Business musings

Articles and thoughts about Warwick Business School

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Leadership  
Allan MurungiIntroducing guest writer, Allan Murungi

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce a new guest writer to our blog, Allan Murungi. As someone who is studying for an MBA at Warwick Business School, we met Allan at a WBS case study event earlier this year and were instantly impressed with his passion and enthusiasm. In his own words, Allan is an Innovation and Creativity enthusiast, IT Professional, Warwick MBA student, avid book reader and (recently) keen (road bike) cyclist.

The story of IBM’s resurgence during the period 1994 to 1998 is a story of innovation and creativity from the bottom up, started and championed by David Grossman. Grossman’s vision and tenacity resulted in IBM transforming itself from a company that was in decline into an Internet Services firm that rode the wave of e-commerce opportunities to the tune of $20 billion by the end of 1998.

And yet this begs the questions: Who was David Grossman? How did he manage to lead this innovation effort at IBM? And can this innovation and creativity process be replicated?

In organisations, innovation and creativity have traditionally been considered the domains of Chief Executives and other members of the C-suite. The best example of this is perhaps John Chen, formerly of Sybase Inc., who is now leading the turnaround at BlackBerry. As recently as June of this year, BlackBerry has, under his leadership, reported a positive net income of $23 million, up from an $84 million loss during the same period last year.

Innovation and creativity are also generally considered the domain of Research and Development. For instance, the vaunted R&D division of Apple gave us the iPod and iPhone, while Pfizer, the US pharmaceuticals giant, has maintained its dominance through such R&D as developed Viagra.

Where does David Grossman fit in all of this?

During the Winter Olympics of 1994, David Grossman, then described as a midlevel programmer at IBM, sat at home watching the Olympics on TV. As the official technology partner of the Olympics, IBM was responsible for collecting and displaying all the results. This gave the firm the exclusive privilege of displaying the IBM logo at the bottom of the screen, together with an interleaving of IBM ads at regular intervals.

However, upon surfing the Internet, Grossman discovered that Sun Microsystems had set up a rogue Olympics streaming site, complete with the Sun logo and marketing. As such, if someone only had access to this online stream, they would be given the impression that Sun Microsystems was the Winter Olympics’ official sponsor!

Grossman promptly reported this to his superiors, which resulted in IBM’s legal team sending Sun Microsystems a cease-and-desist letter. But Grossman didn’t stop there. He saw the opportunity that the Internet presented and set out to get IBM on board.

First, he set up a demonstration for senior executives in which he showed them exactly what the Web was and the vast potential it held for IBM. This piqued their interest and got their support. Grossman then became the right-hand man to John Patrick, who was present at Grossman’s first demonstration and worked in corporate strategy. Together, they worked on projects to convert IBM’s disparate divisions to the potential of the Web and to design IBM’s first homepage. Grossman and a handful of IBM’s best Web engineers rescued the website that broadcast the chess match between world champion, Gary Kasparov, and IBM Supercomputer, Deep Blue. By the time the Summer Olympics came around in 1996, IBM had built the first ever Olympics website, which also happened to be the world’s largest website at the time. And by 1998, IBM had a huge web presence!

So what does this mean for innovation in your organisation?

Grossman was just a frontline employee. He certainly didn’t have responsibility for innovation and creativity in IBM and he wasn’t part of the strategic planning team. And yet his contribution is credited with enabling IBM to successfully harness the power of the Internet at a critical time, in turn ensuring that the company maximised its potential.

The question then is: Was IBM lucky to have the tenacious and passionate David Grossman on its team?
And the answer is: Absolutely!

Would IBM have got on board with the potential of the internet without him? Maybe/Eventually/Possibly.

Our questions to you then are:

  • What is your innovation and creativity strategy?
  • What are you doing to support and engage your frontline employees in innovation for your company?
  • Are there systems in place to capture the generation of ideas, select the best ones and try them out?
And for those of you who like the research…

The complete story of IBM’s turnaround can be read at Harvard Business Review:
Waking up IBM: how a gang of unlikely rebels transformed Big Blue

Earlier this year, we were busy researching, writing and designing the challenge for the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition.

Held on 25-26 April by Warwick Business School, the competition brought together multi-disciplinary teams from 12 university-based business schools across Europe. In a close-run contest, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged victorious, walking away with both the title and the £4,000 prize.

Sponsored by global providers of transformational medical technologies and services, GE Healthcare, and global business and technology leader, IBM, the competition was focused on a big data solution designed to both stimulate progress in clinical neuroscience and improve outcomes for those with a neurological disorder.

Taking up the challenge to recommend a scaleable business model for this digital product were teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE (Spain), HEC Paris (France), IE Business School (Spain), Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School (Germany), SDA Bocconi (Italy), University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the welcome icebreaker event on Friday night, the kick off of the competition day itself, and case materials.

