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Q&A with A.G. Lafley, Don Norman, Tim Brown, and Roger Martin

Posted By DMI, Friday, May 23, 2014
This Q&A originally appeared in the dmi:Review vol 24:2 Summer 2013

A.G. Lafley Business and Innovation Strategist
“We are lucky to live in an era when design matters a great deal.”

A.G. Lafley is the former chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Procter & Gamble. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1969, joined the US Navy in 1970, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1977, and then joined P&G.

Lafley has been honored with some of the highest recognitions in business, including Chief Executive magazine’s ‘CEO of the Year,’ the Peterson Award for Business Statesmanship, the Edison Achievement Award for Innovation, and the Warren Bennis Award for Leadership Excellence. He has also been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame and IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame. He is the author of Playing to Win and The Game Changer, as well as several Harvard Business Review articles on strategy, innovation, and leadership. Lafley now consults on business and innovation strategy, advises on CEO succession and executive leadership development, and coaches experienced, new, and potential CEOs. He serves as senior advisor at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a private equity partnership. He also serves as director at Legendary Pictures.

What does the term design thinking mean to you?

We have used design thinking to work on problems and opportunities that weren’t in the traditional realm of brand or product or package design. We have used design to take a different cut at strategy and organizational planning to do things differently and better. Design thinking is about using your whole brain. In business, we use deductive thinking—working first from principles. We use inductive thinking—working from tests and trials. With design thinking, we use abductive thinking—working from incomplete and varied observations. It’s about getting the right mix of people around the table to solve problems or identify opportunities by drawing on our“whole brains.”In layman’s terms,it’s open-minded connections and collaboration. At P&G, we used design thinking to create new product categories. We brought together diverse teams that worked together to innovate in ways we couldn’t imagine before.

In addition to subject matter experts (for instance, biologists, chemists, marketers), we brought together outsiders such as anthropologists and behavioral psychologists to give ourselves a better chance of understanding consumers and creating new products and new and better product experiences. This mix of diverse talent is more likely to make the kinds of unexpected connections that deliver real innovation.
Consumers usually cannot tell us what they want, but they can respond to stimuli. Through an iterative process that involved consumers with early-stage concepts and product prototypes, we got to be really good at designing better consumer experiences and commercializing new products quicker and more successfully.

What’s the difference between design and design thinking, in your mind?
As described earlier, design thinking is a way of thinking that fosters creativity and innovation in products and services, as well as new approaches to business and organization. Design is about improving the real and perceived function and the experience customers have with a product or service, including the package, the product, and every touchpoint of the consumer experience. Done well, design makes products more desirable, ensures they function better, and can even make them more valuable.

How and when did you first discover that design could make a more strategic contribution to your business?
Early in my career, I spent eight years in Asia, starting in Japan where millions of people are living close together in smaller spaces. The Japanese do many things to design everyday life so it’s a better experience. Every detail of daily life is taken into consideration. Japanese product and package design is both beautiful and highly functional. From the beautifully designed cities of Kyoto and Nara to public gardens and parks, to everyday retail and service experiences… careful attention is paid to every detail of design.

What role did design play in driving the cultural changes you made at P&G?
We used design as a catalyst across the organization. We worked hard to grow and develop the design team— gave them time to grow capabilities, gain experience, and prove their value to the product and brand teams. Historically, P&G was brand-and product-centric. We realized we needed to be more customer-centric. Culturally, that meant we needed to be closer to consumers… and more open, curious, collaborative, and courageous if we wanted to become more innovative with our brands and products. With design, we were going to have to venture outside our comfort zone. Claudia Kotchka brought in many designers from the best design shops in the world and built our design capability over several years. Today, Phil Duncan, formerly of Landor, leads the design function at P&G.

Don Norman Author, Teacher, Executive
“Whatever it is, it has been practiced for millennia by great thinkers in every discipline from literature to engineering, art to physics.”

Don Norman is both a businessperson (vice president at Apple, executive at Hewlett-Packard and at a startup) and an academic (Harvard, UC San Diego, Northwestern, KAIST). As co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, he serves on company boards and helps companies make products more enjoyable, understandable, and profitable. He is an IDEO Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He gives frequent keynotes and is known for his many books, including The Design of Everyday Things, Emotional Design, and Living with Complexity (which argues against simplicity). A completely revised, updated edition of Design of Everyday Things will be published in October 2013.

How does an organization create a great experience when it doesn’t control the customer encounter?

Obviously, it’s harder to control the experience in someone else’s channel. However, that’s the reality for most consumer product manufacturers.
In this case, the package really matters. Communicating the brand promise and the product’s performance is critical for P&G’s household and personal care packages. A well-designed package makes a big difference on the store shelf when the consumer makes his or her purchase decision.

Which experiences or designs delight you these days?
I had a Vespa when I was 16, and I now have two. It remains a fabulous design experience.I love my Vespas’simple function and iconic design. I paid $400 for my first one and now happily pay a lot more than that as a loyal customer.

