21 January 2009

Re-engage and redesign first

Yes, the inclination in hard times is to slash costs and headcount. However, this is counter-productive longer term as it does not provide for a springboard for success when the upturn comes. So how does a business ride out the storm and increase its opportunity for growth when fair weather returns? Before implementing drastic measures that could impact performance in the future, consider re-engaging and redesigning.

To re-engage means to getting back in touch with those that make or break the business: customers (retain them, above all), employees (empower them to bring about change), suppliers (reassure them), etc. Recession brings retrenchment and fear, so re-engaging with these communities is essential to business survival. To re-engage also means looking anew at the brand, positioning and how well the organization tells its story - see here for an interesting take on consumers and brands in a recession.

To redesign means to look anew at products and services, and at the systems and processes that allow for the functioning of the organization. Why? Because any organization, in good times or bad, should be seeking both greater efficiencies in terms of resource use, manufacturing processes, logistics, overall operational costs, etc., and greater levels of consumer centricity (user centered design) in the redesign of products or services. Its just good business sense.

So re-engage and redesign before knee-jerk cost cutting and headcount reductions. Reinforce relationships with those communities that are critical to business success. Find efficiencies across the organization that will not only lead to cost reductions but will put the business in better stead going forward. A recession can be an opportunity to build a more resilient and better-positioned organization for future growth. It was in the 1930s!

(Notice that the "I" word (innovation) was not used once. But, for an excellent read on innovating during the recession see here. )

Further reading on design and the recession: Design Council

19 January 2009

"Attacking the recession"

In December, NESTA, the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, released an important document entitled "Attacking the Recession" in which it proposed that the UK needs

a strategy to attack the recession, not just to respond to it. Innovation – in business, communities and public services – needs to be at the heart of that attack. The UK should aim to emerge as a more innovative, greener, more sustainable and diversified economy.

This document puts innovation squarely back in center court and helps dismiss the mutterings of the "innovation is dead" crowd. And it goes further, suggesting that innovation in other areas is equally important:

The biggest gains for society will be found in those sectors that both offer the most immediate growth potential, drawing on the UK’s existing strengths, and help meet long-term challenges: green energy, environmental services, biotechnology, and services for an ageing society.

As has been mentioned in earlier posts, rethinking and redesigning services and systems, from infrastructure to public services, is key not only to national economic recovery, but also to longer term economic advantage. Investment and innovation are building blocks of growth and competitiveness and are all the more critical in hard times.

15 January 2009

Design is like cooking - maybe

One of the questions that pop up occasionally in various fora is "how do you define design?" For a different (light-hearted or low-calorie) way of looking at this, design could be considered a bit like cooking: its part constructive discontent (it could taste better), part empathy (what do those who will eat the food expect, anticipate), part savvy (you have to know some of the basics to cooking), topped off with a good dose of creativity (seeing beyond the given parameters or the confines of the recipe itself). And cooking is incredibly iterative, just like design; no recipe is sacrosanct - they can be bettered, simplified, adapted to evolving palates, etc. The result may well be failure (to salty, to sweet) but more often than not the result will surprise, thrill and make those who have the pleasure of enjoying it come back for seconds. Constructive discontent, empathy, savvy and creativity - a tasty recipe. Right, off to the kitchen...

14 January 2009

Regroup, Rethink, Redesign

Welcome to 2009 - a year that will, according to pundits, prove a challenging and lean one. One that will test us on many fronts - financially, socially, economically... Some commentators in the design space are already looking for new buzzwords that will light our way forward in these dark times. For certain, innovation (the term du jour in recent years) has been sullied. Paul Krugman in the International Herald Tribune put it succinctly: "How did things get so opaque? The answer is 'financial innovation' - two words that should, from now on, strike fear into investor's hearts." Of course innovation is not dead - to innovate is one of humankind's greatest capabilities - but perhaps it has been talked to death.

So let's agree that for 2009 there will be no more buzzwords. Instead lets use our communal energies and time to regroup, rethink and redesign community, services, products, etc., that are essential to our future welfare and wellbeing. Of course innovation is a key ingredient, in the way we redesign products and services to be more efficient, more environmentally friendly, more user centric, more community oriented. Innovation has an incredibly important role to play in ensuring that products and services are better suited to this age of scarcity (whether scarcity of credit, natural resources, food and shelter, etc.) that we have stumbled into. While innovation is no panacea, it is an essential element to moving beyond short-term band aid mentality approaches that typify public and private sector responses in hard times. As individuals, communities or businesses, we thrive when we change, innovate, transform, etc., and in 2009 and beyond we will need to do so more than ever.