Given reputation is the overall impression about a given company or brand stakeholders develop as a result of, among others, company actions and attitudes over time.
By now, almost everyone knows Reputation is even capable to generate positive feelings and supportive attitudes in such way they are capable to improve company’s performance and sustainability.
If Reputation is such a good thing, why can’t we design the company, align its strategy and overall conduct to generate such effects?
Many companies, after a stakeholder perception gathering exercise denote poorer qualifications than expected. Most are completely convinced their reality is far better than perceived. In this case, some experts suggest to start communicating more and better (engage). If, otherwise, our reality is bad and the external perception is still OK, there is an increasing risk potential for reputational damage we need to take care of, asap! (on top of potential liabilities).
Some companies just apply PR & communication in all cases, although they do it applying bigger budgets, using alternate channels or flooding the audience with their “greenwash” message. Do BP or Bankia ring any bells?
“Unluckily” truth is stubborn and gets to the surface one day in the form of recurrent corporate scandals w all know about…
What I would like to propose, alternatively, is the application of design thinking techniques to the corporate architecture & strategy processes.
By Design Thinking I don’t mean the Design or Marketing Departments, nor to acquisitions, divestitures or restructuring when talking about Corporate Architecture.
Skilled designers and architects share a set of unique abilities, perspectives and sensitivities which allows them to analyze the object to be designed or the problem to be resolved, “the challenge”, from multiple angles, in a highly empathetic and holistic way towards the possible target user and from emotional and operational prisms, at the same time.
They make use of the freedom of thought, empathy and creativity needed to formulate themselves infinity of questions and alternatives, which a classic business and spreadsheet accustomed mind is not even able to imagine.
Modern business, more than ever, requires design skills, both for the products and services as to the business model itself, since the vast majority of the current differentiating factors rely in emotional aspects of the brand, the product and the services which, in some cases, reach tribalism levels.
This doesn’t mean we should rush out to hire Mariscal (although he would do quite well in such a challenging role)
Conceptually, those highly successful and sustainable business, due to the their hordes of clients, are not dependent on a very sophisticated and evil formula to keep them captive, by way of monopoly or a similar scam. When Apple announced its iPhone, there were already infinity of ‘’smartphones’’, a similar thing then happened with its MacBook. Coffee makers already existed before Nespresso, so why do people line up to buy ‘’Voluto’’ capsules? How many search engines were there before Google? Somebody recalls Altavista, from Digital?
Facebook… it’s just a standard application, from a technical standpoint, but what did it make it to become such a killing-app?
All them made extensive use of stakeholders’ emotions, social needs, values, aesthetics, value criteria, feelings, coherence, etc. which altogether compound to form Reputation.
To be able to design something like that or modify our current business it is vital to have, among others, the unique skills and features coming from the skilled designer, but not from a department, but rather within the executive team.
DESIGNERS IN CORPORATE ‘’DESIGN’’?
Mark Dziersk from Fast Company, in his article ‘’DesignThinking… What is That?’’, March 2006, says “Although Design is most often used to describe an object or end result, Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun.
A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ and their effectiveness are arguable but the core of the process stays the same. It’s taken years of slogging through Design = high style to bring us full circle to the simple truth about design thinking.
That it is a most powerful tool and when used effectively, can be the foundation for driving a brand or business forward.
Tim Brown, from IDEO, meanwhile warns about the fact that companies which pictures the design to be just a tool to create nice things and in fashion are falling to a reductionist vision.
This has led to multiple authorized voices within the business and innovation world like Bruce Bussbaum, from BusinesWeek, to declare that the ‘’executives and businessman should turn into designers, rather than only hiring them’’.
Truth is designers have always standout for their creativity, but they have usually been embedded in a single part of the process, one that consists in giving shape to the product someone else has already decided.
So what inhibits us to apply that natural creativity and skills to the whole of the innovation process and corporate design, through a holistic, integrated and tidy methodology?
A kind of methodology where the various conversations with stakeholders turn into co-creation, co-design and co-operation, way beyond ‘’negotiation and pact’’.
If a company is truly customer-oriented, isn’t the client, his perceptions, necessities, values, quality criteria, etc. what makes up the company strategy? Or are we rather client-oriented to work out the best way to scam our clients while maintaining intact their goodwill to repeat?
Now imagine the whole of the company as a set of products/services with its multiple stakeholders, both internal as external, as an ecosystem. That ecosystem should generate sustainable wealth (economical, social, cultural and environmental)
Yes, it’s true; it’s not an easy task to imagine it nor to resolve it.
Yet, Design Thinking (holistic and empathetic) helps to take into consideration all of these aspects in the design of the business purpose, the corporate values, it’s internal and external policies, it’s market value proposal, the alliances and it’s engagement model with all stakeholders, especially with the clients and employees.
This, in turn, will produce a different impact/impression in the various stakeholders, which will translate into new feelings and overall reputation. This will be evidenced with new and improved stakeholder support behaviors and attitudes towards out brand, inducing better performance, reduced costs and sustainability.
BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS ‘’DESIGN THINKING’’?
Extracted from Amalio Rey’s Article ‘’Design thinking and Innovation management’’
Design Thinking is a problem-solving methodology, as well as a methodology useful for the discovery of new innovative opportunities, applicable to any environment that requires a creative approach, and which is based on the following premises/principles:
Empathy: A deep, empathetic and multidisciplinary observation of the needs coming from all users/stakeholders, including emotions.
Imagination: An ‘’optimistic’’ search of answers, inspired way more by imagination (‘’the desirable’’) than by analytic thinking (‘’the possible’’)
Experimentation: The visualization of possible alternative answers by means of experimentation, the playing and construction of visual and heartfelt stories (storytelling) in cooperation with the users/stakeholders.
Collaborative prototyping: Extensive use of collaboration/participation techniques in prototyping phases to ensure the generation of alternative models which may help visualize the differences and validate them as a team.
Integrative thinking: The integrating and synthesis capability to understand the factors which may affect the user experience, beyond the product, service or behavior and its whole complexity, in its interaction with the environment and the activity we’re trying to innovate.
Iterative learning: The iteration from the process to observe-create-prototype-validate as many times as it needs, to learn in every case, until the best solution is found, based on the principle that innovation is also a trial and error exercise.
For these reasons, Design Thinking proposes problem-solving methods, which stresses the identification of needs, visualization, prototyping, iteration and creativity.
In short, Design Thinking covers three phrases:
Understand and observe.
Create and prototype.
Test and learn.
Design Thinking combines two paradoxical claims. It claims the imaginative and creative thinking from the ‘’right side’’ of the brain and, at the same time, it defends the design as a methodology, what implies the introduction of certain order and protocols in the reasoning; responsibilities of ‘’the left side’’ brain.