On hand to act as a sounding board for participants as teams developed their ideas were experts from GE Healthcare, IBM, KPMG, the NHS Health & Social Care Integration Centre, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire, Warwick Medical School, and WebMD.

Adding another invaluable perspective were Ken Howard and Dorothy Hall, to whom we were introduced by client and changemaker, Gill Phillips, creator of the award-winning Whose Shoes? approach.

Ken describes himself as an old biker, sci-fi fan, granddad, music lover and free thinker. He was diagnosed with dementia around 8 years ago but has been living with its effects for much longer. Although little can be done medically, Ken is determined to fight dementia every day by challenging himself and staying involved as much as he can.

I am conscious that I have a short shelf-life. It makes me impatient and frustrated that progress is so slow. I am trying to achieve as much as I can. There is life after diagnosis.

Dorothy is an Independent Social Worker and Practice Educator. Like Ken, and having had personal experience herself caring for a close relative with dementia, she is passionate about increasing awareness. Dorothy is also an advocate for flexible, personalised, imaginative care arrangements.

Together, experts and advocates prompted participants to an awareness of multiple perspectives and the vast array of complex challenges involved. Neurological conditions include not only Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but also stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and more. Collectively, such conditions are estimated to affect up to one billion people worldwide and the World Health Organization believes these disorders represent one of the greatest threats to public health today.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing participants meeting with experts, teams working on the challenge and a team as they presented.

Not only was it timely to focus on neurological conditions but big data solutions to global health challenges are extremely current. Enterprises of all sizes are grappling with demanding technological, regulatory and market challenges, and the business models required continue to be disruptive. Neither the participants nor the judges had an easy task ahead!

In a twist on last year’s format, teams were judged over two rounds. Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Saïd Business School, University of Oxford emerged as semi-finalists, after which the three teams were given one final challenge to reconcile against the clock.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing  the three semi-finalists (Mannheim Business School, ESADE and Said Business School, University of Oxford) in action.

After much deliberation by a judging panel that included senior industry experts and leading academics, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford were pronounced the winning team.

With combined experience in medicine, pharmaceuticals, neuroscience and computer science, the team not only delivered a strong presentation but were able to answer all the judges’ questions with persuasive reasoning and supporting evidence. Together, Grace Lam, Yen Nyugen, Marco Pimentel, and Sindhura Varanasi presented a well thought out approach to a tough challenge.

And although there could only be one winner, all were worthy contestants.

Photo and Twitter collage from the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition showing the winner's announcement, judging in action, and experts, judges and the WBS Executive Team..

Once again, feedback on the day was incredibly positive, and as Warwick MBA student and competition organiser, Corinne Montefort, said: “The competition was a great success.”

As always, it has been our absolute pleasure to be involved. The work of both WBS staff and the Case Competition’s student Executive Team was outstanding and we’ve been privileged to work alongside such an array of great people, from sponsors to experts and judges. Thanks must go to all.

Looking forward to next year and watching the competition grow once again!

In the meantime, we leave you with kind words from two members of the final judging panel…

Debbie and Matt of Stocker Partnership prepared the case study which formed the basis of the Warwick Business School International Healthcare Case Competition 2014. The quality of their preparation and investigation was impeccable and the case set up a highly engaging and challenging scenario on which the whole competition revolved. I’d have no hesitation in recommending Stocker Partnership for this or related specialist support and I’d be delighted to work with their team again!

Dr Jagdeesh Singh Dhaliwal
Medical Advisor, Healthcare Technology & Innovation, Global Government & Health
BT Global Services

I really enjoyed the case presentation, and given the time constraints, the scope was judged very well. Complex and with sufficient detail, the literature review, ambiguous data, overview of the environment, and the setting of some true and false trails for the students all worked well. If the participants worked well as a team, with the right experts – as Oxford did – then they could make a very good showing.

Alan Davies
Medical Director, Global Medical Affairs
GE Healthcare

Coverage elsewhere around the web

Warwick Business School: Said win £4,000 and WBS Case Competition

University of Oxford: CDT in Healthcare Innovation student Marco Pimentel and team from Said win WBS International Healthcare Case Competition

Mannheim Business School: MBS participants succeed at renowned Warwick Business School Case Competition


Last year, we co-created and wrote the challenge for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. This year the competition is back, it’s going international, and we’re thrilled to be involved once again!


Building upon last year’s resounding success, the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition will bring together the finest minds from university-based business schools across the world. With a focus on fostering creative solutions to complex problems, the competition is an opportunity for multi-disciplinary teams of students to once again bring their talents to bear on a contemporary healthcare issue.

We’re delighted that we’ve been commissioned to develop and write the challenge, working in partnership with both Warwick Business School and GE Healthcare, kind sponsors of the 2014 Competition and global providers of transformational medical technologies and services.

