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Michael Bierut

Innovation is the New Black


Last month I was invited by Patrick Whitney, director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, to participate in a symposium on the "'creative corporation' and the adoption of design by business leaders." Naturally, I said yes, quoting Lance, the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, who, when asked by Vincent Vega what will happen after he gives Marcellus Wallace's wife an adrenalin injection to the heart, answers "I'm curious about that myself."

It turned out that the operant word at the symposium wasn't design but innovation. Yes, innovation. Everyone wanted to know about it. Everyone wanted to talk about it. One of the panelists was Business Week's legendary design advocate Bruce Nussbaum. "When I talk to my editors about design, I have trouble keeping them interested," he confessed. "But there's a tremendous interest in innovation." The lesson to me seemed clear. If we want the business world to pay attention to us, we need to purge the d-word from our vocabularies. That's right: we are all innovators now.

A recent email provides proof of the timeliness of this approach. "Empower Yourself to Innovate," the DMI urges me, sounding suspiciously like Stuart Smalley. A visit to the DMI's website for their upcoming conference, "Empowered Innovation," confirms that the organization has already gotten with the program in a big way. The word "design" is nowhere to be found in the main description of the conference. It finally makes its appearance halfway through a list of conference topics that include "Innovation within an Organizational Context," "Experimentation Matters: New Opportunities for Innovation" and "Culture-Driven Innovation." It turns out that Magdalena De Gasperi from Braun GmbH will be speaking on "The Impact of Innovation and Design on Brand Equity." Design, it appears, is welcome only when properly escorted...by Innovation! And it's no surprise that the organization officially known as the Design Management Institute is using its acronym more and more and letting its formal name wither quietly away, just like KFC did as it sought to distance itself from the greasy brand equity of the words Fried Chicken. I suppose I hardly need to add that the DMI has a blog called — care to guess? — that's right, the Innovation Blog.

This mania for innovation, or at least for endlessly repeating the word "innovation," is just the latest in a long line of fads that have swept the business world for years. In the mid-eighties, Motorola developed a seemingly effective quality management program based on a sophisticated statistical model called Six Sigma, which involved attempting to reduce the number of defects in their business processes to less than 3.4 per million. Within a few years, managers everywhere were demanding that their organizations begin "implementing Six Sigma principles." The mystical invocation of the Greek letter; the unnerving specificity of 3.4 per million (as opposed to the presumably unacceptable 3.5 per million); the talismanic power of the bell curve diagram that was often used to "illustrate" the theory: all of this arcana was meant to instill awe in employees who would shrug off a homelier directive like "measure twice, cut once."

It's not hard to see why innovation is becoming the design world's favorite euphemism. Design sounds cosmetic and ephemeral; innovation sounds energetic and essential. Design conjures images of androgynous figures in black turtlenecks wielding clove cigarettes; innovators are forthright fellows with their shirtsleeves rolled up, covering whiteboards with vigorous magic-markered diagrams, arrows pointing to words like "Results!" But best of all, the cult of innovation neatly sidesteps the problem that has befuddled the business case for design from the beginning. Thomas Watson Jr.'s famous dictum "good design is good business" implies that there's good design and there's bad design; what he doesn't reveal is how to reliably tell one from the other. Neither has anyone else. It's taken for granted that innovation, however, is always good.

Everyone wins on the innovation bandwagon. A recalcitrant client may cheerfully admit to having no taste, but no one wants to stand accused of opposing innovation. And a growing number of firms stand ready to lead the innovation charge; a much-talked-about article in Business Week last August, "Get Creative! How to Build Innovative Companies," singled out Doblin, Design Continuum, Ziba, and IDEO. In fact, if anyone deserves the credit for inventing the don't-think-of-it-as-design-think-of-it-as-innovation meme, it's IDEO. "Innovation at IDEO," visitors are assured on their website, "is grounded in a collaborative methodology that simultaneously examines user desirability, technical feasibility, and business viability." No idle sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike at IDEO! Skeptics requiring further persuasion will find it in The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, two books that IDEO's general manager Tom Kelley has written on the subject.

I was surprised to learn, however, that although innovation is always good, it isn't always effective. "We all know that reliable methods of innovation are becoming important to business as they realize that 96% of all innovation attempts fail to meet their financial goals," read the invitation to the Institute of Design symposium, a figure derived from research by Doblin. Now, I suppose you could do worse than failing 24 out of every 25 tries, but this sounds suspiciously like Albert Einstein's famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. But thank goodness, a solution is at hand: "Business leaders are increasingly looking to design to not just help, but lead their innovation processes." So we come full circle. Don't say design, say innovation, and when innovation doesn't work, make sure you saved some of that design stuff, because you're going to need it.

With this new vision of design-as-innovation identified — somewhat chillingly, if you ask me — in Business Week as "the Next Big Thing after Six Sigma" (the ironically-intended capitalization is theirs), perhaps a new golden age of respect for designers — or innovators, or whatever you want to call us — is upon us at last. Or maybe it simply announces the availability of a turbo-charged version of the kind of frantic rationalizations that we've always deployed in our desperation to put our ideas across. Either way, I'm reminded of something Charles Eames used to say: innovate as a last resort. Have we run out of options at last?

Posted in: Design Practice, Ideas, Journalism, Product Design

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Comments [57]
Gracias for a different point of view on this topic.
niti bhan
11.20.05
11:45

My favorite definition of design is by John Heskett in his book Toothpicks and Logos:

Design, stripped to its essence, can be defined as the human capacity to make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs, and give us meaning in our lives.

Design, by this definition, could include graphic design and architecture, but also business planning, parenting, and just about anything else imagineable. It's about intentionally crafting and shaping something for a reason.

Good design -- be it graphic design, parenting, business planning, or whatever -- doesn't necessarily need to be innovative. I'd rather have good parents than innovative ones. I'd rather work with a good designer than an innovative one. Innovation should be a result of a good design process, not the other way around. I think that we should start shifting the meaning and scope of design, rather than coming up with catchy -- er, innovative -- new words to describe it.
Ryan Nee
11.21.05
01:01

Well put, Ryan.

Why, at this point in history, is there this seemingly overwhelming urge to dismiss what has worked perfectly well for so long? My suspicion is that in our desire to "have it all - right now" we have forgotten that some things are OK just as they are and some processes don't need to be streamlined or optimised.

I think I will remain a designer, at least until the innovation fad dies down.
chris dixon
11.21.05
02:10

great! now we have to add innovator next to strategist (shiiiver); visual specialist; solutionist (quite possibly the worst) and visual language architect!

great. no pressure

;-)
vibranium
11.21.05
08:02

Perhaps designers will follow New Labour's lead.
We are all change makers now.
Paul Matson
11.21.05
08:25

Michael (et al),

Since I have been toiling intensively to separate innovation from design for over a decade, no one could possibly be more distressed than me to see it so over-blown, over-used, misused and abused than me. Personally, I have absolutely NO desire to conflate innovation and design, nor would it be my advice to any switched on design firm that they cavalierly adopt this (perhaps already passe) "new" lexicon.

But at the same time, it would be good if thoughtful designers actively consider why this new field has arrived now, what it means, and how they can participate in it if they choose... Above all else NO ONE should assume that this is just a change in terminology--for if that is the only way you see it, then you are most decidedly missing the point...

The roots of innovation as a field...
Large companies need innovation now because efficiency is no longer enough. After 12 years of intensive effort to get process streamlining; to outsource non-essential operations; to build supply chain integration; to buy all kinds of digital tools to deliver greater efficiency and economy of operations--all those tricks are now expected and discounted by analysts. MANY CEOs call me these days to explain that they are being criticized by analysts after pulling off what many regard as miracles in complex, global markets, only to be told that their firms are now efficient but now boring.

So they have iPod envy... Firms are seeing that Target, Pixar, Google, Amazon, and scores of other cool companies simply have a faster clock speed for bringing newsworthy stuff to markets, and making them work...

Consequences for design and designers...
Most designers can do nothing and still benefit from this trend--so long as your skills are great, your firm is distinctive, and you are able to work well in teams. A lot of the background interest in innovation is mostly hunger for distinctiveness and stuff that is on the edge (witness the meteoric rise of the signature architects Gehry, Koolhaas, Calitrava, Hadid, and others). The great news for designers about the rise of a corporate interest in innovation is that it recognizes, more than ever before, the strategic contribution of design to product, service, information, and environmental offerings. At Doblin we see this as a trend likely to persist for at least the next decade.

But it is also possible to do more than nothing... If you want to actively participate in the base ideas of the emerging innovation field then you have to develop a keen interest in what works in marketplaces. Of course great designers always have solid instincts about what is likely to work in marketplaces (and these instincts, for my money, are FAR more important than any known form of evaluative research). But the innovation field per se needs to use MANY forms of design, carefully orchestrated and integrated, to get beyond some threshold level of activity--enough to get noticed, to make a difference, to be strategic. Think about it: how many kinds of excellence would Sears or Wal-Mart need to develop to be as cool as Target? How likely is is that they will develop these skills spontaneously? How will they learn what to do and do it with any quality, subtlety, freshness, or uniqueness? It is easy for designers to simply say: "they won't." And odds are, you'd even be right (at least about those two firms).

