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.
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?
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.
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.
What is your opinion?