The event itself will take place on 25-26 April 2014, with a prize of £4,000 being awarded to the winning team. To find out more or to register (applications must be submitted no later than 5pm GMT on 21 February 2014), visit

Update 5 March 2014

From an overwhelming number of applications, 12 teams have now been selected to compete. Taking up the challenge on the day are teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE, HEC Paris, IE Business School, Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School, SDA Bocconi, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School. Let the competition begin!

Posted by Matt & Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Last week, we took a behind the scenes peek at how we went about creating the case study for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. Today, we’re following this up with a look at the day of the competition itself. Alongside Tornar Yang (MBA student and official photographer), Matt acted as an unofficial photographer, so we’ve put together a brief snapshot to give you a flavour of the day.

Let the competition begin!

The day started at 8.30am with students arriving at WBS from all over the country—some had a very early start! Participants had received Part One of the briefing one week before but they had no idea about the second part of the challenge or what surprises the day had in store.

A selection of photos showing the students arriving at the WBS Case Competition and being briefed before the day starts.

Intense teamwork

The challenge itself had been designed so that it was difficult but achievable. Teams worked together to understand and balance the conflicting and competing demands of the case, while at the same time ensuring they kept the brief in mind and achieved the required objectives. Experts were on hand to answer any questions but teams were required to schedule meetings and to weigh the advice they were given. We were privileged to sit in on a number of discussions throughout the day and were extremely impressed by both individual and team insights—there was certainly no shortage of either brain power or enthusiasm!

Selection of photos of students working intensely as they discuss the non-adherence and digital healthcare challenge

Time to present

In just a few short hours, the time to present had arrived. Gathered together once again and with an audience of experts and judges, each team anxiously awaited their turn.

Overall, the standard of presentations was very high. Each team had taken their own distinct approach to the challenge and it was clear that a huge amount of work had gone into each solution. Several judges even observed that many of the insights and several of the presentations would not have been out of context in a professional, client-facing setting.

At the end of the day however, there could only be one winner and, in 2013, Lancaster University Management School’s team stole the day.

Students make their final presentations as judges score their performance and content.

Behind the scenes

The day itself, and indeed the whole competition, wouldn’t have happened without the incredible drive and dedication of both WBS staff and the Case Competition’s student Executive Team. Thanks must also go to WBS and University alumni who provided significant expertise and who judged the presentations, along with IMS Health, partner and sponsor of the competition. We certainly felt privileged to have been involved and, as always, it was a pleasure working with all.

Photos of just some of the people that made the WBS Case Competition day happen including sponsors, experts and WBS staff

We very much look forward to watching the Competition continue and grow in 2014.  We know that WBS hopes the event will grow to be one of the most prestigious global case competitions in the MBA calendar and become a must for all MBAs aspiring to a career in consulting or the healthcare sector, so we are excited to see it evolve.

Posted by Matt & Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Earlier this year, we were privileged to co-create the case challenge for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. The event was the first of its kind for the pharmaceutical, life sciences and healthcare sectors, and was designed to engage the finest talent from top, university-based business schools in the UK.

Today’s healthcare sector faces some very real and prevalent challenges for which intelligent solutions are needed. The sector is also a significant recruiter of management graduates and, according to a recent survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a high proportion of job offers have already been secured by the Class of 2013.

The Case Competition thus brought together teams from Warwick, Lancaster, Cranfield and Manchester Business Schools with experts and judges who offered experience across organisations such as GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, UCB Pharma, Novartis, University of Oxford’s Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU), Quintiles, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.

IMS Health, a leading provider of information, services and technology for the healthcare industry, kindly sponsored the competition and partnered in both judging final presentations and providing expertise to student participants on the day.

Allow us to give you a behind the scenes tour to our own involvement and an insight into creation of the case itself…

Creating a credible challenge

Following a detailed brief, we worked closely with Sue Thorn (Director of  WBS CareersPlus), Kev Robinson (WBS Case Competition Lead), and members of the student Executive Team to co-create the competition challenge. From proposal to finished article, this was an iterative process of research, sharing of ideas, writing, design and development.


Comprehensive research

Realistic case studies require in-depth research. Although the company at the heart of the case was fictitious, the market in which it was set was real life and current. It was therefore critical that everything in the case reflected deep, accurate and up-to-the-minute market knowledge.

Debbie is our researcher extraordinaire, with Google and Evernote being her research tools of choice. Over the course of the development process, she captured (and read!) 479 news articles, opinion pieces, research papers, annual reports, briefings, white papers, guidelines, studies and industry reports—even watching several videos and news reports for good measure.

A photo showing an Evernote snapshot of all the research that went into creating the case study competition

A believable brand

Xceletra, the company at the heart of the case, was fictitious but it was important to create a believable organisation and brand—one that you could imagine being a real, live client.