But here's the deal, and it is novel, important and unprecedented: nearly every firm needs to be smarter about this now than ever before.

I contend that this is a NEW field, not just a new word. I further contend that it has its own methodology, complexity, and professional demands. It will be VERY GOOD for the design field, but is not the same as the design field. It is my fond hope that the better practitioners, design firms, schools (including a rapidly growing number of business schools), and desigers, will help to create the broad new capabilities and professionalism that will actually meet the underlying need for stuff, places, clarity of messages, and distinctive experiences that human beings crave--and enterprises must increasingly learn to deliver.
Larry Keeley
11.21.05
09:52

Thank you for identifying the latest inspiration jargon that Mr. Stephenson will be using in his next meeting. This way I can avoid using this latest term. Business terms are designed to get a room full of people nodding- and they always manage to suck the intelligence right out of the air. I have weathered a lot of these terms, ("scalable" annoyed me the most). Also, I have noticed lately that people are often starting sentences with "Honestly..." This is suppose to make the person seem like a straight shooter- but it always manages to seem ironic to me. If we are identifying our truisms, we should then also identify our lies. Something like "Just saving my job by saying this..."

I am perfectly happy with innovation, it's a wonderful thing after all. I strive for it in my work- perhaps never really achieving it. But I worry though about "innovation". It's that bottling of these terms that seems to rob them of some of their power. Innovation is a result from a messy and sometimes ugly creative process. The results can be brilliant but are often trivial and absurd. Innovation is so very necessary, but business has always done much better by capitalizing on the few standout successes of innovations. Or in essence, "innovation".

Remember "edgy"?
Zander
11.21.05
11:11

To quote Ryan: " [design is] about intentionally crafting and shaping something for a reason... Innovation should be a result of a good design process"

The two should be much more integrated than the current general mindset allows them to be. Well-designed companies are innovative. They reach and serve their audiences most successfully and it shows in their communication with their audience (ads, customer service, etc) and in their products. It seems to me that without the innovation aspect of design, design is just decorative. And I know we're not all decorators.
allijack
11.21.05
12:22

Thanks for identifying this shift -- it's something that I have witnessed in museum exhibition design as well as commercial business. We work to make clients and visitors feel excited, to have a WOW moment, often on a shoestring budget. It is disheartening to see our competition win the big projects when all they've really sold is innovation -- when the time comes to actually sit down and DESIGN something, the exhibits all tend to look exactly alike -- some slick glass, a few graphics here and there, a multimedia theater with really big projectors. I can't help but wonder, if clients bought into design rather than innovation, we'd end up with better museums. The Eames' were the masters of that practice -- and I'd like to think we have years of their style of design left in us yet.
cz
11.21.05
12:31

I'd actually like to posit that "innovation" is not the hot new item, at least, not as of September 2005.

After reading this article I went to Yahoo!'s keyword research tool and found that, in September, only 23,572 users searched for "innovation" while a whopping 179,146 users searched for the old warhorse , "design." Even the lowly "kitchen design" slammed "innovation" three times over with 23,572 searches.

And for the claims that "innovation" is the new "black." Hello, black weighs in with 270,391 to 23k.

That's cool. I'd rather design my sites than "innovate" them any day. Next you'd probably have me "awesoming" my code rather than "debugging" it.

RA
John Cory
11.21.05
01:21

I am reminded of this great interview with Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com.

"If today the successful recipe is to put 70 percent of your energy into shouting about your service and 30 percent into making it great, over the next 20 years I think that's going to invert."

I think the questionably new field of innovation is really just about designing things better. It's not just about designing things on the marketing side of business, but designing how the entire company functions, from top to bottom. That's really what Apple, Target, Starbucks, Amazon and all of those companies do well. They design everything, not just the graphics and interiors.

Innovation seems like it is just shifting the scope of design. The people involved are different. The resulting artifacts are different. But to me, it's still design.
Ryan Nee
11.21.05
01:58

Isn't 'Innovation', at least partly, just a way to winnow out the oxymoronic superficiality of the designer-this & designer-that status cult?
Andre SC
11.21.05
03:14

Aahh... the irony. First attribute which, according to the press release, the new AT&T logo embraces - innovation.

Clearly it doesn't. Nothing like killing two redundant birds with one stone.
Chris Dixon
11.21.05
05:48

Michael Bierut of Pentagram fame has cut through the blather to raise a really fascinating--and funny-- issue in Corporate America. Everyone loves design but no one wants to call it design. Top CEOs and managers want to call design something else--innovation. Innovation, that they are comfortable with. Design, well, its a little too wild and crazy for them. So they call it innovation.

I've been seeing this phenomenon for some time now--ever since design took off as a strategy and way of thinking inside big corporations. The same managers who are perfectly comfortable talking about "vision," whatever that is, don't like to talk about "design." Innovation, however, connotes measurement, control and has a kind of engineering tonality to it. So "innovation" is accepted.

As for me, I think that if managers are uncomfortable with the term design, they should call it a "banana." Bananas are beautiful, functional, organic, unique, measureable, portable, pleasurable and provide a delightful, emotional experience to consumers. Bananas embody what CEOs and managers are struggling to achieve in using design to create new products and services.

Yes, it took the legendary designer Michael Bierut to make me have this epiphany. Banana.

bruce nussbaum
11.21.05
06:16

Yes, but bananas get mushy and rotten :)
Tejus
11.21.05
06:36

As a design Leader I have used the McMaster definition fo the last 9 years and regarded Design as an effective way of delivery; that is succesful Innovation is the goal, Design is the journey is the most effective way to get there.

Innovation: A definition
The commercial application of knowledge or techniques in new ways or for new purposes. It is not necessarily about thinking of new ideas in the first place but about exploiting new opportunities profitably and ahead of competitors. This means:
*Managing change to allow new ideas, new technology or new opportunities to flourish.
*Improving your application of skills and technologies to processes, products or services to increase profits or competitive advantage.
*Improving many small aspects of research and development, design, production and marketing as well as thinking about small step changes.
*Adopting and adapting other people's ideas to improve your competitive advantage.
*That anyone can innovate!
Http://irc.mcmaster.Ca/tim. 1996
and a definition of design
"The role of design is to respond to people's changing needs with the requisite sensitivity, intelligence and imagination to enable the integration of these needs into the cultural, economic and ecological environment. By fulfilling this role, design can improve the quality of life."
Gerhard Heufler Jan 2004 ( In his book Design Basics)
Jim rait
Jim Rait
11.21.05
07:41

I have my doubts that the new "Innovation" field will survive the onslaught of design firms (and others) eager to glom onto the latest buzzword to help drive their business. Firms that print businesscards for outsourced employees and consultancies that tell designers to fake engineering credentials (when all they can really do is create 3D shapes in CAD) will turn this new field sour in short order, imo.

Besides, people are now busy handing out "innovation" titles to companies that do little more than have a good news day. Confusion and bewilderment have already set in.
csven
11.21.05
09:43

Wow, what a thread! To quote the little kid in the driveway of the Incredibles after a particularly impressive display of super power, "That was totally wicked!" Michael nails the irony in the popular design/business jargon that seemingly equates design and innovation. Larry K., in typical form, clarifies that design and innovation are not meant to be equated.

My add? Certainly a lot of people who are interested in innovation don't understand the value design can bring to an initiative aimed at doing something new. However, a lot of designers aren't aware or perhaps interested in other dimensions of expertise that are of concern to initiatives aimed to innovate.

For example, not many designers are educated in the basics of intellectual property, finance, or basic research methods -- all essential to successful innovation. Innovation is simply a broader goal than design expertise can reliably satisfy. Design can be essential to innovation, but is not, as perhaps is implied by some of the more eager design organizations that surf this fortuitous wave, equal to innovation.

By all means keep up the discourse and debate! There's a lot of eager eyes lookin' in on this one and they shouldn't be disappointed!

Hi Mom!

Chris
Chris Conley
11.21.05
09:52

To build on the posts of two of my Chicago innovation mafia colleagues, Larry Keeley and Chris Conley, I'd like to tell the story chronologically, and dwell a bit on the impact on the graphic designer working in the context of "innovation".

Until six years ago we at Doblin framed our offering as "design planning". When we wanted to make it sound really important, we called it "strategic design planning". We pitched ourselves as useful middlemen between designers and business strategists who could add value because designers and business strategists didn't know much about each other and spoke very different languages, but needed each other to be successful. Turned out it was an ineffective pitch. Business leaders had at least heard of design, but not design planning. I am sure the sentence "You know, we really need to solve this really important problem to us is a design planner" has never been uttered in any executive suite on the planet.

So for all the reasons mentioned in LKs and CCs posts we at Doblin started talking about "innovation" back before the dotcom's bombed. Originally I thought this was just a new communication strategy, and to some degree it was: it certainly helps to use a name your clients are comfortable with and are beginning to care deeply about rather than one they've never heard and, I might add, includes the d-word, which was even more broadly misunderstood back then than it is now.

