Design to Grow in Scale and Flexibility

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The mental structure one brings to a business issue (or any issue for that matter) defines the solutions one sees. It can be a fruitful exercise to try on different mental thinking caps when reviewing the success and issues of ones business.

David Butler, Coca-Cola’s VP of Innovation who released in March of this year the book Design To Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale & Agility, which he co-wrote with Fast Company’s Senior Editor, Linda Tischler, proposes combining systems thinking with strategic design in order to generate both scale and agility in corporations.

At the time of the writing of the book, Coca-Cola had 250 bottling companies, 80,000 suppliers and 20M retail customers around the world. Design was always a part of Coca-Cola. Their phenomenal branding prowess established the company as a $120B behemoth 2001. The question was “now what?” Executives recognized that the oxygen had gone out of the Coca-Cola brand and when that happened, the rest of the products and company followed suit. The great brand had somehow been taken for granted. Design was being looked at only in segments, and as permeating the entire organization. Something needed to change drastically and that change was in perspective. They brought David on in 2004 to help them integrate design within the organization, and this book describes that evolution.

David decided to bring together a number of observations and epiphanies he had had over the years. They were:

Design on purpose: This means that everything is designed. From the moment you wake up in the morning, you are designing your day, what you say, what you do, how you behave, the actions you take, what unfolds in your life. Take that understanding, and direct it in a focused, strategic way to your business, with a clear connection to your company’s growth strategy.

David defines “Design on Purpose” as: Designing on purpose refers to design that is strategic, with a clear connection to our growth strategy; design that creates scale and agility — across markets and media, and design that inspires people. Designing on purpose should ultimately be design that leads culture.

It is also important to recognize that everyone in a company is a designer, and they need to have that understanding and ownership of that role. They also need to be given the power and infrastructure they need to use that voice and have impact on their area of focus.

Systems thinking: Everything is a system. And systems mean that one thing interacts and interconnects with another. Getting your kids to school on time every day requires a system in which each wheel needs to act and move smoothly to enable it to happen. If the system is not well designed (which includes allowing for flexibility when issues arise), then inefficiencies result, lack of timeliness, cost overruns, etc

Design holistically: Coca-Cola shifted from thinking of itself as a one brand company to seeing itself as a total beverage company. This also meant that purposeful design was integrated in every part of the ecosystem – from brand communications, to product design, to bottling, distribution, retail development and management, the retailer business plans and their systems, satisfying customer needs, etc. And each of these had to integrate and function individually and within the whole. This means that everything is connected, and one needs to understand how and make sure those connections are efficient and seamless. Feedback loops need to be put in place, and paid attention to.

Scale and Agility: This means that the feedback received is not only listened to, but acted upon. David gives an excellent example of how LEGO redesigned its business and its very product is a perfect reflection of what it did and how other companies can perceive their course of action. LEGO blocks are always consistent, and they fit together the same way, all the time. This allows for scale. With scale comes reduced production costs, room for growth and also creativity. This brings in agility and flexibility. LEGO developes new pieces and new models all the time. In this way the company is able to stay responsive and even ahead of the marketplace, so their customers are always intrigued and want more.

As I work today for my clients and on my own company, I am going to wear a thinking cap comprised of these 4 attributes, and I can’t wait to see what impact they will have. How about you?

Source: Bill Sobel’s article for CMS Wire
By Limor Schafman

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