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Design ReThinking - 6 Warning Signs Why Design Processes Fail



Innovation and design processes are not just a process-oriented method of co-creation but also has to reflect the equal value of potentially opposing interests in the organisation. This requires a conscious shift of the corporate culture so that different interests are replaced by common responsibility for the future.


The secret behind implemented innovation - it is the company's internal cohesion and balance between the demand for innovation and efficiency and the need for existence, that is the secret behind implemented innovation.


We will here introduce 6 warnings signs for whether or not your company is out of balance:


  1. The innovation language

  2. Internal communication

  3. The innovation project

  4. Team - composition

  5. Team - training

  6. Team - experience


1) The innovation language

If the language is staged as ‘an irresistible plot' dominated by entrepreneurial storytelling, and a desire for an ideal culture that supports a criticism of the present culture.

The fact that innovation is closely linked with the power to act, makes it clear in the organisational storytelling, that an overarching and dominating logic is established as ‘an irresistible plot.’ This reveals certain linguistic rules so that, for example, a 'yes', 'risk taking', 'play' or 'flexibility', becomes more valued than a 'no', 'responsibility', 'limitation' or 'structure' which are presumed to limit innovation. 


2) Internal communication

If the organisation's ‘intranet, blogs and social media’ are dominated by entrepreneurial storytelling that value the innovation concept, but no input from ‘daily heroes’ who have nothing to tell. For instance, the imbalance of posts on the innovation blog - in an examined case - was 90/10 between the entrepreneurs and the employees.


The basic idea in entrepreneurial storytelling is the concept of 'the flexible'. This is an attempt to create ’anti-structure’ as a new operational foundation for the organisation, in order to promote innovation.


On the one hand this is particularly helpful for development because 'the flexible and unknown aspect' violates 'the stable and familiar aspect'.

On the other hand, the flexible and unknown aspect is often idealised where people tend to forget that the purpose of 'creativity' is to restore potential results as ‘stable and familiar. In this point of view, innovation is not only about creativity and change but just as much about the potential for integration and anchoring. 


3) The innovation project

If the objective of the project is not screened for ethical, organisational or bureaucratic dilemmas. The objective has to be out of reach but within view. This means that the solution has to be unknown so that the expedition is initiated. However, the poor quality of many services and products are rather due to poor management or lack of management, bad cooperation within the unit, or it cannot be implemented in practice because of legislation.


Many organisations find it difficult to understand that the lack of involvement from the corporate culture on its own terms cause problems in implementation, even though most of the innovation and design processes are about involving employees. 

Accidentally, it can cause a field of tension between the wish for an innovative culture and the present culture - and cause the organisation to be tacitly split into two ‘communities of interests’.


The first one is an entrepreneurial community that ‘creates’ the story of 'innovation' and 'efficiency' that believes or has an interest in it. The other community is for those who do not believe the storytelling and tacitly ‘protect’ the present culture with practical dominance. Below the surface the entrepreneurial stories are perceived as 'buzzwords' instead; old wine in new bottles, a new trend or as seagull management. 


(Seagull management: The culture’s perception of consultants who are uncommitted at the same changes as they encourage).


4) Team - composition

If the organisation exclusively assembles teams with the aim of achieving an interdisciplinary mixture or based on older character tests, which are quickly forgotten in the process. Organisations tend to forget that the real challenge is to maintain the balance between 'innovation' (the idea), 'efficiency' (task/finance) and ‘existence’ (expertise/experience).


That is why it is necessary to put innovational teams together so they also represent each responsibility in innovation and design processes. Therefore, implemented innovation is not only a question of new ideas and creative methods. It is also about the organisation's internal cohesion and balance between three interests: Innovation, Efficiency and Existence.


Innovation and design processes are therefore not just a process-oriented method of co-creation but also has to reflect the equal value of potentially opposing interests in the organisation. This requires a conscious shift of the corporate culture so that different interests are replaced by common responsibility for the future.


5) Team - training

If the ‘training’ of innovational methods in the organisation is done by the entrepreneurial community with a political dominance, critical thinking and potential restrictions from the cultural practical experience are likely to be excluded.


A common mistake is to refer to entrepreneurial success stories like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs - who can go 'all in' with ambitions and visions, while most organisations have a radically different context and structure.


The consequence of excluding the social and cultural experience in innovation and design processes is that there will be two ways of understanding the concept of innovation but only one way to discuss it.


6) Team - experience

If the team's practical work with innovation and design processes is confronted with their subjective interests - without awareness of this - it will turn into a conflict in the process of decision-making. Many innovation project groups work with ‘empathetic methods’ but forget to be an "empathetic team" with a high degree of 'trust' and 'open reflection’.


Therefore the project mandate becomes subject to a 'hidden' war between positions, arguing whether an idea should appear 'spectacular and energetic‘? 'cost-effective and efficient'? ...or 'adding quality and value' for social and cultural practice? 


The company's real competence is changed into a symbolic value because innovation as ‘an irresistible plot’ excludes critical thinking from the cultural practical experience. This experience is - in an entrepreneurial perspective - considered to be a restriction on innovation like last year’s ‘fashion’.

However, the exclusion also means that professional competence is not integrated in the innovation and design processes.


About the authors

Jesper Sonne has a MSc in Business Administration and Computer Science, and External Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School. Carsten Arnfjord Thomsen has a MA in Educational Anthropology and is specialized in innovation and design processes. 


RETHNK is for companies who want to make a real sustainable change by ‘boundless’ co-creation within the organisation. We create spectacular and transformative learning experiences based on your organisational culture. 


RETHNK ApS

Hillerødgade 30A

2200 Copenhagen N

CVR 35654003

(+45) 8813 6018

mail@rethnk.com

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