Spyder Works Celebrates 25: The Anniversary Interview

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Einstein never made it big in the business world, but he made a famous observation that all CEOs can understand: no problem can be solved using the same level of thinking that created it.

That’s why Spyder Works has always sought new ways of solving business problems. Building on our founders’ complementary expertise in business and design-thinking, we help clients find innovative solutions by re-framing their challenges and seeing opportunity through a different lens. Design-driven strategy is a creative and pragmatic approach that is used to drive unexpected insights to uncover and commercialize opportunities.

Over the last few years, we have transformed this advantage into a replicable process that clients can depend on. And we’ve given it a name: Design-Driven Strategy. It’s the process we use to tap into the two pillars of successful businesses:  left-brain (the rational, measurable part) and right-brain thinking (the creative, aspirational components that create the most value in customers’ minds).

Design-Driven Strategy lets us help organizations become as efficient and effective as they can be, while liberating their employees’ passions and new ideas to create innovation and resilience. Once your organization masters this whole-brain approach to strategy, it becomes active instead of reactive. It develops the skills to dominate its categories and boldly expand into new markets as its confidence and creativity grow.

Want to know more? We convinced our co-CEOs, Ken Tencer (Chief Executive Officer) and John Paulo Cardoso (Chief Experience Officer), to sit down for an interview about the power of Design-Driven Strategy – and what it means to you. Here’s what they told us:

Question: What makes “Design-Driven Strategy” different?

Ken Tencer: It’s creative and pragmatic; it melds the human focus of design thinking with the more linear thinking of conventional business strategy. In today’s creative and data-driven business world, there are so many ways to move forward. Design-driven strategy helps us to build a dynamic perspective into decision-making.

Compare this to the dual nature of data today. Big data is the rational art of marketing: it tells you what people are doing. Thick data tells you why they are doing it.

John Paulo Cardoso: As a creative thinker, my foundational belief is: “Embrace the obvious.” People are always making business problems more complex. They keep adding layers to them, like an onion. They get so far from the core that they forget the obvious. Design-driven strategy is an inquisitive framework that invites collaboration from different perspectives such as creative thinkers, entrepreneurs and traditional strategists. It helps to quickly cut through the layers.
One of the core elements of design-driven strategy is the notion of design thinking and at Spyder Works we define it as “Thinking with your hands.” Designers are always constructing mockups or thumbnails to model what they’re seeing. By taking their visions out of their heads and sharing them, they create more robust, free-flowing conversations. People start building on each other’s ideas. They very quickly understand how each component relates to each other, and how the whole system can be improved.

Question: How did you get from there to “Design-Driven Strategy”?

John: I believe we can solve any business problem by beginning from anywhere when we engage both a creative and a pragmatic mindset. My favorite anecdote from the early space program is how the Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in space while the Russians simply used a pencil.

I started Spyder in 1992 as a design studio to work with like-minded designers and clients who valued design as a strategic differentiator in building their business. Our first client was Estée Lauder who understood the value of design to create their brand experience. But over the years, I started getting different challenges to solve: real business problems. We became much more of a business consultancy. Ken started out as a client; the co-founder of a growing manufacturer of natural bath and body care products. I liked his strategic mindset and creative bent, and he liked that I was a strong creative person who embraces the freedom of creativity and able to recognize its application within a business context to help it grow.

Together we’ve created a different mindset about what a consulting firm can be.

Ken: We have quite systematically developed our whole-brain approach to strategy for business. The left brain is all that rational Tier One consultancy and Fortune 500 thinking. The right brain generates the emotive, out-of-the-box thinking of entrepreneurs and designers. They see different patterns than the rest of us do. They question everything they see. And I find it’s that question “Why?” that drives opportunity today.

When we work on business strategies, we don’t leave our clients 30,000 feet in the air. We drill through the data to find creative new insights that drive ideas to market. So, when we worked with a national pharmacy chain, we began with the question, “Why do people go to drugstores?” We found that trust and knowledge were far more important than product assortment. These findings helped them move into a number of adjacent markets and position themselves as both pharmacy and home health-care experts.

Q: How can Design-Driven Strategy help businesses grow?

Ken: We helped a chemical company develop a new line of treatment products for water systems. We talked to people selling similar products and found that legacy competitors had lost sight of their users. They weren’t giving customers reasons to buy. We helped our client develop a value-added consumer platform anchored in product performance, and then we helped them introduce it to the trade. Focusing on the customer experience: that’s what ties it all together.

John: It’s about creating and commercializing meaningful next step opportunities. It requires rigor to identify need states and creativity to recognize the pain points and opportunities that start meaningful relationships. We take clients through applied learning workshops that help them explore problems from various perspectives. By working with tactile tools, whether it’s whiteboards, Plasticine, paperclips, personification exercises or techniques from method acting, they see connections and discover barriers and possibilities they could rarely come up with by just working inside their heads.

Q: How has this approach changed what Spyder Works does?

John: We’re closer to the C-suite than we’ve ever been. We’re being asked much bigger questions. It’s no longer, “How do I stand out on the shelf?” Now it’s, “Why should I be on the shelf?” This journey is really coming alive.

