Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wanted, a Confluence: Management & Design Thinking

By Udit Chaudhuri            

From steel production to food distribution, evolution in industry has noted a corresponding evolution of scientific management - analysis, planning, control, budgeting and staffing applied to a host of processes.  But where and when does strategic design thought step in?

Super-corporations have been built by applying military and behavioral sciences to workforce management. Managing critical technologies have made us master the atom and conquer planets with pinpoint precision. Likewise, design has moved into organized industry. Scientific management has helped corporates acquire creative talent, manage design facilities, carry out research, launch products and deliver design-oriented products – clothes, gadgets, music, books... also dream experiences in entertainment, travel and hospitality.

Ferranti - Utility Processes Blueprint

Whilst super-corporations could infuse creative and managerial talents, each formed a silo: geeks versus bean-counters. Geeks created and bean-counters controlled. Technocrats got credit and executives got promoted. But in tough times, bean-counters cut jobs and spending, while the geek conjured an out-of-the-box solution. Such innovations did save the day, as is the story in Chrysler, Toyota and Sony. But, for every few super-corps was one hot-shop to challenge such management. Apple and Microsoft took on giants like Ferranti and IBM to rule the computer world. David Ogilvy built global brands in Rolls-Royce, Kodak and Cambell's. The Saatchi brothers beat or bought every major advertising agency. Vodafone acquired the behemoth Mannesmann. Where was the magic?

Chrysler's 2012 Dodge Journey Crew Passenger-Seat Storage 

Toyota Driving Innovations

The designer or creative thinker observes situations that his prospects face, identifies a problem, defines it, experiments to iterate and tests a string of possible solutions and delivers the best. Management techniques of research and analysis help this process up to a point, but such iterations often involve failure and risks. It requires entrepreneurial zeal to face short-term defeats for a long-term victory, an openness to look at the craziest of ideas and work intuitively. In this context, veterans from the scientific management world seek to break the silos that analytical and intuitive thinking have each got into. The Harvardian approach to case studies and holistic development of managers has been such an endeavour, in contrast to the MIT approach of analytical skill development.

Sony's first and only OLED monitor with FDA approval for use in surgery

A confluence of analytical and intuitive thinkers, or managerial and design thought, can then perhaps, yield a reasoning capability that balances exploitation and exploration; that seeks reliability and validity; that provides the fastest and best movement through the Knowledge Funnel; and provide lasting competitive advantage in the 21st century.

Zeiss Oled Cinemizer

What is your opinion?


  1. Beautiful presentation; great pictures (except the one of the operation). The substance is a bit over my head, partly because I don't have much respect for management.

  2. The Harvard folk will agree. not so sure about the MIT folk :-)

  3. why r u hiding yr talents my friend ????!!!!!! u r a true Guru !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Thinking need not be in just the two silos: geeks and bean-counters.

    The Designomics Academy, for example, combines the two.

    1. If you remember our first encouter at Lintas, I began 'business' with the idea of getting the engineering and communication indusstries to appreciate each other.

      Today, most of our interventions at Metier involve cross-fuctional training and issue resolution, say between marketing, production and materials functions or between R&D, Production, Quality and Marketing. This they call Silo Breaking.

      My father, a sculptor, considered his major contribution was to technology as he explored forms, materials, properties and techniques to their very limits.

  5. Udit,

    Your article came at an opportune time for me. My bank's Board's IT committee was confronted with these issues yesterday and i shared your article with them. It helped me make a point...


  6. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 11, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    What do you mean by design thought?

    Engineering design, for example, is a creative process that has been systematized and is quite compatible with management strategies. I'm unfamiliar with the processes used in other types of design, e.g. graphic design.

  7. Srinath,

    Basically design thought involves the 4 iterative cycles of -

    Discovery - observation of different people and their senses at play, different uses of things, observation of new processes, techniques, materials, products... research if you like;

    Definition - from the above, observing and picking a specific problem or a set of issues - 'who' has it, 'why' - and building a brief for design;

    Development - possible solution-building - ideation, conception, building hundreds of possible concept models or design prototypes, testing each one in the field, interviewing prospects, observing their responses, selecting the best possible solution and refining it into a field prototype;

    Delivery - finally applying the engineering and relevant scientific principles to hone the field prototype along with drawings, tools, artwork, etc as appplicable - ready for production.

    I'll send you a case study on my seniors and my efforts to build in a formal design management process into what was esentially an engineering product.

  8. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 11, 2013 at 7:11 PM


    What you have described are essentially the steps in engineering design, although sometimes slightly different but comparable terms are used.

    Are you suggesting in your original posting that the steel and food industry must incorporate design thinking and methodologies in product evolution?
    Are you also including banks (Ramkumar's example) and other activities? Since your article presumably appeared in an art magazine (graphic art perhaps, I'm not sure), what exactly are you suggesting?

    I'm sorry but since I don't know the context I'm unable to decipher who the target audience is. I don't have a problem with design thinking or any doubt about its utility.

