The Day After the Revolution

12Apr07

O designers, researchers, innovators and strategists! Are you girding yourself for the battle to come? Are your desks and minds filled with sharp rhetoric and sharper retorts? Do you believe that this year will be the one when we finally break through? Do you dream of the glorious revolution, the day when the world business will finally start to see the value of innovation, empathy and design strategy?

Don’t bother. The revolution is over. We won. All of us who have advocated that companies see the world through the eyes of real people, that innovation is about growth and not novelty, that good business can mean doing good for the world, raise your arms in victory.

How can this be true? The people who dismissed innovation for the longest time are now wrapping themselves in it. Every magazine in the world, from Business Week to Dog Fancy, is running cover stories on innovation. Companies are naming VPs of Innovation daily. Hell, when the decidedly non-innovative Bob Nardelli, CEO of Home Depot, gave a keynote on the subject last December, he wasn’t killing innovation. He was signing a treaty.

It’s a wonderful thing. We won the war. But we’re losing the peace. Innovation has become all things to all people. It’s the iPod and green construction and YouTube and new finishes on cell phones. And as a result, it can become nothing. And that struggle will be won not by the tactics that brought us here thus far — holding up beautiful objects and highlighting historic case studies. This struggle will be won with diplomacy and ideas.

So how do we start to do that? The last thing we can afford to do during our moment in the sun is let someone else swoop in and use the revolution for their purposes. This blog is a first salvo in the next struggle. Over the next months, years, and, I fear, decades, I will examine our field’s past in order to define very specifically where innovation and design strategy came from, what they actually are, and, most importantly, what they are not.

This blog is here to create a canon and plant a stake in the ground. We’ll go back to the 18th Century for theoretical grounding, occasionally leap to more recent history, like the founding of Stanford’s Design Division or the development of strategic planning. I will, on fairly regular basis, go out on a limb to illustrate a point. I might even make a fool of myself at times. That’s OK.

That’s what we all need right now: Relentless trench warfare, issued from the quill of a diplomat. We’ve had our Boston Tea Parties and our midnight rides, Paul Reveres and Patrick Henrys. What we need now is James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

I propose, in a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting particulars:

  • THE UTILITY OF CULTURE AND HYBRID THINKING TO YOUR PROSPERITY
  • THE INSUFFICIENCY OF THE PRESENT DISCOURSE TO ENSURE DESIGN AND INNOVATION STRATEGY BE REMAIN VITAL AND DISTINCT
  • THE NECESSITY OF A THOROUGH, DETAILED EPISTEMOLOGY TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THAT OBJECT
  • THE CONFORMITY OF THE PROPOSED HISTORY TO THE TRUE PRINCIPLES OF RESEARCH, DESIGN, AND BUSINESS
  • THE ADDITIONAL SECURITY WHICH ITS ADOPTION WILL AFFORD TO THE PRESERVATION OF THAT SPECIES OF EMPATHIC INNOVATION AND DESIGN STRATEGY, TO LIBERTY, AND TO PROPERTY

In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention.

Now, this might all seem redundant. Don’t we all mean the same things when we talk about innovation or design strategy. But, my friends, we know that even now we are fighting amongst ourselves for a satisfactory answer to these challenges. We have no consensus, and the backlash against empty talk of innovation is a gathering storm while we debate. Let us make an end to this nonsense. Let us disambiguate. Let us say what we mean and mean what we say. Let us define ourselves before someone does it for us. Let us win the peace.

PUBLIUS.

Next: Chapter One: The birth of research.

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One Response to “The Day After the Revolution”

  1. I concur with the earlier sentiment. This is a great formulation and effort. I’m looking forward to each entry.


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