To create such a brand, we first decide where in the market the organisation is positioned, what size it is, and how innovative/traditional it is in comparison to its competitors. We then look for a name that sounds authentic but is not in use by an existing company—an exercise that proved somewhat challenging in a sector as large and diverse as pharmaceuticals!

Drawing on the power of Facebook however, Xceletra was born. Our graphic designer, Robin Boyd, then skilfully designed its logo.

A photo showing the Facebook competition to name the company and different options for the Xceletra logo

Bringing Xceletra to life

With a believable brand in place, we next set about weaving the challenge into a credible story centred on a lifelike organisation: How many employees does Xceletra have? Which therapeutic areas is it focused on? How successful has it been to date? How many compounds does it have in its clinical pipeline? What is its organisational structure? Where does the competition challenge fit within the overall strategy of the business?

For the Case Competition, we also wrote two scripts, one of which was brilliantly acted and filmed by WBS students and staff. I have to say, we never thought collaborative script writing would become part of our job description but it was great fun and we were fascinated by the way in which each of our characters developed their own distinctive personality.

At the end of the day, our aim with any fictitious case is to blur the boundary between fact and fiction and for all participants to have an experience that is as true to life as possible.

A photo showing how we brought the case to life, with board members and scripts - photo shows us working with post-it notes to create the management script

Developing an illustrated brief

Part Two of the Competition Brief required that participants got to grips with a wide range of potential solutions—fast! To facilitate this process and to reduce the need for participants to undertake large quantities of primary research when time was precious, we employed visual communication.

With a background in design, Matt is skilled at communicating complex ideas in pictures and while he’s the first to admit that his illustrations will never win the Turner Prize, his drawings have been commended for their clarity and creativity.

A photo showing Matt Stocker creating the illustrations for the WBS Case Competition

Pulling everything together

With the core components in place, it was now time to pull everything together into a cohesive whole. Not only does the case itself need to tell a convincing story but a variety of other elements are also necessary to effectively communicate the logistics of the competition.

First photo showing some of the many elements of the case study competition

Second photo showing some of the many elements of the case study competition

From participants to judges, each individual needs to know what they should be doing and when. It’s also vital that key information is communicated to the right people at the right time. To ensure this, we created packs tailored to participants, experts and judges.

A photo showing all the packs for the case study, including those for the students, judges and experts.

The finished article

All printed and ready for the day…

A photo showing the participant briefing documents - part one and two

What they said

Feedback on the day was incredibly positive and we were thrilled. Abhishek Paryani, a member of the winning team from Lancaster University Management School, said:

All in all, it was a challenging exercise that gave us insight into the issues within the big pharmaceutical companies and it allowed us to come up, within the one week, with creative and multi-disciplinary solutions that kept in mind the different stakeholders involved.

Sue Thorn, Director of WBS CareersPlus, also wrote:

The energy and creativity that Matt and Debbie brought to the process has been amazing, managing to turn our initially sketchy concepts into credible and challenging materials to fully engage and stretch our participants. They took care to fully research the background markets and sectors we were using as a backdrop to these workshops so that the fictional companies created and business scenarios facing them were challenging, but also fully credible. They coped admirably with tight turnaround times, were flexible to cope with any changes in specifications that we made and engaged us fully throughout the process. The high quality and scope of the case studies, the tasks devised for participants and the associated briefing materials gained praise from many of the senior WBS alumni and recruiters that were in attendance.

To find out more about the day of the competition itself, catch up again with us next week!
WBS Case Competition 2013: On the day

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Leadership  Strategic Planning  Technology & Web  

Earlier this month, I was contacted by Yisi Lu, a Masters student in MSc Marketing & Strategy at Warwick Business School. For her dissertation, Yisi is considering design thinking and, in particular, its role in education. She asked me some very interesting questions and I would love to share my answers with you today.

To explain a little of my own interest in design thinking…

I tend to live with one foot firmly in both business and design. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that my graduate studies first began at Coventry University where I completed the first year of an M/Des BSc in Industrial Product Design. While I love design, I gradually realised that what really interested me was the strategic management and business of design.  In 2001, I therefore transferred to Warwick Business School to study their BSc Hons in Management Sciences (now known as Management).

Both business and design remain my passions. Much of my spare time is spent reading technical and design blogs. An A3 pad is a firm fixture in my note-taking armoury and something with which clients will be familiar. I was privileged to attend the 2012 Design Summit earlier this year. I’m a strong advocate of the collaboration between the Design Council and WBS. And, on a lighter note, Debbie will happily recount times that she has lost me in a store only to find me looking at the construction of their shelves!

All in all, Debbie and I work hard to integrate design and business throughout our approach to consultancy. We believe that, particularly in this day and age, the two are firmly intertwined and an integrated approach offers much greater value than one or other alone.

Question One

What do you think is the essence of “design thinking” and how does it lead to better education?

