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My Speech At The Indian Design Summit.


I just spent a remarkable week at an event that, in effect, launched the modern design movement in India. I??l be blogging about it over the next couple of days and will start with my keynote speech that opened the CII-NID (Confederation of Indian Industries??ational Institutes of Design) design summit. The conference marked the launch of a National Design Policy in India, important less for the Indian government?? new backing for innovation and design (although that?? important??e don?? have anything like that in the US) but more for the Indian design industry?? newfound vigor and strength.

India is clearly taking off, moving beyond it?? IT growth based, into manufacturing and services of all kinds. This is the moment to get in early and if you are a US or European consultancy in innovation/design/design thinking you need to be in India today. And if you a global corporation in just about anything??rom making cars to selling financial services, you need to be there right now, at the beginning. Think China 20 years ago. I think India?? acceleration may well be faster than China. In fact, I think Chinese companies better get into India as fast as they can.

Here is the speech that I gave. Let me know what you think

of it. Feedback please.

Speech at the CII-NID Summit. Dec. 12, 07

Thank you Gita. I am honored to be here in India, the country which has designed some of the most innovative business models in the world for super-efficient eye care hospitals, inexpensive cell phone service and small-size consumer goods. They were designed specifically to provide services and products to people at the Bottom of the Pyramid, but these innovative models created in India are being copied as we speak around the world.

As we proceed over the next two days to discuss design, design theory and innovation, we might keep in mind that globalization and the spread of information technologies are giving rise to a world economy driven by knowledge. Where once capital and labor gave us value, now talent is most precious commodity on the planet. Where once efficiencies in production gave us profits, jobs and taxes, now the ability to design and innovate increasingly generate wealth in society. And where once research & development, and the most advanced universities were concentrated in the West, they are now spread more evenly around the world??nd so is innovation. This is a good thing, for we must learn from each other??nd smart business people and government leaders are doing just that. That is, in fact, what we are doing here at this design summit.

This is a perfect time for India to be launching a new National Design Policy, some 50 years after the Eames White Paper on design to Prime Minister Nehru. The field of design has evolved much since that time and the power of design to change our lives for the better his risen sharply. I would argue that in recent decades, the secrets of the design process have been revealed, deconstructed and reformulated as a powerful methodology of creativity. Many people call this design thinking. Others prefer the term ??nnovation.?Call it what you will but we are seeing design shift from its traditional—and still vibrant—role of form giver to a significantly more important role as organizational strategist. Everywhere in the US and Europe, you hear corporations and, increasingly, educators, health care managers, transportation officials and even mayors of big cities asking for people trained in design thinking. The power of design has exploded and design has become transformative. I believe this new formulation of design has major implications for Indian economic and business policy. It could form the basis of what I call a High-Low Design Strategy for India.

Let us take a moment to do our own deconstruction of design and see why it is becoming such a powerful strategic tool. Design has always been about the user—be it the consumer, the patient, the student, the reader, the media watcher. Today, understanding the wants and needs of the user is perhaps the most important driving force in business. The era when companies invented new things and threw them into the market at consumers is fast ending. This is especially true as individuals everywhere demand high global standards for their products. People are also demanding more control of their products and services. They want the ability to customize their cell phones and adjust their tractors. C.K. Prahalad coined the term “co-creation” some time ago and while CK is not a trained designer, his conceptualization is pure design thinking. When CavinKare looked at consumers in rural Indian villages, it saw their need for shampoo and other products in the context of their limited incomes. It then designed small sachets at low prices to satisfy them. This is design thinking. It’s not about designing the color of the sachets but about designing the model of the business.

Design is also traditionally about collaboration and integration. Working with other people across what we call silos these days and integrating information to solve problems has always been a strong suit of design. Now, with the growth of social networks and collaborative innovation, design is ever more powerful. I would argue that the rise of social networks, which combine both user-generated content and user-focussed organization, is a major force today for the new centrality of design in business culture.

