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What is Business Design?

Business Design is an emerging commercial discipline. The best definition of business design that I have seen comes from IDEO, the company that first introduced me to the concept:

Business designers take juicy, creative, human-centered innovation and make it succeed out there in the real world. We [IDEO] use strategy, analysis, and financial modeling as generative design tools, and help organizations turn their biggest, wildest ideas into businesses with long-term viability.”

Source: Rotman School

The Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto defines it as follows:

“Business Design is a human-centred approach to innovation. It applies the principles and practices of design to help organizations create new value and new forms of competitive advantage. At its core, Business Design is the integration of customer empathy, experience design and business strategy.

What does a Business Designer do?

During a discussion with Lorenz Koder Fort at IDEO, I learned that the key activities of a business designer are:

  • understanding the business and the competition
  • providing industry perspectives
  • designing experiments for prototyping
  • measuring the results of those experiments
  • identifying risks and mitigating strategies
  • identifying differentiation strategies
  • developing business models/cases with financial models to support investment

Source: Medium post from Misa Misono, ex-IDEO

In particular, he intimated that Business Designers are focussed on the Viability segment of the Feasibility, Viability, Desirability nexus (diagram above). As such, IDEO assesses potential Business Designers along 4 core pillars within that:

  1. Market Navigation
  2. Prototyping & Offer Design
  3. Business Modelling
  4. Storytelling

There’s also a great summary of the typical work of a Business Designer given in the LinkedIn bio of Alvaro Rojo, Business Design Lead at Fjord:

  • Disruptive trends & competitive forces
  • Discovery-driven planning
  • Customer experience strategy
  • Value proposition design
  • New product/service development & execution
  • Market size & growth
  • Ecosystem mapping
  • Roadmapping
  • Go-to-market strategy & international expansion
  • KPIs modeling & tracking
  • MVP & in-market prototyping
  • Product/market fit optimization
  • Business model design & monetization opportunities

Finally, Tsukasa Tanimoto’s informative Medium post contains this succint explanation of the difference between a Business Designer and a Management Consultant:

Source: Medium post by Tsukasa Tanimoto

Who offers Business Design services to their clients?

Many companies offer Business Design-type services to their clients, but here is a selection of some interesting companies in this space:

  1. IDEO
  2. Fjord (owned by Accenture)
  3. EY-Seren (owned by EY)
  4. MAYA Design (owned by BCG)
  5. PA Consulting
  6. frog design
  7. SYPartners
  8. Fahrenheit 212
  9. ?What If! Innovation

How can I learn Business Design?

You can study an MBA with a major in Business Design at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

The Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or “the d.school“, seems to be a renowned institution for the discipline. This makes sense, as David Kelley, one of IDEO’s founders, founded the d.school as well!

IDEO offers a lot of related short courses through their IDEO U website, but Designing a Business hits the nail on the head!

How can I become a Business Designer?

A lot of job ads state that MBAs are a “huge plus”, but in reality, it seems to me that they are pretty much a pre-requisite. In some ways, this makes sense, as a holistic view of a business is crucial to designing a good one! However, it does exclude the autodidacts among us.

Entrepreneurship experience is highly valued, as entrepreneurs have lived and breathed the design, prototype, and test cycle.

There’s further discussion of the role and what companies are looking for in a potential recruit on this post from an ex-IDEO Business Designer and the previously mentioned in-depth post from Tsukasa Tanimoto, a Service & Business Designer at Spotless.

Insight from IDEO: How to Prototype a Business

There’s a great post on IDEO‘s website on a topic that is fascinating to me: How to Prototype A New Business (from their Creative Confidence series).

The post is based around an interview (audio below) with Joe Gerber, the MD of IDEO CoLab, which is “a collaborative R&D Lab exploring emerging technologies and its future impact”.

Among some of the useful points, there is a nice lens that can be used to assess new businesses: Viability, Feasibility, and Desirability.

Source: IDEO

Prototyping is a key part of the Design Thinking process and this podcast shows how important it is in Business Design. This is because the hardest thing to predict is the desirability, so you have to test this empirically.

