The Designful Company: How to build a culture of nonstop innovation
Peachpit Press/New Riders (2008)
Neumeier addresses the challenge of organizing a company for agility by developing a “designful mind”: that is, a perspective that enables decision-makers to invent the widest range of solutions for the “wicked problems” now facing their company, their industry, and their world. He is president of Neutron, a San Francisco-based firm, that designs and facilitates culture-change programs that spur innovation. In co-sponsorship with Stanford University, his firm conducted a survey to identify “wicked problems”—problems so persistent, pervasive, or slippery that they seem insoluble. Ten are listed on Page 2 and range from “balancing long-term goals with short-term demands” to “aligning strategy with customer experience.” In this book, Neumeier explains how to establish and then sustain a culture of nonstop innovation, one that is guided and informed by a discipline of design so that it generates nonstop solutions to whatever wicked problems it may encounter. (Note: The solution process must be nonstop in response to constant changes of the nature and/or extent of each problem to be solved.)
According to Neumeier, a designful company inserts “making” between “knowing” and “doing”. Its designers don’t actually solve problems. They “work through” them. They use non-logical processes that are difficult to express in words but easier to express in action. They use models, mockups, sketches, and stories as their vocabulary. They operate in the space between “knowing” and “doing,” prototyping new solutions that arise from their four strengths of empathy [i.e. understanding the motivations of stakeholders to forge stronger bonds], intuition [a shortcut to understanding situations], imagination [new ideas are generated by divergent thinking, not convergent thinking], and idealism [an obsession with getting it right, obtaining what is missing, making whatever changes may be necessary, etc.]. One of Neumeier’s most important points is that any organization (regardless of its size or nature) needs designers at all levels and in all areas of its operations. “To build an innovative culture, a company must keep itself in a perpetual state of reinvention. Radical ideas must be the norm, not the exception…Companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course—they fail because they can’t imagine a better one.”
As these brief remarks indicate, I think this is Neumeier’s most important—indeed his most valuable—book thus far because he addresses issues that are relevant to an organization’s entire culture whereas, previously, he focused on a specific organizational imperative such as bridging the distance between business strategy and customer experience with five interconnected disciplines or using the first and most strategic of those disciplines to achieve radical differentiation.
Note: Peachpit Press/New Riders has just released Marty Neumeier’s first video, Innovation Workshop. This video presents concepts from his three best-selling books – The Brand Gap, Zag, and The Designful Company (especially) – and includes downloadable exercises to help work through crucial brand and innovation questions. Usually Neumeier charges $800 for one of his workshops but this 45-minute video aims to fill that gap with these concepts and exercises.
You can check out the promotion page below for more info:
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Basic Books (2008)
Throughout human history, what Keith Sawyer characterizes as “collaborative genius” has made significant contributions in ways and to an extent few (if any) individuals have. In fact, the more I think about all this, the more I appreciate the meaning and significance of Bernard Chartres’ observation (incorrectly attributed to Isaac Newton) that “We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” Here is a brief excerpt which correctly indicates one of Keith Sawyer’s core concepts: “In both an improv group and a successful work team, the members play off one another, each person’s contributions providing the spark for the next. Together, the improvisational team creates a novel emergent product, one that’s more responsive to the changing environment and [key point] better than what anyone could have developed alone. Improvisational teams are the building blocks of innovative organizations, and organizations that can successfully build improvisational teams will be more likely to innovate effectively.”
One of Sawyer’s most valuable insights, examined with both rigor and eloquence, is that people who are steadfastly convinced that they are not “creative” can nonetheless work effectively together to generate (albeit eventually) profoundly innovative ideas. There are some “ifs,” of course. First, senior managers must provide full support (including sufficient resources, especially time) of a collaborative team. Next, they must be patient rather than committing the common mistake of “ripping out a seedling to see how well it’s growing.” Also, they must understand – really understand – the meaning and especially the implications of the aforementioned seven key characteristics of effective creative teams. Finally, they must recognize that each “failure” (however defined) is a unique learning opportunity for them as well as for team members.
The Future of Management
Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
Harvard Business School Press (2007)
As he clearly indicates in his earlier books, notably in Competing for the Future (with C.K. Prahalad) and then in Leading the Revolution, Gary Hamel’s mission in life is to exorcise “the poltergeists who inhabit the musty machinery of management” so that decision-makers can free themselves from what James O’Toole aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In his Preface to this volume, Hamel asserts that “today’s best practices aren’t good enough” and later suggests that he wrote this book for “dreamers and doers” who want to invent “tomorrow’s best practices today.” In this brilliant book, he explains how to do that.
Here are two brief quotations that are representative of Hamel’s insights:
“To thrive in an increasingly disruptive world, companies must become as strategically adaptable as they are operationally efficient. To safeguard their margins, they must become gushers of rule-breaking innovation. And if they’re going to out-invent and outthink as growing mob of upstarts, they must learn how to inspire their employees to give the very best of themselves every day. These are the challenges that must be addressed by 21st-century management innovators.” (Page 11)
“Many factors contribute to strategic inertia, but three pose a particularly grave threat to timely renewal. The first is the tendency of management teams to deny or ignore the need for a strategy reboot. The second is a dearth of compelling alternatives to the status quo, which often leads to strategic paralysis. And the third: allocational rigidities that make it difficult to deploy talent and capital behind new initiatives. Each of these barriers stands in the way of zero-trauma change; hence each deserves to be a focal point for management innovation.” (Page 44)
I especially appreciate Hamel’s analysis of three exemplary companies: Whole Foods Market (a “community of purpose”), W.L. Gore (an “innovation democracy”), and Google (“brink-of-chaos management”). Hamel focuses his attention to how these companies invent tomorrow’s best practices today. He cleverly juxtaposes a “management innovation challenge” with each company’s “distinctive management practices.” Having established and then sustained a one-on-one rapport with his reader throughout the narrative, Hamel makes it crystal clear that that he is not urging his reader to address the same challenges and develop the same best practices for any one of the three exemplary companies, much less emulate all three. That would be insane.
Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have
In this volume, Justin Mendes explains that Executive Intelligence(tm) (or ExI) “is the single biggest driver of executive performance” and claims that it is overlooked by current assessment practices. Through his work with some of the most effective executives in the world, Menkes, co-founder of Executive Intelligence Group, sought to understand the qualities of star performers. He found that success could be attributed to intelligence but not to, for example, the academic IQ required for admission into top universities. Instead, Menkes has identified specific patterns of “intelligent executive behavior.” He distilled this behavioral pattern of success and, over three years, designed an assessment methodology to measure it. This is the Executive Intelligence Evaluation.
What does this evaluation involve? I visited executiveintelligence.com and located this explanation: “Structured as a one-on-one interview, the Executive Intelligence Evaluation quantifies and benchmarks an executive on the unique cognitive skills that are essential for leadership excellence. Instead of simply asking an executive about their capabilities, the methodology requires a candidate to demonstrate their skills. To accomplish this, the ExI Evaluation utilizes job relevant scenarios that necessitate: decision making and information gathering, managing the activities of others, and evaluating/adapting one’s own thinking and behavior – in other words, the central responsibilities of any executive. What’s more, a candidate’s capabilities are evaluated in the real-time verbal format in which they must be demonstrated on the job. The interview takes about one-and-a-half hours and is conducted by a highly trained expert. Scores have been shown to have no adverse impact in terms of race, gender, language, or country of origin.”