Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Nine Principles of Great Companies

by Jon on March 28th, 2012 - Comments (0)

At Involution, as a part of our commitment to learning and growing as a company, we conduct semi-regular studio critiques. This kind of critique is important to our ongoing evolution as an organization and helps everyone, from leadership to staff, understand the broad vision and values of the studio. As a part of that ongoing discussion, we’re drafting a set of principles that we believe apply to great companies, especially great design companies. Some of these principles are inspired by “Achieving Excellence in Your Design Practice” by Stuart Rose. While the book was first written in 1987 for architectural firms, the principles within it apply to modern design practices in the digital and software realms, as well. Here, then, are nine principles we believe are characteristic of great companies.

Visual Notes on Principles of Great Companies

Visual note taking from principles of great companies brainstorming session.

1. Great companies focus.
It’s difficult if not impossible to be great at something if your attention is divided. The same is true of companies. Don’t try to do too much. Try sharpshooting rather than using a shotgun. Provide a unique service to clients and develop a niche business.

2. Great companies care about quality.
In our get-it-to-market-quickly world, where the greatest product is whatever is coming next, it’s ironic that quality may be the last, best differentiator. Cutting corners is far too easy, and the pressure to do so is intense. Don’t give in. It’s not worth it. Have a value set that includes quality of workmanship and make sure that every staff member and, just as importantly, every client shares and accepts that vision.

3. Great companies make things.
While it may not always be possible to have input into and control over the total system and process for designing and developing a product, it’s a worthy goal. Of course, understanding the business, technical, and user requirements and constraints for a product are critical to generating an excellent design. But being involved in the process from ideation to prototyping to production to testing to final release and onward ensures that the total product design is honored. Whether you’re designing and making something for clients or for your company, the same philosophy applies. Great companies are involved through the entire lifecycle of the product — from design to build.

4. Great companies take risks.
Experimentation is key to discovering new technologies, techniques, and potential product paths. If you’re interested in finding the next great product, it’s worth making lots of (small) bets and seeing what works out.

5. Great companies breed openness and transparency.
It’s essential that a company be able to confront the facts, not matter how brutal they may be, and face them head on. Being able to grapple with the truth about everything from internal company operations to external economic conditions is a critical component when striving for excellence. However, at the same time, while companies should be rigorous about these assessments, they should never be ruthless.

As a corollary to this tenet, employees should feel comfortable to argue, challenge, and discuss ideas across levels. Solutions can and do come from everyone, so we should embrace this kind of fluidity and ambiguity. To encourage this open discussion, and build trust, staff and leadership should have meals together.

6. Great companies decentralize decision making.
Empowering staff to make important decisions based on company principles and values, will not only improve efficiency, but also enable leadership to provide vision and guidance — steering the ship rather than manning the oars. Staff should be able to act as entrepreneurs within the larger organization, pushing projects forward and providing clients with great service.

7. Great companies measure performance.
You can’t see, analyze, or fix problems if you don’t have the data. Setting goals and reviewing results on a regular basis, not just for financial and project oriented items, but also in regards to team dynamics and client interactions and service will enable a company to continuously improve.

8. Great companies are profitable.
Profitability enables continued growth, evolution, and commitment to quality and excellence. The financial system that runs a great company should be designed for profitability so that all these elements can be honored.

9. Great companies evolve.
Especially in today’s ever changing digital world, it’s vital that a company be able to change as needed, to shift tactics when one potential solution misses the mark. We will not be doing the same jobs a year from now. As a corollary to this tenet, companies need to educate and train staff in order for them to grow, change, and remain competitive. Just as importantly, and for the same reasons, clients should receive ongoing training as well.

These are some of the principles that we strive for here at Involution. What are your key tenets for creating a great company?

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What’s Next?

by Dirk on October 6th, 2011 - Comments (1)

As countless, near-identical Steve Jobs obituaries spew out of the blogosphere/Twitterverse today, let’s honour his contribution by doing what he did best: anticipating at what will be next…

As Robert Fabricant eloquently wrote in a recent Fast Company article, Apple achieved the pinnacle of design as represented by past forms. Their use of analog metaphors and comfortable affordances at the highest possible level of design craft allowed us to explode into the digital age. This is, in some real way, Steve Jobs’ legacy.

The industrial age is wheezing toward a diseased conclusion. Already, the preponderance of industrial jobs have moved from the west into developing countries. More than that, if the majority of world scientists are to be believed, the residue of the industrial age is threatens our oceans, our ecosystem, our species, and perhaps even our world. The end of that paradigm appears to be coming from both directions: the evolutionary progress beyond creating, hoarding and discarding physical crap, coupled with the devolutionary process of our having created a technological and physical infrastructure that destroys our natural world.

The advances of Apple under Steve Jobs serve as perhaps the ultimate icon of transition: the pinnacle of creation in our dying paradigm, and a shape of things to come in the future we have yet to experience. However, as Fabricant pointed out, as magical as iPads and iPods and even Apple IIe’s of 25 years ago might have seemed, their greatest successes came dressed in the metaphors of past technologies and affordances, things that are part of a world within which their influence and even presence is rapidly diminishing.

Where the visionary and innovative spirit of Steve Jobs can now take those of us who have the foresight, ability and courage enough to pioneer them is toward new forms for and definitions of design and beauty. No one will yoke the modern and futuristic digital life so successfully to the analog past as Steve Jobs’ Apple. At some granular level, you could even say that is his design legacy. But we can now break out from that warm comfort. We can discover and create new, fresh, unexpected ways to bridge the gap between the world we’re going to create and the people who will experience it.

Ever since reading Fabricant’s essay and realizing the true lack of creativity and originality in our culture in general and Apple’s design strategy in particular, I’ve resolved myself to pursue such an agenda. Perhaps with the even larger event of Jobs’ death we can contextualize this moment in time and together aspire to so much more than even Jobs himself was ultimately doing, in the process carrying the spirit which led him to such audacious heights still forward.

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