lie in how this 6W-based understanding can be effectively and efficiently translated into solving and communicating the solutions.

His framework of ” model” matched with “SQVID framework” are coherently linked with6Ws. Therefore, these connection of frameworks provide a simple, comprehensive and efficient ways of defining, solving and communicating problems with the aid of visual elements.

One concern is that although 6W-based problem definition framework look simple and easy to execute, it will require lots of experiences and good intuition to really come up with meaningful sub-questions and answers. At this level, the questions and answers may not simply be grouped as 6Ws, causing 6W lose its role as a framework.