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How Do You Learn To Be Innovative?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 07, 2007

I get asked that question a lot by people and now I have a pretty good answer—go to the blog of Jon Campbell—Branding and Innovation. Campbell did some amazing work on the Harley Davidson site before deciding to go to the Illinois Institute of Design to get an MDM, Masters of Design Methods. Now he’s blogging about his experience as a student of design thinking at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago and its really insightful.

This is what Campbell had to say on his first post—why he went back to school, why design thinking is important to corporations and how it can end world hunger (well…that’s only partly a joke.

“Many people still think of design in terms of creating logos (graphic), cars (industrial), or the good ol’ haute couture (fashion). These all fall under the broad umbrella of big D Design, but for a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 to leave to work on what many envision is a degree in making logos and pantsuits doesn’t really make sense to a lot of people. So to make sure they don’t have a mental image of me appearing on Project Runway, I inevitably fill in the pause after “That’s cool!” with a five-minute explanation of what design-centered thinking, planning and strategy is, how that leads to innovative products, services, business models, and ultimately revenue to a company, and how it’s the Future of Business, and that programs like ID are years ahead of mainstream business, fancy MBA programs and super narrowly-focused “design as a trade” schools. Not surprisingly, I often end up boring people. In fact, I might have just lost some of you readers.

Therefore, I thought I’d try my hand at writing up a brief explanation of design in the context of the program I’m attending. A quick way to get the gist across when I tell someone what I’m currently up to. Here it goes:

Design is a strategic way of thinking that places the user at the center of all decisions, using an iterative approach to deliver on unmet needs that creates real value for users and thereby for the organization.
Does that work? Is it too light on conveying the power of design? Is it too vague? What do you think?

In future posts I’ll start digging into why design thinking is only going to get bigger, how it will be key to any company’s future success, how it can solve world hunger (I put that in to be a smart ass but, in fact, it holds the potential to solve problems of that scale), etc. And I’ll throw out my two cents on why I believe this is a more valuable degree going forward than an MBA for many people currently looking at going to grad school.”

And his first insights from taking classes at ID are here:

He had Marc Gobe as a presenter over lunch talking about emotional branding. This is what Gobe said:

“Emotional branding is about moving from commodity to experience. Brands can create growth and relevance with consumers. Market share to mindshare.”

Jon said Gobe “provided a few examples of brands that are commodities and brands that have moved that commodity category into experience and emotion. These included Ivory soap vs. Bath & BodyWorks and Folgers vs. Starbucks.”

Then Jon came up with his own list of Old industries vs New innovators.

Corner coffee shops / Starbucks
FM radio / Sirius satellite radio
Compact discs / Apple iTunes and iPod
Ringling Bros. / Cirque du Soleil
American Airlines / JetBlue
Macy’s / Target
Hoover / Dyson
Palmolive / Method
GMC Envoy / Toyota Prius
Safeway / Whole Foods
Blockbuster / Netflix
Visa / PayPal
Allstate / Progressive
H&R Block / TurboTax


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Reader Comments


October 8, 2007 01:19 PM

Hi Bruce, I subscribe to your thoughts on design but the truth is in the eye of the beholder. The trickiest part of your description is straight up front ('a strategic way of thinking'). Designers and design thinkers think it is strategic, but we all know many don't yet see it that way.

We're all trying to be strategic but when pushed cannot even agree on what it means to 'think strategically'. To me, 'strategy' in the context of design has little to do with conquering markets, or indeed corporate action, but all the more with posture - a way of seeing, approaching, and relating. It's a mindset. It pervades any and all thinking a design thinker does.

Didn’t Tom Peters once proclaim “design is too important to be left to designers”? He and others IMHO hit the nail on the head by saying design isn’t always a designer’s job. The list of old industries vs. new innovators reflects this.

Walt Kania

October 8, 2007 08:19 PM

I think your phrase 'putting the customer at the center of all decisions' is spot on. All too many enterprises tend to make decisions about what's good for the enterprise, the shareholders, the boss. Or what's bad for the competition.

It's probably much smarter to focus entirely on making products and services that customers really, really like.

I just hope this 'design thinking' doesn't degrade into a limp mantra-of-the-week. Sort of what happened to 'customer-centric' or 'customer-facing organizations' a few years back. Great ideas pounded into meaningless mush.


October 9, 2007 01:22 PM

Discipline. Stillness. Reduction. The recipe for candy in all its forms.

Georges de Wailly

October 9, 2007 09:34 PM

Hello Bruce,
The problem is not learning how becoming innovative, the problem is keeping this ability fromm the childhood.
It's like bicycle, when you know how to ride, you never forget. Unfortunately, a lot of people have experienced so severe "accidents" that they are scared riding on innovation. Innovators are like the early adopters on the Rogers product's acceptation curve.
Education is the main inhibiting factor. Learning in tis case is not a proper word. I would suggest: remembering instead.

Christy Stadelmaier

October 10, 2007 05:56 PM

The word design is more widely and possibly over-used these days, but that doesn't mean that people "get it." To me, "design" is ELEGANT PROBLEM-SOLVING. The is why the concept of "intelligent design" is such an oxymoron. For whom was this chaotic world created anyway? Performance ART would be a much better term to use.

Sales is that unheralded component of design - without it design would be the proverbial tree falling in the woods. I am reminded of a group I facilitated at a Color Marketing Conference a decade ago. The final board of our small group meeting looked curiously like today's Ipod - cord and all. We were conveying the idea of simplicity as a future trend. We were not able to sell our concept verbally to the committee that created the final report - As designers they didn't get it, so our report was ignored. Would the Ipod be what it is today without all those great commercials?

Design is important, but only one (important) part of the whole.

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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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