brand, culture

Cutting cubes out of clouds: The Designful Company


Promised a while back that I’d write a review of Marty Neumeier’s new book The Designful Company once i’d finished it, so here goes.

designfulcompany1As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Neumeier’s work– especially The Brand Gap, which has been a key bit of inspiration for the Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat. The Designful Company is subtitled “How to build a culture of nonstop innovation,” and there are some pretty great ideas within on how to do exactly that.

It is clear that Neumeier is well read and well traveled in the right circles. He draws upon ideas from many current innovation thought leaders, including Gary Hamel, Roger Martin, Sam Lucente, Steve Jobs, and more. In fact, the recommended reading list in the back of the book is worth the price of the book itself.

In the book, Neumeier is attacking the 20th century management model right alongside Gary Hamel, who’s views I covered in a previous post. One of my favorite quotes:

In the meantime, we are seeing the breakdown of a management model so bereft of ideas that it has resorted to “unlocking” wealth through financial manipulation rather than “creating” wealth through designful innovation. [Richard] Boland suggests that Enron’s failure was not only a failure of ethics but a failure of imagination.

That phrase “a failure of imagination” blows me away because it perfectly captures some of my biggest fears. That we as a country and as a society are strip-mining our existing ideas rather than planting the seeds for the ideas of the future. We need to create a culture of sustainable innovation, where you can’t use up all of the old ideas until you have nurtured the new ones well on their way to adulthood.

The best and most innovative companies out there today seem to get it. And it appears that the US government might even be starting to get it. But years of idea strip-mining have taken their toll on everything from healthcare, to education, to energy issues. And, closer to home, don’t get me started on the proprietary software development model… Goose, golden egg, anyone?

Another favorite quote that gets right at the heart of the Dark Matter Matters point of this blog:

The journey of the innovator, as one designer described it, is learning how to “cut cubes out of clouds.” How can you give sharp edges to a soft concept so everyone can see it? How can you make the intangible tangible? It’s folly to predict revenues, costs, profits, or market share for a product concept or business model that has yet to be introduced. But it is also folly to launch it without a modicum of intellectual rigor. In the end, ALL innovations get measured– by the marketplace.

If you are only going to read one book by Marty Neumeier, I’d still get The Brand Gap. It will change the way you think forever. But The Designful Company is a great, short read, and an accessible guide to some of the smartest current thinking around the role of design in creating cultures of innovation. Heck, why choose? Buy ’em both!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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