The car business is full of well-designed experiences. We just bought our second Mini Cooper and an Audi S7. We bought them for performance reasons… but also for design. We love their design. Let’s face it; car performance and technology differences keep getting smaller. In this situation, design often makes the difference.

Produce sections in many stores— Wegmans, Whole Foods, and others—have become a lot more like farmer’s markets and make shopping more enjoyable. We are lucky to live in an era when design matters a great deal. The consumer-expectations bar has been raised, and the demand for great experiences is higher than ever.

What does the term design thinking mean to you today?
Design thinking is actually a misnomer. First of all, only a small percentage of designers do it. Second, there is no agreement about what it might be. And third, whatever it is, it has been practiced for millennia by great thinkers in every discipline from literature to engineering, art to physics.
See my piece“Design Thinking: A Useful Myth”on the Core77 website. Then again, there is something unique that great designers do, different from what other disciplines do. I explore this in my piece“Rethinking Design Thinking”(also on Core77). Design thinking is a process of determining the correct problem (as opposed to jumping toward a solution). After the correct problem has been determined, then it is a process of working toward an acceptable solution. Does everyone follow it? No.

Do you believe this is best done by people who have a degree in a design discipline, or can anyone learn to do it?
Anyone can do it, with training and practice.

Do you believe that business needs more chief design officers?
Much more important is that designers should understand business. It is amazing how naive many designers are about business—especially those who teach design in universities. But you know what? I find the same naiveté among all professors, whether it is in engineering or science or the social and behavioral sciences. A complete lack of understanding coupled with a number of false beliefs. Hell, even business school professors often do not understand business. Most have never had a job in a company—they have spent their entire lives in academia.

What are the most important things that need to be done to create more design leaders in business?
Understand how design and business fit together. In my book, just after I describe the essence of design methods and design thinking, I have a section entitled “You know what I just told you? It doesn’t work that way.”Here I provide Norman’s Law: The day the project is announced, it is behind schedule and over its budget. Designers need to work in this environment. Usually they do the fun and easy part—inventing, creating, and so forth. Then they turn it over to the company. Later, they complain that the company ruined their ideas. Nonsense, It means their ideas were wrong for the company.

Tim Brown IDEO CEO and President
“As designers and leaders in increasingly complex systems, we need to be inspired to cut across boundaries to make new connections and insights.”

Tim Brown is CEO and president of IDEO. He frequently speaks about the value of design thinking and innovation to businesspeople and designers around the world. He participates in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and his talks “Serious Play”and “Change by Design” appear on An industrial designer by training, Brown has earned numerous design awards and has exhibited work at the Axis Gallery in Tokyo, the Design Museum in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He advises senior executives and boards of Fortune 100 companies and has led strategic client relationships with such organizations as the Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble,and Steelcase. He is a board member of the Mayo Innovation Advisory Council and the Advisory Council of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund focused on improving the lives of the poor. He writes for the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and other publications,and his book Change by Design was published in 2009.He maintains a blog on design thinking at

IDEO has done a lot to promote the term design thinking. What is its true origin, and how has it driven your business?
Design thinking is part of a larger tradition of integrated, human-centered, creative problem-solving. It was widely spread long before design was seen as a profession and long before we started to write about it. The difference was that it was intuitive and its practitioners were often seen as slightly odd. They were not typical inventors, engineers, artists, or businesspeople. They integrated aspects of all these to create solutions that addressed unmet needs. Some of the great mavericks of the past were probably design thinkers—for example, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Edison, Charles and Ray Eames, Akio Morita, Steve Jobs (of course), and Ferdinand Porsche. In business, design thinking can be described as an approach that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and with what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.

What’s the difference between design and design thinking, in your mind?

Design is about being intentional in creating a desired outcome. It’s about working within constraints to meet the needs of the community for which you’re designing. Design thinking means bringing this same creative problem-solving mindset to everything you do. Great designers don’t just do design, they live design. Like them, we can learn how to practice design thinking principles both at work and at home.

What do you see as the core principles and practices behind it?
Design thinkers are optimistic, collaborative, and generative. They get out in the world to be inspired by people. They deeply observe ordinary situations that most people would normally look at only once (or not at all). They look for opportunities to take action and improve everyday situations, small and large. They know that any process can be re-examined and tweaked. They don’t settle for the first good idea that comes to mind or seize on the first promising solution presented. They iterate, test, and iterate again.

Do you believe this is best done by people who have a degree in a design discipline, or can anyone learn to do it?
Throughout Change by Design, I tried to show that design thinking can be applied to a wide range of problems—and also that these skills are accessible to a far greater range of people than may be commonly supposed. Like any good design team, we can have a sense of purpose without deluding ourselves into believing that we can predict every outcome in advance, for this is the space of creativity. We can blur the distinction between the final product and the creative process that got us there. We can learn how to take joy in the things we create. We can work within the constraints of our own natures—and still be agile, build capabilities, iterate. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, change our perspectives.