  9. It is interesting and there's probably no 'ideal' way to manage creativity. The word management itself is geting outdated. It's more about leadership now and the leaders are not necessarily in positions of authority or power within the organisation. But they have the power to influence others around them, many of who are decision makers.

    There are many large companies that handle creativity and innovation well and many small ones that don't. At the end of the day, it's more about leadership and the culture of the organisation than it's size. The mega corporations are very visible, there are a great many people watching their performance (analysts, investors...) so all of this is reported. The small ones may go belly up, they may retrench half their org and that may mean 50 people so they don't make the front page.

    Another issue is that large companies are able to fund research, prototyping, market tests etc. This is oftent a big constraint for the small ones. On the other hand, the big ones can have siols like Udit says, and the research budget can lapse unused or be put behind the pet project of the research director !

  10. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 11, 2013 at 7:17 PM


    I actually developed and taught a two-semester materials eng design course. The course itself was not my idea - it was mandated by the accreditation board for all UG eng curricula. While the benefit of teaching any course is that you learn a lot during preparation and even more during teaching, the design course was particularly special for me as I had never been exposed to design principles before.

    Design principles in essence are quite universal, and so I'm not at all surprised that you found them relevant to your situation. I advocated them to graduate students for their research and joked with my students that they should use them (including the prototype and test sections :-)) to find a job and a mate. :-)

    Reg. Udit's post, I'm still unsure about the exact application he is calling for.

  11. Srinath,

    Yes, at some level, everything from developing a gourmet dish to a special alloy follows the broad points of a design methodology. This is why, for example manufacturers of cars, garments, perfumes, consumer electronics, mass-use IT solutions, home appliances and even building paint have artists working along with engineers in their design setup. In fact they have a studio and engineering office each.

    Besides, there are design service firms like What?If! Innovation and IDEO design who help their clients develop a range of products from palmtop PCs to beer, shampoo, packaged foods to biomedical equipment and even medication dispensers! Do try and get hold of a copy of Sticky Wisdom and The Art of Innovation for more about them.

    However, while scientific management is able to meld the various talents into creating a fine product, the creative team may all the facilitation and credit due but tends to remain in a silo. So, also as Shankar points out, leaders have tried to break such silos in different ways.

    Some leaders have got designers to solve what were considered conventional management problems such as mobility across a railway station and adjacent streets, producing unique results, usiong their cycle of 4 Ds as I described earlier. Such achievements also lead to people like B School heads wanting accountants and admin guys to learn design too.

    My article thus seeks to stimulate a discussion on the need for these two types of thinkers to integrate more.

  12. Shankar,

    As my case study will show you, everyone who needs to survive by innovation affords a process for it, formal or informal. My case study like most of my clients are in the Small-scale sector.

  13. Hmmm ... seems to me that too much structure and leaders driving innovation actually tends to have the opposite effect. Especially if the leaders are like the boss in Dilbert.

    Me? I say, hey - let my mind wander & let me dream up stuff.

    A lot of the "solutions" we come up with really solve no immediate problems. Nor do they have any obvious markets. That's where Madison Ave & focus groups come in to create products & markets where none existed y'day. If I waited for my leaders to show me the way, fuhgeddabbadit - as they say in Jersey :-) - I wouldn't have come up with most of my ideas.

    BTW, gourmet or any darned dish or art or kolum or a dress or whatever (seems to me) starts off as a random thought that meanders it's way into something beautiful or tasty or ... not everything follows - nor should it, Gawd forbid - the 4 "D" principles mentioned earlier.

    Let the mind wander... The rest will follow!

  14. Oh, hey - here's a clip that makes my point - Success Absent Design. Well, OK - that's SAD :-)

    Melissa McCarthy on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 01/29/13 - Video Clip:


    McCarthy had no plan, she just winged it.

    Don't get me wrong, though. Design - thought - contingency planning - all that is better than random stuff, in the long run & for profitability - no doubt. But some of the best stuff come out of thin air. You know, your Eureka moments.

  15. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 11, 2013 at 7:27 PM


    Actually, what that clip highlights is the difference between a company or corporation and an entrepreneur.
    Entrepreneurs don't always use formal design methodologies because they already have a burning idea and the
    passion to make that work, and are often unaware of design methodologies unless they have been schooled
    on them or have someone introduce it to them. But then, design methodologies are only a formal and structured
    postulation of what most people do anyway, albeit perhaps less efficiently. Ultimately, there is no substitute
    for talent or true creativity or brilliance - most formal techniques only try to provide solutions that are acceptable.
    Design educators have tried to come up with various brainstorming or creativity techniques, but most of these
    require teams or groups, since it has been shown repeatedly that groups invariably come up with better and
    more optimal solutions than individuals. Even comedy shows use teams of comics rather than individual writers.
    Entrepreneurs are mostly going it alone.