During the previous twenty years senior executives had been focusing on quality and efficiency, using methods like benchmarking (e.g. copying best practices in their industry) and competing for quality awards (like the Baldridge) that required them to adopt metrics shared by their competitors and therefore become more alike. As leaders began to see margins and market share erode as most surviving competitors were playing the same quality and efficiency game, they saw the need to become less like their competitors and more appealing to customers. They decided they needed to "innovate". However innovation was not a subject taught in business schools.

So being in the innovation consulting business (and the design school business) has turned out to be about inventing methods to fill this need. It turns out that these methods go beyond design methods to include all these areas of expertise adjacent mentioned by Larry and Chris.

It has also changed what I do as a graphic designer. I've found myself working on two classes of problem that are not, I think, widely practiced. The first is illustrating business concepts to help business leaders get a tangible and shared sense of what they are contemplating before they've committed any development dollars. Business concept illustrations augment quantitative sketches (called projections) with qualitative sketches of what a new and different offering might look and feel like.

The second is more an information design task: to jumpstart the development of our own intellectual property about innovation by visualizing what it would look like before doing the underlying R&D.

As I write this, it occurs to me that these two classes of problem are the same: It's the client that's different. Both involve the illustration of business concepts. The first is done on behalf of our clients, who typically sell consumer goods and services, so we illustrate consumer experiences of these goods and services. The second is for us, and we're consultants, and our product is useful ways of thinking about innovation, so we illustrate them.
Peter Laundy
11.22.05
01:31

I am particularly sad to see the inability of designers to challenge the status quo, an impediment for our own innovation. At a recent design conference, I was perturbed by concerns that teaching about design in business schools will diminish the importance of designers. Why are we so insular and resistant to change? In today's fast changing environment, designers must reinvent themselves by making new connections, see new possibilities and take risks — in other words, innovate.
Chris Yin
11.22.05
04:00

I certainly can't argue the fact that "innovation" is in danger of becoming a diluted business buzz-word of the month.

However, I'd also like to point out a perspective from Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class. In his book, he views innovation as an end-product of the creative process. The creative process, as Florida points out, embodies not only artistic and cultural creativity (which is what most designers are involved with) but also technological creativity (or invention -- the domain of engineers), and economic creativity (or entrepreneurship).

So from this perspective, innovation is hardly the sole domain of designers, nor should we confuse it as a euphemism for design alone. Design that addresses real needs and problems in unique and original ways will consequently be innovative. But a financial plan that creates better cash-flow, or a meat-slicing machine that speeds up processing can be innovative as well...and very valuable to a business. Hence, businesses are getting excited about innovation as a means of improving...whatever they need to improve on.

(John Heskett's definition of design, cited by Ryan Nee above, is certainly universal enough to be inclusive of technological and economic creativity, although many people still don't think of those processes as design, per se.)

But as we have seen with other business buzz-word bandwagons, there are both dangers and opportunities for us. Certainly, innovation is a language we can speak on this bandwagon. However, we have to know when it's best to independently run along side offering assistance, when to jump on and help steer, and when to stand clear.
Daniel Green
11.22.05
09:00

Thanks for a very well written article that is "spot on". It can only be a good thing when someone dares to shake the business world by the shoulders when it gets caught up in its own frenzy.
Sharon
11.22.05
04:05

businessweek's labeling of design as innovation as "the Next Big Thing after Six Sigma" disturbs me somewhat. can design ever be free from corporatization? can design ever be truly innovative if it must abide by the standards of corporations? i, for one, lack a design background, so it is this idea in particular that intrigues me.
maximalist
11.22.05
04:08

also, it would seem that innovation is the new *buck*
maximalist
11.22.05
04:11

Sometimes, someone, somewhere says what you need to hear to stop you from going insane. Thank you Michael for putting things into perspective. Your article has made us, designers in a product innovation company, get back to discussing why we are unhappy.

Please check our Blog, we will surely dwell into this issue in the next few weeks... http://www.innovationforgrowth.com
José dos Santos
11.22.05
05:16

"Innovation" is not a solution, but I agree that the emphasis on it recently (however vague the individual understanding of it is) has helped design get noticed. Designers can help set the stage for what this means, and how--or if--it's different than what happens today.

I see it as this: designs are potential solutions to problems, while innovation is a broader awareness of the problems themselves, and the act of applying that knowledge meaningfully. That could be learning more about the context of the thing being designed, the people interacting with it, or even the processes and people behind its development and deployment. More likely it's a combination of all these things.

I'm surprised that the term "experience" isn't being discussed here--that's getting used quite a bit for software/web design, and captures some of the big-picture aspect that all good designs should take into account.
Julie Meridian
11.22.05
08:41

Whether it's ever-expanding research methods, intricate prototyping processes or whatever, there is a clear desire by corporate leadership to get the scary intuitive aspect of design off the table, and yet still (impossibly) reap the benefits of it.
leMel
11.22.05
08:53

It was interesting that the article in Business Week last August on Innovation focused mainly on industrial design solutions. I may have missed them but I don't recall any graphic design solutions that were presented as innovative. No corporate identity branding solutions or packaging solutions or even web site designs were shown as innovative.

Why is it that 99% of the packaging design you see from the biggest companies in America on the shelf is god awful? These are managed by the most intelligent, well educated brand mangers. These solutions are also created by talented design groups. If innovation is important than where is being done in large scale graphic design projects in America today.

I hear Target being talked about as one company that is doing innovative design. Perhaps in the area of industrial design but can we say they are truly innovative in the graphic design arena?

Simply by it nature It seems to me that Industrial Design is seen as a more vital, more innovative area all together than print or annual report or even packaging or branding/Identity design.

I know a new identity or brand when implemented correctly can really increase sales for a company. For the largest companies in America, How many of these are truly "innovative"? Is it possible to have a truly " innovative" graphic design solution get past the marketing and focus groups to see the light in the real world.

It seems to me the smaller the company and the fewer brand and marketing managers involved the more "innovative" design has a chance to be seen in the real world.

That said it doesn't mean the most "innovative" design solution is going to sell better than the not so innovative solution. That is the rub...the customers might not like the truly "innovative" solution.

From my experience it is the more appropriate and more effective design solution that trumps the innovative solution.

That is unless we are talking about ART.

Worldwide Innovative Strategic Marketing &......design...can we help you?
Paul Woods
11.22.05
09:51

Let me clarify that ...If real innovation is important, than where is IT being done on large scale GRAPHIC design projects in America today? Packaging, Branding etc etc


Paul Woods
11.22.05
10:11

You always were innovators.

You just didn't know it.
olivier blanchard
11.23.05
02:22

While all you suckers are busy innovating I took the next logical step and merged design with innovation. I call it Designovation™. Now someone just point me in the direction of some Fortune 500 companies and VC investors.
quadog
11.23.05
02:57

The word "innovation" is slickly embedded in the petrochemical brand Innovene.
which launched March 2005 when BP partnered with Landor to create a $9 billion subsidiary.

The name was explained very simply by Ralph Alexander, CEO.
"Our new name speaks to our aspiration to challenge ourselves and the status quo in our sector."

Transparently, innov is innovation and ene suggests nomenclature of chemicals that comprise plastics such as polypropylene.

But, where is the innovation within the methodology of the company or at least the product; dare we ask, who benefits?
Is it in creating better petrochemicals that have less impact on the environment, or selling more petrochemicals?
Much of the innov-speak on the website and press release speaks of the benefits of "innovation" leading to increased profits.
A wellspring of innovation is not revealed.

Innovene's plastic-looking logo is a backwards lowercase "i", which says it all.




Joe
11.23.05
03:00

Imagine a world in which techniques of design, production and delivery have become so refined that companies use identical methods to produce identical products, a world in which competitive edge is prised from incrementally better management of money or smoother business processes. In this world, brand consultants get fat from painting different signs (and missions, visions, values) on corporations that are otherwise indistinguishable. Management consultants get rich by trimming fat from their client companies - or cutting away bones where there is no fat. This is a world in which businesses are organized in discrete departments dedicated to the accurate repetition of tasks as efficiently as possible; steadfastness is rewarded, imagination is frowned upon and the end customer is held firmly at arms length, just another incidental detail to be served by third party distributors.

And then everything changes. Along comes the multi-megabyte chip, the mobile phone, globalization, the Internet, something called customer relationships. Worried CEOs see Apple, Orange and Google fly by into a new century selling products and services that minutes ago didn't even have generic names, let alone competition. It may have taken a decade to wake up, but now even 20th Century Corporation realizes that creativity, imagination and innovation mean GOOD BUSINESS (thank you Larry Keeley for permission to use capitals).

Have you seen how many innovation blogs there are! But should we be surprised? The nexus of competition has shifted to service and delivery, to networked services attached to products, to the qualities of the relationship with the end customer and the value and efficiency of information exchange. This is what the innovation fuss is all about and it presents some wicked problems to which designers - and others - can wake up to themselves and contribute solutions.

