18 May 2006

Chicago, IIT/ID Strategy 06. – Day One

As I found my way to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), I followed the trail of black… clothing that is. A dark and dreary day that would provide both hail, horizontal rain and eventually even some sunshine looked to be a typical design fest. I knew not a single person here. After checking in I had my share of coffee (intake seems to go up when I travel).

Opening remarks from Patrick Whitney – met him… a bit cold and had no difficulty letting me know when my time with him was up. It could have just been my lower Midwest sensibilities.

Someone, who’s name I could not hear spoke about the roll out the combination MBA and MA program coming to IIT. I had mentioned to Whitney that Kansas had just set up a similar program and he with distain asked, “a full MBA and MA?”

We then heard comments from Elizabeth Smith, curator of Museum of Contemporary Art. They are moving to exhibit more in design… and coming in the fall – “Massive Change – the future of design” by Bruce Mau. There is also something coming called a “Visionary program” that touches the topic of sustainability – this announcement was more than a little vague

Christopher Meyer was the first slated speaker and started out discussing the use of network connections to increase value. He talked a bit about Memes and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), how networks produce more networks causing the extremely rapid growth of the likes of Google – and how the network of network is expanding organically and rapidly. He mentioned a few noteworthy books that Intend to at least check out… Nexus, Linked, and Six Degrees. He then spoke of “Liquid state of networks that allow for rapid innovations.” Most of his talk was extremely reminiscent of Blur and It’s Alive, but hearing him speak added some real flavor and personality to the body of knowledge.

Meyer then mentioned a new project called futuremonitor.com that Intend to check out once back at home.

Rob Forbes then took the stage to discuss the history of his company. He talked at length about the reserve that went into creating the look and brand for hic company… building a perfect backdrop or container for the exquisite products he vends. He discussed briefly the design of his organization, but admitted that it was less than a thoroughly planned out process.

The most interesting concept that Forbes put forth was that of “acquiring and retaining the right customers.” This is an extremely powerful idea and one that I had never encapsulated so succinctly. That one will be noted and be used often. He also noted that only 2 of 10 products in his inventory would be sustained (he, insidently, did note give a metric for what constitutes sustained.

After a brief break we were treated to a very compelling talk by Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management. He articulately laid out his theory on the disconnect between designer and business person. Being a hybrid (MBA/designer) it made perfect sense to me, but was in such a clear context. It had never occurred to me so clearly. He spoke of the to test of what we consider worth using… that which is reliable, and that which is valid. Business people are risk averse and so choose the former. Designers, easily bored and often risk takers prefer the late. The two are never in sync, and Roger showed with two intersecting bell curves the dynamic of the problem. Few people set squarely in between and operate on each basis (reliable and valid) with equal influence. Roger says these are the people to peg as CEO’s. He sited the current CEO of Proctor and Gamble as a perfect example. Likewise, P&G is a case study in how to use design as a competitive advantage (in contrast to the design positioning model of Target.) There was much more great content from this talk… but I must move on.

Jeffery Li is Country President of Novartis China. His talk was short but he made some excellent points. Two were most compelling. The first, coming from Jeffery, was that the governments commitment to innovation has been titled as “imparative.” If only our own government would realize this and put resources behind it! The second came fro a question in the audience. He asked, “what is the approach of Novatis China for exporting some of the most innovative health treatment in the world (herbal, etc)?” Unfortunately the question was misunderstood then miss-interpreted and what we got was a rather corporate PR response with little substance.

The art of the possible… Scott Durschlag and Jim Wickes gave a very compelling history of the reformulation of Motorola Wireless that has taken place over the last several years, resulting in product successes such as the Razr and the Pebble. Design was a crucial portion of this process, but research and the resulting discovery of opportunities resulted in a cohesive process and strategy for Motorola’s real success. Clearly, they believe it is not about the object so much as the strategy that creates the elegant and powerful objects. While Scott focused on the larger picture and global trends (Macro-trends to use his terminology), Jim spoke to the more direct and tactical elements. He showed the product stratification plans and how common technologies where threaded throughout.

I was fortunate to participate in a round table discussion at lunch with Chris Conley (IIT and Gravity Tank) and a group of IIT students and alumni. The topic was a new program, their Masters of Design Management. A 9-month masters degree that had me very interested (like I need a third Masters.) I would encourage any current MBA or executive to consider extending their knowledge and management skills by taking a serious look at this program. Though design may appear to be a hot trend right now, innovation and the management of designers to achieve such will not be going away anytime soon.

After lunch we heard from Todd Tillemans of Unilever and Chris Conley. They sat and discussed their client/vendor relationship and how they worked together to not only research and design product, but how to investigate opportunities in lower end distribution channels (such as Dollar Stores) and the unique problems they experience. This was the first notion at the conference of Design Thinking going beyond object and product and being applied to processes and organization. While the dialog felt a bit rehearsed and staged, the content and subject matter was excellent. Also nicely done was the overhead presentation. While at times it distracted from the presentation, it was refreshingly fluid and was not constrained to the talking points. It told a visual story that paralleled the dialog.

The last formal event of the day was a dialog moderated by Patrick Whitney. Along with him were Bruce Nussbaum (technology writer and design advocate for Business Week), and Blaise Zerega of Condé Nast. Their good-natured rivalry made for a very entertaining conversation about design in the press, its status as a trend or fad, and the new upcoming publications from each group. Blaise (former managing editor of Wired) would not disclose the exact nature for their new business publication but described it as cutting edge and that it would definitely have design and innovation content. He positioned it in contrast to Wired, which he called more of a techno lifestyle magazine.

Bruce spoke about a the coming redesign of Business Week implying the motivation by nodding towards Blaise. The new publication will be entirely focused upon innovation and design and should be out as an accompanying piece with the June 9th issue of Business Week.

Buffet dinner and drinks were then the focus and much needed. More about day 2 to come….