In the podcast, Joe goes into great detail about how you can do this by trying to sell the concept as if it were already a product to see if there is genuine customer appetite (he refers to setting up a “lemonade stand”).

There are some amazing resources linked on there such as Tom Hulme’s Business Model Canvas and a list of Prototyping Tools that can be used (both physical and digital).

Google to acquire Dyson?

Back in 2014/2015, I wondered whether it would make sense for Google to acquire Dyson.

Growth of Alphabet/Google hardware presence

In order to keep their advantage in the search and data sphere, Google (now Alphabet) ramped up their presence in lots of emerging hardware spaces via acquisitions such as Motorola, Boston Dynamics and Nest Labs. Also, Google has developed their own technology innovations at Google X (now simply X), such as the world-leading autonomous vehicle company, Waymo.

In order to fully commercialise such acquisitions and innovations, Google needed to have access to an abundance of world-class hardware product development and marketing experience.

Google made a step towards this in 2014 when they acqui-hired a design firm based in California called Gecko Design. However, I believed Gecko Design was not big enough to fill this void alone.

This left me wondering whether Dyson would be a good fit to help satisfy this need for design engineering firepower.

Dyson’s common interests with Google

Dyson was rumoured to be working on an electric car after it acquired battery company Sakti3 (which has now been publicly confirmed) and also invested £5m with my alma mater, Imperial College, to develop next-generation robots, resulting in the Dyson Robotics Lab.

Given Alphabet’s world-leading autonomous vehicle project, Waymo, and it’s previous interest in robots, I thought that an acquisition of Dyson would give Alphabet/Google a huge advantage with its massive team of 4,800 design engineers.

Dyson and Alphabet have other visions of the future in common. One notable example is Halo (see right), Dyson’s previous prototype of a Google Glass-type device that they built 10 years before Google launched it!

Would Sir James Dyson sell?

As of 2018, a tie-up between the two companies has not yet emerged. In many ways it is unsurprising, as Sir James and his family appear to own 100% of Dyson, so why give up control? (On that topic, there is a great interview with Sir James on NPR’s How I Built This podcast about how he grew his business which explains that surprising fact).

Also, Sir James is a vocal advocate of keeping engineers in Britain and growing British talent to boost industry and our economy.

His leadership on this issue includes launching his own university with a £15m investment, called the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, and his £12m donation to Imperial College to launch the Dyson School of Design Engineering (as well as the previously mentioned Dyson Robotics Lab).

In short, I’m not going to hold my breath for this one. However, it will be fascinating to see how Google and Dyson both fare in the autonomous and electric vehicle markets. Perhaps future collaboration or a joint venture could be on the cards?

Randy Pausch on Time Management

After Randy Pausch’s phenomenal Last Lecture, he recorded another great one on Time Management lecture at the University of Virginia which you can view below:

The full slide deck can be downloaded here: Randy Pausch Time Management slides.

I have condensed the talk’s key points into this list of top tips:

