McKinsey: Design is about people, not process.

I recently read a report published by McKinsey and Company on how to build a design-driven culture. Surprisingly, they forgot one of the most important elements: people.

The report touches on the same practices that we’ve heard time and time again from design thinking toolkits: from empathy and customer-centricity, to multi-disciplinary teams and minimum viable products. Although these are in fact very useful practices, the report completely fails to address the human elements that make up a design-driven culture.

I am not surprised by this, as design is founded on many principles that are fundamentally different than those of management consulting. Design is a discipline that calls for open-ended explorations, human sensitivities, and non-linear processes. The act of creating something new requires a certain type of people. I’m talking about the “the crazy ones, the misfits, the troublemakers…” It calls for people who are dissatisfied with the status quo and are willing to make a change. People who are ready to challenge the rules, take some risks, and create something unprecedented. In other words, people who would probably fail to get a job at McKinsey and Company.

As organizations look to build design-driven cultures, they must first realize that design is a state of mind. Having a ping-pong table in your office will simply not cut it… A creative culture cannot be artificially created or forced. Design-driven organizations must be guided by a sense of purpose and fueled by a relentless pursuit of value creation. Having a few designers within your ranks is certainly a good first step, but unless they have control over the values of the organization, it is unlikely this will result in much of a cultural change.

When building a design-driven culture, you must make design an ethos, not an activity. It is no surprise that many of today’s Silicon Valley “unicorns” have designers as founders or high executives. For the past few years, design has been climbing up the value chain, from getting a “seat at the table” to actually putting food on the table. However, this did not happen just through post-its and brainstorm sessions, but through a set of cultural values ingrained into a company’s mindset.

While I see this report as a good indication of the growing appreciation for design in the corporate world, I can’t help but note how McKinsey’s insights into the practice of design are conceptually limited by the scope of their own culture. How might a corporation like McKinsey & Co. that thrives on linearity, reliability and de-risking embrace design-driven concepts like taking risks and failing often? Although it might be tempting to reduce design into a process, design is a human-centered discipline. Design begins with people and ends with people.