Why should strategy be external?

You can’t read the label from inside the bottle.

– Melinda Livsey. (Or Marty Neumeier?)

Designers need constrains. Clients need strategy. Designers should help clients create constraints out of strategy. That’s the gist of the last post. Now you’re all caught up.

Why should a business get a designer to create his or her own brief? Allright lets get into it!

Unfortunately, people in a group are biased. It’s no slight — we allare and it’s human psychology. Check out wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases: it’s scary long — but even scarier is that these biases are largely unconscious, so we are unaware when we are dropping the ball because of them.

Groupthink: The psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

That is the main answer to our question right there. When we work in a group, we are subconsciously biased to keeping the status quo. The best, most important questions are hard ones. They imply change, which is also hard. I bet you know the feeling of having a question burn away inside you at work, summoning the courage to let it out, waiting for just right time, lest it cause peers to see you as overly critical and not a team-player, or whatever is on the line for you personally.

But the hard questions need to asked. This is why having a third party help out, who may be no more skilled than the people in an organisation, is beneficial. Good ones will help a team have the conversation they have all probably been having internally, but have not felt permitted to have with others.

Shared information bias: Known as the tendency for group members to spend more time and energy discussing information that all members are already familiar with (i.e., shared information), and less time and energy discussing information that only some members are aware of (i.e., unshared information).

Ah those surface-skiming conversations in which all participants are aware that the topics have been covered, no new information is presented, and no beliefs, practices or relationships need to be altered.

A third party might still need that information, but you can be sure they don’t need it more than once, and might even help dig past the obvious and agreed into whatever uncomfortable insights like below (and then hopefully help overcome it).

System justification: The tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged, sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest.

The larger scale, the harder the change. While one designer isn’t going to replace a fleet of change management professionals, they can help with the messaging and positioning. That can help every employee feel like they’re on the customers’ team, like they do at Apple, which is a great precursor to change.

That’s where a great designer-strategist can help, by turning the product into more than a product, and a job into more than a job along the way.

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