For me, there is not one single thing that defines or is design thinking. Certainly, design thinking is about creation and it always involves a symbiotic relationship between problem and solution. However, part of the essence of design thinking is its synthesis of a multitude of elements; you could say that design thinking is many or all of the following things…

A solutions-based process. Creative. Iterative. Agile. Responsive. Holistic. Needs focused. User focused. Visual. It employs feedback loops, prototyping and testing. It involves creative synthesis. Design thinking holds all elements and ideas in creative tension before a solution emerges. It is about broadening out and narrowing down; zooming in and zooming out. Design thinking ‘stores’ work and solutions visually whilst they are in process to ensure that previous iterations can be referred back to, learned from, revised and improved. People who employ design thinking are not afraid of failure or mistakes—they will often do something deliberately ‘wrong’ to find what could be right; they accept that solutions rarely emerge ‘right first time’. Design thinking explores the whole system and encourages people to step outside of the ‘problem’ in order to discover whether the broader environment is the real source of the issue. It encourages people to look at the bigger picture. It handles complexity without drowning; synthesizes knowledge and understanding; and looks for patterns and links between non-related elements. It frequently employs ideas from other sources, cultures and disciplines. Design thinking is playful and curious. It actively involves people and stakeholders; it is a collaborative process that looks both out and in. Design thinking always demands a clear brief.

With regard to education, design thinking moves people away from a narrow view that is based on their existing knowledge and personal opinions, toward a more expansive, curious, multidisciplinary perspective. It allows people to create and form ideas and solutions in a more creative and flexible way. Design thinking encourages students to look at the world differently. It helps them to understand that, with a defined brief, it is almost always possible to discover an effective solution, even if that solution takes time and numerous ‘failed’ attempts. It moves students away from a linear, analytical, detail-oriented approach toward a more creative, open perspective—away from believing “We first need to know everything about this problem to find an answer” to asking “How do we create a solution, even in the midst of ambiguity?” For me, this is more representative of situations within real-life organisations: often problems and solutions emerge together; the implementation of interventions informs both a further understanding of the problem and its solution; more often than not problems and solutions are continually being worked on in parallel. Design thinking enables students to better listen and engage with those around them. It teaches them to be creative in thought: by learning how to visually represent thoughts and ideas, students add another dimension to their problem solving approach. Many problems, models and ideas are not linear and do not lend themselves to being defined with the lined notepaper approach. Similarly, complex situations often involve many interdependent problems that cannot be solved individually. Use of visual tools enables a shared understanding to be created; it draws people together to debate and create solutions or outcomes that otherwise would remain opaque and poorly understood.

If I had to sum it up more succinctly, design thinking in education is about equipping students with an array of tools that enable them to deal much more effectively with complex situations; teaching them to embrace curiosity and failure; and opening their minds to new ways of thinking and doing.

Question Two

What do you think is the nature of a design thinking process?

There are many potential processes and theories that could be used to define the nature of the design thinking process; however, to get to hung up on defining the process itself is to miss the point.

A design thinking process is about creation. Making and doing. Testing and breaking. Seeing and responding.

Designers have done it for centuries. It starts with an idea, a brief, a desired outcome. The designer then starts to create and, in order to do so, they must pull together ideas and get a better understanding of the challenges that stand in their way. They must implement ideas to see if they work and, also, to discover if they and others like them.

The designer is happy with uncertainty because the process of creation is often messy, unpredictable and, at times, frustrating. However, they drive through towards their goal. They like an idea but then find it doesn’t work. They do more research; they look at other options; they push boundaries. The designer turns around and examines those problems that stand in their way—they look at them from a different perspective; they need to find out if the problems vanish or change when viewed from a different standpoint.

During the process, the designer will sometimes work on their own; at other times, they will open up the process to others—to users, to staff, to colleagues, to the people around them.

Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, the designer will arrive at a solution, the end outcome. The solution may be an amalgamation of a number of ideas. Sometimes, a single moment of insight may finally bring the answer.

And yet, however good the outcome, however great, it could be better. The designer may need materials or technology to catch up with what is in their mind’s eye—their ideas are not yet possible with today’s tools. Or, they may learn everything they should do or should have done differently once their completed piece ends up in the marketplace.

All in all, the design thinking process is about a journey from start to finish; from problem to solution; from idea to implementation. But this journey is not linear. It is iterative, recursive and looping. It could take hours or it could take years. But it is always a journey toward a desired objective, travelled with grit, determination and an open mind.

Question Three

What do you think is the best way for universities to teach design? (Should design schools create more business-focused creatives, or should business schools foster creative thinking in their MBAs?)

Ultimately, design thinking is about creation—of ideas, of products, of solutions, of outcomes. And yet, much of the university or business school approach is about the opposite—breaking things down, taking them apart, analysing, critiquing. Always the critic, never the creator.

