Archives For design for behavior change

Why is Design a CEO Matter?

November 2, 2017 — 1 Comment

There was a time when efficiency was enough. When the role of the CEO was to optimize business as if it were a machine—making sure the supply chains and manufacturing systems and marketing channels were produced maximal output at minimal cost. Those days are over. And though I don’t suffer any romantic notions about the “good old days” of quality management and core competencies, being a CEO was certainly a more predictable job back in the 20th century.

Efficiency and delivering solid returns still matter, of course, but the old methods of getting there are threatened. Actually, I’ll go even farther: The old methods are incapable of preparing you for what we are seeing today—the most volatile and disruptive business climate the world has ever known.

In order to compete today, CEOs need evolutionary skills that will ensure their survival in a fast-changing climate. Business fitness now means learning how to be agile, resilient, and creative. It means adapting to the marketplace in quick generational cycles. That requires a brave new brand of leadership, and from our vantage point, as we work alongside companies young and old from around the globe, it requires being able to think like a designer.

The old methods are incapable of preparing you for what we are seeing today—the most volatile and disruptive business climate the world has ever known.

Why? Because if the core competencies of old were Gary Hamel’s “maintain world manufacturing dominance in core products,” the core competencies of today (customer obsession, agility, resilience) are intrinsic to the designer’s craft. Think about it: As the designer of a new service, product, or experience, your purpose is to identify the needs and desires of the customer, prototype solutions, and create something flexible enough to pivot quickly as those needs change, ensuring your continued relevance.

So, it’s clear that a design mindset is important, but does it ladder up to the CEO level? It does. And that’s because the organization itself is a design project. CEOs are charged with setting up a design-friendly culture in which the very metabolism of the organization runs faster. That means giving all levels of the company, from interns to managers to VPs, empowerment and autonomy—the permission to shift when they can see farther than you can. It means creating a safe environment in which they can fail without fear. It means telling them a compelling story about the purpose of your company and getting them invested in that story. You are working together to create something magnificent, and will walk into an unknown future side by side, together.

Knowing that those are the kinds of businesses that will thrive in this environment, a growing number of organizations are building design into their core competency. Ford is doing so today, and we’re proud to be their partners in that. Legacy technology companies like IBM have been investing heavily in design, too.

You are working together to create something magnificent, and will walk into an unknown future side by side, together.

Being capable of real change, of designing a future-proof, evolutionary organism, is no small feat. Take automobile companies: The model was once to sell cars that people wanted to drive. But today, mobility is a much more fluid concept. Now, car companies are designing for driverless cars and deliveries, for ridesharing, for multi-modal commutes, and for high-efficiency electric vehicles. That, in turn, means thinking about the urban infrastructure and how it will adapt to such changes—what happens to gas stations and parking lots? It means thinking through how driverless delivery ripples out to retail. The organization that is designed to sell a hunk of metal that takes a person from point A to point B is past its due date.

But it’s not just the auto industry—almost every business we know is facing this challenge. Shifting the purpose of an organization made for today to an organization fit for tomorrow is the job of the CEO. And, at its core, it’s a problem that requires design thinking.


This week, school principals across the globe are lacing up their sneakers and toting their brown bags to school as part of Shadow a Student Challenge, a program to help school principals better understand their students’ experiences.

As of Monday, more than 1,200 school leaders have taken the challenge in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 24 countries. Looking at the tweets coming from these experienced school leaders, it’s fascinating to see their revelations from standing in the shoes of their students for a day. Turns out being a student is hard work!

“2 classes, two 40+ question tests so far…the kids are such troopers! I’m exhausted already!” tweeted Jonathan Adel (@jonathanadel).

“Health to ELA to Math…Communicable diseases to Text Features to an Algebra 1 test on Multi-Step equations = worn out :)” wrote Ed Gettenmeier (@egettenmeier).

“Spanish, Eng, math, now government…my head is spinning. I was so lost in math,” wrote Bradford Hubbard (@hubbardbradford). He followed up, “Feels very vulnerable to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

This is what empathy is all about. Not just sympathy for someone else’s circumstances, but the deep intuition for what it feels like to live their lives. When they sign up to follow a child for a full day during the week, these school leaders are clearing their calendars to commute to school, attend classes, and eat lunch alongside their students to see the entire school experience through their eyes.

The organizers of the challenge — IDEO, the Stanford, and the Hewlett Foundation — are providing resources to help school leaders, who are asked to hack potential solutions where they find a need during their days as students.

There’s a big idea here for all of us who play a leadership role (and most of us do in some way lead others) — to try shadowing our own “student” for a day. Of course, it doesn’t have to literally be a student, per se, but someone who you may have responsibility for, someone whose daily work life you haven’t experienced.

If you manage a store, for example, try ringing up customers at the checkout. If you run a logistics center, try working on the warehouse floor. If you manage project teams, sign up to be a regular project team member for a day. Whatever it might be, go experience the day of someone you lead.

Just as with the principals, you may find it harder work than you imagined, and it may give you insights into how to create better experiences for your colleagues.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

proto_linkedin_580pxA prototype is worth a thousand words.

Although memories of my early formal education have started to fade, I vividly recall two distinct types of learning experiences: brainwork and handwork. The vast majority of my time in school was spent listening to lectures, taking exams, writing essays, and so on. On rare occasions, we’d roll up our sleeves and make stuff. Those few instances when talking gave way to making made a big impression on me.

