Managing As Designing: A Worthwhile Discovery

While I cannot quite recall where I came across it, most likely in one of the two dozen or so design-oriented blogs that I follow, I recently discovered the book Managing as Designing. First published in 2004, it was edited by Richard Boland and Fred Collopy, two faculty members at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. The book itself is the product of a Managing as Design Seminar that took place at the then recently completed Peter B. Lewis Building, home of the Weatherhead School. What triggered the seminar, book, and even a DVD about the seminar, was Boland’s experience working with Frank O. Gehry on the design and construction of the Lewis Building. In the first chapter, Boland and Collopy write:

During the four and one-half years of working with Gehry Partners on the planning, design and construction of the Lewis Building, we experienced an approach to problem solving that is quite different from our own, from that of the managers we study, and from what we teach our students. We refer to this mind-set and approach to problem solving as a “design attitude”…What is needed in managment practice and education today is the development of a “design attitude” which goes beyond default solutions in creating new possibilities for the future.

As you read this chapter you can feel how impressed Boland and Collopy were with what they were learning about the design attitude from Gehry and his associates. It had such a profound impact on them that they became determined to radically change the nature of business education at Weatherhead. The term “design thinking” is used here and there in the book, but Boland and Collopy seem to prefer their own design attitude. Perhaps if they were writing this book today they would use the term design thinking. As I read different chapters I kept asking myself how I could have missed this book for so long? When I first became interested in design thinking in 2006 there was far less material being generated about it, and having this book would have been a big help in shaping my thinking. It was actually in the collection at the library I was working at back then; I just missed it.

In the first chapter, Boland and Collopy expand on the differences between their traditional “decision attitude” and the design attitude they were learning from Gehry. The decision attitude, which was the long-held focus of management education, towards problem solving was “overwhelmingly dominant in management practice…and solves problems by making rational choices among alternatives and uses tools such as economic analysis, risk assessment, multiple criteria decision making, simulation, and the time value of money.” The design attitude by contrast “is concerned with finding the best answer possible given the skills, time, and resources of the team, and takes for granted that it will require the invention of new alternatives. The decision attitude assumes there is already an optimal solution to the problem, and that managers just need to be rational and analytical in order to identify that solution. The design attitude allows for the possibility that the solution doesn’t already exist, and that a team will need to create a new, untried possibility. One can’t help but make a connection between these ideas and Martin’s “opposable mind” and “knowledge funnel” models of how design influences decision making so that it is a blending of the rational and intuitive mind in which the goal is to neither choose solution A or B but rather innovate solution C.

You don’t need to read every essay in this book. Some are highly theoretical, others may be more design specific than desired. One chapter to explore is the one titled “The Role of Constraints” by Vandenbosch and Gallagher. They discuss how dealing with constraints impacts the work of artists and architects, and that it is important to acknowledge that constraints are fundamental to the design process. Designers must constantly deal with constraints, and appreciating them can lead to improved creativity. There’s hardly a project in the academic library that is free of constraints, be it time or money. I think this is an area where we can learn a great deal from design in learning how to turn our constraints in thinking opportunities – and I hope to write more about this.

If you don’t have time to read Managing as Design you can get the gist of the ideas and applications by watching this interview with Richard Boland or you can now view the original DVD made to accompany the workshop. It is found in seven parts on YouTube. Start with this video. By the way, discovering these videos has also been a great part of this find. I hope you will enjoy learning from them.

Good Experiences Are The Best Defense Against Badvocacy

One of my job responsibilities at the Temple University Libraries is to serve as the official complaint department. That’s right. The complaints and suggestions are funneled to me. I investigate each one personally or will assign a staff member to look into it. We explore what went wrong and then work to resolve the problem or at least acknowledge it and explain the issues – and when appropriate acknowledge where we failed and what we will do to improve.

Of course, at one time or another most every library worker who connects with members of the user community will hear complaints. It may just be about the lack of paper towel in the bathroom, an improperly imposed fine or the lack of open computers. Many of these complaints are resolved on the spot, or staff will do their best to avoid having a minor problem become a major issue. I always encourage my front line colleagues to refer any one with a complaint to me. I enjoy the challenge of turning a community member from someone who is angry at us into someone who becomes an advocate for us.

