Designing the future

Designing the future

Being creative and thinking of new ideas, often requires unlearning the patterns that we tend to think in. Instead of looking for techniques to make us become innovative, we may find that we can be intuitively inventive as long as we are not hampered by our preconceived notions.

In order to free-up our minds, it is worthwhile considering the different modes in which we think, so that we can consciously direct our inventiveness.


Creativity and imagination

We normally think that the most important talent for coming up with new ideas is imagination, if we have a good imagination, then we can be the “ideas man”. However there is a precursor to imagination, which is our wish to be creative.

Innovation starts with the feeling that by applying our creative-will, we can somehow make the world a better place. Subsequently, we imagine the type of thing that could help people, according to our nature and field of expertise. We then select the most promising idea, and start working through the challenges of implementation.

The thing that fires imagination is our initial drive to be creative. This creative-will then finds its expression through imagination and practical application.

the image [that we imagine] is not a state… but a consciousness… the imaging consciousness… is spontaneous and creative… the image… in so far as it is primary and incommunicable, is the product of a conscious activity, is shot through with a flow of creative will.

The Imaginary


Division of labour

The phases of creative-will, imagination, resolution and development, are not necessarily done by one person. In a corporate environment, the general direction for advance may come from management. The product development team may be tasked with coming up with possible ideas and selecting the best proposal. The research and development department may be tasked with turning these ideas into practical reality. And the manufacturing division will turn out the finished product.

Innovation can occur anywhere within this chain of creative-will, imagination, resolution and development. For example, management may feel that the company should move in a new direction. The product development team may conceptualise a new product that breaks with existing norms. The research and development team may make a technological breakthrough. And the manufacturing division may gain unprecedented efficiencies.

However, the higher up the innovation-chain a fresh approach is applied, the greater the innovation will be. For example, if management decide on a new direction, the ripple effect of originality through the company, will be far greater than if a production manager makes a process more efficient.

Professor Ikujiro Nonaka of the Hitotsubashi University, gives the following example of how a fresh approach from high-level management, can filter down the chain of innovation, until it results in the creation of the knowledge that is needed to realise the management vision.

In 1978, top management at Honda inaugurated the development of a new-concept car with the slogan “Let’s gamble.” The phrase expressed senior executives’ conviction that Honda’s Civic and Accord models were becoming too familiar. Managers also realized that along with a new postwar generation entering the car market, a new generation of young product designers was coming of age with unconventional ideas about what made a good car.

The business decision that followed from the “Let’s gamble” slogan was to form a new-product development team of young engineers and designers (the average age was 27). Top management charged the team with two—and only two—instructions: first, to come up with a product concept fundamentally different from anything the company had ever done before; and second, to make a car that was inexpensive but not cheap…

Project team leader Hiroo Watanabe coined another slogan to express his sense of the team’s ambitious challenge: Theory of Automobile Evolution. The phrase described an ideal. In effect, it posed the question, If the automobile were an organism, how should it evolve? As team members argued and discussed what Watanabe’s slogan might possibly mean, they came up with an answer in the form of yet another slogan: “man-maximum, machine-minimum.” This captured the team’s belief that the ideal car should somehow transcend the traditional human-machine relationship…

The “evolutionary” trend the team articulated eventually came to be embodied in the image of a sphere—a car simultaneously “short” (in length) and “tall” (in height). Such a car, they reasoned, would be lighter and cheaper but also more comfortable and more solid than traditional cars. A sphere provided the most room for the passenger while taking up the least amount of space on the road. What’s more, the shape minimized the space taken up by the engine and other mechanical systems. This gave birth to a product concept the team called “Tall Boy,” which eventually led to the Honda City, the company’s distinctive urban car.

…the City’s revolutionary styling and engineering were prophetic. The car inaugurated a whole new approach to design in the Japanese auto industry based on the man-maximum, machine-minimum concept, which has led to the new generation of “tall and short” cars now quite prevalent in Japan…

The Knowledge-creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, page 11

Honda achieved a quantum leap forward because management’s encouragement to be creative started with no preconceived notions of what the company’s future products would be. This pure creative-will filtered down through the company’s echelons and allowed the engineering team to imagine an unfamiliar shape of car, which totally broke with the conventional wisdom of what a car should look like.


Dynamism and creativity

In order to be inventive, we can fire up our imagination and free ourselves from our assumptions about the way things have to be. We can allow our thoughts to lead us in whichever direction they go, and fight the feeling that the things that we have imagined could not possibly be right.

