Management Consultants Want Design; Welcome To The D-School And B-school Club.

There was an interesting article written by fellow innovation practitioner Timothy Morey, from global design and strategy consultancy frog, on why management consulting firms are getting into design. It tries to explain how traditional management consultants are adopting the mantle of design and conducting journey mapping, experience mapping, and even customer experience design.

Welcome to the club. Seriously.

Morey is right by pointing out that designers do not see the world as a fixed canvas – that’s why I like teaching design classes. The students are an optimistic (and happy) bunch, who see the world as a range of possibilities that can be crafted and bent to their will (in Morey’s words). This is true, but the problem is that they are usually unaware of the complexity of how decisions are being made in the boardroom – or not being made at all. So, often, these groups of optimistic and creative folks end up becoming the opposite: unhappy and lacking an understanding of why their ideas are not being adopted. In all honesty, I think they are over-romanticizing what they do.

I’ve lived in both worlds. When I co-founded Idea Couture with two brave souls, we were very clear on what we were trying to build. The illustrations above were created to demonstrate that. Idea Couture was born 10 years ago as a new breed of innovation firm that brought together the creative minds of a design studio, the strategic perspectives and analytical skills of management consultants, and the engineering capabilities of a digital consultancy. It was not a design firm adding MBAs or a strategy firm adding designers to their roster.

Management consulting was originally designed for a very different kind of need – managing business unit portfolios, entering and exiting industries, managing repetitive tasks, improving economic efficiency, and labor productivity. But many proven management tools and techniques are now being questioned for their validity. Today, the needs are vastly different – and this is where design thinking is playing a major role. In a world where digital disruption is the everyday norm, value creation and value destruction are happening at speeds and scales that are unprecedented in our economic history. CEOs need help navigating this new world, but traditional strategy consulting can only provide half of the picture – the less useful half. Idea Couture’s core is to also offer the other half – the fuzzier but integral half.

I thought that, if we failed, people would say we were just trying to become a Jack-of-all-trades and, therefore, would never get anywhere. If we were successful, they would say that we were the first firm in the world to bring the two halves together – which is what everyone else is now doing. In the next couple of years, all consulting firms will end up looking a lot like Idea Couture, because pure analytical work done by armies of MBAs won’t uncover the future; armies of system architects won’t build prototypes that shape new user behaviors; and no matter how creative designers are, they will never understand capturing value from those ideas and sustaining economic value creation. It takes a company like Idea Couture to do that.

This is why we have built an impressive roster of Fortune 500 clients and an amazing track record in just 10 years, with an NPS of 9.7. Other firms of this caliber have been around for many decades more, making Idea Couture a young firm – and I hope that we can remain young. It is important for us to continue to bring in millennials and allow them to shape the future of business. After all, it’s more so about their future than mine.

It’s true that designers don’t see the world as a fixed canvas. Business consultants don’t see the world as science fiction. And technology firms don’t see the world as populated by living and breathing human beings. Idea Couture sees the future being designed around humans, with technology that empowers us to bring the best out of human potential, and business models that make businesses and the world at large sustainable. That is Idea Couture’s raison d’être.

The world didn’t need another consulting firm. Instead, it needed three foolish minds backed by a bunch of creative, intelligent, empathetic, and bright people who created this success story. I wish to thank those who walked the path with us from day one. Special mentions go to Morgan (the grandfather of IC anthropologists), Jessica, Adam, Kengwei, Edwin, Jeff, Jackie, Ryan, Paul, Ricky, and many others who have since moved on, as well as those who are now here to take IC to the next level. Thank you for taking my harsh criticisms so that we can make great work. Thank you for endless weekends spent putting together pitches and winning against the giants. Thank you for bringing the fun to hard work. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I’m looking forward to a big reunion soon.