31 Jan 2019 | Design Thinking

Hacked by Design

Transforming corporations by making design the new business horizontal

I am a mechanical-watchmaking enthusiast and I am borrowing the term hacking from horology. Military watches in the early twentieth century first introduced hacking to improve precision. One could pull the crown screw out to its time-setting position, causing the hacking lever to stop the balance wheel and gear train of the watch such that even the seconds hand would freeze in order to synchronise for time most precisely. Today this feature is found in most watches as standard issue. 

The need for hacks or disruptions should be standard issue in all corporations. Akin to the watch analogy, the question is how do we go about ‘taming of the screw?’ One possible answer is by design. Organisations are multifaceted — with structures, matrixes, business verticals, people and personalities, far more complex than watch movements (although some serious watch makers may disagree). Design can be a ‘collaborative disruptor’ — seemingly an oxymoron at first but most relevant in application to human centricity for organisations, their customers and design thinking itself.

Hacking by design is not new but rarely understood. Most famously, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive at Apple changed the world by using design as a hacking lever and a sublime dot connector to not only hack the organisation but also hack the market at large. Management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, BCG and other specialists like IDEO have set up practices around advising corporations to look at suitable models for their industries. Top ivy league schools - both in creative sciences and management are incorporating theories in their curriculums as case studies emerge globally. Today several corporations across industries have embraced this thinking and become design-led to create sustainable engines of disruption that focus on innovation - finally driving business value and significant returns for stakeholders. The 2015 Design Value Index (DVI) published by the Design Management Institute (DMI) 'shows that over the last ten years design-led companies have maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211 per cent.'

Indian corporations and their shareholders are slowly taking notice of the value design thinking brings to the boardroom. Over the past four years, it has been an exciting journey for me to work at an innovation-focused and design-led conglomerate. We have been able to successfully use design thinking to transform multiple areas of the real estate business showing clear demonstrable business results (significantly hacking the market and beating competition) with very high customer satisfaction scores. Employee engagement owing to the nature of collaborative disruption, ideas around shared value, way of working and typical diversity of team compositions has also seen a transformative change in corporate culture to breed innovation. Our work has naturally expanded into retail, gourmet food, consumer goods and other related industries more recently. When repeatedly asked how we are able to do this consistently I often say that for us “Design is a business horizontal that harmoniously connects all business verticals and this should hold true for any industry its people, processes, products, services and experience.”