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Executives should think like designers

The last few months at and have been amazing, but I need a break. While I’m on vacation this week, I’m sharing a few classic posts with you. This one is from November of 2009:

Two big insights from Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and author of Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.

From The Conference Board Review:

Your customers are the least useful source of new ideas. They are happy with the status quo — or they wouldn’t be customers. Ask non-customers what they want.

[Companies] assume that the things you go out and study should be the things that are right in the middle of the market, so they talk to customers who are in the middle of the bell curve about the products that the company already makes. That’s usually the least useful form of observation. The most useful is to go and visit with people who are at the ends of the bell curve. “Extreme users” are doing weird and wonderful things that you’ve never imagined, and that’s where you will get interesting ideas. Plus, you shouldn’t just talk to people who are using your product or competing products—talk to people who aren’t. If you ask somebody who already is, the best you’re going to get is incremental improvements of the thing you’ve already got.

Crunching the numbers doesn’t give you new ideas. Analysis of the data you already have just lets you see what you already have. That’s why companies obsessed by metrics often miss the next innovation.

We are used to being in a world where we rely largely on analytical forms of thinking in order to make decisions—particularly in business and leadership—and I’m arguing that that is necessary but not sufficient. We need to be divergent, not just convergent. We need to think about a world full of things we didn’t have before, and then converge and decide which of these we are actually going to work on. Most organizations are not very comfortable with being divergent.

And we have to rely both on analysis and synthesis. Analysis—taking complex things and studying and understanding them—is very useful for knowing how well something is going to work and how you might improve it or make it more efficient. It’s not very good for coming up with major new ideas. There we have to be able to synthesize many competing ideas or competing insights—even if those things are in tension—into something that is somehow a whole. What designers and design thinkers are always searching for is the alternative that’s better than the initial starting points.

Tim’s TED Talk:

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