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Leading experience

*San Francisco Chapter

The essential principles to be a leader in designing the change

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the conference “Leading Experience”, organized by Adaptive Path, a company leader in experience design based in San Francisco. The aim of the conference was to prepare today’s leaders for the next hurdles in design leadership: designing organizations, driving change at scale, and continuously delivering better outcomes for businesses and people.

The event hosted some of the main experts in the field, as managers and CEOs of the most famous companies in California and, coaches and bestseller authors. Two days of speeches and workshops for an immersive experience, understanding the importance of being a leader in guiding teams and designing a business that can generate a good impact for the people.

In a world dominated by volatility, uncertainty, and complexity, how can leaders find a way to respond to the today challenges? I will try to delineate the most important principles that I’ve learned from some of the most inspiring speeches at the conference, giving you the idea of who should be a leader in designing the future and what he can do to perform better.


The right mindset of a leader 

One of the most common distinctive aspects of the leaders in the history is the ability to look at the problem of today, but at the same time to be able to envision a possible future. So as a leader, we must to think like futurists and ask ourselves: “How can we design a better future?”. The key, according to Lisa Kay Solomon, managing director of Singularity University, is to see through the lens of empathy and in transforming yourself in a designer. I like the definition of this figure that she gave: “A designer is a rebel with a cause”.
It explains perfectly the unconventional way of designers to look at reality to find the best innovative solutions for the future. On one side envisioning, even anticipating opportunities, on the other end the ability to be also a steward of inspiring ideas, those that could come from other people in the team or in the company.

Understanding the technologies, analyzing the data and telling a good story, could be other essential elements to inspire and support your point of view. Another attitude that a leader should have, is the capability to create the right environment in which innovation can raise: generating a culture of collaboration and engagement inside and outside the organization, but also guaranteeing psychological safety by letting the people express their idea without the fear of being criticized. Accepting possible collaborations as offers, it always will be gratifying because together you can build more than yourself and perform better.


To give value to people in the team

We can look at today’s teamwork as communities of practice, based on cross-competency collaboration with the opportunity to scale in the different paths.


So to get the best out of this potential, a leader of change should:

  • attract special people, retain and grow their talents;
  • build special teams of people looking beyond the everyday work routine, working on future vision or emerging technology;
  • promote special projects with the aim to develop and test new methodology and tools.

The best way to reach this goal is to be an idealist with the ambition to reach quality, rise talent and give space to ideation processes. At the same time, a good leader should take care of the dynamics in a group, by assuring to have a shared culture and investing in the relationships with and between people and facilitating the communication increasing the level of influence and shared mindset. Moreover, in a situation of discomfort, it’s relevant to be aware and identify when chaos, autonomy or latency can wane the level of engagement.


Bringing diversity into design

In design teams, is not only the multidisciplinary an essential ingredient to come out with better ideas, also diversity (racial, sexual, …), is a fundamental component of innovation for a company or a project. At the Leading Experience conference a conversation between Eric Hellweg, from Harvard Business Review, Janaki Kumar, Head of Design of SAP innovation center and Emi Kolawole, from Design, LLC, highlighted the importance of a persistent education about the topic, that could lead to choosing diversity rather than conformity in companies. Although working on diversity in teams could be uncomfortable, and for the minorities could be difficult to put yourself outside, it is an essential agent of change.


Building a structure to manage the roles

The successful example of the USAA’s Bank experience operating model, presented by Prianka Advani (Assistant Vice President of Daily Experiences at USAA Bank), shows how managing the backhand of every specific service of a company by identifying a person responsible to design the customer experience and guide a group of other process designers, can lead to much better performance. Good results are guaranteed by applying the Human-Centered Design methods to understand the client’s needs, ensuring compliance and controlling the quality. Besides that, other advice she gave are: controlling few projects at the time (no more than 5), working toward experimental metrics in measuring performance or collecting data and looking out of your industry to inspire innovation.


“Do a smaller set of things exceptionally well!”

– Catherine Courage


A pattern to design for growth

According to Angel Steger, Design Lead at Pinterest, growth is all about connecting the user with value. But how to make your company grow?


The design’s mindset and its methods can help companies to get the job done by assuring a series of fundamental tasks to reach velocity:

  • understanding the users, their intents, and motivations; avoiding
    lack of data, understanding the problems early and clearly making the
    right questions;
  • being deliberately fast (one or two days of work can save entire weeks);
  • to test one thing at the time;
  • improving iteratively;
  • developing the user journey to ensure a better delivering of the product’s value to the user;
  • working in teams able to generate ideas and to take decisions;
  • showing and telling about the concept before they get real on the market;
  • enable experimentation but at the same time protecting the user experience.

Now you have discovered the most important advice about being a leader in designing the future, it’s time to discover two more essential elements.


Follow what you love and be an optimist!

When you have to decide what to work on, your team and your project, the most important things are to be involved in something that passionate you and to design the team you want to have. The optimism is the best attitude of a person approaching something new, it let you think that nothing is impossible, the same attitude of Tao Porchon Lynch, 98 years “young” yoga master, the last guest at the Leading Experience conference. With her inspiring words, she gave us a real demonstration of what does it means to think positively, to choose your disposition to life and choosing for good. If you don’t spend time on the negative thoughts, and you put your positive energy in your mind, all that you think it will be fulfilled.


“There is nothing you cannot do™”

– Tao Porchon-Lynch





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