The new managerial class: cure for design?

In a 2004 interview with BusinessWeek, Steve Jobs hurls a cruel barb at Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

“How are monopolies lost? One day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to… Who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy… And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t… Look at Microsoft — who’s running Microsoft? Right, the sales guy. Case closed.”

Jobs punctures the common perception that a “sales guy” can sell anything, be it cars or jeans or computerware. This view holds that the domain of business is not determinant, the process is. You learn the process (at business school), you’re good to go.

As the inadequacy of this approach is exposed we now have another trend: inject the sales guy or the MBA with some appreciation of the domain, surely now he can do even better. Welcome to ‘design thinking,’ the finishing school for the Steve Jobs wannabes out there, if you will.

We have examples of the notion of ‘case management’ in various professions from medicine to law. ‘Professional’ managers injected with some level of domain knowledge move the process along.

Now that we have identified (design) innovation as a primary driver of corporate revival, these MBA 2.0 types imbued with design thinking will move along the design process, and along with it the fortunes of the company.

Earlier in Managing design vs. managing designers vs. managing business I said:

If what designers want is more power to decide on some of the fundamental problems their organizations face, they can do that without having to become managers of organizational processes. But first, they have to be invited to the table — the table of strategic decision making.

At the ongoing BusinessWeek Design Vs. Design Thinking. discussion, Christopher Fahey wants to crash the party: “designers need to invite themselves.”

That is exactly right. But by the time they get to the party designers have to be adequately armed. Sales guys won’t want to easily relinquish those reserved seats at the decision-making table.

The IT domain went through a similar process, from their humbler MIS origins: first, we got CTOs (who proved to be too insular), next CIOs (who attempted to be the bridge between technology and business but not quite the equal of either), and now there’s talk of CIOs disappearing presumably because CEOs, COOs and CFOs are becoming more tech savvy.

Can’t we all get along? That’s not the nature of business. Not anytime soon. Everybody wants a seat at the table, but there are only a few seats available. Are designers ready to pay the price of admission?

I’ll explore what that entails in a future article.

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You might also be interested in this article:
Managing design vs. managing designers vs. managing business

4 thoughts on “The new managerial class: cure for design?

  1. WHEN will the designers of the world realize that there is a LOT more to a business, running it and making it succeed than just the design? The product is not the painting on the wall – it is the museum! There’s so much more to making a product successful and design is a small part of it. So you can be the free spirited artist / philosopher who muses and thinks, but there’s a LOT more than what you know that goes into the product.

    Take it Easy

  2. Pingback: Compartmentalized design: Designers emasculated « counternotions

  3. “First off, I think the positioning of ‘design thinking’ in the article is misleading.”

    Why do you think so?

    “rather than hold sales a business types up as villans”

    Why not? Look at the record of the sales guy I mention in the article, Ballmer, either in sales or the design of products MS sells: pretty disastrous. We have a ton of examples. I do hold them responsible.

    “I don’t believe that it is as simple as designers wanting more power.”

    Designers should want more power, the power to make decisions, which are so far made for them.

    “To many decisions are made prior to the designer’s involvment”

    Exactly. And that’s not going to change until and unless designers get the power to sit at the decision table.

    “many of the designer’s methodolgies (design thinking) can be implemented in functions not typically considered within the domain of design.”

    That’s a shortcoming for designers to overcome then. I do see designers as problem solvers but with certain knowledge, experience and sensibilities unique to them.

  4. First off, I think the positioning of ‘design thinking’ in the article is misleading. From what I read here, there is a misunderstanding of the concept.

    Second, rather than hold sales a business types up as villans, why not simply show what designers bring to the table. I don’t believe that it is as simple as designers wanting more power. The issue is two fold. To many decisions are made prior to the designer’s involvment, and many of the designer’s methodolgies (design thinking) can be implemented in functions not typically considered within the domain of design.

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