By advocate I mean a person who will actually promote the library in the community. We can do all the marketing and promotion we desire, but there’s nothing quite like building a base of loyal advocates who will be energized enough to tell their friends, colleagues and others how great the library is and what it has to offer that can’t be had elsewhere. How about when the library experience we deliver is mostly negative? What do we create when we fail to deal effectively with complaints? Badvocates – that’s the opposite of an advocate. A badvocate may be a chronic complainer who has nothing good to say about the library, but more likely the badvocate is a community member who just had a bad library experience that’s going unresolved. The problem is that the badvocate goes out of their way to spread negativity about the library to the rest of the community or beyond. We all know that members of the user community are much more likely to complain than praise, so it demands extra effort to avoid bad experiences – and we must respond quickly because the word can be spread rapidly via social media.

I first encountered the term “badvocate” in this Mashable post titled “Deal with Negative Online Sentiment About Your Brand” and it immediately resonated with me. The author, Maria Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, where she is in charge of social media and community programs. She spends a fair amount of time dealing with badvocates and trying to prevent them from rising up. She provides three main causes of badvocacy, and you know they happen in your library:

* Inconsistency across channels and touchpoints – this happens when library users have a great experience with one part of the operation but a far worse one at another service point. For example, receiving great service at the desk, but then getting lost in the stacks and finding no one who can help. Or a staff member confirms by phone that a book is available but when the patron arrives the book is impossible to locate.
* Inconsistency with expectations – you know the feeling; you get information off the library website or from a staff member, and then the reality falls far below what was expected. That leaves community members feeling bitter and hostile.
* A negative relationship with library staff – all it takes is one low-morale, uncaring or angry staff member to create that negative relationship. I recently stayed at a hotel and every single employee went out of their way to build the positive experience. It was refreshing to receive such attention, but I was quite sure it was the result of extensive staff development and designing a consistently great experience that helps to avoid negative relationships.

What Are Your Badvocates Saying About the Library? (source:

You probably know who some of your chronic complainers are, and you also monitor various social networks to see what’s being said about your library. What can you do when someone is trashing your library and its brand? Sometimes the immediate reaction in the library is to dump the complainer into a bin we call “difficult patron”, “problem patron” or what a co-worker once call her “MOP File” for “most obnoxious patron”. This always bothered me because even though there are some individuals who you can’t please no matter what you do, the odds are that whatever is causing the complaint is something that’s broken in our operation.

That is why the first response or action, according to Ogneva, is to “understand who your badvocates are, what they are saying and where they are saying it. The process is about listening, much like finding anything using social media”. That’s the first step in the IDEO design thinking process. Before you attempt to solve any problem, first identify what the problem is – and that often happens when you listen to the person complaining about your library. Beyond properly understanding your badvocates and the root causes for their issues, here are some other strategies recommended by Ogneva:

Reach out – Reach out and acknowledge their pain. Most problems get resolved quickly because the person just wanted someone to talk to.
Respect privacy – Know when to take the conversation private. After the initial public tweet, you should reach out in a private channel to really dig in and see if you can make a difference.
Offer an individualized solution – In customer service, there’s no “one size fits all,” because each case is different. Offer an individualized solution, which may require you to work with the right people within your own organization.
Don’t let it stew – Address sources of conflict quickly. Because most people just want to be heard, cared for and helped, the faster you can reach out, the more likely you will prevent the situation from festering.
Never make it personal -If and when conflict escalates, never make it personal. Never attack the person, even if he or she attacks you personally. Keep the conversation focused on the issues.
Take action, close the loop – Communicate back to the customer what has been done, or how soon to expect something to be done.
Never lose your cool – Just like you shouldn’t make things personal, you should never lose your cool. Choose your words wisely.
Watch advocates come to your rescue – If you have done your job cultivating advocacy, in an online conflict, your advocates will come to your rescue.
Treat them equally – Make sure you don’t just help badvocates with high influence scores. Every distressed customer is a potential badvocate.

