A New Style Leader

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Without committed leadership, no business can realize the structural, process, and cultural adjustments needed to become a design-thinking organization. Given the enticing short-term financial rewards of reliability, most organizations will pursue reliability out of simple self-interest. But given those same rewards, validity has a good chance of being squeezed out if someone at the very top of the organization does not champion its value. CEOs must learn to think of themselves as the organization’s balancing force—the promoter of both exploitation and exploration, of both administration and invention.

The CEO can perform that function in a number of different but successful ways. Some CEOs, such as Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, and Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research In Motion, the company that gave the world the BlackBerry, take it on themselves to lead the search for innovation. Laliberté spearheads the design of circuses the likes of which the world has never seen before. Lazaridis keeps creating new devices that define the future of mobile communications. Both drive their organizations forward by taking the lead in moving knowledge forward.

At the other end of the spectrum, we find CEOs who build design-friendly organizations. Procter & Gamble’s A. G. Lafley is the poster boy for transforming a large, reliability-biased enterprise into a design-friendly organization that maintains a balance between analytical thinking and abductive reasoning. James Hackett of Steelcase acquired the design firm IDEO to infuse design thinking across the entire Steelcase organization. 5

Between the extremes represented by Laliberté and Lazaridis at one end and Hackett and Lafley at the other, there are numerous intermediate alternatives. Steve Jobs, for instance, cofounder and returned CEO of Apple Inc., is probably the CEO most widely viewed as a design thinker, thanks to elegant, customer-pleasing products like the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, and iPhone, among many others. But he is not the solitary design genius of popular imagination. It was Apple’s designers, led by Jonathan Ive, who realized those innovative products. Jobs played a different, equally crucial role: he created an organization that placed “insanely great” design at the top of its hierarchy of values, and he gave the green light to spend the resources necessary to make lasting successes of his designers’ innovations.

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