    That said, what Melissa McCarthy didn't tell you is that she has been honing her comedic talent for decades,
    probably from the time she was a child. She was probably a disruptive kid or class jester and also practiced
    her art on her family endlessly, even perhaps to their dismay. She didn't just become a comedian one fine day,
    she just became a successful one. This is also true for entrepreneurs - they often have many failures before
    they find success. Entrepreneurs perhaps best embody the axiom that success is a result, not a goal.

  16. Very well put, poetic as well and predictably 'meandering its way into' FOOD !

  17. Messi says the result is the goal :-) I hear tell it is the way his brain works that makes him so very good.

    Structure and process? Bah !

  18. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 11, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Messi also miss. Also work with team and team is process no!
    If Messi play alone he only messy I gessy.

  19. He's not perfect. But he never shoots a home goal and makes his team lose like Cristiano Ronaldo did a few days back !

    Shall we change the topic from design to football to something else ?

  20. Srinath,
    you arte right about entreprise and talent. Both management and design thought look for ways to tap talent and passion, not to replace them. But managerial thinking pursues reliability while design thought pursues vlidation. So one wants to analyse, plan and shoot the bulls eye, the other meddles with everything, observes all that is needed and works all lines to get the best fit.

  21. Hey Shankar,

    How about - Intelligent Design ... ??



  22. Sharat,

    Let the mind wander! Right you are. Hence the need to tap what comes out of each of the several minds and that's what such a confluence can do!

    You hit it there!

  23. Very interesting to observe the dialogue process on this thread. Thanks for the education !

  24. I echo RVLR's sentiment as well.

  25. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 12, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Yes, but there are some aspects of a business that don't really lend themselves to all aspects of design thinking, e.g. Sales, Purchasing/Materials, Finance/Investment, Real Estate, etc. Just as you can use design thinking to find a mate, but after that you can't go on applying design principles...

  26. Design thinking can be used in sales..routinely used in retail store design, shopper marketing and so on. I could elaborate but this discussion will go on and on and on and....:-)

  27. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 12, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Yes, I said *all* aspects of design thinking. I'm yet to understand exactly where the disconnect between managerial thinking and design thinking is.

    Sure, there are bad managers, but there are good companies and good mangers too. So, I fail to understand a general denunciation. I can understand a specific criticism, i.e. a specific case.

  28. Yeah ! Udit has sure struck hard and deep into your heart ! As they say on the streets of Mumbai, 'Tenshun muth le !'

  29. Srinath VishwanathanFebruary 12, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    NO! NO!

    I'm trying to understand and learn. I'm an academic and have no real-world experience. That's a fact. So I'm trying to understand what exactly he means.

  30. Udit's a free spirit :-)

    Managers are by definition put on earth to harness energies and focus them into an outcome that is profitable for the company and the shareholders. The companies have HR who then proceed to make life miserable to all and sundry - LOL.

    Unfortunately, more often than not, this management methodology - while great for day-to-day, run-of-the-mill type activity, is a huge drag on pure creativity. This is where, I think, there is a disconnect between managerial oversight (don't want to call it "thinking"!) and design thinking.

    BTW, not quite sure you can pigeon hole them to companies vs entrepreneurs. You can have great entrepreneurial spirit in companies. Witness 3M with their sticky notes. Some dude decided to use maida-maavu (I kid, but some effective glue) to make these and 3M ran with it. A lot of big companies encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. I know I had that when I was at the old Bell Labs, and still do at AT&T Labs.

    So, maybe I just argued against the original point. You can have good managers and enable innovative thinking.

    What were we talking about ... damn - this got away from me - haha!

    Anyway ... hey, it's the weekend :-) Enjoy it.

  31. Srinath,

    Udit's an academic too, if he's providing consultancy to companies and writing cases. Academics studying what others do, may actually be able to provide answers to those who are running these companies...the small ones, the mega corps etc. Ofcourse one needs to watch out for over simplification and over generalisation. Yes..there are all types of managers and companies. Maybe Udit has 'designs' on them :-(

  32. Srinath (and others sharing his question)

    What I simply sought is to get scientific management and design people to exchange their ways of thinking or just get into each other's shoes. To illustrate:

    Reverse-engineering restores a dead out-of-production machine and thus saves a factory from closing down, but no up-front estimates for cost or time can be given. Or in planning a marketing campaign, the craziest of ideas can make a roaring success of a proposed launch but no one knows if Crazy Idea X is better than Good Idea Y and how much more revenue it will generate.

    Here is where administrators will tear a lot less of their own hairs if they understand the madness and its method.

    On the other hand, the need for reverse-engineering in machinery has gone down greatly with import liberalisation and facilities to order spares via the Internet. At times, engineers tend to reinvent a wheel where a standard component selected from its manufacturer's reference manual would help.

    In those cases, technocrat-owners and engineers who relied on their genius for maintenance now need to be more savvy in planning their spares inventory and purchases.

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