I had the privilege of speaking at the Better By Design CEO Summit in New Zealand last week, which was a delightful event for 300 or so executives. It was intended to spread knowledge and whip-up enthusiasm about design thinking among businesses in that lovely country. Our master of ceremonies was the charming and astute Jeremy Moon (pictured above), who is both the Chairman of Better By Design (a New Zealand government group that develops and spreads design thinking), and is also CEO of a firm called Icebreaker, which makes very cool high-tech wool clothing. Go here to see the line-up of speakers, here for a press report, and here for their blog. To give you a biased take on the conference, I thought it would be fun to just list some of the cool things I heard people say, as they said a lot of fascinating things that got me thinking. If you would like to leave a comment, let me know what especially struck you -- positive or negative -- and why.
Most of these aren't exact quotes, rather they are the product of my lousy note taking. So I apologize for any errors or misrepresentations.
From Marty Neumeier, author of the The Designful Company:
Design thinking helps close the gap between knowing and doing, which I call "dragon gap:" When the old map makers wanted to represent uncharted territory, they drew pictures of dragons to represent the scary unknown.
"We intend to keep innovating" (How Steve Jobs reportedly answered a question about how Apple plans to keep growing.)
Design is like a sound that only dogs can hear.
Business keeps speeding-up, but our brains aren't getting any faster.
A wealth of information creates a paucity of attention.
Even the lone ranger didn't work alone.
From Dick Powell, Co-founder Seymourpowell, a UK-based design firm:
Anthropolology before technology.
Slow is the new fast.
The never ending now.
You can't make a massive change all at once. The smartest people and companies find ways to keep winning a little bit along the way.
From Adam Lowry, Co-founder and Chief Greens Keeper, Method Products
Design is the first signal of human intention (quoting William McDonough)
Design advances slowly but not gradually -- there are long periods where not much happens, punctuated by periods of rapid and dramatic change. It is like the theory of punctuated equilibrium from evolutionary biology; change happens in fits and starts, in step functions.
Good design creates good stories.
We got a lot of free PR, including on Jay Leno's show, for writing advertising copy claiming that our products make your stuff "fricken clean."
We are in "a constant state of make" at Method.
We are "people against dirty" and one of our primary challenges is to "Keep Method weird."
When asked why Method keeps innovating, he answered "our people give a shit."
We had over 300 SKU's in 2007; now we have about 110.
I have a veto, but the most powerful thing I can do is to never use it."
We would rather have a hole (an unfilled position) than an asshole at Method.
From a panel of who described their design thinking study tour to Silicon Valley, which was composed of executives from New Zealand firms and was sponsored by Better By Design -- and was led by Perry Klebahn and Diego Rodriguez:
Think big, but make it happen step by step'
To fail is not shameful.
Teams that do beat teams that talk.
I am going to get rid of my office and sit with my people.
Keeping and growing good people, and strengthening the culture, those are our biggest business risks.( Heard at Method and Google).
At Google, they told us "above all, we try not to hire bullies."
We started out last and finished first in a tire changing competition -- that was a wake-up call.
We were way ahead in the tire change competition, so we started resting on our laurels and we didn't question our assumptions. So the the team that started out worst beat us in the end. (The tire changing exercise is something I have written about here at HBR.org)
This conference keeps going back to a pair of themes I hear everyplace I go now, leadership and change.
I went to a conference recently where two CEOs of big companies told their people, essentially, that everything will be fine, there is no need to worry. They pretended to be for change but were really against it.
The best changes preserve the best of what is already there and get rid of the rest.
If you want to change things, make hard things easier. Or raise the cost the cost of the status quo. Or do both.
Design thinking plays important roles including serving as a problem poser, problem solver, a sensemaking tool, a source of differentiation. It also can be a source inspiration and aspiration.
When I worked for the City of Portland, Oregon, my boss defined a strategy as anything that solves more than one problem at a time. That was part of the philosophy that helped transform the city into one of the best places to live in U.S.
The world is thirsty for difference.
Design is too important to be left to designers .
You don't have to it all in one bite (talking about change)
Rob Fyfe, CEO of Air new Zealand, is a national hero for leading the airline from financial ruin, deep despair, and shame to a place infused pride and excellence -- not just among its employees but among every New Zealander I talked to about the airline (which was dozens, as everyone from taxi drivers to teenagers brought it up). It was just named ATW Airline of the Year, the industry's most prestigious award.
The airline suffered from a loss of self-belief and pride.
All the smiling people had left.
My challenge is to bring people to life.
It would be like going to a Greenpeace rally in a Hummer (on the challenge of claiming that an airline is green)
We had delusions of global dominance. Yet, in the end, we realized that all we had was our New Zealandes -- not so much the beauty of the country, but the charms and quirks of our people.
I don't spend a lot of time on spreadsheets; I spend it with my people or thinking about my people. Several members of my board thought that was all wrong and I should be spending most of my time on financials, but they have come around.
I spend a day each month doing a job on the airline -- working as a flight attendant, a baggage handler, anything but a pilot!
We use real words, not business language or jargon. That other stuff sounds fake.
One of our most successful campaigns featured our people "body painted;" it started with one of our pilots on a billboard and the motto is that our "staff have nothing to hide."
This isn't meant to be a linear post that makes a clear and integrated point-- rather it is a kind of like a Rorschach Test, one of those projective tests where personality and hidden conflicts are allegedly revealed when a person is asked to describe what he or she sees in abstract pictures, images, or artwork. But I can say that the main thing I was left after the conference and my other social activities with was that the people in New Zealand are an intriguing mix of proud and modest, and competitive and cooperative, and as Diego Rodriguez pointed out, they have a can do attitude in combination with a no asshole rule. So New Zealanders are well-suited to the design mindset and methods and are a lot of fun to work with.
Finally, a big thanks to my hosts from Better By Design including Judith Thompson, Vijayan Kutta, Miriam Wilkins, and Nicky Toresen. They were fun and extremely competent -- and I appreciate their tolerance of my various quirks.