Section e: Wise guys - Advice you can't refuse

Section e: Wise guys - Advice you can't refuse - YOU WRITE A GREAT DEAL ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DESIGN, BUT, ALTHOUGH I HAVE READ YOUR BOOK, I AM NOT SURE HOW I ACTUALLY GO ABOUT MAKING MINE A DESIGN-LED COMPANY. ANY IDEAS?

by KJELL NORDSTROM and JONAS RIDDERSTRALE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

YOU WRITE A GREAT DEAL ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DESIGN, BUT, ALTHOUGH I HAVE READ YOUR BOOK, I AM NOT SURE HOW I ACTUALLY GO ABOUT MAKING MINE A DESIGN-LED COMPANY. ANY IDEAS?

OK. Number one: Build an organisational tribe. A design-driven company that competes on feelings and fantasy must thrive on variation, difference and diversity. Yet most of us live and work in organisations built by and for 6.5% of the population - middle-aged, white males. This is not only a question of equality, it is a question of quality of decisions and customer offerings.

Number two: Extend the tribe biographically. The world of yesterday was geographically structured, and so were its tribes. The new tribes are biographically structured. They are global tribes of people who feel they have something in common, no matter where they were born.

Number three: Identify and involve individuals. Within a tribe there must be room for personalisation and individual differences. 'A product that matters needs to say something about the person who owns it,' argues Barry Shepard, co-founder of the design consultancy SHR, which helped develop the Volkswagen Beetle.

I HAVE A GREAT IDEA FOR DEVELOPING ONE OF THE PRODUCTS MADE BY MY COMPANY. TROUBLE IS, MY BOSS WON'T BACK A PILOT TO SEE IF IT WORKS. I WANT TO GET IT IN THE HANDS OF CUSTOMERS TO TEST IT - HE WON'T MOVE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PERSUADE HIM?

He should listen to you because you work with him and have ideas of your own. Physical violence is not the answer, so think about this example.

One of our favourite companies is the Norwegian furniture manufacturer Stokke, which has built an international reputation for innovative design.

Among its most successful products is the Tripp Trapp, a wooden chair for babies and children, designed by Peter Opsvik. The height and depth of the Tripp Trapp are adjustable, so the chair can grow with the child.

One of the reasons Stokke has succeeded with this, and other unusual-looking designs, is a keen awareness of its tribes. The target audience for the Tripp Trapp is new parents. Stokke gives the chairs to kindergartens, where parents can see them being used. This has played a huge part in the company's growth.

I AM CEO OF A MID-SIZED MANUFACTURING COMPANY. I APPRECIATE THAT ISN'T A FUNKY POSITION BUT I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING: OLD-STYLE LEADERSHIP IS NO LONGER APPROPRIATE. I AGREE, BUT OLD-STYLE LEADERSHIP IS WHAT PEOPLE EXPECT OF YOU, AND BREAKING THE HABITS OF A LIFETIME IS DIFFICULT.

You're on your way. If you're thinking the unthinkable, you can make the unthinkable happen. As a start, instead of sending out job descriptions, ask employees to hand in motivation descriptions. What turns them on? Read and re-read these. The job of the leader is to understand the aspirations, fears and abilities of people. Turn them on and let them get on with it.

WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT CAREER PLANNING BUT WHAT DO I ACTUALLY NEED TO DO? I HAVE JUST LEFT UNIVERSITY AND AM THINKING ABOUT WHAT TO DO NEXT WITH MY LIFE.

No easy answers, it's down to you. But those who succeed in the future will be marked out by a number of characteristics. First they will be unique. They might be extremely specialised or they can be what we call hyphenists, people who combine different skills in a unique way: compu-ecologists or psycho-linguists, for example. They will regard themselves as a company, Me Inc, and they will make conscious decisions about how to continue reinvesting in their personal brand. Finally, they will be very well connected. If you don't know how, know who. Good luck.

Kjell Nordstrom + Jonas Ridderstrale are authors of Funky Business (ft.com). Seek their wisdom at sectione@haynet.com.



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