Entrepreneurship, the missing link between design and innovation
Last week, I was invited to participate as a field expert to be interviewed by students for the course with the name Cutting Edge Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the faculty of Industrial Design at the Technical University of Delft. In my work, I focus on design and innovation. The idea behind the course was that students are introduced to cutting edge theoretical concepts about organizations, mainly focussing on behavioral dynamics. Then they apply them to the reality of innovation projects. The idea is that the success of design in innovation largely depends on organizational change. That the success of designers in innovation projects largely depends on their ability to overcome the many organizational hurdles that present themselves during innovation projects. I wholeheartedly agree with that and was exited to have my experiences meet with cutting edge organizational theories. That was the intended outcome of the course. To identify the organizational theories in the stories of the field experts in innovation. Students would learn to connect theory and practice. For the field experts, this could also present a huge learning opportunity when they would find out what organization theoretical concepts underpin their practice. Most successful design practitioners in innovation projects are not organizational theory experts and learning about those concepts could help them in their practice.
This was the setting. The experience did not disappoint. Apart from the fact it was great to meet the professor, the students, and the other field experts and talk to them about my passion for design and innovation, it was also a great learning experience. So, what did I learn?
Cutting edge organization theories
Lots of things. I learned about the C-K theory. This is a great mental model to think about innovation. In organizational innovation projects, there are two spaces: the knowledge space (K-space) and the concepts space (C-space). An innovation starts in the C-space as an idea with a lot of uncertainty. For an innovation to get adopted and to work, the service or product has to enter the K-space, the truth space. The challenge for an innovator is to get ideas from the C-space to the K-space. There can be multiple strategies for that and some of these require skills that designers posses. It’s all about connecting people and what is inside their heads. For that you need empathy, mutual understanding, urgency, trust, etc. The three major ways I learned designers can help ideas go from the C-space to the K-space are: creating a common language, framing, and proof creation. The objects designers make can form bridges to connect people. The C-K theory was just one of the organizational theories, others included boundary objects, perspective taking & making, changing conversations, intervention theory. All interesting theoretical frameworks underpinning what happens during innovation projects in organizations.
I believe gaining understanding in those theories will help practitioners to become more aware of what is happening and design ways to move things forward, avoid pitfall, become more successful. But next to these theoretical frameworks, what stuck with me most is the idea of entrepreneurship and how it was introduced in this course.
Entrepreneurship was introduced as the third factor next to design and innovation as an element of success. One can have top notch design skills and come up with super valuable innovative ideas, but what makes or brakes the success is the entrepreneurial behavior. To innovate means to create change, to disrupt, to intervene. You have to get things moving. I always framed entrepreneurship as having to do with starting or running a business. I was in the narrow definition of entrepreneurship:
More narrow definitions have described entrepreneurship as the process of designing, launching and running a new business, which is often initially a small business, or as the capacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture along with any of its risks to make a profit. — Wikipedia
The broader definition of entrepreneurship is about taking risks:
“entrepreneurship is viewed as change, generally entailing risk beyond what is normally encountered in starting a business, which may include other values than simply economic ones.” — Wikipedia
Once the definition of entrepreneurship was decoupled from starting and running a business and broadened to the realm of taking risks, courage, taking action, solving things, overcoming obstacles, creating change, motivating people, taking responsibility, this totally made sense as the the third pillar of successful innovation. In my narrow definition, entrepreneurship was about economics, sales, administration, management, things that are taught in business schools. In the new, broad definition, entrepreneurship suddenly became clear as the core of what I am doing all day, what designers in innovation projects should be doing. Innovation has impact on the business. So in that sense entrepreneurship also impacts the business school side of things. And it is also good to have insight into the strategic business aspects of the context in which you innovate. So in the end, entrepreneurship as related to design and innovation has to do with both the narrow and the broad definition of entrepreneurship.
Sometimes you come across a concept that just clicks and reorganizes your head. Sometimes you find something that is so logical that you are amazed that you didn’t see it before. This idea of entrepreneurship did that for me. To see designers in innovation projects as entrepreneurial. After that, the world looked different to me. It’s about getting things done, that’s entrepreneurial behavior. That is design leadership :)
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