Ken: We’re seeing tremendous new talents attracted to our team by our holistic approach to business thinking. Jeff Holland is an engineer and consultant from McKinsey with Big Auto experience who’s thrilled about being able to bring our whole-brain approach to clients: he’s a musician who loves to build guitars. Barry O’Grady’s whole career has been in big consumer brands. He’s keen to bring our unique thinking to manufacturing and service companies that have traditionally sold only on functional benefits. And with Vivian Hisey running our new division, Icicle Learning, we can now transform your corporate culture to capture the full benefits of whole-brain strategy.

Q: Design and business strategy aren’t always on speaking terms. How do the two of you work together? How do you get along?

John: We see everything very differently but we understand that strategy is one construct with two elements, design + business just like water’s hydrogen and oxygen. We also follow a strong process which has enabled a shorthand communication style that nurtures robust conversations We are able cut to the heart of the matter, and that gets us to solutions much faster. Having opposing points-of-view is what makes the solution stronger.

Ken: We’ve always appreciated that we look at things from very different perspectives. It’s a gift, not a weakness. And it’s a sensibility that we’ve passed on to our entire team through our workplace style and culture.

We have animated conversations and that’s how we break through and tap new thinking. I don’t think you can be closed-minded in business anymore, at any level, and expect to be successful.

For more on Design-Driven Strategy, reach out to Ken <ktencer@spyder.works> and he’ll be happy to set up a co-CEO lunch for three.



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Intraprise – Growth from Within

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Intraprise° is a program that will help you prepare your organization for long-term, continuous growth through intrapreneurship in a world that no longer rewards conventional wisdom. It is an immersive program that approaches intrapreneurship as a business discipline, not an event.

Whether you’re ready or not, every business is in continuous transition. As a business leader, striving to prosper in a time of frenetic change, you’re under heightened pressure to anticipate what might happen in the future.

Through the course of Intraprise°, your organization will be fully supported by an intrapreneurship ambassador that guides your team through assessments, blended learning, tollgate reviews, sustainment and integration exercises.

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Small Steps, Epic Announcement.

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One of Canada’s brightest business minds has just joined Spyder Works.

Jeff Holland started as a manufacturing engineer who cut his teeth at Toyota. Then Honda hired him to be a Product Launch Leader, and then he became a manufacturing problem solver and troubleshooter for McKinsey & Co., jetting around the world to rescue troubled factories. Later he led the process and innovation performance practice in Canada for Accenture, and then he joined McKinsey – AGAIN! – to specialize in Operations and Organizational Transformational Change.

And now he’s become Spyder Works’ Vice-President of Organization & Operations.

You can see our opportunity. A seasoned pro like Jeff wants to work with growth-minded clients who don’t fear the future. You understand that ongoing technological and market disruption create big opportunities for organizations with the right mindset, processes, and aligned, positive teams.

Jeff is smart, funny, personable and modest, and he really wants to help. He’s totally about achieving great outcomes for clients. So, we want to keep Jeff busy with challenging projects that require all his skills in innovation, process improvement, organizational change and leadership development.

If you’re a market leader striving to stay on top, Jeff is eager to assist. Backed by Spyder Works’ deep expertise in business strategy, innovation, intrapreneurship, marketing and customer experience, Jeff can help you get ahead and stay there.

Here’s more about Jeff:

  1. He calls himself a “recovering” engineer, because he’s a people person.
  2. He loves to play guitar and banjo, and used to play the mandolin. His secret ambition is to make guitars for a living.
  3. He really cares. Ask him about the week in April 2014 when he flew around the world and saved nearly 3000 jobs. He’d been asked to monitor a plant in China that was scheduled to be closed. Just before leaving, a colleague asked him to visit an open-pit mine in South Africa that needed to reduce costs by 30% – and expected to cut 1500 jobs. Cut a long story short: after one day at the mine, he saw that a few organizational changes could slash costs and save all those jobs. Then he spent three days assessing problems at the manufacturing plant in Guangdong. He saw that their problem wasn’t manufacturing, but an undisciplined ordering process back in North America. “It was one of the best plant sites I’d seen in 10 years,” he says. “I gathered evidence to show that the planning and scheduling people were killing the plant. We postponed its closure, and it’s still going strong today.”
  4. Jeff still likes problem-solving. Even better, he enjoys helping and transforming organizations. “I want to work with companies that are growing, and people who are growing.”
  5. What’s the secret of a good client relationship? Jeff says great relationships are built on
    trust and openness. “I like situations where I have their back and I can feel they have my back. Where we can have truthful conversations in a risk-free environment. Don’t hold back. If you tell me exactly what you think and what you’re feeling, we can get down to business and solve the problem sooner.”
  6. Jeff is a true believer in design thinking, the fuel that powers Spyder Works. “To me, design thinking means two things. 1: Focusing on all the systems in an organization that need to be understood and integrated. 2: I want to be able to design into organizations the agility to anticipate what could happen, instead of what has happened.”
    People like Jeff don’t come along every day. As our CEO, Ken Tencer says: “Jeff Holland helps us expand Spyder Works’ impact, translating high-level corporate strategy all the way to the production floor or the customer’s loading dock. His work across five continents also helps strengthen Spyder’s international footprint, which already extends across North America and to Europe.

“But he works fast, so we need lots of projects to keep him busy.”

If you have bottlenecks to clear, new strategies to carry out, or questions about the future, give Jeff a call at (506) 852-1422. Or email jholland@spyder.works. Help us put off that guitar factory as long as we can.

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