Managing Design

The next issue is who leads soft quality in the company. Companies vary on how they manage soft quality. It may be centralized or decen­tralized. Companies can have one VP in charge or allow division man­agers to hire and coordinate design and branding as independent agents. A vice president or director from marketing may be asked to take on the design and branding assignment, or a new person from design, branding, or advertising may be brought in. Design and branding may be split with the former under the auspices of engi­neering and the latter marketing. Most of the senior management in companies today have been taught and worked under hard-quality (manufacturing-based) and cost philosophies. A major problem facing companies today is that few engineers, particularly senior engi­neers, and few in marketing and sales have the skills to manage the range of product design services, in the broadest sense, that are needed to develop a comprehensive approach to innovative organic product and service development. Yet industrial designers have not been taught how to effectively navigate or manage within the busi­ness context. As well, when industrial design managers are hired, they often seem like an immigrant landing in a foreign country. They speak a different language and find a culture that works based on com­pletely different assumptions.

Looking at the military for an analogy, we know that the best strategy of defense is a combination of land, sea, and air (and cyber­space as well). one of the biggest problems in World War ii was get­ting the different branches of the U. S. armed services to work togeth­er, never mind to coordinate with the Allies. You would never take a general and make him an admiral. In sports, how many NFL football coaches could manage basketball in the NBA? Many companies think they can do this without hesitation. The ability to grow managers for the new innovation culture is a tremendous challenge facing compa­nies. It is not just adding services, but managing the existing hard – quality divisions with an understanding of the new soft-quality play­ing field. The Joint Chiefs of staff have to be intermilitary in their approach to battle to be effective. In World War II, D Day was the biggest logistics event in history, led by Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the most enlightened military leaders and arguably the definitive new military leader for the modern era. Every company today faces the same logistical and political challenges facing the military. The ability to combine logistics, politics and, from a global sense, cultural awareness into a coordinated strategy is the key to success in global markets.

some companies have turned to the use of innovation festivals and mini-conferences. Experts are invited to come in and throw buckets of innovation water at thirsty but overworked employees who are forced to add this new demand to an already overburdened schedule. At the least, it means reeducating a significant number of employees and hiring new types of workers. It is not surprising that directors of product programs often find it easier to put their trust in a creative turnkey consultant group. Even with that alternative, the need to manage and direct external innovation teams and connect them with internal brand issues is another type of challenge. The basic question is how many executives are willing to relearn how to manage in an era driven by innovation?

The world of sports offers insights that are an appropriate refer­ence for integrated management. One reminder is the importance of the team, and the other is the role of the coach. Consider the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. The Chicago Bulls won championships because Michael Jordan was a team player who excelled as an individual for the betterment of his team. When the Bulls won their first champi­onship, it was because Jordan made the perfect bounce pass, not because he made the winning basket. The pass was made in a split second with just the right touch of reverse spin so that John Paxson got the ball at the perfect height and speed to follow through just the way he liked it. The team’s precise execution produced the desired outcome. Jordan’s success reached its greatest fulfillment when he realized that no matter how good he was, he could not win a champi­onship without helping to make everyone around him the best they could be. As the result of personal commitment and team integration, Jordan not only led the Bulls to six championships, he also became an international symbol of excellence.

Yet it was not Jordan’s talent alone that helped the Bulls succeed. For behind the individual players was coach Phil Jackson, who turned a group of talented, egocentric individuals into a high-performing team. Jackson taught Jordan to partner with Paxson, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman (the “bad boy” of the NBA at the time), among others. Then, Jackson won three more championships with the LA Lakers and the talented egos of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

The challenge for managing innovation teams is not finding the talented individual Jordans (although they are always welcome), but integrating the existing talent into a high-performing team; that is the management style of the new breed of innovator. Each individual must be recognized for his or her strengths, and each individual must respect the strength of the others. Forget the Donald Trump factor of who is fired and who fits the mold, and get with the Phil Jackson factor: Figure out how to make the most of the talent you have, and produce something extraordinary!

Updated: October 12, 2015 — 2:27 am