I am a strong advocate of critical thinking and would never negate its value. However, while theoretical and case-based learning are a vital part of the business school education, I have noticed that students are often not very good at creating. There is a disconnect between their role and that of others—creating is left to ‘the creatives’. Students have rarely experienced the design process for themselves. Few students have ever created a brand; designed a website; designed or created a product, service or a building; created something out of nothing. And yet, in business, the only way that an organisation exists and survives is if it actually creates value; creates a product or a service; creates a market; creates demand. We teach students how to get the most out of what they have but never really to create something new. We leave that to chance, hoping that their innate creativity and drive will enable them to do this on their own. In this sense, we let both our students and their future employers down.

Design schools themselves are however often no better. They teach their students how to create but not how to truly exploit their creations. Creatives and designers can often be left floundering in a business world they do not really understand. They lack the management skills to bring their creations to life and to capitalise upon the value they know their creations contain. They do not know how to build a business structure around their creative process.

The obvious solution would be to bring business people and creatives together. However, with both failing to understand the other, tension begins to emerge. Designers and creatives are reluctant to relinquish business control for fear of what will happen to their creative direction; business people are unable to truly support a creative process they do not fully understand.

This is compounded by the fact that neither business nor design schools teach their students how to manage others in the creation/design process and how to get the best out of those who may ultimately work for them. Gerry McGovern (Design Director of Land Rover) has strong views on this and believes that nobody teaches either business people or designers how to manage other designers and creatives to get the best out of the creative process. Similarly, creatives are rarely taught how to manage their commercial employees to best capitalise upon their creative ideas.

So, in the middle exists this divide. With business people having little or no design, creative and visual literacy, and designers having little or no business literacy, there is a missed opportunity to create real value.

Thinking about organisational ambidexterity, it seems that we find ourselves in a situation in which design schools are teaching their students to explore, whilst business schools are teaching their students to exploit. In reality, as is the case in organisations, students must have the ability to do both—to explore and exploit—for real, long-term value to be released.

Ultimately, I believe it is the responsibility of both design schools and business schools to bridge this divide. Business schools should be embracing design thinking across their programmes, not only at MBA level, but also within their Undergraduate and Masters courses. Design schools should similarly be teaching their students (at all levels) about the commercialisation process and how to exploit the value within their creations.

Question Four

What do you think is the future of design thinking?

I believe there is a strong future for design thinking. With the recent and continuing economic environment, along with the diminished reputations of those who helped create it, the analytical approach has been shown to have significant weaknesses when it comes to solving global issues and discovering appropriate answers. As a result, we are seeing a move toward different approaches, both in how to create real value and also in solving problems. The Singularity University is one such example of how to embrace a multidisciplinary, creative approach. Although design thinking is certainly not the only alternative approach, I believe it is gaining increasing awareness, in part through those higher educational establishments that teach it.

Interestingly, within consultancy, clients also seem to be realising the limitations of the analytical approach and are increasingly resistant to, and jaded by, consultancies that charge high fees, do a lot of analysis, but, at the end of the day, fail to deliver effective solutions and outcomes that create real, practical value where it matters, on the ground. As a result, clients seem to be particularly open to value-based pricing, where the outcomes are clear and the costs are fixed. We ourselves have found that such an approach is hugely effective in facilitating design thinking and a solutions-led approach. As the objectives are clearly defined (the brief), along with measures of success and the value that the outcomes will bring, there is a clarity that rarely exists otherwise. There is also significant flexibility to embrace the complexity and creativity needed to solve the trickiest problems, without worrying about day rates or utilisation. The end outcome: fair compensation for the consultant and a great outcome for the client.

Similarly, in our own experience, design thinking opens up solutions to a multitude of problems that seem intractable with traditional business approaches. Visual problem solving and creative thinking enables simplicity to emerge beyond complexity and solutions to be found.

Moreover, while scientific and theoretical breakthroughs will continue to drive change, many of the most influential breakthroughs of the last century have been design-oriented in nature. Think the automobile, the home computer, mobile phones, the iPod, iPad, and more. Design is literally changing our lives, the way we think and the way we live. Many of the most influential and successful businesses in the world today have, at their heart, design. Their success is not due to either design or business alone but a healthy symbiosis of the two. People are increasingly recognising the power of design and embracing its success. This year alone within Britain, the Design Council hosted the Design Summit 2012; The Founders Forum hosted the Creative Industries reception; the British Business Embassy hosted the Global Business Summit (focused on creative services); various UK Trade & Investment regions hosted Creative Services Summits; the Olympics showcased British creativity and design; and MADE Entrepreneur Festival is focusing on businesses made in Britain, many of which are creative. There seems to be an increasing move toward supporting creative and design-led businesses and design thinking is fundamental to this future.