Firstly, businesses with a culture of repetition, introspection and incremental variation don't transform easily into customer-friendly service-oriented change-happy innovators.

Secondly, products, services, marketing communications and databases have converged within very complex systems of delivery that require different professional competences to build them. The professions speak different languages; they have different cultures and, usually, the wrong kind leads the project.

Thirdly, the scope, value and profitability of the new services and products that businesses build are often poorly understood inside the organization, or by its agencies, or by its customers.

So it's no wonder that innovation mostly fails. How can design contribute to a higher rate of success? Designers (and editors) have key skills that management consultants and software engineers lack but are vital in solving the wicked problems of change management and navigating a complex business project in the right direction: conceptual imagination, the ability to organize form and information, prototyping, story-telling, visual communication and customer focus. It appears that some business schools are realizing, at last, that these are essential skills, not arty curiosities.

I agree with Larry Keeley. This is a new field (and because it's new and fashionable will attract its fair share of snake oil sellers). It's an in-between field that has to draw on different disciplines, and it's one that adventurous designers will do well in but it might mean changing aspects of the design culture, sometimes but not always for the better.

Does it mean we have to dress and talk like INSEAD graduates? Sometimes, probably, if only to be heard, but lets not get carried away on that one. Use phrases like 'diagnostic', 'effective levers', 'supporting data' and 'reliable and repeatable'? Hopefully not but, whoops, these all come from the Doblin website. Rub shoulders with geeks? I'm afraid so, but are they that bad? Work collaboratively with the client instead of privately in our studios? Oh yes. Stand up in boardrooms and take charge when the time is right? Yes. Change the antiquated way we organise our profession into narrow specialisms in which we all know our role and our place and make small variations to common types? Certainly. Be more like Doblin? Definitely - except for the 'levers' stuff. Stop having to polish turds (an English expression for calling companies silly names like Innovene and charging huge sums for it)? Yes! Start solving big, complicated problems that transform our clients. Please!
William Owen
11.23.05
08:15

Innovation. Wow. Far out. How 60s.

As was said in Children of Paradise - "Novelty, it's as old as the hills". I'll go with the aphorism, "You don't have to do a good job to be different. Doing a good job is different enough."

I recently heard some corporate flaks talking about synergy. Must be some kind of time warp.
Kaleberg
11.23.05
08:22

I am impressed that Michael Beruit called out the color of the emperor's innovative clothes, black....and not completely surprised that Keely, I guess feeling a bit dark, saw fit to respond. Beruit's insights, left unchallenged threaten to pull the wool from Keely's back.

For a long time Keely has been preaching that innovation, strategic design, design planning, etc., are critical intermediaries between design and its publics. This is all well and good in its proper place but, and I take issue with this, Keely also always manages to comunicate in his missives that designers can do nothing about this, that designers will get run over by the design planning bandwagon, that while good designers of course are useful, it's best if they work in teams; of course teams led by innovation experts.

No, perhaps we should all learn to get along but at the same time I think it is interesting to note that Keely cites in his post the names of Gehry, Koolhaas, Calatrava, and Hadid. This is ironic because while all of them may be personable and even capable of sitting in a room with others, none of them are motivated to innovate, create stuff, design experiences or make places, because of a team dynamic. In fact all of them are famous, if not infamous, for being iconoclasts and cranks, and this is why they often get hired!

This raises a conundrum; does innovation, as a practice described by Keely (and taught by Conley?), lead neccessarily to "good" design? Or does innovation, as practiced by strategic planners, simply plan the purchase, use, and then commodify the designs and design innovations that are already out there in the marketplace?

It is interesting to note that the companies Keely mentions, Target, Pixar, Amazon and Google combined have revenues of approximately $65 billion. Walmart, which he denigrates, has revenues of $280 billion. Is Keely sure the former are more innovative than the latter? And if the latter annjounced tomorrow that they had hired an innovation team, would this by definition lead Walmart to innovation and rising sales curves as well as a new logo?

Perhaps designers feel insulted by the so-called innovation experts when these experts seem a bit too quick to breathlessly locate the role and expectations for design in their innovation processes, teams, and futures. Designers know that design, regardless of the difficulties associated with communicating its role and purposes, always outlasts these rhetorical trends and fads. Perhaps this is also why when the innovators are called out, in essence asked to justify their actual practices and facts, they sound a tad too high-pitched, if not fevered.
Bernard Pez
11.24.05
01:54

A designer may be an innovator but an innovator isn't necessarily a designer. Innovation can occur across disciplines - an accountant, a baker, a candlestick maker, even the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation can be an innovator. No specific training is required to innovate. Design on the other hand requires specific training or experience and, something no one seems to mention - talent. Corporations want/need to be inclusive, with at least the appearance of a democratic environment, therefore, innovation. Design and innovation are certainly symbiotic, often combined and one may be the result of the other but they are not the same.
Dan Lewis
11.25.05
04:30

I enjoyed the symposium in NYC the other week. Mr. Bierut's comments and all this discussion prompted me to write this. I hope it's not too long...

Design Innovation is about Appropriateness

When I graduated from the University of Cincinnati and became a graphic designer, I was pretty good at graphic designing stuff. At my first job I got lots of practice - I designed advertisements, posters, books, invitations - all sorts. My clients always came to me with a specific assignment - "we need a 32-page booklet with a 4-color cover and 2-colors on the inside" was a common request. They provided the text for each page, and even some ideas about what images to use. I would try to do something clever with what they gave me and (usually) everyone would be happy.

Occasionally, however, an assignment would come my way that didn't feel right. I would discover as I started working that I wasn't at all certain that what I was making was a very good idea for a thing to make. I could usually figure out what problem they must be trying to solve, but I didn't think the final product we were working on would be solving any problem whatsoever. I didn't think the assignment they provided set the right boundaries to ensure an appropriate solution to what I understood the problem to be. So I started asking really annoying questions such as "Why do you want this particular type of thing?"

This question usually caused raised eyebrows, frowning and shrugging from my client. As far as I could tell the answer usually was "because that's the way we always do it."

I started to have a strong intuition that [sometimes] the greatest value I could provide to my clients was to help them figure out what to make before I helped them make something. This way when we actually started to design something, it would be appropriate to the situation or the problem to be solved. So I went to graduate school to learn the tools, methods and processes that would help me help my clients figure out appropriate things to make - at the Institute of Design in Chicago.

Now I use those tools, methods and processes at IDEO, and when I use them it's often called innovation. For me, it's just about helping my clients come up with an appropriate thing to make. It must be appropriate to their business situation, feasible technologies, the culture of their organization and (first and foremost) appropriate to their end users. Sometimes, the things we come up with will be innovative and other times not. Hopefully, I always help them figure out an appropriate next thing to make, even when what's most appropriate is a clever 32-page booklet with a 4-color cover and 2-colors on the inside.
Matthew Beebe
12.01.05
11:40

It's interesting to compare the arguments in this thread with those in the Observer newspaper article pointed to by Michael in Observed LXXI. The question there is much the same as that discussed here, posed differently, by designers, as 'can we please have our name back?'

Having paused to draw breath, take stock and rein in an undoubted tendency to over-enthusiasm, I would suggest that the innovation/ strategy/ planning movement is proposing that design methods can and should be applied to a wider context of business and social activities than hitherto, and in particular to entire systems of provision rather than their isolated components. One of the consequences of this is that the activity of 'design' becomes part of a larger integrated development process (not something done in a studio in isolation) in which questions of collaboration, role and responsibility, authorship and leadership arise that cannot be resolved by simple recourse to labels ("I'm a designer, therefore I visualise", "I'm a management consultant, therefore I'm in charge").

People involved in this process are often threatened by its fluidity: others regard it as an opportunity. For an insight into what happens when individuals from business and design cultures work together (and how their preconceptions can be overturned) I recommend 'When worlds collide' in Design Management Journal Summer 2002. (Read the full article, not the abstract).

I suspect, too, that the increasingly elastic use or abuse of the terms 'design' and 'innovation' reflects a deeper need than that to rationalise ideas. The old taxonomy doesn't help integrated development processes and neither does the studio model of brief/response - another comfort zone for some designers and a frustration for others (as above).

Lastly, is this a fad? What's called 'innovation' seems to range across a spectrum from doing something entirely new that affects a whole industry, through catching up with somebody else by copying what they do, to just doing what's right in a given situation. A lot of what's called 'innovation' now falls into the second category but that doesn't make it any less hard to do for the protagonists. The urge to innovate - often a costly and difficult thing - will depend on how much more change is required before everyone has settled down into new paradigms - which might take some years - and of course the degree to which we are destined to live in interesting times.
William Owen
12.01.05
12:32

Excuse this for not being short and to the point. Having finally come up for air, I feel compelled to post my comments. There are few things which could have made me happier than Michael posting his original thoughts and this flurry of ensuing discussion and debate. The relationship between "design", "innovation" and "business" is a murky one which is steeped in a long history design as an abstract mode, business as a concrete mode and innovation somewhere in between. It is a relationship which designers would be well-served to debate, understand and, ultimately come to some agreements on.

