100 Conversations · Desk Notes · Innovation & Creativity · Strange Geometries

Leadership and innovation: what does it take?

I’m going to narrow the scope of my reply to this question, Leadership and innovation: what does it take? to the realm that I know best. B2B operations. Small scale and low-key, not with bajillions of parts moving all the time which is a completely different mob of questions that will come up, from the original one.

As a trained engineer, I like to break things down into units that we can take on, one by one. Calculate the way towards the solution. As a designer, I like to focus really tightly on that massive question, ‘What is the problem we want to solve?’ Okay. So when you know that, you can get going taking steps to find out.

Now. The answer to what does it take on the part of leadership is not who is the __est, fill in the blank, as you like. It’s what question are we trying to solve, here, and who wants to be ready to ask that question? I think a lot of people in business leadership positions want to pretend like they know already (or that you shouldn’t be asking such petty things). I mean. You see it. Allllll the time. But what does that get you?


Never moving past Step 1 looks like this

It gets you to Step 1. And not anywhere near 1034, which is where you really want to be, for true breakthroughs. Innovations can’t happen if people aren’t allowed to move around and play a lot. And then you fall, tinker, manage to figure out something else, and boom, step by step by step by … you see what I mean…. and then you make something truly interesting. But. A lot of people don’t want to go past Step 1.

They think it’s nuts, maybe, that anyone would ask, ‘Okay, but what other problems might we ask about? What else is there? Can we look around a bit?’ Maybe take a week to think it over. Take two weeks. Wow. Who has that kind of time, some people say.

I know who. The people who have what it takes.

What are you doing to move the ball past the beginning of the football field? How are you creating a culture of innovation that will allow people to dream big, like really big, and get to the moon and back? I mean. Why not. Ask this, anyway, if you start to get some magic tinkling feelings that have stirred up something you have not thought of in a long time, then we’re on our way to somewhere. That matters.

Stuck at the beginning stage? It’s common. Get unstuck when you work with me, here at Design Kompany. We will go through the brand strategy process. We will think it out, together. Some testimonials are here. B2B, small scale, let’s go.

S P A C E publishes weekly. Membership information is at http://gumroad.com/designkompany/membership


Image source: MIT

Desk Notes · Ideas of Curiosity · Innovation & Creativity

4 things I’ve learned in 20 years in media (newspapers, and what used to be called ‘new media’)

Twenty yers of writing and publishing; that’s a while, isn’t it?

So yeah. There is no shortage of items one might be able to report on this very topic, but I will adjust things so that they are relevant for the 2023 outlook for media. I mean, a business trade journal isn’t exactly something that people where I am (Cambodia) would want to read. I think it’s more about quick lookbooks, and pictures, and snippets, these days. Scanning. Short. And readable.

So here’s my first four thoughts on what constitutes ‘what I learned’ if you wanted to hear it in this way. Wow. This is my first listicle. Coolio.


4. Know when to exit

I went to a bloggers conference in 2006. I went back to my newsroom. I said we needed a blog. They said no, we didn’t. Honestly I cannot believe that but it was really real. That same year, I started my design studio, this very site.

The conference was mind-boggling then but totally and completely normal, today. It was before smartphones took off, so people had their laptops out and were typing away. While the lectures were going. While. I mean, that. Was. Different.

It was GnomedexBR, an editor acquaintance, had tipped me off to the event, and how to get a media pass. Nothing I’m doing today would have happened, without that. It’s a good thing I follow up on everything nine hundred times, else I never would have reconnected with B on a different continent, and caught up, and heard about the thing.


3. Remember to be real

I think one of the hardest part for a lot of people who wanted to start their businesses was that they kept trying to pander to what they thought people wanted to buy. I mean, there’s a ton of fakeness out there. But if you are not genuine it will catch up to you. Really.

Either you’ll burn away from the inside because you are in conflict with yourself, or you will get called out somewhere when the actions and the words do not align. Because that kind of moment can and will happen. You see it a lot. Fakeness. Liars are easier and easier to see now, what with the way the world is online all the time. And by the way, did you read The Catcher in the Rye? I wonder what HC would have thought about instagram, lol.


2. SEO is weird and curious.

And fascinating. I have watched what Google does with my domain for 20 years. It’s neat and fun to see too that I am still there, in Seattle, with ‘branding’ and ‘design’ attached after the city’s name, in the search bar. How does that work? Nifty.