However, the degree to which we can channel our creative-will altogether, depends on our commitment to experiencing the pure joy of living in all areas of life.

As human beings, we are driven to grow and learn, to move forward… We are driven to reinvent our world and ourselves. Human creativity is intrinsic to our nature. Our desire to create is fundamental to our essence, central to what makes us human.

…The building of a house is an expression of our creative drive. The nursing of a patient is an expression of our creative drive. The teaching of a child is an expression of our creative drive. The raising of a family is an expression of our creative drive. The writing of a novel or of a book on economics is an expression of our creative drive. Our… expression is as diverse as we are unique, as varied as our dreams.

As such, our… expression is as abundant as the creative activity that brought it into being. We are as prolific as we are creative. The greater our creative activity, the greater its impact on our material world.

Economics of Fulfillment, page 58

Creativity and imagination are part of who we are. If we live in a fresh and energetic way, our creative-will will show us the way forward when conventional knowledge and know-how have drawn a blank.

Job specialisation and personal development

Job specialisation and personal development

People sometimes find that the dream-job that they once landed has now become a source of frustration and exasperation. As hard as they try, they cannot see how they can gain any personal development by continuing in their current position. What changed between their initial thrill of getting a job and their present feeling that they have bumped into a brick wall?

Learning from children’s books

Children’s books can provide simple lessons which resonate with our life experiences. Bob Graham is a popular children’s books author who encapsulates compelling life-lessons in his narratives.

One of Bob Graham’s storybook characters is a multi-talented dog called Buffy. When Buffy is fired for being too good, he is challenged to re-think life, reinvent himself and find happiness on his own terms.

This is Buffy’s story:

  • Buffy was a stage assistant to Brillo the magician, however Brillo found that the audience was cheering louder for Buffy than for himself, so Buffy was made redundant.

“OUT! and never come back,” cried Brillo.

  • With his last coins, Buffy bought a tin of dog food and a can opener from a supermarket. Then he jumped aboard a moving freight train that was heading into the countryside.

And while he slept, the train continued its rhythm:
and never come back.
and never come back.

  • In the morning, Buffy jumped off the train and went to find a job. However Buffy was unemployable because he did not fit into a slot.

Nobody wanted a dancing sheep dog.
Nobody wanted a tiny rope-throwing cattle dog.
Nobody wanted a plate-juggling kitchen dog.
Nobody wanted a guard dog who played the harmonica.

  • One day, exhausted, Buffy stopped in front of a statue in a town square. The statue was inscribed with the words “I am me. No more. No less”. Buffy decided that the world would have to accept him on his own terms.

“Then one day Buffy stopped. He put down his bag, wiped his brow and looked around him.
“I can go no further,” he said.
“I’m not a sheep dog, a cattle dog, a kitchen dog or a guard dog. So what sort of dog am I?”
“I am Buffy! And I will do what I do. And this time, the world shall come to me.”

  • Buffy started busking, and met Mary Kelly and the musical Kelly family. The Kelly’s acknowledged his unique talents and adopted him.

Now, each night after dinner, the music starts and each night the floorboards shake. Mary’s and Buffy’s feet beat to the rhythm of the jigs and the reels.
And Buffy lives up there, on the hill, to this day.

Buffy: An Adventure Story


Self-actualisation versus specialisation

When we get a job, we are excited because it took all of our persistence, hard-work and study to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for the job.

Nevertheless, as Buffy found out, most jobs require a specific skill set, and do not involve all facets of our personalities. Furthermore, the larger a company is, the smaller part every employee plays in the creation of the finished product, and the more specialised each job becomes.

Subsequently, the reason you may not find fulfillment in your job, is because your job is not you.

  • You are multi-talented – but your job requires that you focus and refine one specific skill.
  • You are innovative – but your job requires that you do exactly the same thing every day.
  • You like relating to people in different ways – but your job requires that you should relate to people predictably.


Thinking out of the square

It is perfectly possible, that you will not find a job on a job board that requires all your skills and that involves all facets of your personality. Subsequently, some people are leaving the standard career path to look for greater versatility.

Rather than define their lives and self-worth in terms of a preordained, often constraining, career track, workers are creating their own patchworks of job experiences to suit their lives.