The "Revolutions" of Business: a story of optimization
To understand why innovation is ever more essential in our current context requires one to walk the path of business thought leaders over the last century. Every MBA student is taught the "Key Revolutions in Business", usually in a class titled Organizational Behavior. These revolutions, starting with Taylorism and ending with Information Technology, revolve around the optimization of factories, companies, industries and information roughly in that order. These "revolutions" would probably better be called the key business "innovations" of the past 100 years. Each changed the game so drastically that firms were forced to get on board to compete. They were relatively easy to copy but the slower flow of information in the past 100 years allowed early adopters to gain a big edge. As a result of the internet, the IT revolution, and the tens of thousands of MBA graduates in business today, most every firm understands the history and value of optimization and productivity gains.

What happens when you can't "out-optimize" anyone?
This brings us to today. How do you gain competitive edge when every firm is immediately aware of new ways to optimize? Business schools and publications like HBR and BusinessWeek are happy to extoll the virtues of new methods of gaining productivity thereby tipping your competitors off on how to squeeze another drop from their resources. Companies have never before been on such equal ground when it comes to optimization of operations. In fact, companies are having to deal with ever more rapidly evolving markets and competition so they have to be really good at understanding emergent opportunities and managing change. This is where "innovation" and "design" become important.

Innovation exists in a space between the disciplines of design and business. Both are capable of contributing but neither are master and commander. Larry Keeley argues that "Innovation" is evolving into a new discipline of its own and teaches such at the Institute of Design. I'm not sure I agree. Webster's defines discipline as, "training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior." I would certainly argue that structures, methods and practices are evolving to assist individuals and companies to be better innovators. That said, I am less sold on Innovation with a capital "I" being thought of as a separate discipline outside of design or business.

In fact, this is where I see things getting really interesting. I see innovation developing as a shared practice of both design and business disciplines. There will always be a need for the star iconoclast and impossible-to-work-with designer as well as the for the hardcore accountant. These two types will never easily work together. For the rest of us, less extreme designers and businessmen, there is a space we can both agree is important and share an education in practice and common ground: innovation.

The convergence of business and design education?
In an interview I conducted with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, he said, "I think business and design educations should converge. I'm finding it hard to think about 21st century business with out a great convergence between design education and business education." (see Perspectives on Design + Strategy, an ID publication) In my opinion, that's a bit of an extreme view, but I couldn't agree any more strongly with the premise that designers need know a more about the value of business and businessmen need to know a bit more about the value of design. For far too long has there been a wall between "us" and "them" and it is hurting the success of our firms. In my own work as a designer then as a manager, I remember well the behind-the-back snickering about "artsy flakes" and "crusty suits" not getting "it". The best people and companies will learn to play in the same sandbox and truly understand the value of each perspective brings.

Because of business education's focus on learning through cases and common texts, I believe businessmen have a fairly clear role in a firm. Similarly, this allows fellow businessmen to have clear conversations between each other with little to no prior relationship. Making deals, understanding profits and losses, operations, economics and the like are all essential for companies to develop and execute innovative solutions. Unfortunately or not, businessmen are generally the ones in power within organizations.

Frankly, this puts an onus on design. Unfortunately, "design" as a concept is attached to everything from systems to products to hair and everything in between. Everyone seems to have their own definition so it is difficult to communicate its value to those in power and not yet already sold. This is where designers need to plant a flag in the ground and clearly and consistently communicate as a group . Can we so comfortably discuss our value as the tens of thousands of MBA's we deal with or have we failed to design the very thing which is most essential to us: a common vision?

Regardless, designers do need to become more aware and comfortable with the lexicon and practices of business. Design's power is great (greater I would argue than traditional business practice) but only if it communicated and used effectively. This is why I currently attend the Institute of Design and not Kellogg or the University of Chicago GSB. Our challenge is great but also compelling. I believe the current context and this space of innovation between design and business is of extreme importance to both disciplines. It can, in fact, strengthen the relationship and understanding of these two, in the past divergent, modes of thinking. If innovation is the space in which we can meet, we should embrace it.

Design is the New Black: what is design's value to organizations?
The title of Michael Bierut's initial post was striking to me for two reasons. First, I was somewhat shocked at the irreverent treatment of such a important topic for designers at this juncture. Second, I had used a similar title for a presentation I developed with a colleague of mine, Erik Almenberg, at Yahoo! this summer but had used "Design" in place of Michael's "Innovation".

The presentation was a brief exploration on a discussion Erik and I had been having on what design's value was to organizations. In it, Erik and I argued that design's value could be broadly characterized to have three main foci: differentiation, integration and innovation. What I mean by this is that design education and methods as taught at the best schools train professions to be good at this things, all integral to business success. I am working on a paper now which fleshes out these relationships in more detail.

I am sure I will post it or a link to it on my blog at:
creativeslant.

Until then, thanks Michael for shaking the hornet's nest.
Zachary Jean Paradis
12.03.05
05:15

This long thread has become argumentative and I am sorry to see that... We all have so much to learn from each other if we can see ourselves as in the same boat pulling on the oars together. I just wanted to append a thought meant for Mr. Paz in particular... I read his views as an attempt to defend the supposedly "pure" world of design from the world of innovation he presumes to be an intrusion on the practice of design.

What if this construct is just wrong? Instead of the debate NOT being Design vs. Innovation, suppose it was Design x Innovation, where innovation multiplies and amplifies the value of design?

Certainly, I do not recognize myself, my ideas, or my very extensive body of work in the characterization Mr. Paz provides. Perhaps this is my fault and I have not been clear. But since Mr. Paz does not seem to know how to spell my name, this may be prima facie evidence that he has not read much of my thinking.

This is not meant as a snarky criticism: I consider it a primary goal of my career and my practice to get enterprises and governments to be GREAT design clients: using the very best designers available, paying them the highest rates they have ever been paid, and using enough of them, in enough pathbreaking ways to make a huge strategic difference.

In my opinion, innovation as a field will have little or no traction unless it is used to help the highest, best, integrated practices of design to plow new ground. Part of the reason this is important is that any great designer must now work his/her cheeks off to simply master the growing complexity of any particular design specialty. Can we imagine any longer a single designer that would be brilliant at the frontiers of architecture, graphic design, and automotive design? It takes a lifetime of effort to do any of these well. But great firms, like Target, use dozens of these specialties in integrated ways.

Oh, and Mr Paz? Take a look pal: Wal-Mart, seven times Target's size has publicly declared that it will now learn how to use design more effectively. So far they are trying to do so by mimicking moves that Target was making five years ago. Perhpas they will catch up someday; perhaps even surpass Target, but do you really believe that will happen spontaneously in a firm of such huge scale? Target has shamed them into this strategy shift by achieving much greater rates of growth and customer preference lately.

Wal-Mart does many important things as a firm--and though you presume I know nothing of them, I have done detailed analyses of the specific types of operating innovation that have allowed Wal-Mart to achieve its unprecedented growth... You wonder if this will manifest itself in some trivial logo change. I, instead, think deeply about the shift it is now forcing on a global scale to move past bar codes to RFID tags and thirty other such moves they are doing. What will this mean in the future? What should Wal-Mart do to build on that shift? What will it force ALL other retailers to do in response? What new forms of advanced customer experiences might this precipitate?

Questions like these are why innovation matters today. This is also why it demands great design, many kinds of design, and enough understanding of the role of design in the minds of enterprise or government leaders so that they will see their effective use as a moving target and pay great designers very well to help find the next frontier.

My $0.02,
Larry Keeley
Larry Keeley
12.04.05
12:49

A wonderful and important discussion. Thanks, everyone. Whenever you find polarized comments such as the ones in this thread, you know the topic is important. My own philosophy in these cases is to gravitate toward the newer of the two views, because I've learned that wherever there's a lot of interest, but too little understanding, there's opportunity. Since most people, even designers, are suspicious and afraid of the new, the new is where the most space for success is found—whether you call it innovation, design, or a banana.
Marty Neumeier
12.04.05
01:21

People also need innovation because we're bombarded with ego-centred visions of what people might want, but don't. And technology-driven solutions that no-one asked for. That's what innovation approaches resolve - highly complex, sensitised issues, and yes, can include socially oriented projects. To those designers saying "Can we have our name back" - what's the problem? We're just working in different spaces, using different design approaches, and not competing in the first place. Can we have a little calm now?
Gill Wildman
12.06.05
07:06

I appreciate Mr. Keeley's apparent softening towards designers in his second post and appologize for my mispelling of his name - this was not on purpose and was not a sign of disrespect for him as a person. Nevertheless, I remain distinctly uncomfortable with his brand of innovation.