  1. Make sure that you understand that time = money
    1. Understand what your time is worth to both you and your employer and use that to make better decisions about money
  2. The real reason to maximise your time is actually to maximise FUN!
  3. Maximising your time well makes you successful
  4. When assessing your goals:
    1. Why are you doing it?
    2. Why will I succeed?
    3. What will happen if I don’t do it?
    4. Doing things right vs doing the right things
    5. 100 life goal list – read it weekly and ask if you are working on something from it
  5. “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Walt Disney
  6. To fail to plan is to plan to fail
  7. You can’t change a plan if you don’t have one!
  8. Break your to-do list down into small steps
  9. If you have to eat a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it
    1. If you have to eat three, eat the biggest and ugliest one first
  10. Covey’s four-quadrant To-Do list
    1. If it is urgent but not important, DON’T DO IT!
  11. Keep your desk clear apart from one piece of paper that you are going to work on next
  12. Touch each piece of paper once
  13. Your email inbox is not your to-do list
  14. Practice “inbox zero”
  15. Filing systems are crucial – have one
  16. Have your desk in front of a window when you can.
  17. Get a second computer monitor to improve your productivity:
    1. One for your To-Do list
    2. One for email inbox
    3. One for calendar
  18. Get a calendar
  19. Get a speakerphone to counter stress (as you may be on hold a lot)
  20. Keep your calls short
    1. Stand for the call
    2. Start by announcing your goals for the call
    3. Have something on your desk that you want to do next
    4. Group your phone calls
    5. Call someone just before lunch or the end of the day if you want a short call!
  21. Write a thank-you note with paper and pen
    1. Have a stack ready on your desk so that you can send them
  22. Don’t have comfortable chairs for guests in your office
  23. You don’t “find time”, you make it!
  24. Be mindful of opportunity costs
  25. Learn to say no!
  26. Schedule dead time
  27. Reduce your interruptions
  28. Group items/requests for people
  29. Have a time log/time journal to see what you were doing with your time
    1. Randy hoped that time journals become automatic (which has come true!)
  30. Make a fake meeting to do something when you have a gap between commitments
  31. Think about how you could delegate effectively
    1. Also think about how you could stop wasting other people’s time
  32. Having a spouse and kids helps you to manage time as it creates a sense of urgency
  33. Prioritise effectiveness over efficiency
  34. Doing things at the last minute is really expensive
  35. If your deadline is way off, make up a fake deadline to do part of the work sooner
  36. If you procrastinate there is a hidden reason, like you are worried you might look stupid or fail
  37. Sometimes all you have to do is ask
  38. If you delegate, grant authority with responsibility
  39. Delegate but always do the ugliest job yourself
  40. Treat your people well
  41. When delegating be specific and make the consequences to them clear
  42. People like being challenged so delegate more!
  43. Give people objectives not procedures
  44. Brief people on the relative importance of each task
  45. Praise and thank people when they do a good job
  46. Meetings should never last more than hour
  47. Meetings should have an agenda
    1. Don’t go to a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda
    2. Nominate a scribe to write up the minutes/action points
  48. “Computers are faster, they just take longer”
  49. Only use technology that helps you
  50. Don’t delete email, archive it
  51. When delegating by email, send it to one person and/or name them explicitly
  52. It’s not a vacation if you’re reading email
  53. Get rid of your television
  54. Turn money into time (especially if you have small kids)
    1. Hire people to do the small tasks
  55. Eat, sleep and exercise
  56. Never break a promise (but renegotiate if need be)
  57. Most things are pass or fail
    1. Don’t spend too much time on the unimportant details
  58. If you don’t have time to do it right, you don’t have time to do it wrong
  59. Ask people in confidence for feedback

MirrorMirror: booth-based 3D scanner for online shopping

During the final year (2007-08) of my Physics degree at Imperial College, we studied a module called Research Interfaces (RI). This was a team-based module that focussed on transforming scientific research into commercial business propositions.

This was a highlight of the degree for me: I loved the collaborative nature of it and the entrepreneurial challenge was much more aligned with how I wanted to live my future life.

Our product design: MirrorMirror

Our team designed a product with the working name of MirrorMirror. It was a booth containing a network of cameras with a central computer that would stitch together the images to create a 3D scan model of the user’s body.

This would then be used to generate an avatar that would help them choose clothes that fit and suit them perfectly when shopping online.

Additionally, they could see their body on a screen in real time with different clothing options projected over the image as if they were wearing it (so-called “Augmented Reality”). This reminded us of the magic mirror from the Disney film, Snow White (hence the name MirrorMirror).

There could also be other uses like tracking weight loss for dieters and muscle gain for bodybuilders (if a new scan was made regularly to show the incremental changes) or the visualisation of the results of cosmetic surgery.

Technical Design

We produced several outputs for the class including this Technical Design Review.

In that document, we estimated the cost to build the prototype of £1.45m, a total future manufacturing cost per booth of £13,900, and a price point of £50,000.

This is exceptionally high and I believe it is a result of the fact that we were not actually required by the course to do any prototyping work. If we had, I think we would have focused on looking for a cheaper way to execute the plan.

Our original design required a screen behind a half-silvered mirror. I think in 2018 this would not be required as screens are not of incredible quality and image processing technology has come on exponentially in the last decade.

