Strategy and enlightenment

I’ve been struggling with two thoughts that wish to become posts, but neither is the kind that one can simply sit at the computer and write about. They need to be worked out in full, plotted, you could say, and then written. Until then, they jostle together in my head.

I’ve been looking at the strategic planning process and wondering how well it maps on to the user centered design process. Are they similar or the same? Can we articulate the objectives of one in the language and systematic procedures of the other? Is there a benefit to doing this? Or is it just pointless self amusement?

A part of me believes that this beginning can eventually lead to finding frameworks for understanding business, entering new markets – basic principles of strategy, that better incorporate and take into account the shifts taking place in our collective understanding of markets and people and the world. Concepts such as collaboration, social networks, conversations, fuzzy front ends are beginning to displace the ‘extreme competition’ mindset of business as war, competition as a blood sport and milestones for planning that are engraven in left brain bottomline answers.

For once you hold the viewpoint that ‘design thinking’ (for the want of a better word) makes for an approach to planning for an uncertain future, that allows for a measure of innovation planning and growth, whether through new markets or new products – as defined in Robert Sutton and Jeffery Pfeffer’s book, Hard Facts etc

Design thinking is one of enlightened trial and error wherein one observes the world, identifies the patterns of behaviour, generates ideas, gets feedback, repeats the process, and keeps on refining.

you must, by corollary, question the existing frameworks of strategic planning and control, particularly with a view towards international marketing, global expansion and new market strategies.

For they depend on arriving at some ‘right answers’ before implementation, and the ‘design thinking’ approach, by virtue of it’s characteristics of ‘adapt and evolve’ cannot wait for the right answer so much as the answer that works best given the full circumstances of the moment.

The other post was going to be on a team project, called Sunyaas, undertaken in Fall 2003 for Larry Keeley’s design planning class. We were to create a business plan on the foundation of enlightenment. No definition had been provided, our first task was to define it. For some days now, I’ve been wanting to go over the roots of our definition, and how we reached it, what decisions we took along the way. Because I’ve been feeling the need to articulate some of our vision, I see the patterns swirling around that brought this to mind after almost 18 months.

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2 Responses to Strategy and enlightenment

  1. niblettes says:

    Ok, connections between strategic planning and design thinking. I remember having this conversation with a former business professor of mine back in grad school. He had the intuitive sense that there was something there. But this was a new question for business school, so he didn’t know what exactly. And despite the rhetoric design schools have little concept of strategy or planning.
    So I don’t think we can’t look to academe for guidance. We’ll have to rely on the experience of practitioners to help build a ground up theory. That’s a tall order, but a lot more fun than arguing from arcana.
    In my experience I think there may be two rich points of connection that might point to deeper connections between user centered design and strategic planning. The first are scenarios or stories. As a method scenarios make the implicit explicit, they unpack complexity for open examination, they make the abstract concrete. Stories allow us to experience the why’s and the results of seemingly unfathomable cause and effect. In other words, they help us in very real ways get a handle on and communicate vast uncertainties in both human behaviour (tactical user centered design) and in policy environments (strategic planning).
    The second connection point I’ve seen is how user centered design can–hopefully–open up strategic planning rooted in supply-side thinking to more demand-side thinking. I have long thought supply-side thinking is anathema to innovation, and I suspect market successes of user centered design approaches will start to show the power of approaching planning from the demand-side.
    Of course none of this is part of a design curriculum, nor of traditional design faculty expertise (at least not a few years back when I was in school—perhaps the professor have read a book or two since then and now experts). Even the language here is totally foreign to design: supply-side vs. demand-side, tactical vs. strategic, cause and effect, planning.
    I don’t really have any answers, but having the answers isn’t really the point—discovering the answers is. I feel that you’re on to something here, and we need to fuel the conversation in order to find it.

  2. Niti Bhan says:

    I think you’re right that we can’t look at academe for guidance – after all, this is all so new that I doubt anyone’s thought about it to any degree. You also have a valid point that because of the nature of the information, it needs the juxtaposition and combination of two, almost contrary, sets of data – the methods and processes themselves as well as an attempt to integrate and articulate what it means to use both left and right brain approaches.
    You’re right, we can’t at this moment say, here, this is the answer – for that alone I thank you, as it obviates the need to wait until I have something to say to begin this dialogue. This conversation now frees me from the need to ‘know’ before I begin, and instead, to articulate the journey. For one of the things that I discovered back in the fall, around september, when I was focusing on the ‘eureka moment’ in innovation (brainstorming), was the realization that there is no ‘singularity’ in the eureka or ‘aha’ for an idea. The ‘aha’ actually emerged from the actual conversation – the brainstorming if you will, the give and take of ideas from one to another, where they triggered new thoughts and new approaches and each person brainstorming allowed the new additions to trigger/refine/add to the basic. Thus the conversation itself is the germinator or see of the eureka.
    In this light, let’s indeed fuel the conversation, we may actually discover we find a path that we can map, if only roughly.
    After reading your comment, my first question would be if you have any particular links to ‘supply side’ thinking – while I recall the basics from Econ 101, I’ve noted you use the concepts in the approach to business or marketing in particular, and would like to understand that a little more. I get the intuitive sense that there is something in what you say and would like a little more data to think about it.
    For the scenarios, I leave that to you to bring to this table, as I’m not yet wholly aware of the potential of this method/tool. Ideally, a basic explanation for a beginner would be interesting – for when we bring it to the basics, i.e. assume the reader has no relevant background, we explain it with a clarity that may not otherwise exist. So that’s something from your side I would appreciate.
    I’ll work on a post after this, let’s take this conversation further…

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