Amazing thinking about the Dynamics of Design, taken from context of a comprehensive commentary called Managament by Design by Richard Farson. I challenge you to read this whole excerpt if you're a designer, and especially if you're in design management, because this will hit the sweet spot and is important critical writing on the subject. If you find value here, read Farson's entire commentary here.
Some designs are endlessly effective. Meetings held at round tables, for example, will never lose their power to distribute participation more evenly. But other design interventions may depend for their power only upon the fact that they stand in sharp contrast to the conventional procedures.
We often forget that almost everything derives its power from its context. A teacher may seem excellent, because so many are mediocre. Honesty is so powerful because it exists against a backdrop of almost constant deception. Similarly, a design may work well only as long as it is different from the conventionality of what existed before. But if it becomes the standard way of functioning, it may lose its power. That is why most new management techniques, seemingly no matter what they are, as long as they are well-intended, work for awhile, and then don’t work. And why constant innovation is the continuing requirement of leadership.
Like leadership, design is dynamic, not static. One cannot design a situation and expect it to work indefinitely. Any design requires constant attention and revision, even a seemingly permanent design, such as a house. Seventy percent of new houses are remodeled within three years. Designs involving human relationships are even more in need of continuing modification and improvement. Organization theorist Charles Hampden-Turner reminds us of the relevance for management of the scene in Alice in Wonderland in which the frustrated characters try to play croquet using live flamingos as mallets, and hedgehogs as balls. The flamingos and hedgehogs keep moving. Such is the case with social design. The designs involve living beings, and they keep moving.
Better designers always involve the eventual participants in the design process. There are strong practical and ethical reasons for that. On the practical side, not only do these participants know much that would improve the design, but their involvement makes them more likely to help make the plan work. They become invested in its success.
The ethical reasons are subtler. For example, when managers know how some act or technique or design they are using is likely to affect an employee, but the employee doesn’t, the managers’ respect for those employees will predictably erode. Knowing that the people are being fooled, the manager is blinded to their genuinely intelligent behavior or creativity. Such deception, therefore, fails in two ways. It harms the deceived, but even more pernicious, it harms the deceiver, through the gradual erosion of respect for others, even for people in general.
One solid rule for managers, therefore, is to operate always so that one’s liking and respect for employees can grow. That may be the best case for openness in management.
One further caveat. Designs can have unintended consequences, even when they work well. Consider the design decision to establish Casual Fridays at work, where dress codes were relaxed. Although the change was quickly embraced, the executives who made such changes were surprised to find that instead of gratitude from the employees, they were deluged with new complaints and demands. Why not casual every day? If we can make this change, why not some others long overdue? The change produced rising expectations, as almost every positive management action does. Managers, like athletes or soldiers, cannot relax after success, but must be always ready for a quick turn of events, for the unintended consequences and inevitable paradoxes of leadership.
If embracing a design mentality seems a tall order, a major departure from what managers are now doing, perhaps it helps to remember that, in any field, those who are still doing what they were trained to do are obsolete.
Labels: Business of Design, Creativity, Design Related, Leadership and Management, Made me think, Richard Farson