User experience

We believed that there are many high-end lucrative markets (such as wedding dresses, evening wear and saris) where a quicker and less stressful garment trial process would greatly add to the shopping experience.

Our team also saw the potential for future uses such as generating an accurate avatar of the person that can be used as a little virtual model for the clothes that are being selected. Imagine being email a picture of yourself wearing the latest items from your favourite designer and a link to buy exactly the right size for you?

We envisioned that booths could be installed in shopping centres, allowing customers to create a 3D image of themselves which they could then use to shop online. Additional lucrative applications could also include high-fashion hairdressing.

Our plan of the user journey is mapped in the image below:

User Journey for MirrorMirror

Business Case and Financial Model

You can see the basic financial model we generated here: MirrorMirror Costing.

When I say we, it was actually me that had the responsibility for putting it together and I could have circulated the draft to my team-mates before the deadline so we could have had more eyes on it before submission. We got our lowest grade by far for this part of the module, so I did feel a bit guilty! However, it was apparently the same for all the other teams, so my guilt was slightly assuaged.

After 10 years working in and around startups and scaleups, here are what I see as the big errors and omissions:

  • No time series for the values (everything is static)
  • Lag time between initial burn and revenue
    • A proper cash-flow model would have helped clarify this
  • Significant errors on the business model (i.e. how we could get paid)
    • For example, would we really want to make money on the hardware, or would we prefer to make money on the service provided by the software (i.e. charge money for every image processed – a digital version of the Nespresso model)
  • No R&D tax credits, Government grants, or other potential subsidies included
  • No marketing and sales budget included at all!

It is quite satisfying to look at old work such as this and compare it with what I have learned since then!

Final Pitch

At the end of the 3-month module, we had to deliver a pitch to a packed auditorium and a simulated panel of investors (made up by the professors from the Business and Physics department that ran the course).

You can see our final pitch document here.

This was a really enjoyable part of the course. I delivered it with 2 other teammates and we got everyone in the team up on stage for the Q&A at the end.

Outcome

We actually won the Elevator Pitch Prize at the end of the module which was a very personally satisfying way to end the project. We all received a good first for the course (>85%) which was very satisfying for all of us.

We entered into the wider university’s Business Challenge entrepreneurship competition, but we didn’t get past the initial screening phase. As a result, we all agreed to disband the project outside of the RI module and did not take it any further.

What didn’t we do?

It is quite telling that we didn’t build a prototype!!!

The reason that we didn’t build anything is that we didn’t have anyone that is super-focused on the tech side i.e. that could be a CTO. I also believe it is because we all saw this as a purely academic exercise and not as a true opportunity to start an entrepreneurial endeavour and make a return with it.

This tinkering on a prototype would have actually helped us see the true costs, challenges around manufacturing, and gaps in the business model. In fact, IDEO’s Design Thinking methodology (diagram below) expressly integrates prototyping as part of the design process. This project was perfect evidence of why that is the case.

I wonder if the Blackett lab requires the students on the RI course to build a prototype as part of the course nowadays?

Design Thinking Source: IDEO Mydhili Bayyapunedi @myd | @Young_Current

Design of the Perfect Trade Mission

In my role at Highview Power, an innovative cleantech company, I was part of British trade missions around the world: specifically to Poland, India, Brazil, and the USA. I also won a spot on a Singapore/Taiwan mission organised by the EU, but attending was later vetoed by management.

Trade missions, when done correctly, can be a valuable way to meet potential clients and partners in a totally new geography. The quality (and therefore usefulness) of these missions varied wildly.

Allow spare time in the schedule

The worst I remember was the trip to India. It was organised by a local partner entity that arranged for us to fly from London for a 4 night stop, speaking at panel events in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore.

This was far too much travelling as we were required to wake up, attend a conference, then immediately head to the airport to fly to the next city. After the final conference, we immediately headed to the airport to fly straight back to London.

As well as being exhausting, this was not a good idea because there always needs to be sufficient time allocated for side meetings and dinners between delegates. In order to build relationships to close future deals (or even to close a deal on the mission), these side events are essential.

