Managing a company requires making decisions about the future. Yet decision makers can only choose from available options. If your decisional world is bounded by best practices, case studies, and linear processes, you’ll never be able to innovate. You’ll be stuck in the known world, doomed to remain a follower.
As part of our Leaders in Change series, we invited the legendary Marty Neumeier to talk about his latest book, Scramble: How Agile Strategy Can Build Epic Brands In Record Time, and explore how agile strategy can transform your approach and outmanoeuvre the competition.
As Marty pointed out, there is no shortage of business books out there on every strategy and framework you can think of. But what these books fail to convey is the reality of executing a new idea. The frustrating, elating, human experience of making things happen.
People are hard to manage, they often have their own agendas or suppositions, and are generally pretty risk averse. Which means that, invariably, by the time a 'great idea' has made it into existence, it has been twisted and watered down, and is no longer the disruptive innovation that it started out as.
Scramble takes a new approach to conveying this experience. It's a fictional “business thriller” which explores how leaders can use design and design thinking to unlock hidden options. They can put ideas on the table that couldn’t be imagined before. They can bring important skills such as empathy and experimentation into the mix. They allow decision makers to avail themselves of bolder, more original ideas without incurring the risk of guesswork. This is the power of agile strategy—the process at the heart of Scramble.
Marty talked about agile strategy as the connection between 5 strategic questions and the 5 Ps of design thinking.
- What is our purpose?
- Who do we serve?
- where should we compete?
- How will we win?
- How will we grow?
In answering these questions, you should be able to outline your brand as such.
This should be really succinct – ideally ten words or less, with no commas or 'ands'. It should be a tightly focused 'north star' that aligns everyone in the organisation.
Once you can articulate this, you can then start applying some design thinking.
This is all about framing, rather than solving problems, and tracing their root causes, so you know that you're tackling the right problems.
In much the same way a pinball bounces around obstacles, ideas can bounce off obstacles and other ideas and create options that weren't there before.
Marty referred to Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, and the idea of parallel thinking, which is a technique where everyone thinks in the same direction at once (rather than a brainstorm, where a person suggests an idea that is generally then criticised by other individuals with different points of view).
Prototyping is the magic that makes design thinking more powerful than traditional thinking. It adds another stage between the traditional thinking process of knowing > doing, which is making.
As they say, to assume makes an ass out of u and me. It can blind us to possibilities, so it's important to be rigorous in testing hypotheses.
PUTTING THIS INTO ACTION
The traditional model of sequentially moving from research to brainstorming, then design to test is limiting. For example, in the design or testing phase, someone may uncover a new challenge or opportunity, but if this is later in the flow, it's hard to change direction. Instead, Marty recommends teams adopt a swarm approach – attack each stage of the process from all sides, allowing the team the freedom to keep thinking freely across the process. As Marty put it, when creating a painting, it doesn't matter which corner of the canvas you begin, as long as you can visualise the final outcome.
The role of the leader
For this model to work, you need key decision makers embedded within the team.
A shortcut to success is having a CEO who 'gets it' – but as a leader, you don't necessarily need to be coming up with the ideas, rather enabling them. Marty gave the example of Steve Jobs. His strength wasn't in generating ideas, but in leading from the front to facilitate and enable these ideas successfully.
Building the team
Enacting this approach requires a multi-disciplinary approach, for which 'T-shaped' skill sets are well-suited. Marty also talked about the value of 'X-shaped' people, who have skills in connecting people together effectively.
It's also important that everyone has a clear purpose. It doesn't need to unique, but it does need to be genuine – something that gets them into work every day. engaging this purpose is how you retain great people in a competitive hiring landscape.
Lastly, you need to empower your team to be confident enough to fail publicly – as long as they recover well and learn a lot from it.
Organisations are changing. They are more holistic, more chaotic. They've become more rock 'n' roll, rather than classical. In a time of such radical change, leaders have to play new notes and create new scales. It's certainly a challenge, but it's definitely exciting!
If you want to transform your approach to business through agile strategy, you can get your hands on a copy of Scramble: How Agile Strategy Can Build Epic Brands In Record Time on Marty's website.
And if you want to know about future events we're running, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, I'd love to hear from you.
About Marty Neumeier
Marty Neumeier is an author, designer, and brand adviser whose mission is to bring the principles and processes of design to business. His series of “whiteboard” books includes Zag, named one of the “top hundred business books of all time,” and The Designful Company, a bestselling guide to nonstop innovation. An online presentation of his first book, The Brand Gap, has been viewed more than 22 million times since 2003. A sequel, The Brand Flip, lays out a new process for building brands in the age of social media and customer dominance. His most recent book, Scramble, is a “business thriller” about how to build a brand quickly with a new process called agile strategy.
In 1996, Neumeier founded Critique magazine, the first journal about design thinking. He has worked closely with innovative companies such as Apple, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, HP, Adobe, Google, and Microsoft to help advance their brands and cultures.
Today he serves as Director of Transformation for Liquid Agency in Silicon Valley, and travels extensively as a workshop leader and speaker on the topics of design, brand, and innovation. He and his wife divide their time between California and southwest France.
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