BetterbyDesign CEOSummit

Cover: Keith Yamashita's book "Why Ceo's are the world's best designers"

Cover: Keith Yamashita's book "Why Ceo's are the world's best designers"

At the end of March I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 BetterbyDesign CEO Summit. The summit brings together a range of international and local speakers sharing insights, visions and experiences that can be understood as reflecting a ‘design thinking’ approach to business. Many of those attending come from companies that have a relationship with the BetterbyDesign Design Integration Program and included Deloittes, ANZ, Air New Zealand, Fisher and Paykel, Bobux and Les Milles as well as representatives from various design agencies, peak bodies, universities and the public sector.

Underpinning the summit (and the BetterbyDesign programme) is the commitment to the potential for ‘design thinking’ to transform businesses and create opportunities for innovation, with the ultimate goal of supporting growth for NZ. In opening the summit BetterbyDesign’s Director, Judith Thompson, noted that in contrast to the beginning of BBD 7 years ago, design is now ‘on the table’ in NZ Businesses. Matt McKendry of Deloitte’s described it as “…a movement that continues to get stronger for New Zealand business as we band together to use design as a differentiator in a global market place; something that is critical for our economic prosperity.”

Keith Yamashita's book "Why Ceo's are the world's best designers"

Back page of Keith Yamashita's book "Why Ceo's are the world's best designers"

David Lawee, Vice President of Corporate Development at Google, spoke about the significance of having a ‘purpose’ :  a clear and powerful mission statement that was understood by all employees and embodied in all projects and programs.  It was interesting to hear how little the question of money (as in how much will it make us or how much will it cost) came up within planning and decision making processes at Google even in the early days. This theme was picked up by Keith Yamashita who espoused the role of the CEO as a the ultimate designer, responsible for defining the character of the institution. Keith provided attendees with a beautiful book titled: Why CEO’s make the worlds best designers (pictured above).

All the talks inherently assumed the need for a design approach to be integrated throughout the organisation and from the highest levels. The need for design to be embedded at the centre of, and throughout, organisations in order for design as a discipline to get true traction has been an ongoing conversation, and it was very refreshing and exciting to attend a conference were the ‘design conversation’ was really sitting (more or less) at a CEO level. It was even more encouraging to see most of the speakers challenge the notion of ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity’ as being tied only to economic growth, many of them re-enforcing that the bottom line needs to account for impacts on community, country and planet – without which of course there is no ‘business’.

In this vein, the highlight for me was without a doubt Dr Peter Senge,  author of ‘The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. Senge  emphatically demonstrated the need for us to focus on the world’s most pressing problems as part of how we think about business (e.g., how many billions of people there will be without access to drinking water soon, as well as our current carbon footprint of 2 planets and climbing). His talk, I think, provided a powerful and much needed backdrop to any discussion about how NZ businesses (and NZ as a whole actually) needs to be thinking about  more than than just ways to *sell more* as a plan for growth, particularly when we are talking about use of primary resources.  The talk by Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan was also a highlight in this regard.  As Esther of Idealog suggests, Patogaonia is a company claiming Conscious Capitalism that actually seems to walk the talk. Admitting they were of course a polluter, as all big businesses are, Casey then outlined the various different ways in which Patagonia works to reduce their environmental impact and their commitment to never have an item of their clothing reach landfill.

Although it was an impressive line up of mostly Californian male speakers, it was particularly interesting to hear the impact of design thinking and the BetterbyDesign program within New Zealand businesses. Jeremy Moon of Icebreaker and BetterbyDesign Advisory Board member was able to provide a number of insights into how design thinking is reflected in the culture and innovations of Icebreaker. For Icebreaker taking a design thinking approach has meant “democratising design and unlocking creativity in all parts of the business“, including the accounts department – “finance is fun” –  is now  a mantra in Icebreaker for example. Matt McKendry also shared some very interesting insights into how design thinking has been productively disruptive within the culture at Deloitte’s, helping them to rethink the employee experience. The role of physical spaces in facilitating collaborative working environments was a recurring theme throughout the conference. For example, to foster better employee experiences within the organisation Deloitte’s moved away from the one desk, one person, one computer model, creating spaces where people were able to work together.  The potential for design thinking attributes such as play, prototyping, collaboration, visualisation, sketching and design-by-doing to encourage and enable both more productive and more effective ways of working across multi-disciplinary teams as well as to create a platform for innovation and co-creation was re-iterated throughout the various talks.  Interestingly (or not) there was no mention of service design per se – but the notion of co-creation of value and the role of the customer/community member/constituent in creating the services they use was integral within the message of most of the speakers.

Since returning to NZ last year I have been struck by the influence of the BetterbyDesign program in defining and propelling design thinking in NZ. There is a very tight relationship with IDEO and the Standford and Tim Brown again keynoted the CEOSummit this year.  While IDEO and the have done much to bring ‘design thinking’ to the attention of businesses the potential and history of it is much deeper and broader, see for example Lucy Kimbells article Rethinking Design Thinking .

As I understand it there are few other conferences like this round the world and it was was great to see one perspective of the intersection of business and design and the rhetoric of “design thinking” coming to life, particularly within NZ’s businesses.

For a fuller account of the actual talks and speaker highlights check out the following blog posts:

Videos of the talks at the NZTE YouTube Channel:

Lance Wiggs provided a great overview of all the talks

Matt McKendrey’s highlights also has a number of NZBBD related articles (from previous years as well)





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