That said, for design thinking to be truly embraced in academia, I believe there needs to be a change in attitudes. Design thinking by its very nature is often very accessible and can be easily embraced by the populace. It also tends to dislike words. Historically, academia has tended to shun that which appears simplistic, even if at its heart it is rooted in research and grounded in experience. Similarly, design itself has not traditionally had a strong relationship with peer-reviewed journals nor has it taught or encouraged a critical, scientific approach. Gradually both sides of this situation are changing and multidisciplinary approaches are being embraced but such change will need to continue if there is to be a true meeting of minds between business and design.

At a recent event held by Warwick Business School, Professor Mark Taylor, Dean of WBS, described an effective vision as needing to be:

Out of reach but not out of sight

In other words, you should be able to visualise your organisation achieving its vision but it should not be possible for your organisation to reach out and take hold of the vision straight away. True vision is a balance between these two ideas.

If you cannot picture or imagine your organisation achieving its vision, no matter how hard you try, it is likely that this ‘out of sight’ vision is either the wrong vision for your organisation—one that does not fit with your organisation’s passions, purpose, values and beliefs—or it is so over-ambitious as to be unachievable. Vision of this kind will help no one. It may lead you in entirely the wrong direction and it is unlikely to ever be achieved. It certainly will not benefit your organisation over the long-term.

On the other hand, a vision that is within reach and can easily be grasped tomorrow, within the next month, the next year, or even the next five years, is not really a vision. Vision should be a future-oriented goal that is exciting, inspiring, motivating and more than a little stretching. It should challenge you to achieve more and to push your organisation beyond its comfort zone. Without this kind of vision, you are merely dealing with the day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year—reacting to your future, rather than creating it.

Warwick Business School certainly stand by the Dean’s assertion. Their vision is:

To be the leading university-based business school in Europe

And they describe their mission as:

  • To produce and disseminate world-class, cutting edge research that is capable of shaping the way organisations operate and businesses are led and managed.
  • To produce world-class, socially responsible, creative leaders and managers who think on a global scale, regardless of the size of their organisation.
  • To provide a return on investment for our students and alumni over their entire careers.

Hopefully they also have a vivid description of what it will look like for them to achieve their vision and measures of success that will enable them to know when they have become the leading university-based business school in Europe.

Out of reach but not out of sight is also a perfect description for an element of vision that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined BHAGs—”pronounced BEE-hags and shorthand for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.” Warwick Business School’s vision is certainly a big, hairy, audacious goal!

Four approaches to creating a BHAG

For those of you who read my earlier article that introduced the vision framework created by Collins and Porras, you will already be familiar with BHAGs. Something I chose to leave out of this article however was the fact that Collins and Porras also believe that there are four “approaches” or “broad categories” into which all BHAGs fall: target, common enemy, role model and internal transformation. As we shall see, Warwick Business School have chosen a target BHAG.


Much as the word ‘target’ implies, a target BHAG involves “setting a clear, definable target and aiming for it,” in the same way as an archer or marksman would aim to hit their chosen target.

For Collins and Porras, a target BHAG can be either qualitative (such as Ford Motor Company’s vision to “democratize the automobile” in the early 1900s and the 1960s NASA moon mission) or quantitative (such as Walmart’s vision in 1990 to “become a $125 billion company by the year 2000—which, incidentally, it achieved and exceeded!)

Typically, quantitative targets are likely to be financial or may involve an increase in physical size. Qualitative targets, on the other hand, are typically “defined in terms of taking the company to an entirely new level of overall prestige, success, dominance, or industry position.” Warwick Business School’s BHAG would fall into this category. Whilst their undergraduate programme has already been ranked #1 in the UK in 2010, their vision is to become the leading university-based business school not only in the UK but also in Europe, and to lead in quality for their research, graduates and programmes—a new level of prestige, success, position and potentially dominance, all in one!

Common enemy

Common enemy BHAGs involve David versus Goliath motivation and “a goal focused on defeating a common enemy.” Collins and Porras cite the examples of Nike’s 1960s mission to “Crush Adidas” and Honda’s 1970s response of “Yamaha wo tsubusu! (We will crush, squash, slaughter Yamaha!)”. When interviewed by Collins and Porras in 1990, an anonymous board member of Nike even remarked: “Our idea of a perfect day is to get up in the morning and throw rocks at our competitors.”

Typically, common enemy BHAGs are set by companies striving to become number one and, as evidenced by the comments above, they tap into the motivation to fight and to win. Common enemy BHAGs can therefore also be useful if your organisation is struggling against the force of its competitors: “they can transform an organization whose back is against the wall and that is concerned about its very survival.” And, as “people don’t like to ‘just survive’, they like to win,” common enemy BHAGs can take your organisation beyond surviving to overcoming and to even coming out on top.

