1. Designing a national strategic narrative →

    Continuing on the theme of the design mind and its value in crafting solutions to complex problems in fresh ways, consider the newly infamous article by “Mr. Y” on a national strategy. This approach to rethinking the core messages about national policies has two characteristics that are similar to the way designers think: re-imagining the solution, beyond the traditional form of the question, and weaving it into a thoughtful narrative.

    “This narrative advocates for America to pursue her enduring interests of prosperity and security through a strategy of sustainability that is built upon the solid foundation of our national values. As Americans we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions. Our domestic and foreign policies will reflect unity of effort, coherency and constancy of purpose. We will pursue our national interests and allow others to pursue theirs, never betraying our values. We will seek converging interests and welcome interdependence. We will encourage fair competition and will not shy away from deterring bad behavior. We will accept our place in a complex and dynamic strategic ecosystem and use credible influence and strength to shape uncertainty into opportunities. We will be a pathway of promise and a beacon of hope, in an ever changing world.”

    “Mr. Y” is actually two senior military officers attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  2. VUCA (huh?)

    Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, always offers a thoughtful perspective on the role of the creative mind in business strategy and the need for business to adapt to the forces that buffet traditional thinking. In an article in the winter 2012 issue of Rotman Magazine, Roger cites “VUCA” as the new normal. VUCA is a military strategy term for an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

    Formulating corporate strategy in this environment needs a more open management perspective and culture, seeking solutions beyond traditional transactional norms, starting with your imagination, and taking the time to imagine new possibilities in terms of organizations, relationships and value propositions. It also requires that the leader not wait for perfect knowledge to act.

    In many respects, it is this realization that is driving our approach to AIGA’s transformation. We have been taking note of the VUCA environment and less about what the right answer for AIGA is, except that it is different from what we have traditionally been.

    To begin the reorientation, we asked what designers want from AIGA in this environment.

    As we have sorted through the thousands of responses from designers on what AIGA should be during “One Day for Design,” our 24-hour Twitter dialogue, it seems that what designers want us to stand for is something like: “AIGA exists to enhance the personal and professional impact of our members on design, business, culture and society.”

    When we look both back and forward for the critical role for AIGA, we realize that designers are looking for support for head, heart and hand—design as a way of thinking, design for social good, and design as spirit-lifting expression of craft and imagination.

    This characterization was reinforced in Howard Gardner’s most recent book, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed, which refines lectures he gave recently at MoMA. His thesis is that most cultures and institutions are based on establishing broadly accepted standards for truth, beauty and what is reasonably considered “good.” Yet this time-honored approach to providing guideposts in a society have been challenged by two powerful dynamics: the post-modern critique from the humanities, which argues for many voices and perspectives, and the disruptive potentials of the social media, essentially amplifying the individual voice rather than respecting the shared values.

    We see this precisely. Social media skim the need for a sense of community that used to define the need for associations; and the post-modern approaches to criticism undermine the role of institutions in establishing authoritative criteria. It would seem the days of an institution that has been an imprimatur of excellence and offers a chance for the community to gather is facing dwindling days.

    AIGA is transforming itself: offering the opportunities to use the weak links of community to engage in thoughtful conversations; sharing experiences that can help to understand the VUCA world; tapping the energy and perspectives of 22,000 members to share observations on noteworthy design. At the same time, AIGA does and will continue to stand for principles of professional practice aimed at earning the profession the respect of others that it deserves. Watch closely and you will see how we are trying to adapt.