Here's a thought: 21st century organizations need not just half a brain — but a whole, full, complete brain, where both halves work in unison and harmony. Let me explain, by way of an example.
Now, I'm not here to pass aesthetic judgment. That's already been swift and severe (and frankly, the logo looks like something my pet hamster could cook up in PowerPoint). And now, recognizing the error of its ways, the Gap has decided to get radically open: to let anyone compete to design their logo, via (you guessed it) markets, networks, and communities — which is the way that 90% of design, business, and downright everything should be done in the first place.
But the deeper question is: why and how did this train wreck happen? Here's my guess. Like most companies, the Gap just doesn't understand the game-changing power of design. The new logo reeks of something designed not just by committee — but by a committee of beancounters who don't have a creative bone in their body, a suite full of suits who just might be missing the empathic, intuitive right hemisphere of the brain entirely.
The real problem, then, I'd guess is this. Most companies see design as a superficial afterthought on which a few pennies are spent if there are a few bucks left in the budget — as, to use the beancounter's macho argot, "tactical."
All of which is why, when you think about it, Steve Jobs is having the last, delicious laugh. Apple's book value is about $32 billion (you can adjust that up or down by a few percent depending on how you define book value). But Apple's market cap is over $262 billion. That difference of more than $200 billion? Maybe not every penny of it's the result of a few ground-breaking designs, but I'd be willing to bet that a sizable chunk of it is the result of the capability to be able to break new ground in design — which they do by taking it seriously. Taking design as seriously as most companies take (yawn) "strategy" creates more value for Apple in a year than most companies create...ever.
So why did design create so much value for Apple? Consider: having suffered decades of relative underinvestment, it's one of today's rarest capabilities. When you think about it, Apple chose an industry that was bereft of design altogether. Walk into Best Buy today and you walk into design desolation, aesthetic aridity, a dystopia of designlessness. There's not a drop of joy, delight, amazement, or just plain well-though-out usability in sight; it's a little bit like the emotional equivalent of taking a holiday in Sparta. And unless you're a masochist, you're probably not going to pay much of a premium for that.
So argue with me if you like, bring the full arsenal of overquantified pseudomathetical Wall Street analyses to the table if you want — but I'd gently suggest: most companies don't take design seriously, but they damn well should. What standing in their way? Yesterday's tired, increasingly stale assumptions that what really matters in hard-nosed, tough-as-nails business is the left-brained stuff: negotiation, calculation, and, to it bluntly, intimidation. Hence, cutting-edge design as a nice-to-have, not a can't-live-without. Hence, design as something that's relegated to ghettos inside organizations, instead of a competence that's lived and breathed in all corners. And hence, designers being lower in the corporate pecking order than the assistant to the middle manager of the middle manager.
That's a big mistake in a hypercompetitive world where 47 billion low-cost factories from Madagascar to Fujian can churn pretty much, well, anything in the blink of an eye and for a few pennies. More than ever, it's beauty, delight, and amazement that separates rapidly commoditizing "product" from stuff that's treasured, adored, loved, and envied.
For most boardrooms, design's never counted less — but the truth, I'd venture to guess, is that design's never counted more. So here are five questions to gauge whether you're taking design seriously enough.
- Do designers have a seat in the boardroom — or just in the basement? How often does your CEO ever talk to a designer?
- Are designers empowered to overrule beancounters — or vice versa?
- Is the input of designers considered to be peripheral to "real" business decisions — or does it play a vital role in shaping them? Is design treated as a function or a competence?
- Are designers seen just as mechanics of mere stuff — or as vital contributors to the art of igniting new industries, markets, and catgeories, sparking more enduring demand, building trust, providing empathy, and seeding tomorrow's big ideas?
- How much weight does senior management give to right-brained ideas, like delight, amazement, intuition, and joy? Just a little, a lot — or, as for most companies, almost none?
Here's the point of my little scorecard: to demonstrate that management by lobotomy just won't cut it anymore. In the 21st century, creating enduring advantage is going to require organizations that have a whole brain — not just half of one. And if you're flunking, prepare, dear left-brained beancounter, for the discount rack.