Pre-introduce or screen high-quality delegates

This trade mission, and others I have been on, suffer from the scattergun delusion: the idea that if you get enough people from a certain industry or profession to attend, sooner or later one of them will be useful.

In an ideal world, delegates will be personally invited to attend the trade mission by the organisers based on a list of target prospects given by the trade mission attendees.

Even better, they could be pre-screened for interest/relevance based on a few criteria given to the organisers by the attendees, so that poor quality or low relevance delegates can be filtered out of the event.

The perfect scenario would be to actually introduce the relevant delegate to the attendee before the event so there could be the opportunity to engage in whatever initial due diligence discussions could make a meeting more valuable.

Essentially, anything the trade mission can do to get the prospect further down the Marketing Funnel, the better.

Invite high-ranking dignitaries relevant to the topic

The presence of high-ranking dignitaries, both local and visiting, can help to attract high-ranking members of potential customers and partners to the trade mission event.

They should be highly relevant to the field of the trade mission, for example the Minister of Energy that is responsible for a newly-launched policy on an Energy Mission.

This creates a great opportunity for public-private as well as international dialogue that senior attendees relish. The trade mission I attended in Poland was an excellent example of this.

Product Demonstrations and/or booths

As well as panel debates, allowing the trade mission visitors a short slot to demonstrate or present their offering to the whole event can be a phenomenally useful addition.

A good backup for this is allotting each company a small booth around the venue so they can present to delegates 1-on-1 during breakout sessions.

WaterAlert: Plant Moisture Sensor

Back when I was 15 years old, I won a Design Technology – Systems & Control prize at my school for my work on the design process around this little product I came up with called Water Alert (see photo, left).

It was a moisture detection probe that was designed to be inserted into the soil of a pot plant and provide feedback to the gardener about when it needed to be watered.

The end result that I manufactured wasn’t high quality as you can see (!), but I remember really enjoying the design process and that enthusiasm, combined with my corresponding diligence preparing the documentation, won me the prize.

Nowadays, you can buy something virtually identical as a toy kit for kids to build themselves. It’s called the Thirsty Plant Kit (see photo, right).

This got me thinking about how I could win a school prize >15 years ago with something so simple as the design for a toy with a circuit that only has 2 transistors.

What sort of amazing school projects can kids build in the age of 3D printing, Arduino, littleBits, Raspberry Pi, and the multitude of online resources and guides?

Elon Musk’s Superpower: Urgency

I believe Elon Musk’s superpower is urgency.

His dreams, such as landing on Mars and having a civilisation powered by renewable energy, are arguably shared by many other people, but the difference is that he is deeply committed to making it happen NOW.

That’s why he thinks he can get man to Mars and can do it in a time frame that allows him to blow away the competition.

His urgency creates a creative edge and causes his famously mad work ethic.

Tony Robbins says urgency is a result of creating the vision of a compelling future. Elon Musk has this technique nailed.

This old article calculated that Elon on average achieves in 1 year what it takes most people to do several years. In the article, it also focuses on his desire to build things that have an order of magnitude better performance (for example, increasing the speed of the Boring Company’s tunnel boring machines by 14x compared to the standard speed).

However, now some shareholders and analysts are sarcastically referring to his several delays and missed deadlines at Tesla as “Elon Time”.

Part of this is caused by his dedication to redesigning everything from first principles, even down to the details of the production line and the bespoke software tools used at Tesla.

People are speculating whether he can turn things around before Tesla runs out of the ability to continually raise capital. I think that his relentless dedication to urgency will win out.

Choosing the right problems

In order to do great work with one’s life and career, it is essential to choose the right problems: that is, problems that are the most important for humanity to solve.

One American mathematician, Richard Hamming, published two particularly helpful discussions of this topic. 

A Stroke of Genius- Striving for Greatness in All You Do

In Hamming’s A Stroke of Genius- Striving for Greatness in All You Do, he discusses the qualities needed to work on important problems with one’s life.