For instance, when I was 11, while studying the history of the Roman conquests, our assignment was to build a miniature trebuchet—the medieval catapult used to break through thick city walls—and take it for a whirl on the playing field. Of all the history classes I’ve taken, that’s the one I remember most, because it made a remote, abstract concept tangible and real.

Shortening the distance between talking about an idea and prototyping it is key to becoming a successful design thinker. Ideas are of little use if they stay put as ideas. You can only assess their merits when you bring them to life and let others poke at them. The toughest part can be translating the idea into something more concrete. This is where your creative confidence can waver. You might be afraid to commit or worried that others will question your skills. Such obstacles can be overcome with a few simple, but powerful, tricks:

Start Small
Make your first prototype quickly out of whatever materials are at hand. Whether it’s a sketch, cardboard model, video, or improv of a service scenario, making your idea less abstract will help you improve it.

Fail Fast
You’ve probably heard this before. When you’re trying new things, failure is inevitable. Accepting that failure is part of the process is key. As IDEO founder David Kelley famously said, “fail faster to succeed sooner.” It also helps to tell people that what you’re doing is an experiment. That way, it doesn’t seem so precious that they can’t give you honest feedback.

Ask for Help
Don’t assume you have to do everything yourself. Just explaining your idea to potential collaborators will help clarify it and asking for assistance invites others to build on your idea.

The good news is that it’s getting easier for ordinary folks to make stuff. Handy smartphone apps allow you to shoot and edit videos in a snap. New CAD tools, scanners, and printers, which are this close to becoming widely accessible and affordable, allow anyone to make 3D objects in minutes. Even coding is going from geek to gettable, thanks to open-source components like Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Much like their medieval predecessors, these modern-day trebuchets are razing the walls between concept and creation. I predict a global renaissance in making over the next decade. Let’s hear it for thinking with your hands.

What happened the last time you stopped talking and started making?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


Roshi Givechi is a calm, cool, design director and associate partner at IDEO. About a year ago, she uprooted herself from the San Francisco Bay Area and embarked on a nomadic year in Asia to support our growing locations in ShanghaiSingaporeTokyo, and Mumbai. When she proposed the idea of a one-year externship within the firm, it was an experiment for all of us. Recently, I checked in with Roshi to see how it’s going and what she’s learned over the past year. Here’s what she said.

What do you think businesses gain by letting their staff work abroad for a year?

I think there’s a lot of value in supporting cross-pollination within companies. For me, it’s not just about getting inspired about design in Asia, but also about understanding IDEO’s business role in China, Singapore, Japan, and so on. For our Asian clients, me being in the room represents a global background coupled with 15 years of experience: things that matter to them. Being able to work hands-on with IDEO project teams also brings a certain peace of mind to young designers—an added benefit that’s important for global businesses to keep in mind.

Change reinvigorates. It broadens your horizons. Besides, if you let people channel their creativity in ways that map to their own interests as well as the company’s, you’re likely to get more value out of the person in the long run.

Name one pitfall from a year on the road.

One pitfall, If you’re endlessly inquisitive like me, is taming one’s curiosity so you can simply recharge. Asia, in particular, has a plethora of things to explore. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay to close the blinds once in awhile and tune out.I’ve realized that without time to “simmer” now and then, I won’t fully benefit from the creative inspiration this year has already given me.

Any personal revelations?

To me, it’s necessary to experience the unfamiliar every now and then. What I didn’t expect, however, is thatliving in various countries in Asia where I don’t understand the local languages would give me a sense of calm. I can’t decipher the chitchat I hear on the streets. I can’t participate in certain client meetings in my usual way because of communication barriers. Because I have no choice but to downplay what I hear on the outside, for better or worse, I’m hearing my inner voice more clearly and I reflect more deeply and frequently. And with reflection, comes learning.

What noteworthy trends are you seeing in Asia that could inform how businesses innovate for growth?

I’m sure many have heard the term “Shanzai” used to reflect Chinese imitation, or pirated brands and goods. Shanzai 2.0 reflects a culture that has been learning for a long time, is beyond copying, and—one could speculate—is now innovating.

GooApple, for example, is essentially an Apple iPhone knockoff that runs Android inside. It combines two experiences people love, eliminating the need to choose between them. Not only did this clever“merger” offer a better camera and processor when it came out, its makers show no qualms about celebrating the originators (as seen by the Apple logo placed on top of the Android logo). There’s something good to be said about craftsmanship learned by copying. It’s like apprenticeships in days gone by.

And, of course, when we think of Asia, we inevitably think of speed and agility. Along with the boldness of Shanzai, what I’ve come to admire most is a fearlessness in going to market sooner, instead of waiting to perfect things. Anyone who’s worked in India, in particular, can attest to a willingness to try things out in-market earlier and more frequently than you see in North America. To me, the motivation is simple: if companies don’t innovate in-market, others will pass them by.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


According to a UN report on aging, the world’s population is aging at an unprecedented rate. By 2050, the number of people 60 years or older will exceed the number of young people under age 15 for the first time in history. The effects of population aging are profound and impact everything from economic growth, labor markets, and taxes to healthcare, housing, and family structures.

Simply put, aging is a fact of life. Our parents, grandparents, friends, ourselves: we all will age. Whether we’re able to stay active, healthy, and retain our sense of autonomy as we age, well, that’s another matter. Which is why this question is so pressing: How might we all maintain wellbeing and thrive as we age?

This is the latest OpenIDEO design challenge posed by Mayo Clinic and it’s one I encourage you to contribute your creativity to. After all, staying mentally active is key to healthy aging.

What aspects of aging are you most concerned about?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)