Most problematic for me is the typically uncritical, boosterish, and generic business rhetoric of many so-called innovators. In his post Mr. Keeley becomes an enthusiastic cheerleader for Walmart's new strategies to take on the Target threat - he seems just a bit too knowledgable and desirous to exploit their thirty-point gamplan - and eagerly hitches himself to this corporate gamesmanship even as the entities themselves eagerly exploit and underpay workers,drive local businesses into the ground, refuse to pay health care costs which burden is shifted to the rest of us, and generally only become interested in innovation (and design) to the degree that it pushes their quarterly bottom line.

Perhaps my bringing up of these issues is a tad too political for this site. However, I feel that business innovation removed from the explicit context of business, social, and environmental ethics all too often underlies this type of innovation and in these cases the design hardly matters - even if the designers are well paid and do their best work.

I would further argue that real innovation and success almost always comes from margins; design margins, business margins, social margins, etc. In this regard, I suspect Mr. Keeley is a master of spin when he talks to clients who desperately want to retain or get back an edge they have lost. I wonder what the naked record really is? How many companies truly re-innovate themselves? What percentage of innovation strategies work? What is the track record versus the spin? Educate me.
Bernard Pez
12.09.05
12:49

The margins, precisely! Real innovation is essentially alienating. Our jobs (or my job) as graphic/communication designers generally require us to engage an audience, not alienate them. If there's anything we should not be doing it's being too innovative... and that's something our clients (the business world) have know for ages right?
L Wood
12.12.05
08:17

Its quite are great debate.

But its a matter of scale and perspective. As mentioned eailer Designers can be great innovators, but innovators are not designers.

Innovation to me is a strategy, a big mental picture. Design on the other hand is the interface. Design or TO Design is an action requiring you to do something, to act. This requires a certain set of skills.

Very simply innovators need designers, but innovative designers are able to do the job of both.

lingmiester
12.12.05
10:54

Why design ? To be innovative ? If purpose of design is not served, what good does innovation do ? Design could be innovative, but not necessary so. Vice versa, being down to earth could sometimes means being innovative . Its just a matter of the sensitivity of a designer.
look from www.studiolda.com
c.m.look
02.11.06
12:39

in·no·va·tion

1. The act of introducing something new.
2. Something newly introduced.

de·sign

1. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.
2. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.
2. To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program.
3. To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages.
4. To have as a goal or purpose; intend.
5. To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.

I think design is a suitable term for our field.
The wright brothers were innovators, they created something that did not exsist yet. In visual design, for the most part, it is a matter of working progressively towards new ideas derived from work of old. All design is based on certain rules and principles, both which can be bent or broken. But for the most part adhered to. Using another word to explain what can already be defined is just another advertising strategy. Is this useful to us or just making some guy who came up with the idea of using "innovation" look smarter?
Nestorious
02.27.06
04:30

My biggest problem with "innovation" is that 9.8 times out of 10 its really just convergence. People slap an LCD on the front of refridgerator and act like they just invented cold fusion or the cure for cancer.

Mobile phones are the worst. Personally I could care less that my phone can access the internet, take photos, play music, or anything else. I'd gladly trade all of that in for a device that has more talk time and doesn't drop my calls.
Drezden
02.28.06
05:27

It's interesting the way this fascinating thread ground to a halt and the otherwise highly eloquent innovation champions fell silent at the very moment when someone -- Bernard Pez -- started asking some tough political questions. Does that tell us anything?
Rick Poynor
03.02.06
08:05

As a reminder that companies don't get it, I just received meeting notes from a rather large telecommunications company after helping put together a presentation package. The partial response:

1: We need a section to highlight innovation
2: We need you to define innovation

Hmm, we know we need it, but we don't know what it is.
Drezden
03.02.06
09:58

Sorry for the late addition. Have not been able to get to this one before now. I was quite baffled by this thread. It reminded me of the famous early knowledge creation era quote from the late Lewis E. Platt, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard:

"I wish we knew what we know (at HP)."

Some years ago we noticed that knowledge disconnects do occur not only in organizations but also within and across communities of practice. When such disconnect conditions exist one can often find a phenomenon in place that we call Repeating Starting Points. It is a phenomenon that impacts sense-making, innovation and forward motion. In organizational settings what that looks like is the company keeps reinventing the wheel over and over again. Instead of acknowledging what they know and moving forward they keep going around and around on the same ten ideas presented by dozens of different people using different words. Needless to say Repeating Starting Points is a costly phenomenon for organizations to get caught up in. I have no idea what the impact of Repeating Starting Points has on innovation within and across communities of practice but it seems likely that there are many costs. I could not help but notice this mind-bending phenomenon embedded in this thread and in the event itself.

Since my time here has to be short in length I will choose only a few of the many issues that I see here to touch upon ever so briefly.

Waking up to which future?
I was surprised that Michael positioned innovation in the way that he did as if he was not aware that the terminology "innovation" was at the center of the last great economic growth cycle, now known as the dot com era. I'm sure we all remember the Tom Peters quote that ignited that era: "You can't cut your way to success!" Industry veterans have heard these familiar tunes many times before. In this sense Larry Keeley was right in referring to innovation as a "(perhaps already passe) "new" lexicon". Many of us have already been there and done that. The truth is that interest in innovation always rebounds at the beginning of growth cycles and so it is undergoing a significant regeneration in the marketplace. Business leaders are once again waking up from the efficiency binge to realize they have no new ideas in their organizational pipelines. Beyond that many have lost or destroyed their organizational ability to be innovative. This too is part of a continuous business as usual cycle. The point is that in each new growth cycle we see innovation reemerge framed up in slightly different ways. It is that frame rather then the terminology "innovation" that is really the new story today. As evidenced by this thread there is debate regarding what that new framing might look like and more importantly what it might mean. Suffice it to say that in that new framing lies significant opportunity won or lost, for several communities of practice including design. Clearly there are some who see an expansive role for design while others are more comfortable keeping design in its traditional box or allowing it to change incrementally according to their plan. It is no secret that those who see an expansive reinvention of design are most often design educated designers, while the forces advocating various forms of containment are more typically from outside. What makes the picture even more complicated is that some designers are also more comfortable advocating containment. All of those forces can be seen at work in this event and in this thread. How the Expansion/Containment battle is fought in the next five years and who wins that battle will likely have great impact on the future of design. Larry Keeley's comments in particular make that very clear. This is not about words and bananas. This is about operating territory. There is a lot of money at stake here.

Who Owns Innovation?
Larry is a great spokesperson for his firm, his school(s) and his tribal interests. With that in mind I'm guessing that it might not be 100% clear that Doblin did not invent the innovation industry and is only one of many players in the arena today. The Doblin point of view on what innovation is, what it does and how organizations can get there is just one of many perspectives out there. I was perplexed by Larry's suggestion that innovation is a new field as the innovation industry has been around for decades and involves hundreds, probably thousands of consultants from many different backgrounds. Many of us well know the avalanche of innovation conferences that already exist. Larry is correct in saying that innovation as a field has roots [in history]. It is attempting to attach a subtext to that message that Larry often gets himself into hot water with the design community. At one moment there is reference to the roots of innovation and in the next there seems to be inference that it is the folks with MBAs who are best equipped to not just operate but to lead in this "new" space. The leap of logic there seems to be that the history of innovation is somehow connected to the history of business and in particular business education. Many of us will know that is a considerable stretch. The reality is the notion of bolting innovation expertise on to business expertise is a relatively recent expansion move and most graduate business schools are still a very long way from making any meaningful movement in that direction. Some are working very hard to make that transition rapidly. Lets not lose sight of the fact that what we are really looking at there is a community of practice working hard to transform itself through an expansion of skills and tools from outside of themselves. To say this in another way: graduate business schools and business consultants seek transformation through expansion of skills and scope. The story that they are busy constructing is this one: "Business Education/Expertise" = "Innovation Expertise" It is a story already being actively sold in the marketplace. At the moment it is still quite a leap of logic for anyone to suggest that folks arriving on the scene from a typical business school are magically equipped to lead innovation efforts but that will likely change in the next five years. (See NextD Journal) The shifting sands around design pale in comparison to the expansive transformation underway in the business consulting business and the business consulting education business. One would not know it by reading Larry's comments but there are at least two communities of practice transformations in motion here moving in parallel. I hope Larry was not suggesting in his comments that one should be given preference over the other. Why would we council unbridled expansion for one and specific forms of containment for the other?

