Management by Design drives Leadership Awards

Undoubtedly, most of you will recall the Insights article I wrote about the subject of Design in the March, 2007 issue. I focused on the concept as it relates to artists, design engineers, and new product designers. However, Design appears to be a popular idea in many other businesses as well, including universities that teach management principles. A case in point: Case Western Reserve University, Weatherhead School of Management, has a program called “Manage by Design.” According to IDEO’s Peter Coughlan, it means “learning to use design principles to help business do good in the world.”

At Case Western, Manage by Design also embraces the concept of “Sustainable Enterprise.” What all this means, as I understand it, is a fresh approach to how companies do business, what they do, and why they do it. Now management students are being taught how to be more responsible and look at aspects of doing business that they ignored in the past; many companies are receiving pressure from social media and environmental groups to “clean up their act.” They must consider the negative impact of what they do to the planet and societies of all countries. Thinking about design in management should affect the focal point of management courses in college and the attitude undergirding how the courses are taught. That is, students learn that being socially responsible also can be profitable.

In engineering, design is an approach we use to solve some very complex problems with hardware and software. For example, we engineers design better, safer, and more efficient cars; smaller and more functional cell phones; precision tools, instruments, and processes for medicine; and more powerful computers. By comparison, I think the “management by design” concept sees design as an approach to solving other serious, complex problems such as designing safeguards that can prevent financial institutions from going bust so the government does not have to bail them out, and handling dissatisfied customers; things that cannot be solved with a quick and dirty fix.

It appears as though modern managers recognize a need to have a new design attitude that supplements their old decision-making attitude. The traditional or classical decision attitude is couched in the idea of an efficient and effective manager using tools for decision making under a mathematical and scientific approach that considers many available alternatives. By contrast, the design attitude considers approaches to solving complex problems as an opportunity to learn from a rapidly changing world and design a solution that does not come from a list of available choices: it creates something entirely new. Their mantra: “If a problem is not complex, it does not need a design.”

But do our modern managers have the skills to carry this idea off? Do they have the attributes of intuition and visual thinking, a teamwork attitude, tenacity, and most of all – patience? Do they understand the concepts of specifications, modeling, testing, engineering change orders, and the impact of the design on the community?

Well, I have to believe it can be so. When you read about the Design World 2010 Leadership Awards in this issue, you should not be surprised that “engineering by design” plays a major role in developing new products, but “management by design” in these companies paves the road that makes it easier and quicker to manufacture better, more efficient and less expensive products. Do you think this all media hype, or are we onto something new?

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