“The Designful Company” – How To Create Radical, Game Changing Ideas

Have you ever spent more time with a book – highlighting, making notes, and folding over page corners – than actually reading it?

Marty Neumeier

I’ve just finished The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier. With nearly every page I was returning to my notebook to jot down another great quote, helpful tip, or concept to recommend to clients (or consider for my own business).

You may be familiar with Marty through previous books, The Brand Gap and Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands. With Designful Company Marty has written another gem. No, it is not a gem. It’s a mine rich with gems.

This week The Designful Company is being discussed by five different bloggers as part of the Post2Post Virtual Book Tour. Marty’s tour began on Monday at John Moore’s blog, Brand Autopsy, and yesterday moved to Chris Wilson’s The Marketing Fresh Peel. Lucky us, today Marty is sharing additional thoughts with us at Idea Sandbox.

The Discussion

Paul: I totally get the premise of The Designful Company – how to build a culture of nonstop innovation – but I’m still not exactly clear how to do it. In Part 3 of your book you describe the 16 “Levers For Change.” If a company was to implement these sixteen steps, will they then have the tools in place to be designful?

For reference to those who don’t have the book yet, here are the levers Marty describes…

Levers For Change

(1) Take On Wicked Problems (9) Sanction Spitballing
(2) Weave A Rich Story (10) Think Big, Spend Small
(3) Establish An Innovation Center (11) Design New Metrics
(4) Bring Design Managementment Inside (12) Institute Branded Training
(5) Assemble a Metateam (13) Learn Through Acquisition
(6) Collaborate Concertina-Style (14) Add A Seat To The Table
(7) Introduce Parallel Thinking (15) Recognize Talent
(8) Ban PowerPoint (16) Reward With Wicked Problems

Marty: Yes, but the thing you have to understand about the 16 levers is they’re not steps. They’re levers. They can be used in just about any order, and in a variety of combinations. And you don’t necessarily need all 16 to succeed. This is probably a good thing, because there aren’t many people in an organization who have control over every lever. You can only operate the ones you have control over.

For example, your company may already have a bold vision for the future, but no way to activate it to drive cultural change. So you could skip lever one and move on to lever two – weave a rich story with an integrated messaging architecture. Or you could use levers four and fourteen together – bring design management inside and appoint a Chief Brand Officer who reports to the CEO. The road from a spreadsheet-driven company to a design-driven one is not a short trip. You won’t get there without a roadmap and a good set of tools.

P: One of the biggest challenges with bold ideas, as you say on page 115, is “getting the buy-in of those outside the original group.” But big, exciting ideas are scary. In order to be sold into an organization, they often get altered until they’re barely recognizable. How do you recommend championing ideas?

M: You’re right. Exciting ideas get killed – or “defanged” – everyday. Usually this happens because key players or key ideas were excluded from the decision-making process. The cure for this is to “build” key decisions in a collaborative environment. There are many ways to do this – brainstorming sessions, collaborative events, workshops, summit meetings – but the important thing is that all views are represented. Then you need the right kind of facilitation so that good ideas don’t cancel each other out. Collaboration shouldn’t lead to compromise – it should lead to radical, game-changing ideas.

P: Is your idea that if everyone at a company is aligned – “pointing north” toward being designful – radical ideas won’t seem radical?

M: Sure, that’s probably the best test of a designful company. If heretical ideas are echoing down the halls of your organization, then you probably enjoy a culture of innovation. Conversely, if you hear phrases like, “They don’t let us do that here,” or “We tried that once and the CEO hated it,” then you’re probably stuck in a traditional spreadsheet-driven culture. Don’t give up. Revolutions never start at the top.

P: In your “Designing In Depth” section (on page 80) you talk about the need to create “multiple tiers of understanding.” In your example you mentioned how Shakespeare addressed the different segments of his audience, using high philosophy for the elite class and low humor for the peasant class. Is this an attempt to be all things to all people?

M: Not really. You can’t be all things to all people and expect to hold a brand together. Yet within a single “brand tribe” there are people who apprehend the world in different ways. Some are visual, some verbal, some intuitive, some logical, some thoughtful, some imitative, and so on. If you can deliver your brand message so that it communicates on all these levels, you can resonate with a broader audience. It’s like playing a chord instead of a single note. Shakespeare was no fool.

My reason for writing the book is to show that a business can be more than a way to manufacture money – that it can play more than a single note. The truly successful companies of the future will be those that not only serve shareholders, but employees, customers, partners, and communities. They’ll be innovative, ethical, and designful.

P: Thanks so much for your time, Marty. I appreciate your time providing Idea Sandbox readers and I insights into your book!

Emotional Benefits Of A Designful Company

Marty closes with the Emotional Benefits of being designful. Even if you stripped away all other reasons he mentions the book, the six ideas outlined below make the case to consider this approach at your company.

While, the purpose of the Post2Post tour isn’t to be a book review, nevertheless I highly recommend purchasing The Designful Company for yourself, and for the leaders of your company. (I’ve already sent copies to folks whom I think would benefit from Marty’s ideas).

Read more interviews with Marty tomorrow (Thursday) at Jeff De Cagna’sPrincipled Innovation and on Friday at Innoblog with Renee Callahan.