Reading "Design-Driven" Innovation, one can only link this book to books that call on us to reflect on the larger context in which we live. Comparing this book to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or other books that investigate the larger context beyond the products and services is simply the only way to think about this book.
The author, Roberto Verganti, has a passion for innovation that is "design driven". His argument is that too often innovators and authors talk about, and write about, innovations that are technology driven or customer centered, which are important, but not truly insightful or disruptive. He seeks innovation based on the vision of the designer, which creates new context and new possibilities for innovation - instead of asking a customer what they want, Verganti's adherents will create a completely new proposal for the customers. His argument is that people buy products and services to satisfy utilitarian needs, but also to satisfy emotional and psychological needs as well, and if we can align our innovations to those deeper needs we can create more meaning, and create more value. Additionally, while product features and attributes can be easily copied, meaning cannot be copied as easily or as quickly, offering the firm that innovates with design and with meaning a significant advantage.
I've written on this subject before, and believe his premise wholeheartedly. As most consumers in the US, Western Europe and other developed countries have countless solutions to solve everyday problems, we move up a Maslow's hierarchy of solutions. At the most basic is the utilitarian solution, and then as that need is met we seek solutions that touch other emotional, cultural or psychological needs. How else can we explain the value of Philippe Starck's teakettle, when we can simply boil water in any pan in the kitchen? As simple needs are fulfilled, we seek solutions that address the deeper and more sophisticated needs that align to empathy and meaning.
This book will be read by many in the innovation space and then quickly shuttled off to the "interesting but impractical" shelf. Too many larger firms are very suspicious of trying to create meaning or offer their customers a new "proposal". Rather, they prefer to wait until someone has proven a market and then offer something very similar to what exists already. Verganti points out that executives who follow his methodology don't think "outside the box" they "immerse themselves outside the network". The necessary capabilities that Verganti suggests are important for Design Driven Innovation point out another difficulty for most firms. The three capabilities he says are necessary for design driven innovation are: building a network of relationships with key interpreters in a design discourse. By this he means that the organization and key executives are holding an ongoing dialogue with people who can suggest new proposals and interpret what new opportunities may exist. This would entail much more dialog, and much more qualitative discussion, than most firms are willing to create. Second, he suggests that another capability is to harness the unique proprietary assets that the firm has that can't be found elsewhere. In most firms, we've worked very assiduously to shave off any capability or feature that is unique and different, and we've all adopted the same methodologies, systems, processes and thinking models, so there is little differentiation between firms, and most larger firms would be hard pressed to identify their unique propositions and assets, much less organize them effectively. Third, the final capability is the ability to organize and make sense of what the external dialogue and discourse is telling you and combine that with unique capabilities and skills from inside the organization and create a unique, compelling vision. Most larger firms have little strategic vision and a difficult time communicating the vision and strategies that they do have.
This book hits the mark right on the head - true innovators will identify propositions and proposals so compelling that the customers could not have possibly asked for them. Much of that will be based on the company's dialog with the market, it's core knowledge and capabilities and its ability to empathize with the needs of its customers. This kind of innovation is "push" not "pull" and is based on compelling vision and design, creating meaning and empathy. Try saying that to your management team.
While Verganti sets up an innovation tableau that is completely correct and lays out the model for achieving that vision, I suspect that many firms are too operationally focused and too dependent on facts, numbers and "proof" to ever extend themselves to his vision of innovation. And that's too bad, because his vision is correct, and would ultimately be more valuable in the end, but most firms will stretch for his vision and settle for technology or customer driven innovation outcomes.