The Big Rethink: Part 3

Richard Seymour, of SeymourPowell speaking on Day Two of the Big Rethink Conference (The Redesigning Business Summit) was interesting on the connection between anthropology and design. He made the point that 'what we say and what we do are often different', a fairly obvious fact, but he noted that it is observing these disconnects that make for good design information. He is of the view that taking the stance of an anthropologist and closely watching what is going on is the way to approach design. "Anthropology is before technology" is one of the phrases he used. Another sound bite of his that caught my attention is that "the future is in emergent behavior" (relating back to the anthropology). I'm not sure what 'emergent behavior' is. How does it differ from behavior?

He showed a video clip of people trying to open a packet of frozen peas – ultimately attacking the poorly designed packaging with a pair of scissors. The mantra around this: "Fix things that are bust." This seems obvious when you watch the packet of peas scenario – and these actions that he mentioned: watching for disconnects, looking at behaviors, and fixing things that are bust, used in his case in relation to product design – are also applicable to organization design.

If organization design consultants were able to take that approach it might stop the unthought through changes made to the structure of the enterprise, and limit the 'workarounds' people use to get the job done in spite of the structures, systems or processes that exist.

Eddie Obeng of Pentacle, The Virtual Business School gave a lively presentation on innovation. He opened with the statement that "innovation is the process for turning new ideas into benefits" and being able to do this means being more interested in big patterns than events. It may have been Eddie who said that "The future belongs to those with wit and balls" – another soundbite that caught my attention. I wondered if those qualities had to be in one person or if it was ok to have either wit or balls, and whether they were mutually exclusive or complementary qualities- but that was idle reflection coming up to the break.

Somewhere in the day there was a wonderful case study of Serious** , a waste management company. It was a good illustration of how to design an organization's branding to be compelling and the execute it well. Out of this case study came the point that small businesses are bigger risk takers than well established large businesses – though I suggest that it is privately owned business that are often bigger risk takers than shareholder owned.

Anna Rafferty of Penguin talked about a new venture Spinebreakers – a book site aimed at teenagers who are collaborators in its design and content. That organization has been very carefully designed – and is, as she said, still evolving. It has a number of innovative touches – the way the book panels are staffed, how choices are made on what goes on the website and so on, that make it an experiment worth watching.

David Kester's, Design Council, account of using design to halt the spread of MRSA in hospitals was a great example of design application working to solve some mega problems. It was a well told case about the design process, involving collaboration, seed funding, encouragement of innovation, development of new IP protocols and so on. As part of the discussion Kester presented a slide showing the four phases of the project: discover, define, develop, deliver. And there it stopped – nothing about how to diffuse the new designs throughout the organization – scale them, use them to change medical and other staff behavior on their attitudes and responsibilities to MRSA, nothing about evaluating the success of them, or the follow up that needs to follow delivery if things are going to stick. So I think a missed opportunity for them to learn from the experience and/or help others learn from it.

The day finished with Craig Sams, the co-founder and executive Chairman of Green & Black's talking about the history of the company. He omitted to mention that it was bought by Cadbury in May 2005, which might have given some bite and insight into aquisition decisions (unless it was all about the money, in which case it would have been a one-liner and maybe why he didn't mention it) and I wondered what will become of the company now that Kraft has bought Cadbury.