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Chris Bernard on Why Six Sigma is Just Table Stakes Now--And so is Design.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 18, 2007

This is a great comment from Chris Bernard at designthinking digest on how Six Sigma—and design—are being commoditized so they are now just table-stakes. More is needed—innovation.

“When I read this post it often reminds of how misinterpreted that Nicolas Carr was when he wrote IT doesn’t matter. What people missed is not that Nick thought you didn’t need to pay attention to IT, simply that is was expected that you would master it to whatever degree was required in your enterprise. Great IT wasn’t going to get you a pat on the back, it was merely a requirement to get in the door. Six Sigma can certainly bury a company and it by no means ensures that a company will make things that people may want or be useful (although they could still perhaps be well made.)

What similar about Six Sigma concerning IT Doesn’t Matter is that quality and reliability are now also a ‘table stake.’ You simply need to have them to play anymore and you’re certainly not going to get rewarded for doing them well.

But I think the next table stake is going to be design. In that people will simply expect things to be well designed and companies won’t be rewarded for it as much as it will simply be a requirement for playing.

I personally think on the design front we already see design as a table stake. So what is the enterprise to do? I think this is where innovation comes in. I think Apple and Target are successful because of how they use design (along with IT and quality) to create platforms of innovation. The success of the iPod is largely not just of the device but that platforms and services that surround it.

Target does this to high effect as well with things like the Clear RX bottle which is beautiful, useful but also has an impact of increasing foot traffic in a store if Target can get a customer to start using their pharmacy more frequently.

So perhaps this is a long winded way of acknowledging Tom Peter’s work and understanding today that the new table stakes might really be the trinity that is evangelized by Doblin (roughly paraphrased as…”What does the market need, what can technology do, what do customes desire.)

The trick for the future vitality of companies is figuring out the processes that are culturally viable in your enterprise that enables you to build platforms on which you can innovate on. Getting mired too much in any one area (even design) is not going to enable the continued vitality of most enterprises.”

Thanks Chris. Food for thought.

Reader Comments

Darlene Watkins

June 21, 2007 3:22 AM

RE: In that people will simply expect things to be well designed...

How do expect people to know what "well-designed" is? You can't do a taste-test. And, Bruce, you're only writing about products and the private sector. The service/public sector also drives our economy. Hats off to Mayor Bloomberg who quietly slipped "well-designed" right under the noses of his constituents – and it was painless. Truly a excellent model for design-thinking. A DMI case study for sure.*

Design is intuitive, so much so that there may never be a conclusive definition. But "feeling" design is the key. Anyone can learn and apply the principles of design, but one must get it right and apply principles and elements of design to achieve emotional worth, satisfaction and financial benefits. That's when you feel that a product or service is "well-designed". The company, Target, I agree, is light-years ahead of the competition. In 1999, I taught a design/advertising course** to a bunch of hard-heads who I know at the time, despised me for lecturing what design ultimately will do for Target, Wal*Mart and KMart. I said repeatedly, keep up with these guys and see who wins. Innovation, via smart design thinking, apparently was on Target's platform from the get-go.

*Design Management Institute
** The Art Institute of Atlanta

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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