1. Focus, focus, focus

Not possible to stress this enough. All the business management consulting types say it. Do not get lost in ‘brand extension’ or do a fail like New Coke. Just do what you do and do well. One day, like that Rilke poem said, Letters to a Young Poet, you might just walk into the answers. You’ll know what that is, by the time you’re ready. To (re)launch. Or not. It’s 2022. Everything came undone at the seams, so who knows what will work, next. Except: being who you really are.


I’ll put the other four, which are much more personal, into S P A C E. Membership info is at: http://gumroad.com/designkompany/membership


Ideas of Curiosity · Innovation & Creativity

After Information, there is Imagination: What forward-thinking leaders already know about the role of design

I have been meeting up with business leaders in Cambodia to talk about the way things are shaping up, as we move out of the mode of ‘hunkering down’ that has been normal for these last three years. I want to talk in this post about the conclusions that I am arriving at, based on what people have been sharing with me. I guess it’s less of a ‘report’ than an essay on what feels like it’s important to convey.



Stay viable by continuing to innovate and I mean really, not just talking about it

It’s a practice, all of it, but sometimes it’s more than that. It’s designing the next thing by being very clear about where it is you want to go. Mindsets shifting are a common phrase around here, especially if you talk to NGO wonk types, but the big and important thing is that we have to change how we think about what we make, if we want to stay in business for six months, a year, five years, or more. Since I talk with peopel who run businesses of 5-50 people and not more than that, what I have to say is more focused on this group: small to medium sized enterprises, than, say, bigger companies flush with capital to do research and development because they already know about what I’m going to talk about.

Which is this.

Whether or not you want to think about it, creativity and innovation are going to be more than just ‘nice to have’ items to claim your company is versed in. Rather than being such glimmering extras, they’ll be key for the leaders most interested in moving forward into the Age of Imagination.

If you want something real, viable, and sustainable, you’ll need to adapt.

That’s a fact.



There is no way around but through

There is no getting around this new awakening to the need for quickly adjusting to whatever conditions may arise; it’s not possible anymore to have a ‘this is the way we do it’ attitude because, let’s be real. We’ve never done what we are doing in 2022, before.

Social distancing, masking up, being keen to keep doors and windows open, not packing in people, all of these different modes of behavior are part and parcel of what we, as society, around the world, with our various metrics of measuring risk and safety, have now.

Truthfully, the reality of covid-spawned changes in this mean none of us are the same as what we were before. Everything is new. The way we move, talk, connect, meet, and do business. Maybe you are one of the people who wants to think it’s all open and fine but the thing is, other people are not all going ot feel that way, so the interaction you will have will be modified, accordingly. So it’s not the same. It can’t be.

It’s what we have to accept. There is no ‘back’.

Tired management doesn’t want to deal with that, though. Unaccepting it and pressing forward with the same ol’ same ol’ modes of running a company just won’t cut it though.

Not if you want to keep people around. Talent will glide away because talent can. Loyalty is weird in an era of ghosting in business or people who have been expected to go to work not going and then posting on their IG feeds, ‘At the beach #yolo’. it was something I read somewhere when in lockdown; me being someone who keenly values the weight of one’s verbal promise was like, ‘Really? This is what it is now?’ And it is. This. Flaky, iffy, and glide-y away-ey. So what though. I’m operating solo here at DK, with just a handful of trusted associates (Quan Nguyen, thank you), for this very reason. People are hard to work with. Haha, I said it. But isn’t it true?


Pandemic-shifted responses to the needs of business owners

We have learned so much from the pandemic and how quickly some could adapt and how slowly others could not. There are people who let their web domains expire and others whose shops became caked over with rust, and here we are, September 2022.

Reports of the covid cases declining worldwide by 12%, recently, by World Health Organization, give an impression overall that there is something now to do. To open up the doors a little more to possibilities, even if for so long, we were sheltering in place to stay safe, and healthy, in the turbulence of not-knowing. A ship in a storm may or may not find a safe harbor, but some ships are better built, than others, to respond, and with luck or agility or access to gobs of resources, some push through to these places where there’s a way to regroup, and others break apart and fall away. What did you learn from these years, as CEOs and leaders? What can you apply, moving forward?

Enter the Age of Imagination.

To be continued, in S P A C E. Membership information is at http://gumroad.com/designkompany/membership.