But why get to the point where you need to utilize these strategies to turn your badvocates into your advocates. The best defense against badovacy is a great library user experience. As Ogneva says, “Just as badvocacy is caused by bad user experience, advocacy is caused by excellent experience.” She goes on to say that “Advocates are created when there is a two-way dialogue around their need, and users have a direct input into the future of the product.” Her final piece of advice for creating advocates is to “humanize the brand.”

This makes excellent sense and reinforces what I’ve said previously about making the library about the people who work there and their relationships with the community. If the public only sees the library as a building with books and a website with links to databases, what’s the harm in telling your network how much you hate it and how badly it sucks; it’s not like anyone is being hurt. If members of the user community have experienced the library as engagement with humans they are less likely to be critical and are more likely to see the library as a place where they can take up their problems with people like themselves.

If you have a story to share about turning one of your badvocates in to an advocate – or other ideas for dealing with badvocates – please share it with a comment.

An Interview With Roger Martin

If you were thinking this post was about an interview I conducted with Roger Martin, well, sorry to have misled – though I’d certainly like that opportunity. But the folks at did interview Martin. They produce the weekly Innovation Newsletter which features in depth reviews with many great thought leaders who share their insights into innovation, creativity, teamwork and much more. I subscribe to their weekly e-mail alert which helps me stay on top of the latest interviews. I was pleased to discover a new interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto. “Diving Into Mysteries” is an interview well worth reading even if you have previously read Martin’s books such as The Opposable Mind and the Design of Business.

The bulk of the interview focuses on the themes explored in The Design of Business. It all starts with the mystery. Martin states that “Innovation is taking out of a mystery some form of understanding that enables you to focus on some things rather than others…You extract out of a broad, mysterious cloud the things that help you make sense of what you are seeing. That’s a heuristic. Heuristics are ways of thinking about a mystery that helps us to better understand it…The best innovators recognize mysteries, and are brave enough to dive into them.” If you’ve read the Design of Business this interview will refresh you on the core concepts, and if you’ve not yet had an opportunity to do so it will introduce you to Martin’s perspective on design thinking and introduce you to the knowledge funnel.

Speaking of perspectives on design thinking, I recently attended – for the first time – a webcast sponsored by the Stanford School of Design. I was pleased to become aware of these free learning opportunities (even with the promos for the School’s online workshops – but it is still a great way to hear some excellent speakers). The program I attended was titled “Design Thinking and Peak Performance” (sponsored by the Innovation Masters Series: Design Thinking & the Art of Innovation). I’ve provided the link so you can take a look at the webcast. If you have been following the literature on design thinking most of this will sound familiar to you, but I picked up a few new ideas and thoughts about design thinking.

Given my recent reading of the Martin interview I asked the speakers what their perspective was on what I refer to as the “IDEO School of Thought” on design thinking versus the “Roger Martin School of Thought” on design thinking. While the presenters agreed they could see how one could point to these two different schools of thought, they thought that they actually both emerged from earlier perspectives on design thinking that came out of the Stanford engineering and design program. As the speakers said “There is no difference in the underlying philosophy of design thinking” you have coming out of IDEO or the Rotman School of Business. If there was any difference to which they could point it would be that Martin’s vision of design thinking is oriented more to the world of business. They said it “Reframes our design thinking ideas into business concepts for the folks in the boardroom.” I thought that was a pretty good way to describe the difference. I thought the speakers also provided an excellent description of how to introduce design thinking to your colleagues and implement it for a project for the first time (listen the the Q&A period at the last five minutes of the webcast).

Finally, I came across a new book on design thinking (not out quite yet) titled “Design Thinking: Understand – Improve – Apply.” Since it is possible to “look inside” at Amazon I reviewed the table of contents. It looks like a book I’ll want to at least explore. The surprise I discovered is that the book costs $137 at Amazon. I have to think about this one. If you buy a copy, let me know.