Has Evan Davies got it wrong?

Last Monday, after a evening spent with Ford helping celebrate their 100 years of manufacturing in the UK and then joining the UK manufacturing professors’ dinner, I got back late to my hotel room, fired up iPlayer and sought out the second episode of Evan Davies mini-series “Made in Britain”.

As I watched, I sense of creeping disappointment came over me.  Early on, he uses a graphic that shows scientists inventing things, factories making things and then a bunch of creatives designing and marketing things.  He separates these out as economic activities and differentiates between the UK’s capabilities and goals for each step.

I had thought that this linear model of the innovation process was thrown away about 30 years ago and I don’t often see it these days.  I realise that television needs to keep things simple, but to get them so simple that they veer towards inaccurate worries me.  What is worse is that I have been to two events in the last few weeks that provided evidence from the sort of companies he was citing as “successful” that taking another path is actually more successful.

Only the week before I had been to the Design for Growth Summit at the Design Council.  The keynote speaker was Apple’s own Jonny Ive.  He speaks clearly and unambiguously about the integration of design into the whole process of product and service innovation.  There is a clear message that in Apple – often held up by commentators such as Davies as the pinnacle of modern business – designers work with technologists throughout the innovation journey to ensure that the best and most informed decisions are made at every step.  Sadly, the talk is not available on the Design Summit website (probably something to do with Apple lawyers!!), but he was followed by Ralf Speth, the CEO of Jaguar Landrover, who articulates almost the same message for a completely different market.

Continuing to portray the design and marketing elements of a business plan as something that happens at the end of the process and merely serves to “round off the corners” is, I believe, to lead many UK companies down the wrong development track.

Only the night after the programme, I was at the RCA Innovation Night, listening to Christopher Bailey of Burberry – another UK company so successful that it is bound to show up in this sort of programme – making effectively the same point for yet another type of business.  Bailey can as easily talk about the fashion elements of Burberry products as the materials and processes used in their manufacture, and the importance of the latest communication tools such as social media in reaching the customer base to inform and inspire them about new products – and to collect their feedback to ensure the next steps are in line with their needs and desires.

As we put together our new strategy for the coming years, Concept to Commercialisation, we became more and more aware of the gulfs between the various capabilities in the UK – each world class in its own right, but often not fully engaged with the other components.  Some of this is because they are all focused on making money in their own markets – which they know well – but some of it is because they are not aware of the opportunities that could be realised if they just looked sideways at adjacent markets, or back into their supply chains, where the latest development in manufacturing or digital services – often developed for another reason – are just waiting to be exploited in their area of activity.

I do agree with Davies that the best companies are developing a profound understanding of their customers – and potential customers – but this could be used to achieve so much more if they were aware of all the capabilities they could use to answer the needs and desires of those customers.

Contrasting sharply with this ’invent, make, sell’ view of innovation, we are just launching  a ‘Design Option’ addition to our competition process; we have worked with the design community so that we can put aspiring technology companies in touch with relevant designers at the beginning of the development process.  I hope that entrants to our competitions either they don’t watch part 2 of Made in Britain or have the vision to look behind the simplistic model presented and see the real opportunity.

Interestingly, of course the programme is itself a good example of adding a simple and attractive graphic to a questionable argument and missing the market need. – In our world, the graphic would have been developed alongside the understanding of the innovation process and been doubly compelling because of that integration!


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:05

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  • Neal Hill|06/07/11 at 4:09 PM

    Like David, I too was saddened by the 'invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door' buisness model. I read recently that what has long been missing from the classic 4P marketing mix is the 5th P i.e. problem to be solved and I find that most of my time is dominated by trying to find a balance between technology 'push' and market 'pull' and reaching consensus between the engineering & sales tribes who don't speak the same language.

    Mat Hunter|05/07/11 at 10:22 PM

    Privileged, as you were, to watch both Apple and Burberry interviews, I was struck how the integration of business, technology and design was embodied in the executive. We know how close Jony Ive and Steve Jobs are, but it appeared that Christopher Bailey and Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts were just as close. Strong, trusting partnerships appeared to be at the centre of their corporate excellence.

    Christopher Bailey put it even more clearly by explaining how he and Angela acted as a form of bridge connecting the world of business and design. Less business-savvy designers and less design-savvy business folks within Burberry could rely at the very least on their leaders to create the trust and translation between different worlds in order to create a collaborative whole.

    I would have liked to have heard more about how technology was integrated with business and design - is it possible to have 3 people in a boardroom love-in? What ever the answer, we need to invite Mr Davies to hear how a 21st century organisation really works. Anyone got his phone number?

    Michael Wolff|04/07/11 at 4:01 PM

    How refreshing and what a relief to read David Bott's comments on how out of date the linear approach to creating success is. The idea that invention comes first followed by finance, then manufacturing and then some sort of frenzied approach to design and marketing things, hasn't worked for decades and never will again.

    And yet in the UK, there's still a blindness to the power of design and an emphasis on finance, as if finance itself is what enriches and delights us.

    Only last week there was a leader in the Economist commenting on IBM's centenary. The writer referred to Apple having the trick of making their otherwise conventional products look pretty. He ignored the enormous value that holistic design had brought to IBM and to the USA.

    IBM was a leader in integrated holistic design. It was directed by the brilliant partnership of their President Thomas Watson and their influential design consultant, Eliot Noyes. It affected everything they did, from what it was to how it looked. Design was driven at the centre. It was an expression of the essence of IBM. It did it then in much the same way as Steve Jobs with Johnny Ives have done it now. Holistic design has been at the core of creating the huge success of Apple.

    We in the UK need to better understand that making life better for all of us and bringing joy and delight to ever more people needs our science, our technology, our manufacturing our finance and our design and communications all to work work together. Until we do, and that's why David Bott has hit the nail on the head, success will be something we see and envy in other countries.

    Ian Osborne|04/07/11 at 10:05 AM

    Surely as described you design things before you make them, no matter what the relationship between the different functions?

    Leigh Caldwell|04/07/11 at 9:43 AM

    Good argument. In our work (behavioural economics consulting) we find that the research we carry out for client has applications across all parts of their process - how it is marketed and priced, how it is delivered and the way the products or services are invented and packaged in the first place.

    All of these processes are, or should be, tightly integrated and iteratively evolved. But it is quite hard for clients to realise that the same insights can provide value across all those parts of the value chain. Indeed, if we were to try to pitch it like this to most clients, they'd either think we were being arrogantly ambitious, or they just would see our offering as too diffuse and hard to relate to their tangible business problems.

    So we end up selling it as a pricing consultancy service, just focused on how the client can calculate and set the optimal price strategy and level. Once we are working with the client we tend to make broader recommendations but it doesn't really work to talk about that up front.

    I suspect designers have the same challenge - persuading clients that what they do is quite universal, when the client has pigeonholed them into the marketing niche. Evan Davis has therefore probably just bought into an existing narrative going on within the business world. Not that he shouldn't have tried to correct it, but it is not surprising to see the division you mention preserved in the programme.

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