Start Small

by July 22, 2009

In our Influencing Strategy by Design course, Tom Chi and I advocate that any designer or design team interested in expanding their strategic involvement or influence within their organization do so by starting small.

Many businesses are naturally risk-adverse as they have huge dependencies on their bottom-line. So it only makes sense that completely new ways of solving problems or tackling business opportunities are going to make them nervous. Instead of trying to sell design thinking to the company wholesale or as a broad cultural change, it’s often better to apply it to small but impactful projects. What’s the smallest possible initiative you can tackle that provides backing for a broader, more comprehensive program? Having a previous win to reference assures the analytical mind that this pattern can be reproduced again and perhaps at a larger scale. Letting you build up your wins gradually.

Recently, I caught an audio program with Scott Anthony, author of The Innovator’s Guide to Growth, where he made a similar point about disruptive innovation.

"A lot of companies are scared by disruptive innovation because it sounds like they have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and tear their company apart. But what we found is the best way to get to a disruptive endpoint is to take a simple small first step. Invest a little, learn a lot. If you invest too much too soon, you are locking yourself into a path that may be fatally flawed. Instead move forward in ways that don't require huge amounts of money or risk and then iterate your way toward success."

In other words, start small.