Do you believe that business needs more chief design officers?
Whether or not the solution is more chief design officers, history tends to show that unless people have a design responsibility as part of their role, it gets
overlooked. We need senior leaders who see it as part of their roles to represent and promote design thinking. We’ve noticed that many of the best CEOs are also natural design thinkers. So training people in design thinking may also prepare them for business leadership. Businesses spend billions every year designing, developing, and marketing new things. One question that chief design officers can ask is: Are we directing those efforts appropriately? Most of the greatest challenges facing our species today are not ones that reside at the peak of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy. Instead, they concern life’s most basic needs: be safe, productive, and sustainable places for us to inhabit and give shelter to the more than 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day? balance between the needs of 9 billion people and the productive capacity of the planet? The list goes on, and yet we are dedicating a tiny proportion of our creative efforts to these challenges. What is especially confounding is that locked up in every one of these challenges is the potential for vast amounts of economic wealth. Never has“doing well by doing good” shown such promise as it does now.

If so, what are the most important things that need to be done to create more design leaders in business?
Great corporate leaders know the importance of finding the smartest young people in the room and giving them a chance to work on the hardest problems. They match great design thinkers with important work, regardless of traditional hierarchy or rank, and they don’t leave it to chance. This is one way to create more design leaders in business. Another is by re-energizing apprenticeships, which have largely faded away over the last few decades in American life. I question why there are not more apprenticeships available in software development or design or even entrepreneurship. These disciplines, among many others, are ones that benefit from hands-on learning rather than conventional teaching.
As designers and leaders in increasingly complex systems, we need to be inspired to cut across boundaries to make new connections and insights. We need more than a few intuitive mavericks to tackle the challenges in front of us.

Roger Martin, Author, and Innovation Strategist

Roger Martin has served as Dean of the Rotman School of Management since September 1, 1998. He is an advisor on strategy to the CEO’s of several major global corporations. He writes extensively on design and is a regular contributor to Washington Post’s On Leadership blog and to Financial Times’s Judgment Call column. He has published numerous books, including: PlayingToWin,The Design of Business, The Opposable Mind.

What does the term design thinking mean to you? Is there a difference between design and design thinking?
Design refers to a particular way of engaging in the making of something, whether it’s a product, a logo, or a graphical user interface. That particular way is accomplished with a set of tools and practices taught in a design program. Design thinking refers to the thinking processes used to inform the task of creating something new. So for me, design thinking exists at a higher level of abstraction than design. One can engage in design by way of long experience and not actually engage in design thinking. Someone engaging in design thinking is consciously balancing analytical thinking and intuitive thinking to produce an outcome that exhibits a requisite level of both reliability and validity.

What do you see as the core principles and practices behind design thinking?
The fundamental principle is balance of opposing forces. Design thinking balances exploitation and exploration, reliability and validity, analysis and intuition, and declarative logic and modal logic. The practices include qualitative approaches to deeply understand users (in addition to traditional quantitative measures), application of abductive logic to imagine what might be (rather than just what is), and iterative crafting of strategy (rather than linear planning).

Do you believe this is best done by people who have a degree in a design discipline, or can anyone learn to do it?
A degree in a design discipline is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, a proper design degree will teach abductive logic (often not implicitly as such) and provide practice in seeking new solutions to problems. On the minus side, design degrees typically teach nothing about the crafting of strategy—and without that final element, the impact of design on performance is limited. One can engage in design by way of long experience and not actually engage in design thinking.

Given your success at Rotman, what is important about teaching design at a school of business?
Teaching design thinking at Rotman has helped our students understand the need to go beyond purely reliability-focused analytical thinking in making business decisions. As a result, our graduates are, I believe, less prone to believe that if you just crunch the numbers, you will make brilliant business decisions. At the graduate level, how do you approach design education for business students versus design students?
We actually teach both kinds of students—Rotman MBAs and Ontario College of Art & Design students—and we teach them together. Each has things that are harder and easier for them. But we think it is productive to have them together.

Do you believe that business needs more chief design officers?
Yes, but only if CEOs support them. While it may seem to be an unalloyed good to have a Jonathan Ives or a Claudia Kotchka heading up a design function in your corporation, it only has a meaningful positive impact if you have a Steve Jobs or an A.G. Lafley supporting their work with resources and design-influenced decision-making. Fortunately, I think there are more design-friendly CEOs out there these days, so I think there is more capacity for effective chief design officers.

If so, what are the most important things that need to be done to create more design leaders in business?
One is to have more business schools do what the Rotman School is doing— that is, aim to have students graduate understanding the centrality of design thinking to successful business leadership. This means not just doing exchanges with design schools or teaching MBAs“design management.” It means committing to integrating design thinking into the models of business that are taught.

This Q&A originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of the dmi:Review vol 24:2

Tags:  Design Education  Design Leadership  Design Thinking  Design Value 

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