Monday, February 2, 2009

Be Bold

You certainly don't have to look hard to find all sorts of economic doom and gloom predictions in the media.  So what should our response be?  Should designers and technology leaders retreat into their shells and focus only on low-risk, incremental improvement type products, or is there a better option?
Before answering this question, it is important to consider once again what it is that drives company profits.  You can slice and dice it a number of ways but ultimately the key driver of company profits is differentiation.  If consumers can't differentiate your product from your competitors' products then you will be forced to compete on cost alone. Over time, costs will be driven down and profits eroded until only the highest volume players who are able to achieve better economies of scale will remain.  You can hope that you are that company but its a very unreliable business model that relies on you covering your back as much as attacking from the front.
So differentiation is the key to a sustainable business model and building profits. And working further back up the food chain, it is design innovation that builds the greatest differentation.  How do we innovate? Well that's the million dollar question and there is no formula that will guarantee breakthrough. But it is possible to posture yourself to be in the best position to maximize the benefit when the next innovative idea hits you.
Look at your design processes.  Do they stifle innovation or promote it? Look at your design skills. Do you know how to access and maximize the benfits of the latest technologies?  Do your design tools create a barrier to innovation, or do they help you leverage your existing skills to access the next wave of disruptive technologies? Be bold.  Now is the time to study hard and equip yourself.  If you are going to retreat, don't retreat to nothingness.  Retreat to the lab.  Use it as an opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate your career.  Innovate your way forward.

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