Design is also about being generative—it doesn’t just choose among the existing, it creates the new. Design isn’t about maximizing efficiency (although it certainly can do that), but about maximizing possibilities. It is about seeing old problems with fresh eyes. You have millions of people who want phone service but have little income? Find a way to charge them small amounts by the minute—and a cheap, quality cell phone with simple functions needed by these consumers.

The design process also allows us to operate in ambiguity. It helps us see around corners. Globalization, technological change, terrorism, global warming—there are huge forces causing immense change in our lives. In fact, there is so much change that many of us live life in constant beta. Look around you in India. The change is startling. Design thrives in ambiguity. It has the tools to explore unknown places, not simply make the known better or more efficient. Again, this is another reason why design is in such demand today.

And finally, the power of design resides in its unique ability to give form to concept—you make stuff, sometimes incredibly beautiful, wonderful stuff that we all passionately want. But in the realm of design thinking, the ability to give form to theories, possibilities, options, also allows design to speed up the decision-making process. Seeing something, whether it is a model of a product or a video of a service, enables managers to make better choices faster. It gives them more information to take manage risk.

For all these reasons, design is a solvent dissolving education in the US and Europe. To keep up with the growing demand from business for people who can do design thinking, both design schools, or D-Schools, and business schools, B-Schools are quickly changing their curricula and their methods of teaching. You have new schools like the 180 in Denmark and older schools like the Institute of Design in Chicago, the D-School at Stanford or the Rotman School of Management in Toronto radically altering what they teach and they way they teach it. Most other design and business schools are fast following them.

This huge change in design at this moment in time offers enormous opportunities for India. For one, it suggests that a National Design Policy include the teaching of design thinking not only in designated design schools but in top-level engineering and business schools as well. Design as strategy is as important, if not more important than design as aesthetics. Bringing students, professors, consultants and practitioners of design together to teach and learn design is a model that may have application in India.

A National Design Policy that aims High and Low might be optimal. The engine for much of the recent growth in India has been at the High End of the economy, selling services to overseas corporations. India leads in innovation of this kind—linking information technologies together to leverage cost, volume and talent of its English-speaking, well-educated workforce. It is a process of maximizing efficiencies. But rising wages in India are quickly eroding that competitive edge and efficiency in services will soon need to be replaced by creativity in services. That means design thinking—understanding your customers’ cultures, building with them new services that solve their problems, working with teams of people with different specialties outside your own silo, generating many possible options, and finally, giving form to them. This requires a different tool kit, a different mind set and a different form of education. Design and innovation at the High End of India’s economy may be crucial in maintaining the country’s rate of growth. The Cox Report out of London by Sir George Cox clearly shows that companies that use design as strategy outperform those that don’t in the stock market. At Business Week, we are about to come out with a new Innovation Index that demonstrates that companies that drive their growth with innovation perform better in total rates of return and stock market performance over many years.

At the Low End of India’s economy—its huge manufacturing, retail and consumer sectors—design may also provide answers. India has a very strong design aesthetic that may have huge appeal on the global scene. It is vibrant, colorful, emotional, natural—elements that could compose a global “Indian Design” language much the way that “Scandanavian Design,” Italian and French fashion and German “Bauhaus Design” define whole categories of products. I was struck several years ago at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, when India hosted the event, at how people were so attracted to the culture of India. The global popularity of Bollywood could be a harbinger of well-designed Indian cars, clothes, crafts, media, foods. Using the more traditional elements of design to grow this huge part of the Indian economy, which employees many tens of millions of people, would have a major impact.

Finally, design may help India leapfrog China and the West by changing the game, not just playing it better. India has shown a facility for business model innovation in health, telecom and small-scale products and services. Moving this to the global marketplace could gain enormous advantage to Indian companies. Businesses are in complete meltdown in the US and Europe, as CEOs and top managers try to demass their organizations and create more agile, collaborative networks of innovation, production and sales. Hospitals are desperately searching for new models. And consumers are demanding very different experiences from producers—indeed, consumers are becoming producers.

In this flux, this dramatically changing business environment, designing new models that offer new value to people, will win the day. This is equally true for dramatically redesigning the models for education, transportation and health.

India has immense innovation possibility. Now is the time to build out its innovation capability.

Thank you.


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