Between rapid technological change and global competition, it’s becoming harder for anyone selling a product or service to maintain a competitive edge–especially when that product is more or less the same as everyone else’s. But companies with products caught in this trap have more options than they realize. Even if you can’t win by being the cheapest or the best, you don’t need to simply resign yourself to commodity status. Creating a consumer brand for the industrial commodity, branding the product in a way that makes it familiar to the users, and sometime even raising price can be a positive differentiator.
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.
Many family businesses don’t last beyond the third generation. As someone wisely put it: “Of shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”, or wealth gained in one generation will be lost by the third. Yet the Pitcairn family business stands out in sharp contrast to this morose trend. The business has been going strong for more than 100 years and spans five generations and 650 family members. How has the Pitcairn family managed to keep business and ownership separate? How do they keep the family happy and the business well run? Pitcairn Company Chairman Dirk Junge shares some valuable lessons from the Pitcairn experience.
In China a healthy gaming culture centered around PC games, and more recently, mobile games, is thriving. Despite a historic decision by China’s Ministry of Culture in January 2014 to lift its 14-year ban on video game consoles, foreign console companies Sony and Microsoft have largely failed to woo China’s 517 million gamers. In July 2015, Niko Partners estimated that fewer than 550,000 of Sony Playstation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, combined, will be sold in China by the end of the year, a pittance compared to the profits made by both PC and mobile gaming. Both companies are trying to make headway in this potentially fruitful market.
In every country, there are vast populations that need to be educated about something, like say personal health or hygiene, but it’s hard to do that because they are too poor, too busy, too old or just plain shy. The challenge then becomes: how do you reach out to them and achieve the desired outcomes. A concept called ‘embedded education’ can help here. Embedded education, or the practice of educating people through encounters that they already have with existing delivery systems, might just prove to be more effective than traditional mechanisms. So don’t be surprised if your barber starts educating you on hypertension the next time you get a haircut.
Are you among those who worry about where their products come from? So you prefer to shell out an extra buck for fair trade coffee instead of a regular cup of joe. You look for the Fairtrade certification when you buy clothes. But what about your phone? Fairphone, an Amsterdam-headquartered company, is selling phones on the premise that they are made from conflict-free minerals. Is that a compelling proposition for customers? Will they pick an ethically produced phone over an iPhone which has greater functionality, more aspiration value and a style quotient?