It’s Friday – our last day of class. Today is only a half day. Our debriefing session wraps up at 2pm. They scheduled it this way so people would have time to get to the airport or train station. The two classes this morning were about how to organize your company for innovation. Even as designers, we can improve the way our companies foster creativity.
Organizing for Innovation:
All of the classes, including this one, were largely taught with case studies. This is a new and interesting way to learn for me. I’m more accustom to having teachers give me a list of information to memorize. I grew up thinking of learning in a very black and white way. My teacher has the information and what they know is exactly correct. This isn’t how any of our classes were at Yale. These classes on building an organization that’s conducive to innovation went something like this. First, we read a case study about a company that was very innovative. Then the teacher prompted the students to break the business model down. The students would be the ones to describe the different aspects of the business and why they worked (with just a little leading by the professor.) Next we would try to extrapolate principles. Finally the professor would say something like: “So, what’s the right answer? I don’t know.” The point is – the world is grey. Businesses are incredibly complex things. A business model that works for one set of people can fail miserably for others. Studying these cases serve to give us a direction. Finding the right path for you or Go Media will still require implementation and testing. Having said all that, here are a few things I took away from the course.
Innovation is not just about technology. Innovation can be about how you market a product, structure a business system or even how you communicate. So, don’t assume you need a chemical engineering degree to be innovative.
Innovation is all about application. Most innovations take concepts or technology that are already well know, but apply them in a new way.
Innovation requires investment. If you don’t invest the time and money to experiment then you’re unlikely to make any innovative discoveries. A good investment might be something as simple as giving your staff half of a day once a month to work on their passion projects.
Listen to your staff. The workers on the front lines have a better perspective on how their own jobs can be made more efficient. So, make a point of letting them know you’re open to ideas on improvement and then create a forum in which they can share them.
Build innovation incentives into your business model. It’s not enough to simply say: “Hey everybody, be innovative!” You have to schedule time for them, build a structure for them to share and fund the ideas that have potential.
Don’t punish failure. This is a personal one of mine. If you’re trying to innovate, you’re going to have failures. It’s part of trying something new. If you punish people when they fail then you’ll only succeed at making them to afraid to try new things. So, encourage your team to try new things. When things don’t work out, let them know it’s ok.
The last class was a wrap-up and debriefing. It started with a session where we each took turns sharing our takeaways from this week. Then Steven Permut gave us his summary of the most important aspects of building and running a business. I thought this was a great guide to keep me focused on how to apply the knowledge I’ve learned this week. I will share the points that my classmates and I had, but Steven asked us not to share his insights as they will soon be part of a book he’s writing. So, you’ll just have to wait till that hits the market!
Good business decisions start with research and testing. Generally, we make too many assumptions in business. Remember that your clients drive your business! So, listen carefully to them. Apply what you learn, get more feedback and repeat. This is also true of negotiating, building your business systems or deciding how to talk to c-level management. Do your research, apply and test!
Design is valuable to business. More companies need to recognize the value of good design and integrate it into every aspect of their organizations.
Business is valuable to designers. As designers we can sometimes be too arrogant about our wisdom in the area of how to apply design to the business world. What’s ideal for design doesn’t always work in the context of some businesses. So, while we’re asking companies to better understand our value to them, we need to work harder to understand the business side of things. Only by understanding more about the business can we understand how to best contribute with our design skills.
Ask the right questions and be a consultant to your customers.
Get to know the know the language of business. Every industry has lingo. It’s important to get to know and be comfortable with talking in the language of business owners.
Humility. Listen more and talk less.
You don’t have to be a natural born business person to get good at it. These things just require study and practice. So, make the effort.
People buy holes not drills. Understand the real value of what you’re selling. When someone buys a drill, are they really buying a drill? What’s the value of a drill to it’s customer? What is the problem being solved by the drill? The customer needs a hole! The drill solves that problem. So, in effect, you’re not selling a drill, you’re selling holes. Want proof of that statement? What if someone developed a new device that used a laser to make a sharper cleaner hole at the same cost. Would anyone continue buying drills? Nope. So, obviously, people aren’t buying drills. They’re buying holes! Keep this little analogy in mind when considering your value proposition to your customers.
Think long-term. With every decision in business, keep the long-term in mind. Keep in mind the lifetime value of a customer. Sometimes taking a loss today can turn into profits in the future.
Reframing questions makes room for innovation. This goes to the heart of this course. Your perspective on a problem will impose a structure within which you will try to solve the problem. But if you try to look at your problems from a different perspective, or, re-frame your question then you can often change the rules and find creative new solutions.
Greater value is created when you work together. A fun example of this was given in a class. Imagine an arm wrestling match where you were given 10 seconds to arm wrestle. Each time you win you get a Honda Civic. Each time your opponent wins he gets a Ferrari. What should you do? Maximize the value you can create by working together and split it! If you fight each other you might each only be able to win one car. But if you work together, you can let your opponent win 10 times in 10 seconds. That’s 10 Ferraris. Even if your opponent only gives you 2 Ferraris and he keeps 8, that’s still a HUGE improvement in value to both of you. When looking at any situation consider the net value being created. Don’t focus only on what you get.
They actually held graduation on Thursday night so we could celebrate without concern for when our flights left town, but I decided to hold of on blogging about it until the very end. That just seemed to make sense. The graduation dinner was another lavish meal. All our professors from the week were there. It was a great time to mingle, reinforce our connection with our classmates and celebrate the experiences of the week. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld gave a mini-commencement speech and then they called us up one by one to give us our completion certificates. They were very nice and included an 8×10 glossy photo of the entire class. The course didn’t have tests. Nobody was ever in jeopardy of not graduating. But it still feels good to have a certificate. A lot of hard work went into this week and will continue into the foreseeable future.
So, was it worth it?
Well, I’m a pragmatist. I went through this course with the skeptical questions of: “How can I apply this information to my business today? And, what’s it worth in dollar value?” So, I’ve left with a notebook full of ideas that I plan on implementing over the next year. I think they will easily give me a good return on my investment, but, we’ll see. A better question might be: Having taken the course, would I recommend it to others? The answer to that is easy – heck yes. The experience was amazing. The teachers are the beast-of-the-best. I think the networking was powerful. The knowledge itself is invaluable and I can’t give enough praise to the level of service we received. From the food to the hotel to the attention to details by the professors, the service was legendary. If you have an opportunity to go, do it.