Here are a few highlights:

  • An important aspect of any problem is that you have a good attack, a good starting place, some reasonable idea of how to begin.
  • Knowing when to persist is not easy – if you are wrong then you are stubborn, but if you turn out to be right, then you are strong willed.
  • These traits are not all essential but tend to be present in most doers of great things in science.
    • First, successful people exhibit more activity, more energy, than most people do.
    • This trait must be coupled with emotional commitment. Deep emotional commitment seems to be necessary for success. The reason is obvious. The emotional commitment keeps you thinking about the problem morning, noon and night, and that tends to beat out mere ability.
    • Courage is another attribute of those who do great things. Without courage you are unlikely to attack important problems with any persistence, and hence not likely to do important things. Courage brings self-confidence, an essential feature of doing difficult things.
    • There is another trait that took me many years to notice, and that is the ability to tolerate ambiguity.
    • Another obvious trait of great people is that they do their work in such a fashion that others can build on top of it.
  • You need a vision of who you are and where your field is going.
  • While you are leaning things you need to think about them and examine them from many sides. By connecting them in many ways with what you already know, you can later retrieve them in unusual situations.
  • Some of the greatest work was done under unfavourable conditions.
  • The evidence is overwhelming that steps that transform a field often come from outsiders.
    • When someone’s flavor of brains does not match yours may be more reason for paying attention to them.
  • It is in the struggle and not in the success that the real gain appears. In striving to do great things, you change yourself into a better person.

You and Your Research: my key lessons

Here are some great points from You and Your Research (not all are direct quotes, some are my interpretations of his points):

  • First admit that you want to do first-class, important work.
  • “Luck favours the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur.
  • Think original thoughts and have the courage to pursue them.
  • Work on small problems that lead you to the big ones.
  • Great scientists have tremendous drive and hard work.
  • Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.
  • Be committed to the problem but have some tolerance of ambiguity.
    • This helps you to have a critical eye for the points about your theory that don’t add up.
  • Identify what are the important problems in your field and then how you can attack them.
  • Problems are only important if you have a reasonable attack on them.
  • When you find the right problem, drop everything else and go after it until it is solved.
  • Be open to collaboration and inspiration from your peers.
  • Get good at selling.
  • Educate your bosses.
  • Know your value and also your weaknesses.

Secret History of Silicon Valley: Steve Blank

Below is an amazing lecture from Steve Blank on the history of Silicon Valley.

As military funding was a big part of it, the majority of the talk is around the role of electronic warfare in World War II and the Cold War.

Steve’s Secret History site shares the full slide deck and more.

Some interesting highlights from the talk:

  • World War II was the first electronic war – the German air defence even had radar-guided flak guns!
  • The ground-facing radar on Allied bombers that was designed to help identify targets was used by Germany to track them (and so was the radar warning receiver on their tails)
    • This shows the cat-and-mouse game of measures and counter-measures in electronic warfare
  • Allied bomber formations would throw out a cloud of aluminium foil “chaff” to reflect German radar, which was cut to exactly half the wavelength of the signal.
  • Fred Terman of Stanford moved East during the war to run the Harvard Radio Research Lab
  • He hired 11 colleagues from the Lab to join him at Stanford when he returned. Together they made Stanford the “MIT of the West”
  • Heretically for the time, he encouraged faculty to sit on tech company boards and his graduate students to leave and start companies (for example, Hewlett and Packard)
  • The Cold War became an electronics war as well
  • The USA use the moon to pick up reflected Soviet radar signals and map out the locations of the radar bases
  • CIA and NSA would fund big radio dishes for universities like Stanford as a result
  • Shockley came back to Stanford. He was a great researcher and talent spotter but a terrible manager
  • The “Traitorous Eight” left to start Fairchild Semiconductor and a suite of companies formed in the resulting ecosystem
  • The US military “primed the pump” as the first customer for tech entrepreneurship in the Valley.
  • But in the mid-1970s, the US Government slashed capital gains tax and told pension funds they could invest up to 10% of their assets in VC firms.
    • As a result, inflows to VC firms rose by an order of magnitude and Silicon Valley became a hotbed of for-profit innovation