Design Matters For Management

A couple of days ago, I read the introductory chapter to the 2004 book, “Managing As Designing“. The book is a compendium of the letters sent to a workshop about bringing “Design” into management problem-solving techniques. I had it as a pdf, but it turns out it’s published on the web here.

As it’s pretty long (took me a couple of hours, but then Terminator 2 was on in the background), I’ve written a short synopsis:

Management is too often about optimizing a decision-making process for a set of known, possible alternatives. Designers take a different approach to finding an optimum solution to a problem, which assumes that the best solution is not amongst the original ideas under consideration, and so, they allow for a greater degree of flexibility when searching for a solution.

One way that designers create a flexible solution-finding process is to expose themselves to as many influences as possible and use as many media as possible to develop ideas. For example, building 3-dimensional models, creating line drawings and using computer graphics software are all in the arsenal of an architect. Furthermore, the models developed are not taken as a first version of the final solution, which is a reaction managers would typically have after the relatively high effort put into creating a model; instead, a model is just another method of generating conversation and ideas.

A designer’s approach includes the courage to continue the search for a solution you really want after having gone to a lot of effort to prove that you can actually find a solution.

The message I have come away with is that management techniques have been increasingly quantitative since the 1950’s and now it is time to bring a broader, qualitative approach to the process of problem-solving.

The Weatherhead School of Management opened their new building (designed by Frank Gehry Architects and used as an example in the chapter) with the workshop this book was written about. Their website suggests they have become obsessed with the idea. Their blog here.