Scarcity and design

From Kevin Kelly’s interview with designer Fred Brooks in the August 2010 Wired:

The critical thing about the design process is to identify your scarcest resource. Despite what you may think, that very often is not money. For example, in a NASA moon shot, money is abundant but lightness is scarce; every ounce of weight requires tons of material below. On the design of a beach vacation home, the limitation may be your ocean-front footage. You have to make sure your whole team understands what scarce resource you’re optimizing.

Design thinking + innovation

A week ago my colleague Gary and I went to Forum for the Future’s and IDEO’s i-team debrief at the Design Council on some of the work they’ve been doing with UK councils on using design thinking to address climate change. Intriguing and energizing – very much enjoyed the presentations by the council representatives, who were shifting Post-Its and throwing out “how might we”‘s like seasoned IDEOers.

My favorite take-away: “Pitch, don’t preach.”

The session was chaired by sustainable design and innovation expert John Thackara. I was so impressed by his chairing that I wanted to find out more, and realized he writes Doors of Perception (among other things). Delighted to find that he does not have formal design training – he studied philosophy (me too!).

John Thackara’s Power Laws of Innovation

Power Law 1: Don’t think “new product” – think social value.
Power Law 2: Think social value before “tech”.
Power Law 3: Enable human agency. Design people into situations, not out of them.
Power Law 4: Use, not own. Possession is old paradigm.
Power Law 5: Think P2P, not point-to-mass.
Power Law 6: Don’t think faster, think closer.
Power Law 7: Don’t start from zero. Re-mix what’s already out there.
Power Law 8: Connect the big and the small.
Power Law 9: Think whole systems (and new business models, too).
Power Law 10: Think open systems, not closed ones.

I <3 you WIRED

This month’s WIRED is this perfect constellation of things I find really interesting:

The right words for the business case

Spurred to post by my friend Steph who may be, along with another webby friend Yai, the only person to look at this dormant site in some time. We are thinking of setting up a co-blog.

So somewhere in the last six months I’ve become obsessed with supply chains and value chains – obsessed as in spending too much time thinking about them while on public transport kind of obsessed. Just been at American Electric Power’s offices in Columbus, Ohio, for a roundtable my colleague JP coordinated on managing sustainability in supply chains.

Lately I’ve been thinking how much modern supply chain management thinking and design thinking have in common with sustainability thinking – SCM because of its focus on total cost of ownership and collaboration, and design because of the emphasis it places on understanding needs and innovating to meet them. One of the reasons making the usual cashflow sort of business case for sustainability investments is a challenge is because valuation tools have trouble with what’s hard to quantify or to predict, especially in the longer term.* Framing sustainability in the languages of SCM or design might be a compelling way to make another kind of business case that doesn’t rely so much on numbers or linear predictability.

Came across a fabulous example of the language of business and the business case in a Goldman Sachs investor research piece thoughtfully passed on by a friend of a friend. The research, on “Long-term opportunities in a changing world,” turns that pesky tendency to favor the short-term on its head – by pointing out that it’s precisely because financial markets are better at understanding (and arbitraging out) short-term investment opportunities that investors thinking long-term have a better shot at higher returns. Or as they analyst-ishly say:

Reflecting a disproportionate focus on nearer term profitability, the equity market is typically relatively indiscriminate in differentiating between companies’ abilities to sustain above-average returns over the long term. … This relative lack of discrimination between long-term winners and losers is consistent with a greater focus of many analysts and investors on nearer term performance and creates an opportunity for investors able to identify those companies that can sustain above-average returns over the long term.

You go, Goldman. So that’s what these folks are up to.

*Another challenge: incentive structures. BusinessGreen discusses why managers aren’t necessarily interested in initiatives that result in cost savings – they’re trying to protect their future budgets. I think this is yet another example of why spend isn’t a good metric when you’re trying to get to results, but need to think about this a bit


First post on my new and somewhat more work-focused blog. (The earlier posts are a few favorites copied from past blogs, my attempt to slay the blank screen.) I’m thrilled to be starting at SustainAbility this week and plan to use this as a space to collect work ideas as well as other life bits.

I’ll kick off with a quiet shout-out to one of my favorite magazines: The May/June 2007 issue of Technology Review is all about technology design: a slideshow of iconic techie objets du désir (the Polaroid camera, the HP 12c calculator, the Apple 17in PowerBook), the story of how the new Helio Ocean mobile phone was born, an editorial on what makes a beautiful design (simplicity, of course), and naturally a profile of Apple’s industrial design factory.