Dennis Hambeukers
Design Transformation Evangelist
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Business As Usual Eats Change For Breakfast

published on 2018-10-02 by Dennis Hambeukers

Today I came across this great quote that is a variation on Peter Drucker’s famous quote:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Peter Drucker

The variation was:

“Business as usual eats change for breakfast.”

Eik Brandsgård

When we are talking about design leadership, we are talking about changing things. Design is currently not in the lead when it comes to business problem-solving. So if we want to use the powers of design to enhance creativity, engagement, clarity in business processes, we have to change things up. And sometimes this goes well. We apply design thinking, make prototypes, collect user feedback, do a design sprint. But how successful these interventions might be, if you’re not careful things will be back to the old ways before you know it. I have seen this in projects where I was evangelizing design thinking for years. People revert back to their old ways for numerous reasons. Even if they are totally convinced that the new ways design introduces are better, they will go back to business as usual. You have to keep working on it all the time. Reminding, educating, doing interventions.

Reasons to fall back

It’s not that people are not willing to adopt the designer’s way. I find that a lot of people do, but there can be many reasons to go back:

Radical interventions

Business as usual is a powerful force that works against change. Even if you have the intention and the will to change, you will have fall-backs. So sometimes you have to do something drastic, do an intervention, put your foot down, say no, pull the emergency breaks. You can only get so far by explaining the benefits, pointing to how things go wrong and could go better. Sometimes you cannot explain or convince your way out of old habits and current structures. I got the quote from a great article about how LEGO applied Design Sprints on a massive scale to invent the future of play. One of the things management did was pull the emergency brake: they stopped everything for two months and did Design Sprints for two months straight. Pretty radical. But sometimes you have to do something to break free from a decade of habit. You can try to create evolutions step by step, but sometimes you don’t have the time and you need a revolution. You are bound to run into some resistance, ruffle some feathers and get into some disagreements. But that’s part of the game.

The follow up

Creating change is not easy, but sustaining it is even harder. You have to stay alert, keep the big picture in mind, improvise, explain, educate, pivot a little now and then. Most stories I read, and have experienced myself, about failing interventions like Design Sprints are about the follow-up. Methods like the Design Sprint are pretty well engineered en tested and if you follow all the rules, tips and methods, they will produce results. But what you do with those results is quintessential. This will make or break your intervention. If you go back to the old ways after the Sprint has finished, you are not getting the most out of the experience. It can be a kick start to more Lean Startup / Design Thinking / Agile ways of working, doing, thinking. It can be a boot camp for a new way or an incident.

Think like a painter

This week I had this discussion in two different projects. Thinking about how to get from kickstarting change to sustaining it. Thinking about what the obstacles are and what you can do to get over them. Doing a radical intervention seems a good path. This is one of the things I learned while I was studying painting in art school. Sometimes you can make small changes to a painting to get it moving in another direction. But sometimes this is not enough and you have to do something radical like throwing paint at it, painting over a whole area, adding a totally unlogical color. Painters do that all the time. If you look precisely at paintings and understand a little about how they are made, you can see the changes, the interventions. Sometimes these interventions created a whole new school of painting. Sometimes mistakes lead to new innovations. Good painters are not afraid to do something radical, risk something when they are stuck. Business as usual is killing to art. But also for business.

Gerelateerde afbeelding
Jackson Pollock was not afraid to do something radical.