Who Owns History?
On the question of innovation history there are lots of places to find it depending on which roots you are interested in. Much of innovation history exists outside the history of business. No one owns that history. Depending on how far back one wants to go and which roots you want to explore many gold nuggets exist there. Anyone can go and read the 1940s and 50s writings of JP Gilford, Harold Anderson, WJJ Gordon, Alex Osborne, Sidney Parnes, Russ Ackoff, and others and find lots of innovation related thinking to build on there. Many threads of present day innovation expertise have been constructed on those foundations. Design has its own parallel history of innovation that often overlaps other histories. Many here will know that numerous key events in our own innovation history occurred at times when design itself was being transformed. That history can also be found running in parallel during in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s embodied in the thinking of Buckminster Fuller, Charles Eames, John Chris Jones, Bruce Archer, Herbert A. Simon and others. Those thought leaders sought, in different ways, to remake design in more expansive modes. The Design Methods movement that was launched in the 1960s is an example of a moment in time when innovation history and design history overlapped and merged. The expansive thinking about innovation and design that is going on in the design community today is being constructed on the shoulders of some great earlier thinking where few barriers existed including between design and innovation. It is no secret that each generation of designers is faced with the very real challenge of reinventing design as the marketplace itself is in motion. It is a form of reinvention that lies at the heart of all healthy knowledge communities and never really goes away until that community is deceased. It might be said that the biggest innovation challenge facing the design community like all knowledge communities has always been and still is, the continuous transformation of ourselves. It is difficult to imagine Buckminster Fuller or Charles Eames accepting suggestions that design should be constrained in a box defined by others. One of the complexities of today is that the new business press and other outside players seem to have entangled themselves in defining and setting boundaries for design. Ultimately the design community itself must step up and decide what next design needs to become in the 21st century. In doing so it will have to transcend those with a vested interest in containment. It is likely that a few sparks will have to fly.

Be Good and You Might Get There?
I was perplexed by Larry's depiction of where design presently sits in the innovation landscape. It is evidently news to some, perhaps including Larry that designers are already actively engaged in the realm of organizational innovation and have been for years. I cringe when I see thought leaders from other professions suggesting with a straight face that this might take place at some distant point in the future. I was not quite sure which part of the design community Larry thought he was talking to when he made his comments. Perhaps part of the problem is that the event participant organizations: Pentagram, the Institute of Design at IIT and Business Week Magazine are not, as far as I know, operating in the organizational innovation space. For those who are operating there, Larry's commentary and positioning of design sounded oddly out of tune and behind the times to say the very least. Of course outside of Chicago there are many future visions and operating versions of design and innovation that upset all apple carts in the Keeley hierarchal model. Pentagram is not one of them. Firms such as Stone Yamashita Partners, Humantific and IDEO's Transformation by Design Practice have been operating in the organizational innovation space for some time. In doing so those firms very likely compete directly with Doblin along with other innovation consultancies but hey lets not lose our sense of humor here. Personally I find it difficult to imagine myself telling "switched on" MBA type consultants that if they do their homework and behave there might be a place for them some time down the road in the innovation industry. That would likely be perceived as condescending and offensive. It's difficult for true cross community partnerships of cooperation to develop when such dynamics are constantly thrust forward. That thrusting creates dynamics that take a lot of energy to overcome. We can do better. It is likely going to be difficult for some to really come to terms with what that means.

Legendary Bananas?
I will touch on the banana thing only briefly. Apart from the fact that the term innovation does not belong to anyone in particular, bananas are objects. Design and innovation are no longer object bound. If you seek a simple metaphor think of innovation as a place, a geography, a land. Anyone can go there. Regular Folks (users) as well as Designers, Engineers, Scientists, MBAs, and even Business Journalists all spend various amounts of time in the land of innovation. Some spend enormous amounts of time there. Like many geographies it is a land with a foundational language. Out of necessity it is an adaptable language that must be applicable to all kinds of challenges and opportunities by all kinds of disciplines. Forget the bananas. Human-centered design is simply a dialect of the foundational language of innovation. Design is innovation with a human-centered accent. It is one of many dialects that exist. If you seek technology-centered innovation go look for that dialect community. The various dialects are variations on the foundation, not its mirror image. The picture gets more interesting when we look at how the primary dialects compare to the language of innovation. In doing so it is clear that the languages that have been taught for decades in business schools, engineering schools, science schools are no where near as close as design is to that foundational innovation language. Design and innovation are derived from the same mental constructs. While the language of design has always contained generative and judgment thinking, in contrast, business education has for decades been focused primarily on teaching judgment, decision-making and convergence. Designers know that is a small part of the innovation universe. It's a lot easier for designers to learn to go from vertically oriented small challenges to cross-disciplinary large challenges then it is for folks from business school to start from scratch learning what generative thinking, holistic thinking, visual systems thinking, innovation and design are. If the question is which language is closest to the foundational language of innovation: is it business or design, there is no question that it is the latter. This is a huge advantage for design that never seems to appear in Larry's version of the innovation story. For those trained in design there is a natural symbiotic relationship to innovation. For those trained in business schools there is a wrenching brain change force fit connection that must be overcome. Few can match what design brings to the innovation table. Of course designers must be capable of showing how the outcomes of an Engineer, MBAer or a regular person spending time in the land of innovation, looks, feels and is very different then a Designers output. Designers have to be able to show how they now have what it takes to lead and maximize the brain-power of cross-disciplinary teams. Among the good news is growing awareness that sense-making plays a significant role in innovation acceleration. In closing I would like to suggest that we all try our best to transcend the Repeating Starting Points phenomenon whatever the cause of its appearance. Lets recognize that today designers are already out there actively involved, not on the sidelines of innovation, but rather on the front lines of its reinvention. Among other things designers are out teaching others with all kinds of backgrounds cross-disciplinary innovation skills. Many business school trained innovation consultants have no idea how to engage to do that work on the front lines of organizational innovation. Whatever you want to call this range of activities, Next Design, Anticipatory Design, Strategic Creativity, Design with a big D, Adaptive Design, Design Innovation, Innovation Acceleration, Transformation Design, Design 3.0 or just plain old Innovation, make no mistake about it, design is already operating in the strategic space whether others like it or not. There is no turning back that clock. That's life in the big city. Until next time good luck to all out there in the innovation business including Larry..:-)
GK VanPatter
03.14.06
07:05

Sorry for the late addition. Have not been able to get to this one before now. I was quite baffled by this thread. It reminded me of the famous early knowledge creation era quote from the late Lewis E. Platt, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard:

"I wish we knew what we know (at HP)."

Some years ago we noticed that knowledge disconnects do occur not only in organizations but also within and across communities of practice. When such disconnect conditions exist one can often find a phenomenon in place that we call Repeating Starting Points. It is a phenomenon that impacts sense-making, innovation and forward motion. In organizational settings what that looks like is the company keeps reinventing the wheel over and over again. Instead of acknowledging what they know and moving forward they keep going around and around on the same ten ideas presented by dozens of different people using different words. Sometimes they even go backwards. Needless to say Repeating Starting Points is a costly phenomenon for organizations to get caught up in. I have no idea what the impact of Repeating Starting Points has on innovation within and across communities of practice but it seems likely that there are many costs. I could not help but notice this mind-bending phenomenon embedded in this thread and in the event itself.

Since my time here has to be short in length I will choose only a few of the many issues that I see here to touch upon ever so briefly.

Waking up to which future?
I was surprised that Michael positioned innovation in the way that he did as if he was not aware that the terminology "innovation" was at the center of the last great economic growth cycle, now known as the dot com era. I'm sure we all remember the Tom Peters quote that ignited that era: "You can't cut your way to success!" Industry veterans have heard these familiar tunes many times before. In this sense Larry Keeley was right in referring to innovation as a "(perhaps already passe) "new" lexicon". Many of us have already been there and done that. The truth is that interest in innovation always rebounds at the beginning of growth cycles and so it is undergoing a significant regeneration in the marketplace. Business leaders are once again waking up from the efficiency binge to realize they have no new ideas in their organizational pipelines. Beyond that many have lost or destroyed their organizational ability to be innovative. This too is part of a continuous business as usual cycle. The point is that in each new growth cycle we see innovation reemerge framed up in slightly different ways. It is that frame rather then the terminology "innovation" that is really the new story today. As evidenced by this thread there is debate regarding what that new framing might look like and more importantly what it might mean. Suffice it to say that in that new framing lies significant opportunity won or lost, for several communities of practice including design. Clearly there are some who see an expansive role for design while others are more comfortable keeping design in its traditional box or allowing it to change incrementally according to their plan. It is no secret that those who see an expansive reinvention of design are most often design educated designers, while the forces advocating various forms of containment are more typically from outside. What makes the picture even more complicated is that some designers are also more comfortable advocating containment. All of those forces can be seen at work in this event and in this thread. How the Expansion/Containment battle is fought in the next five years and who wins that battle will likely have great impact on the future of design. Larry Keeley's comments in particular make that very clear. This is not about words and bananas. This is about operating territory. There is a lot of money at stake here.