The Opt-out Revolt: Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers

It is also possible, however, that the risk of leaving the security of a standard career path, does not appeal to you. If so, how can you grow within a job that does not seem to require all that you have to give?

According to the Harvard Business Review, the answer is to make sure that there is always something happening in your life, outside of your working hours.

The bottom line: Satisfaction at work is influenced by factors such as benefits, pay, relationships, and commute length. But all of this boils down to two things being important, regardless of your circumstances: (1) having a life outside of work, and (2) having the money to afford it. If you have a job that grants you both of these, you might be happier than you realize.

If you lead a full and vibrant life outside of work, then regardless of the boundaries of your job, people will appreciate the warmth and humanity that you bring to your place of employment.

Although your job may seem limiting, if you carry on polishing your professional skills and growing as a human being, opportunity may knock in unexpected ways, just as it did for Buffy.

Internal employee view vs external business view of a company

Internal employee view vs external business view of a company

Employees’ understanding of what a company is all about, is very different to the market’s understanding of the business. This is because employees have an idealistic view of the company, whereas the financial markets take a commercial view of the company.

An example of the non-idealistic business perspective, is the commonly held view that the only ideal that a business should have is to increase its profits.

There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Although this is a healthy perspective as far as investors are concerned, thinking that the only goal of the company is to increase its profits, would very quickly demoralise the most enthusiastic company woman or man. Employees have the need to believe in a higher purpose in their daily tasks, other than making money for the company’s shareholders.

In response to this need for professional self-respect, companies create an internal world in which there is inherent pride in doing your job. Management organises the company in a way that if everyone does their job well, then the company will be financially successful. Employees do not need to ponder over the financial significance of their work, however.

Let me once again emphasize that instilling feelings of pride in your employees is an essential part of the environment that stimulates them to do their best.

Pride in who I work for, or pride in my company, is the first and most important. It is having the feeling that where you work is a good place, that it makes a product that is good, and that it is one of the best, or the best in their industry. It is feeling good when you tell someone where you work.

Pride in what I do is the feeling that my job, and especially how I do it, makes a difference… It is a feeling that you stand out in your profession. It is knowing that you are doing the best of the best.

The Workplace Family: A Framework for Getting the Best From Your Employees, page 85


Context for accomplishment

To create an internal company world where professional pride is insulated from the financial evaluation of the company’s work force, the following elements must be present:

  • Feeling of goodness: Employees must have a good feeling about the products or services that they produce. In other words, employees must feel that the goods or services that the company produces are inherently good and desirable. If employees feel proud of the goods or services that they produce, then they will feel good about their share in making this result possible, without having to think about the financial evaluation of their productivity.
  • Professional pride: Employees must feel proud that they are doing professional work which requires their unique skills, talent and knowledge. If employees feel pride in their work, then they will gain a sense of professional self-respect, without having to think about the financial value of their skillset.
  • Recognition and respect: If employees feel that their contribution to the company’s success is recognised, this will motivate them to succeed, without having to view themselves as the cause of the company’s profits.

The basic ingredients for developing a healthy internal company work-attitude are respect for the company’s products, respect for the skills needed to turn out the company’s products and recognition of employees’ part in creating the company’s products. Together, these attitudes create a self-contained world of striving and accomplishment, which insulates employees from the commercial evaluation of their activities.


Paradigm translation

The market’s perspective of employees’ work is very different to the perspective of the employees who do the work. The market evaluates employees’ work from a commercial perspective, however employees assess the value of their work according to its inherent usefulness and goodness.

To be successful, companies must respond to the market’s commercial expectations, and also foster an internal work-environment of striving and fulfillment in which employees can feel good about themselves because of their accomplishments. For this to happen, the company’s leadership must translate the commercial pressure on the company into internal dynamism, and also align the company’s internal creativity with the commercial expectations placed on the company.

In 2004 Drucker said, “The CEO is the link between the Inside that is ‘the organization,’ and the Outside of society, economy, technology, markets, and customers…”

My experience validates Drucker’s observations, and my actions since those early days and weeks have been consistent with them… Over time I’ve come to see the power in Drucker’s words about linking the outside to the inside…

The CEO is uniquely positioned to ensure that a company’s purpose, values, and standards are relevant for the present and future and for the businesses the company is in. The CEO can and must make the interventions necessary to keep purpose and values focused on the outside. To sustain competitive advantage and growth, he or she must create standards to ensure that the company wins with those who matter most and against its very best competitors.