However, as Collins and Porras observe, common enemy BHAGs can have their drawbacks: “…it is difficult to spend your entire life ‘at war.’ And what do you do when you’ve defeated the enemy and become number one? What happens when you are no longer David, and have become Goliath?” Beware the “we’ve arrived syndrome” and ensure that you create another BHAG as soon as you’ve achieved your last!

Role model

Role model BHAGs do what they say on the tin: they involve selecting a role model (usually another business, organisation or person) and seeking to emulate their traits and success. Although less common than target or common enemy BHAGs, Collins and Porras believe that role model BHAGs suit up-and-coming organisations and they found that they were “usually set by promising small to mid-sized companies with bright prospects in their industries.”

Examples of role model BHAGs include that of Giro Sport Design, which as a young company in the early 1990s sought to “be to the cyclying industry what Nike is to athletic shoes and Apple is to computers.” In the 1940s, Stanford University similarly desired to “become the Harvard of the West.”

Collins and Porras are quick to point out however that role model BHAGs are only effective to the degree that the role model you select “generates powerful images for [your] company members. Sometimes, the images generated may be so complex that they do not mean the same thing to all members and, as such, don’t provide the integrative force required of an effective mission.” To this end, be sure to select an identifiable and easily understood role model for this type of BHAG.

Internal transformation

Last but not least, internal transformation BHAGs differ somewhat from common enemy, role model and, to a degree, target BHAGs, in that they are focused internally rather than externally. Internal transformation BHAGs seek to transform your company from within. Such transformation could, in turn, lead to increased sales and external success but it is not the focus.

For this reason, Collins and Porras suggest that internal transformation BHAGs are suited to “large, established organizations” or “old organizations that need to dramatically change themselves in order to remain competitive and healthy (or, sometimes, to regain their health).” They cite the example of General Electric which, in 1986 and to cope with the inefficiencies of its size, stated that: “In addition to the strength, resources and reach of a big company, which we have already built, we are committed to developing the sensitivity, the leanness, the simplicity and the agility of a small company. We want the best of both…[a] big-company/small-company hybrid.” If your organisation could benefit from radical revitalisation, an internal transformation BHAG may be for you.

What’s your big, hairy, audacious goal?

We’ve already seen that…

  • Warwick Business School want to become the leading university-based business school in Europe.
  • Walmart exceeded their goal for the year 2000 and just keep growing—in their last fiscal year, they reported net sales of $443.9 billion, an increase of 5.9% over the previous year.
  • NASA achieved their vision of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
  • The year after they established their vision, Honda “so thoroughly defeated Yamaha that Yamaha later publicly apologized to Honda for having claimed that it would dominate Honda.”
  • Giro Sport Design (now known as Giro) have grown from creating the first ventilated, lightweight cycling helmet in 1985 to now being a world leader in equipment for cycling, skiing and snowboarding with goods that “are worn by millions of riders around the world” and showcased at events such as the Tour de France.
  • And time will tell for General Electric. Having taken a thorough beating in the financial crisis as General Electric’s financial services division plunged the company into the red, we will now find out whether the giant really does have the agility of a small company as it seeks to return to what it knows best (making stuff) and turning its fortunes around.

So, following that inspiration, what is your big, hairy, audacious goal for the future of your organisation?

Although many of the examples above involve corporate giants, BHAGs are in fact for everyone. In its early days, Giro was a single product start-up in which the founder, Jim Gentes, “stocked inventory in his bedroom, used his garage as a manufacturing plant, and expanded by trading a helmet with his neighbour for use of his garage.” From such humble beginnings has come great success!

And even if world domination is not your thing, BHAGs can be a powerful motivator for the goals that you do wish to achieve. Collins and Porras even note that there is a special case for BHAGs in start-up companies in which it is more than enough to set the big, hairy, audacious goal of “reach[ing] a point where survival is no longer in question.”

Whether you need to take on your competitors, emulate an organisation that you admire, strive for an out of reach target or transform your company from within, BHAGs can be incredibly powerful motivators. Their success does not even have to be measured by whether or not you achieve the BHAG itself because you will accomplish so much more along the way.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Louise Keeney, Director of Bondeye Optical, who when we were working with them described this perspective on vision as, “Aim for the stars and clear the fence.” Setting a BHAG is very definitely aiming for the stars but, whether you reach the stars or not, you will certainly clear a fence or three along the way—fences that you may not otherwise have cleared had you not created a vision in the first place.

And, as the examples above show and research has continually supported, those companies who set themselves big, hairy, audacious, out of reach but not out of sight goals do in fact achieve them on a surprisingly consistent basis.

So, what are you waiting for? Set a big, hairy, audacious goal today and find out what your organisation really could achieve in the next 10 to 30 years!

And for those of you who like the research…

Collins, J.C. & Porras, J.I. (1991). Organizational vision and visionary organizations. California Management Review. 30-52.

Collins, J.C. & Porras, J.I. (1996). Building your company’s vision. Harvard Business Review