Who Owns Innovation?
Larry is a great spokesperson for his firm, his school(s) and his tribal interests. With that in mind I'm guessing that it might not be 100% clear that Doblin did not invent the innovation industry and is only one of many players in the arena today. The Doblin point of view on what innovation is, what it does and how organizations can get there is just one of many perspectives out there. I was perplexed by Larry's suggestion that innovation is a new field as the innovation industry has been around for decades and involves hundreds, probably thousands of consultants from many different backgrounds. Many of us well know the avalanche of innovation conferences that already exist. Larry is correct in saying that innovation as a field has roots [in history]. It is attempting to attach a subtext to that message that Larry often gets himself into hot water with the design community. At one moment there is reference to the roots of innovation and in the next there seems to be inference that it is the folks with MBAs who are best equipped to not just operate but to lead in this "new" space. The leap of logic there seems to be that the history of innovation is somehow connected to the history of business and in particular business education. Many of us will know that is a considerable stretch. The reality is the notion of bolting innovation expertise on to business expertise is a relatively recent expansion move and most graduate business schools are still a very long way from making any meaningful movement in that direction. Some are working very hard to make that transition rapidly. Lets not lose sight of the fact that what we are really looking at there is a community of practice working hard to transform itself through an expansion of skills and tools from outside of themselves. To say this in another way: graduate business schools and business consultants seek transformation through expansion of skills and scope. The story that they are busy constructing is this one: "Business Education/Expertise" = "Innovation Expertise" It is a story already being actively sold in the marketplace. At the moment it is still quite a leap of logic for anyone to suggest that folks arriving on the scene from a typical business school are magically equipped to lead innovation efforts but that will likely change in the next five years. (See NextD Journal) The shifting sands around design pale in comparison to the expansive transformation underway in the business consulting business and the business consulting education business. One would not know it by reading Larry's comments but there are at least two communities of practice transformations in motion here moving in parallel. I hope Larry was not suggesting in his comments that one should be given preference over the other. Why would we council unbridled expansion for one and specific forms of containment for the other?

Who Owns History?
On the question of innovation history there are lots of places to find it depending on which roots you are interested in. Much of innovation history exists outside the history of business. No one owns that history. Depending on how far back one wants to go and which roots you want to explore many gold nuggets exist there. Anyone can go and read the 1940s and 50s writings of JP Gilford, Harold Anderson, WJJ Gordon, Alex Osborne, Sidney Parnes, Russ Ackoff, and others and find lots of innovation related thinking to build on there. Many threads of present day innovation expertise have been constructed on those foundations. Design has its own parallel history of innovation that often overlaps other histories. Many here will know that numerous key events in our own innovation history occurred at times when design itself was being transformed. That history can also be found running in parallel during in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s embodied in the thinking of Buckminster Fuller, Charles Eames, John Chris Jones, Bruce Archer, Herbert A. Simon and others. Those thought leaders sought, in different ways, to remake design in more expansive modes. The Design Methods movement that was launched in the 1960s is an example of a moment in time when innovation history and design history overlapped and merged. The expansive thinking about innovation and design that is going on in the design community today is being constructed on the shoulders of some great earlier thinking where few barriers existed including between design and innovation. It is no secret that each generation of designers is faced with the very real challenge of reinventing design as the marketplace itself is in motion. It is a form of reinvention that lies at the heart of all healthy knowledge communities and never really goes away until that community is deceased. It might be said that the biggest innovation challenge facing the design community like all knowledge communities has always been and still is, the continuous transformation of ourselves. It is difficult to imagine Buckminster Fuller or Charles Eames accepting suggestions that design should be constrained in a box defined by others. One of the complexities of today is that the new business press and other outside players seem to have entangled themselves in defining and setting boundaries for design. Ultimately the design community itself must step up and decide what next design needs to become in the 21st century. In doing so it will have to transcend those with a vested interest in containment. It is likely that a few sparks will have to fly.

Be Good and You Might Get There?
I was perplexed by Larry's depiction of where design presently sits in the innovation landscape. It is evidently news to some, perhaps including Larry that designers are already actively engaged in the realm of organizational innovation and have been for years. I cringe when I see thought leaders from other professions suggesting with a straight face that this might take place at some distant point in the future. I was not quite sure which part of the design community Larry thought he was talking to when he made his comments. Perhaps part of the problem is that the event participant organizations: Pentagram, the Institute of Design at IIT and Business Week Magazine are not, as far as I know, operating in the organizational innovation space. For those who are operating there, Larry's commentary and positioning of design sounded oddly out of tune and behind the times to say the very least. Of course outside of Chicago there are many future visions and operating versions of design and innovation that upset all apple carts in the Keeley hierarchal model. Pentagram is not one of them. Firms such as Stone Yamashita Partners, Humantific and IDEO's Transformation by Design Practice have been operating in the organizational innovation space for some time. In doing so those firms very likely compete directly with Doblin along with other innovation consultancies but hey lets not lose our sense of humor here. Personally I find it difficult to imagine myself telling "switched on" MBA type consultants that if they do their homework and behave there might be a place for them some time down the road in the innovation industry. That would likely be perceived as condescending and offensive. It's difficult for true cross community partnerships of cooperation to develop when such dynamics are constantly thrust forward. That thrusting creates dynamics that take a lot of energy to overcome. We can do better. It is likely going to be difficult for some to really come to terms with what that means.

Legendary Bananas?
I will touch on the banana thing only briefly. Apart from the fact that the term innovation does not belong to anyone in particular, bananas are objects. Design and innovation are no longer object bound. If you seek a simple metaphor think of innovation as a place, a geography, a land. Anyone can go there. Regular Folks (users) as well as Designers, Engineers, Scientists, MBAs, and even Business Journalists all spend various amounts of time in the land of innovation. Some spend enormous amounts of time there. Like many geographies it is a land with a foundational language. Out of necessity it is an adaptable language that must be applicable to all kinds of challenges and opportunities by all kinds of disciplines. Forget the bananas. Human-centered design is simply a dialect of the foundational language of innovation. Design is innovation with a human-centered accent. It is one of many dialects that exist. If you seek technology-centered innovation go look for that dialect community. The various dialects are variations on the foundation, not its mirror image. The picture gets more interesting when we look at how the primary dialects compare to the language of innovation. In doing so it is clear that the languages that have been taught for decades in business schools, engineering schools, science schools are no where near as close as design is to that foundational innovation language. Design and innovation are derived from the same mental constructs. While the language of design has always contained generative and judgment thinking, in contrast, business education has for decades been focused primarily on teaching judgment, decision-making and convergence. Designers know that is a small part of the innovation universe. It's a lot easier for designers to learn to go from vertically oriented small challenges to cross-disciplinary large challenges then it is for folks from business school to start from scratch learning what generative thinking, holistic thinking, visual systems thinking, innovation and design are. If the question is which language is closest to the foundational language of innovation: is it business or design, there is no question that it is the latter. This is a huge advantage for design that never seems to appear in Larry's version of the innovation story. For those trained in design there is a natural symbiotic relationship to innovation. For those trained in business schools there is a wrenching brain change force fit connection that must be overcome. Few can match what design brings to the innovation table. Of course designers must be capable of showing how the outcomes of an Engineer, MBAer or a regular person spending time in the land of innovation, looks, feels and is very different then a Designers output. Designers have to be able to show how they now have what it takes to lead and maximize the brain-power of cross-disciplinary teams. Among the good news is growing awareness that sense-making plays a significant role in innovation acceleration. In closing I would like to suggest that we all try our best to transcend the Repeating Starting Points phenomenon whatever the cause of its appearance. Lets recognize that today designers are already out there actively involved, not on the sidelines of innovation, but rather on the front lines of its reinvention. Among other things designers are out teaching others with all kinds of backgrounds cross-disciplinary innovation skills. Many business school trained innovation consultants have no idea how to engage to do that work on the front lines of organizational innovation. Whatever you want to call this range of activities, Next Design, Anticipatory Design, Strategic Creativity, Design with a big D, Adaptive Design, Design Innovation, Innovation Acceleration, Transformation Design, Design 3.0 or just plain old Innovation, make no mistake about it, design is already operating in the strategic space whether others like it or not. There is no turning back that clock. That's life in the big city. Until next time good luck to all out there in the innovation business including Larry..:-)




GK VanPatter
03.15.06
09:26

Over the past couple of months—since this post actually—I've been trying to get my head around exactly what this 'innovation industry has to offer'... and there seems to be two things that always get in my way.

1. I've been unable to find any real evidence of any of such 'providers' to actually manifest anything I've thought was 'innovative' (one of my favourite examples- those Ideo cards that are virtually just rip offs of Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies").

2. I find the discourse extremely evangelical but (as in most religious banter) highly wishy-washy... they promise you the world and give you cheesy rip-offs of 60s conceptual art. There's nothing tangible in the discussion... everything they're saying is so self-evident
Design Wolf
03.15.06
12:02

The metaphor innovation as a place, a geography, a land for example! A metaphor sure. A generative metaphor? Hmmm...
Design Wolf
03.15.06
12:06

I was reminded of this post while watching the Enron doco The Smartest Guys in The Room. Shortly before it was exposed Enron was Fortune magazine's "most innovative company in America"!? At least it was the same publication that began to set the record straight.
Design Wolf
03.20.06
12:00

WOW! That might be the most intelligently written & commented blog post I've ever read. I'm still wondering . . . why does it matter?
Dave from Wholesale Furniture Brokers
08.16.06
12:09

----
"At least it was the same publication that began to set the record straight."
----

Design Wolf, remember that innovation and innovativeness need not describe a positive end. I would argue that those related to the Enron scandal were indeed "the smartest guys in the room", allowing them to innovatively address their financial information and actions and carry their corporation, colleagues, and employees down with them.
Scott Pobiner
04.02.07
12:04



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