Challenges to a new design initiative

Per my prior experiences at Cisco and BEA Systems in particular, where I was part of major efforts to establish a user experience program and design process/approach overall… There are many difficulties on the road to design goodness in the corporate realm, but rather than a tedious laundry list, the challenges are best summarized by this wonderfully appropos quote by Niccolo Machiavelli, from The Prince:

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

Niccolo Machiavelli

To briefly elaborate in practical terms, the major obstacles to a new design initiative are (again, from my own viewpoint & experiences) …

1. Lack of an authentic, obsessive concern for creating world-class products and services (instead, folks are jockeying for political position and ego-saving favors, etc.)

2. Focus on deeply granular documentation rather than imaginative, progressive designs (ie, specs precede the design)

3. Excessive emphasis on formalizing, regularizing, and itemizing every. single. step. of. the. design. process. to the Nth degree…so much so that the design activity is ultimately killed and buried in an avalanche of bureaucratic rigor (and the design value is lost)

4. And just plain ol’ clinging to “what’s been done before” b/c it’s familiar and comfortable, especially in organizations where “Lifers” prevail, preserving the stability of “normalcy” which might be nice and happy but ultimately kills a company (and the customer base) in globally networked & competitive consumer markets

And of course, there’s just tremendous psychological and cultural baggage to overcome, often expressed as fear, insecurity, anxiety, paranoia, or typical political/ego/power/territory issues…Makes me wonder if in some veritable sense designers must function as “corporate therapists” to help companies notice these difficulties and provide a positive path forward, easing them along (perhaps with explosive moments of radical visions and brainstorming, etc.). To do so, however, takes an enormous amount of patience and endurance (like a triathlete) to weather all the storms and navigate all the obstacles to success. Hats off to those who persevere!

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