Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Report: Oxford seminar on Managing as Designing: What next?

Notes from a workshop held on Friday 30 October at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Attended by about 40 people.


It’s 40 years since Herbert Simon published The Sciences of the Artificial in which he wrote the now much-quoted phrase “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (1996:111). While Rittel and Webber (1973) and many others have questioned the rather top-down, technocratic view of design that Simon seemed to be arguing for, he did make a distinction between the purposes of the social sciences and of design that many scholars and practitioners are still finding useful today.

But now, 40 years later, things are quite different. There has been around four decades of research within design and engineering schools mostly into established fields such as industrial design, architecture and engineering design, generating descriptions of design activity. Alongside this, there has been research in management fields including New Product Development and innovation studies and more recently organization design. Science and technology studies have contributed a perspective on how innovations emerge that challenges the individualist accounts of some management scholars.

Simon’s insight was not really seriously taken up until Boland and Collopy’s workshop in 2002 and subsequent book titled Managing as Designing (2004), which brought several of these approaches together staging a wider conversation about the role of aesthetics and the arts more generally in organisational life. Boland and Collopy brought to management attention the idea not just that some abstract notion of design was important, but rather that design in the arts-based tradition offered something important to management practitioners and scholars – what they call a “design attitude”.

The value of designers’ practices educated in this tradition is what some people call “design thinking”. This autumn, three books are being published that have design thinking in the title, by Roger Martin, dead of the Rotman School of Business; Tom Lockwood, president of the Design Management Institute; and Tim Brown, who leads the design innovation consultancy IDEO. Alex Ostwerwalder has just published a book on the design of business models. Other new books based on academic research include Roberto Verganti’s book on design-driven innovation, and a forthcoming book by Armand Hatchuel and Benoit Weil. If you read Business Week you will have noted its latest ranking of top design schools which includes many business schools which are now teaching design in the MBA– though so far, very few teach design in the arts-tradition in the core curriculum.

To discuss these developments, we invited leading scholars within management, organization and design to share their thoughts on what is going on at the moment and what happens next.

Please note that what follows are slightly edited notes taken by hand while I was chairing the workshop. Any mistakes are mine. If you quote from this blog, please add this disclaimer.


Richard J Boland, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
What am I for?
- Valuing the existential moment
- Appreciating action (Dewey) as the basis of enquiry, all knowing and creation of knowledge comes from acting in the world.
What am I against?
- Assuming a ‘presented’ world.
- Thinking that an acceptable conclusion is that everything is socially constructed – that is the starting point.
- Design and use of representations, how people make meaning, use metaphors, perspective making and taking, distributed cognition, representing temporality.
- Visual representation did a better job of representing financial data than numbers in predicting bankruptcy (Zhao et al)
- 10 years with Gehry, design attitude, digitisation
- Systems of gestures, discourse practices and representational forms that will enhance team learning in healthcare
- Theorygarden.com – causal reasoning for children

Blanche Segrestin, Ecole des Mines
- Why do we need a new theory of design?
- Context: a shift in innovation, not just improving products and services but rather the changing identities of objects. Organisations don’t know what competences they need.
- Existing theories of design are problem solving (Simon) and systematic design (Pahl and Beitz). Existing theories of creativity focus on cognition (Torrance, Guilford). But we need to understand how to combine planning and evaluation with imagination and deviance. This is what C-K theory (Hatchuel and Weil) provides, which helps companies structure exploratory processes which generate new concepts and new knowledge.
- A brief may be clear but it is asking for something that is unknown. We need to produce knowledge for design, which involves working on unknown and partly undecidable objects.

Ken Starkey and Sue Tempest, Nottingham University Business School
- Business schools champion expertise masquerading as science, which leads to functional incompetence. In the search for technical competence (which has proved to be illusory) business schools have lost their capacity for reflexivity.
- MBA courses focus on personal advantage at the expense of public purpose, with a narrow curriculum focussed on analytics.
- The market logic has subverted the logic of professionalism (Khurana)
- “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what stories do I find myself a part?’” (McIntyre)
- Foucault offers an emphasis on power and knowledge, ethics and technologies of the self
- How do we develop a narrative imagination using the arts and humanities to think about new design spaces?
(See their forthcoming paper, “The Winter of Our Discontent: The Design Challenge for Business Schools” in Academy of Management Journal of Learning and Education 8(4))

Bruce Tether, Imperial College/Design London
- MBA students want to know what’s the takeway? What can they use on Monday morning? Design is difficult because it’s harder for them to reflect that they may have changed their way of thinking.
- How does design in a business school environment achieve legitimacy?
- Is design a fad? Can we really deliver?

Rafael Ramirez, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society/Saïd Business School
- How do changes in context change what to design and what is good design?
- How do turbulent environments change the context for business design? How do you plan when you can’t predict?
- How to create enclaves of productive possibilities, using scenarios to design value constellations to push back the turbulence?


Jennifer Whyte, University of Reading/ Design Innovation Research Centre
- Talking about both managing and designing involves talking about a large space
- Questions of micro and macro – how do you design a financial system
- A danger of romanticising design


Boland: Design truly is a practice. At Weatherhead we try to implement a more studio-based approach to MBA education. They work on a project as a design project, developing an ability to engage in a practice in a particular way and giving them an orientation that they are involved in shaping the world that other people are going to live in.

Starkey: How do we design an education system to equip people to handle things like the financial crisis?

Segrestin: How do we teach something that will be obsolete in a few years? More important is how to apprehend change.

Boland: We need to challenge business schools. They are historians of the recent past and gear students up to reproduce it. One possibility is challenging the business schools, waking them up. Another is to take design and business schools and morph into another kind of school so that organisational leaders become more broad-based.

Ramirez: The MBA is a locked-in standard. Exec ed and doctoral students are the research lab for management education.

Boland: The thing that intrigues me about design is its relentless commitment to inquiry.

Boland: I’m always surprised at the opposition set up between management and design. The world of the manager is addressing the unknown and designing collective action.

Segrestin: The models of the firm we have are 19th century models based on commercial activity. We lack a model of collective design activities that are not just commercial activities. We need to go back to look at the designing firm.

Whyte: Inquiry is central to design and to reflective management practice. …When you are creating businesses, you are creating social and material domains. But we should be wary of transplanting ideas from one to another simplistically.

Starkey: In Europe, for business schools, the student isn’t the customer, the customer is society.

Thanks to the Design Council who supported the refreshments during the event.

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