How Companies Can Build Winning Ventures Using The ‘Design Critique’

How can we increase the likelihood of producing outsized wins from inside of the corporation?


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 5 min read

There are very few strong examples of companies that have been able to internally create a new venture or product category, which has re-invented them. A few successful ones include the move of IBM into servers and later consulting and software, Nokia from pulp mills into phones and Netflix from offline DVD rental via postal to online streaming. Yet for every success story, there are many more that failed.

In 10 seconds: Name a single venture started within a large enterprise and managed to become as big as that corporation itself.

Every company ideally needs to undergo two transformations in parallel. The first is about the core business — culture, processes, tools. It’s about bringing the old into the new age. The second is about creating a new future; an entirely new business that has potential equal to or larger than the current business.

In our business we see plenty of fruitful efforts in core business transformation.

Many corporations today have not invested enough in challenging themselves over the last years and are now waking up to an uncomfortable reality. Somehow the new business transformation seems to be more elusive. It is often from the outside that new juggernauts are created to replace the old, not from the inside.

The biggest asset of once-mighty Yahoo, before their fire sale, was their stake in Alibaba; nothing they could take credit for. One of eBay’s best moves in the two decades was the purchase of PayPal. So successful, that their investors wanted it spun off later. Often the best new businesses these companies end up holding are what they have acquired from outside along the way. Not produced internally.

This is surely not due to a lack of trying or resources. Every year, billions of dollars are being ploughed into innovation units and venture projects. Hoping to find the Next Big Thing. Intrapreneurs are employing Design Thinking and Lean Start-Up principles, startup Scouters are looking to attract and collaborate with external talent, only to be beaten in the market by external upstarts.

How can we increase the likelihood of producing outsized wins from inside of the corporation?

There are many aspects that need to be improved, including organizational setup, company mindset and setting the right incentives. Much has been written about aspects of the environment that are often dysfunctional.

We would like to focus on the process itself. Creating a new proposition from beginning to end within a big organization. Most approaches here already feature elements from Design Thinking, Lean Business, and Agile. Yet a key concept from the design world might come in handy, which is currently not part of the overhyped Design Thinking toolkit:

Design Critique

Design Critique is an important tool to iteratively improve designs by getting feedback from highly skilled peers. It is an important part of the daily work of designers as it helps them to get different views and opinions on the work or problem at hand.

Great feedback comes from experts. Skills matter. Details matter.

It is all about asking the right questions — and also to know when to be quiet. The intention is to improve something in a short amount of time and give the people working on it a different view. We do not want to confuse or frustrate them.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Insight #1: You only get it right when you get the right people.

If you put together random groups of people, you will not achieve quality outputs. Despite all sorts of methodologies and tools. You will get mediocre results. That should be a No-Brainer — but sadly it is often overlooked.

If you put together the right set of skilled people and let them do what they do best, you have a chance to achieve great results.

An expert puts thousands and thousands of hours into his domain. Crafting, trying, error over error… Frustrated again and again to develop this one skill and slowly get better over time. Try to play the violin if you have never done that. Exactly. What you want is to build up on all the learnings theses experts had in their past.

Insight #2: The principles of Critique can be applied to all disciplines.

Everything can be designed. Objects, interfaces, systems, business models, organizations, societies, … The increasing popularity of the Design Thinking toolset has ensured that even executives are conscious of the topic. And they are looking to cash in on what they understand is a tool that can enhance their top and bottom line if applied right.

Similarly, many corporate ventures started today find their roots in these methodologies and apply them generously across the various aspects of their ventures. The problem is often that the people applying them are not particularly experienced in doing so. They go unchallenged, as experts in those fields are hard to come by in big corporations today.

If there is a gifted intrapreneur with a strong angle working on what could be the future of the company, they lack the critical feedback and expert eye to turn that rock into a diamond.

Drawing on those Insights: The Critique Board

A well-assembled Critique Board of outside experts could create immense value. Bringing together the best and brightest from their fields, including service designers, entrepreneurs and investors, they can challenge the venture, the hidden assumptions and the designs of every part.

By coming together regularly and asking the right questions and lending their expert eye to the process, they can help avoid costly missteps and leverage on upcoming trends in their fields few will be aware of.

There are two key reasons to choose outsiders over employees:

Only outsiders are truly able to challenge an idea based on merit. Being inside of a large organization always means being part of a hierarchy and a social order. Critiques from higher-ups will be met with deference instead of discussion. Critiques from the lower levels will not be respected.

Critique on eye level will be seen as an attack. Only outsiders can truly provide neutral reflection without upsetting the order.

The corporation most likely does not have the right experts. Most companies have been formed to exploit a business model that is very far away from the future that they are looking to create. While their in-house expertise on that old model is tremendous, they likely do not have the best people who understand the potential future business models.

So, to explore and exploit those, corporations need to swallow their pride and look for experts to help them.

Diversity in the background of the participants and thinking is key to a successful critique session. As every aspect of the venture is under scrutiny, experts representing every aspect need to be involved — subject matter experts, service designers, successful entrepreneurs, potentially VCs, and more.

If your company runs an innovation program/platform, the process should include regular sessions with those outside experts to scrutinize and strengthen the idea, and hence increase the likelihood of success.

This article was originally published by sebastian mueller on medium.


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