Spyder Works

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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Who needs “process” when we’ve got each other?

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Let me get something off my chest. If you’re a business owner, process is your friend.

I’ve heard too many business leaders say that process inhibits their organization’s creativity. Or flexibility. Or culture.

Hogwash! Process is a discipline that enables companies to grow and make a profit. If you don’t embrace process, you won’t have much flexibility or creativity left. Or much of a business, for that matter.

I don’t say this just because I’m an engineer, or an efficiency and effectiveness expert who has worked in plants for Toyota, Honda and other industrial giants around the world. I believe this because I brush my teeth twice a day (sometimes three). I floss. I change my clothes daily. I set my alarm the night before. Because processes – disciplined, repeated behaviours that produce specific outcomes – are key to overcoming everyday human inertia and achieving results.

It’s natural for leaders to shy away from formal processes. I get it. They fear that their innovative, consensual organization will suffocate in an avalanche of rules. They dread resistance from colleagues who distrust change. Some even fear losing their own autonomy after years of operating their business on the fly.

But the operations they see as consensual and common sense may in fact be chaotic and wasteful. Where disciplined processes are in place, everyone knows what to do and why. Without such systems, everyone may be working hard, but they may not be working together.

Here’s a case study. A mid-sized producer of telephone systems called me to solve a problem: after booking new orders, they were waiting six months for payment. When I investigated, I realized this wasn’t a cash-flow issue. It was an efficiency problem and a shortage of accountability.

Here’s what was happening. The sales team had quarterly goals, so they pushed hard only four times a year. This created fulfillment problems as the company overloaded suppliers by requesting extra components. (One saving grace: as there was no timetable for ordering parts, some calls went out late.)

There was no process for standardizing information on customers’ locations and special needs, so once the installers arrived at clients’ offices, they often discovered problems that required more cabling or specialized equipment. Finally, while the company’s invoices clearly noted “30 days net,” everyone ignored it – and the company had no process for encouraging payment.

Together we introduced clear standards for sales activity, ordering, client information and installation – and enforcing non-payment penalties. The company quickly turned around, and became the leader in its industry. Sales, which had been slipping, grew 20% in a single year.

Yes, there was resistance at first. Even the manager who hired me thought the basic problem was a too-complex business – not his failure to manage that mess. Once we showed them our solutions, everyone became proud champions of clarity and simplicity.

Systems and processes don’t create complexity – they reduce it. Where standards are absent, people generate their own processes. Chaos, it turns out, is like tooth decay: easy to prevent, but hard to fix.

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