True leadership requires emotional involvement and inspired guidance within the company’s internal world, combined with forthright and astute business practices when selling the company and its products.

By translating commercial pressure into internal inspiration and internal inspiration into financial results, managers can be popular with both staff and investors.




Growing by meeting new challenges depends on your ability to change

Growing from change

Traditionally, corporations, even very powerful ones, do not last longer than one or two hundred years. For example, the Dutch East India Company which for a while was more powerful than some European governments, was founded in 1602 and became bankrupt in the late 1700’s.

As the BBC pointed out in 2012

The past few years have seen previously unthinkable corporate behemoths – from financial firms such as Lehman Brothers to iconic car manufacturers such as Saab – felled by economic turmoil or by unforgiving customers and tough rivals.

Can a company live forever? – BBC News

Is there a fundamental reason that corporations cannot last forever, or will we see a future that contains 1000 year old Microsoft’s and Oracle’s that are indelibly entrenched in the world’s economy and work-style?

Self-contained universe

The larger and more successful a company is, the more likely it is to develop its own way of thinking, its own way of doing things and its own internal world of values and emotions.

…individual companies have their own respective corporate culture and values, and at the same time each company also has its own view of leadership, which is influenced by different organizational contexts embedded within the company.

The sharing of organizational culture and values gives rise to unique corporate systems, rules, and customs, and establishes the company’s own way of thinking and ways of viewing things in general, as well as [inducing] thought and behavior patterns… into employees.

Developing Holistic Leadership: A Source of Business Innovation, Section Synchronization of Leadership, by Mitsuru Kodama

By developing its own way of doing things, it is possible for a company to gain predictability and to enhance process quality. By developing its own culture and inner emotional environment, it is possible for a company to get employee buy-in, increase employee longevity and become known as a good place to work.

There is danger, however, in a company developing its own inner world of values and emotions. The happy self-contained corporate world may eventually become self-justifying and so lose touch with the external market reality. If this happens, the company can become uncompetitive, unresponsive to changing market conditions, and lose market share.

Is there a way to ensure that the internal corporate world will be used as a position of strength from which to respond to market challenges, rather than as an easy refuge from a market that relentlessly demands change and improvement?

Expecting the unexpected

Generally speaking, people want to hear things that will make them happy, and not things that they may find upsetting. For example, if someone thinks that they have their life worked out, the last thing they want you to tell them is something that challenges their plans. If you do tell them something that poses a challenge to their life plan, they may ignore you or forcibly reject your ideas. Having a clear life-plan gives people a feeling of safe predictability; demonstrating that this plan is impractical can make them feel threatened and anxious.

Similarly, when a company builds a cosy self-contained working environment, employees develop a feeling of security and predictability which is based on the ongoing viability of the corporate business plan. Subsequently, executives can be resistant to hearing anything that could cause them to have to rethink the business plan that forms the basis for the work environment in which they live, because this would make them feel anxious and worried.

A classic case of such short-sightedness was Kodak’s reluctance to recognise the imminent demise of photographic film, till it was too late.

In 1975, Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the world’s first digital camera… After taking your photos with the camera, you could … display the images on a standard TV. He and his colleagues demonstrated this “filmless technology” to Kodak executives throughout 1976.

But Kodak had a blind spot when it came to anything that might disrupt the company’s profitable film business. Sasson reports the executive reation: “Why would anyone want to view his or her pictures on a TV? How would you store these images? What does an electronic photo album look like? When would this type of approach be available to the consumer?”

Sasson and his team did not have the answers. But by applying Moore’s law, the team came up with an estimate: In 15 to 20 years, the devices would be available to consumers…In January 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

When a company is large and successful, its size can be its worst enemy, especially when it is so dominant that it lacks serious competition. A company culture that drove success in the early days can become overly codified, rigid and ritualistic… Slowly, great companies can lose touch with reality.

The Connected Company, pg. 46 – 47

The Kodak executives did not want to hear about digital photography because this challenged the cosy world they lived in, within the world’s top photographic film company.


The ability to grow from a challenge relies on having an attitude of continual growth and freshness. If every day is new, you can use your previous accomplishments as a base from which to meet new challenges. On the other hand, if you expect not to have your daily routine disturbed, then even when warning signs appear that change is required, you will probably carry on doing the same thing as yesterday.

Staying alert and being ready to meet life head on, will position you to surf the waves of change.