In Business Grand Design

For a long time I was frightened of thinking. It was (I assumed) an analytic practice. I had a brain that was wretched at analysis. But quite good at synthesis and association.

Actually, that wasn’t all bad. As you get older, analysis tends to lose its vigour; it's a young persons’ game. But synthesis goes on, and gets better results, perhaps as you get more experience to synthesise as you get older.

I would like to have been taught that a long time ago. But they didn’t seem to teach thinking in those days. However it is now becoming a discipline in its own right, and this week’s programme hears from several people keenly interested in rethinking business ideas, from a very specific point of view.

Business schools are all very well, if you’ve got the time and the money to invest in them. Management education gives its expensive students the tools to do the job: analytic techniques, strategic skill sets, case studies about historic problems to be solved afresh, and of course a prodigious network of fellow graduates who will go out and conquer their own worlds.

But business schools may also give those who attend them the dangerous feeling that the outside world can be fenced off from the gated community inhabited by the business enterprise.

Companies are quick to find ways of cutting themselves off from their customers... and maybe that process is encouraged by the MBA education gained by at least some of the bosses at an impressionable time of their lives.

One or two business schools I know are seeking to break down this intellectual isolation, but last year the weighty Harvard Business Review printed an important article from outside the walls of academe which moved the ideas of business thinking onwards and outwards.

It was written by the designer Tim Brown, the British born Royal College of Art graduate who is now president and chief executive of the international design group Ideo, based in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley (that place again!).

He thinks that design has a great deal to teach managers. His HBR article was called Design Thinking.

For many years Ideo has gone far deeper into business than merely designing products. A walk round any of the Ideo studios is exhilarating. Ideo’s designers often start a project by creating a pretty detailed profile of the customer who may use the final product: a fully fleshed out biography that will enable them to envision how real people will respond to thing they are creating.

But design thinking goes deeper than that. Tim Brown argues that thinking like designers ought to animate many aspects of management, hitherto obsessed with process and marketing and strategy to the often exclusion of the people who will buy the product or service the company is trying to make.

If business people pay attention, it might create nothing less than a revolution. Managers love to repeat the mantra “Keep it simple stupid”. But life isn’t simple, and designers may be more aware of that than companies are.

In this programme, the Head of Design for Virgin Atlantic Airways, Joe Ferry, points out that designers are used to dealing with the messy real world. They are not afraid of coping with unresolved problems which may baffle the tidy-minded conventional manager. Design Thinking may have huge potential.

That’s just a thought... but quite a big one. The kind they really ought to be teaching at business school.

Peter Day

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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