Economists and business strategists have long noticed that industries tend to converge on just a few places. Milan for fashion, London for finance, Silicon Valley for technology—for any given sector, there are usually one or two points on which the whole world revolves. Over the past few decades, this insight has led many policymakers to try to nurture not just individual companies but a whole ecosystem—a cluster—around a single industry. When does a cluster strategy work to spur innovation and when does it backfire? Should creative clusters be engineered by governments or should they be allowed to evolve and flourish on their own?
For nearly 25 years now, IDEO has stood at the cutting edge of the possibilities of design. Founded in Silicon Valley in 1991 by David Kelley, an early popularizer of the design thinking methodology, IDEO has grown into a diverse global organization, with experts on tap in disciplines ranging from behavioral service to software engineering. Thirteen years ago, IDEO opened an office in Shanghai. Charles Hayes, a partner at IDEO and Managing Director of IDEO China, talks about the evolution of IDEO China, IDEO’s approach to design thinking in a Chinese context and evolving Chinese business and consumer cultures.
A number of businesses have made remarkable gains by integrating design thinking into their development process—not the least of which was Hovey-Kelley, which morphed in the early ’90s into IDEO, the international design giant. Some universities are even beginning to include a mandatory course in design thinking in the general curriculum. Some corporate strategy experts argue that design thinking is nearing the kind of inflection point that the Quality movement reached in the late 1980s, when the total quality methodology became an inescapable part of doing business. Yet some critics are saying design thinking is dead. But the truth is its value lies in the worldview it propagates.
Once upon a time, designers were considered a fairly rarified breed in the corporate world—people with more interesting hair, eyeglasses and talent than the rest of us, but not a key part of the “real” business. Today, however, that’s changing. As more and more companies face the need for constant innovation, design is earning more respect. In fact, these days, many organizations are training their employees to think like designers. Jeanne Liedtka, a professor of strategy and author of three books on design thinking, argues that learning to approach problems the way designers do can be a useful way to spark innovation in almost every company.
Once upon a time, design was a coat of paint on the locomotive of the real economy. Today, value depends less on oil, steel and sweat, and more on how a product looks, runs and, most importantly, makes the consumer feel. In this series, we look first at the factors that have made design a prime economic force; next, at how executives have learned to create value by training the entire company to think like designers; then at ways in which cities are seeking competitive advantage with design; and finally, at how design itself is changing—and what those changes will mean to the way we work and live.
Developments in technology have always led to changes in management practices. Papyrus and writing made the first empires possible, and the telegraph and telephone later gave the modern corporation its central nervous system. As digitalization changes the nature of our work, it’s not so wild to imagine management will change too. One answer may be Holacracy, a trademarked management system designed by former programmer Brian J. Robertson. Using what he describes as “a new social technology”, Robertson hopes to remove what he sees as a key defect in the modern enterprise: the inability to incorporate the insights of individuals into the actions of the group.
Ten years from now, business historians will offer a number of reasons financial services had changed so radically since 2016, from general advances in technology to the regulatory reaction to the crash of 2008. But one factor appears likely to stand out above all the others: the blockchain, a distributed database that serves as the backend of the virtual currency Bitcoin. Today, financial services are investing billions in blockchain technology. Many believe it will lead to a radical simplification of banking and payment systems everywhere—a world where money and other assets take nanoseconds to transfer, cannot be lost or stolen, and require no intermediaries to process.
Investment banking has always been a highly cyclical business, growing when the markets grow, shrinking when they shrink. But a combination of regulation, technology and investment suggests that, as stockbrokers have traditionally whispered in boom times, this time it’s different. The go-go era of investment banking that began in the mid-1980s and thrived up to the financial crisis appears to be on its way out, as the biggest banks shrink in response to regulation and smaller, more focused firms, funds and start-ups take a larger share of the market. It’s becoming a mature industry. So what is set to change on Wall Street then?
Bad loans were at the core of the 2008 financial crisis, so it makes sense that lending may be the banking function that changes the most over the next 10 years, particularly as peer-to-peer lending platforms claim that they can make smarter loans faster and more cheaply than conventional banks. So will banks get ‘ubered’ by these peer-to-peer lending start-ups? A match that pits old and anxious institutions with high capital withholding requirements against young, tech-savvy, and lightly regulated start-ups might sound like a foregone conclusion, but some analysts say the outcome is not as certain as it appears. So what does the future hold?
For consumers in mature markets, the financial technology boom doesn’t seem very exciting. What they’ve seen so far is technology that shaves a few minutes off an efficient process, such as being able to deposit a check by taking a picture of it instead of going to the ATM. But for parts of the world where people still buy and sell things with banknotes, the FinTech boom is likely to be a major event with important economic consequences.