Disruptive by Design
So, how do you go about making disruptive thinking part of your skill set? Well, it’s not about hiring the right people or spending more money on training or traditional approaches to innovation. The good news is that schools around the world are already teaching disruptive thinking to their students. The bad news is that, instead of being taught in MBA programs, this new thinking style is taught in design schools.
Designers are taught to take conventions and turn them on their head—to make the ordinary unexpected. They create an emotional connection between a product or service and the prospective consumer. As best-selling author and critical thinker Dan Pink puts it, “Mastery of design, empathy, play, and other seemingly ‘soft’ aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”4 Now, I’m not saying that MBAs don’t have a place in the world or that designers have the answers to all life’s questions (or at least the ones about business). Not at all. The problem is that design and business logic exist in parallel universes and rarely come in contact with one another. As a result, both disciplines suffer. Business schools teach how to analyze but not how to create compelling emotional connections, while design schools teach how to come up with those connections but not how to ensure they’re commercially viable.
Either one by itself is nice, but to survive—and thrive—in today’s business climate, you’ve got to have both. We urgently need to close the discipline gap and strip away the elite complexity (and yes, there’s plenty of snobbism and elitism on both sides). We need to find a way to fuse the analytical rigor that has been the centerpiece of business competition for the last decade with the fluid, intuitive process of design. This is precisely the sort of juxtaposition disruptive thinking thrives on.
Savvy executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists are beginning to recognize that the game of transformation relies on this fusion. But, despite the fact that they recognize that design effort is important, most execs don’t pay enough attention to it. For many, design effort is out of sight, out of mind, which is why people rarely use disruptive thinking skills outside the world of design.
Like it or not—and whether you can see it or not—design is everywhere. Every product, service, or business model, no matter how large or small, is designed. You might think of design as a skeleton. The bones that support our bodies aren’t visible, but they’re there. And just as our bones give shape to our bodies, design shapes our experience with every product, service, or business model we interact with.