Episode 131 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Nathan Shedroff. Nathan is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and educator. Like me, he teaches at the graduate interaction design program of the California College of the Arts. Our conversation focused on his new book, A Whole New Strategy, which teaches strategic thinking.
Nathan’s starting premise wasa that strategy is very important but is often done poorly. A key reason for this is that strategic choices are often made in the absence of solid research. (Choice quote: “That’s the whole last seventy years of business, basically: going on hunches.”)
Another reason is that the organization is a system, and strategy calls for cohesive (i.e., systems) thinking. Many organizations pay lip service to strategic thinking by writing positioning statements and such, but fail to define a cohesive, actionable strategy.
The result: per a 2020 McKinsey report, 85% of all companies worldwide are ‘zombie’ companies: “[they] are just able to make payroll and pay off their debt, but they’re not going anywhere. They’re not moving into new markets. They’re not evolving. They’re just treading water.”
While Nathan’s book isn’t aimed at designers, design can contribute to defining better strategies. For one, design research is an important sensory function, allowing the organization to align more closely with customers. For another, design can enable organizations to more easily prototype alternative futures.
The key is getting design involved earlier in the decision-making process. As Nathan put it,
Maybe you should be there at the beginning rather than the end to make it look nice or to bless some of the sections. I think that there are probably other ways in which designers can get involved with strategy, but I don’t think we can wait to be invited.
… that sort of “get our insights into the room and into the process first” — I think is going to be a natural first step in most cases. That might be publishing a blog, publishing reports, or getting some sort of cool artifact. You almost have to think about this as sending gifts to the leadership of your company or your client’s company that they unwrap and think are really cool. But in this case, it’s an understanding or an insight into customers that they don’t otherwise have.
I loved this idea of thinking of design artifacts and insights as ‘gifts’ to the organization’s leadership. And I loved this conversation: it touched on many themes that are central to my interests as a practitioner. Check it out — especially if you’re a designer wondering how to add more value to your organization.