Sharing ideas and insights with Bruce Nussbaum, contributing editor at BusinessWeek, is always a pleasure, so it's fitting that he's one of my first round table interviews. Previously assistant managing editor in charge of BusinessWeek's innovation and design coverage, he was named one of the 40 most powerful people in design by I.D. Magazine in 2005. Nussbaum wrote The World After Oil: The Shifting Axis of Power and Wealth, and Good Intentions, an inside look at medical research on AIDS. He has received awards from the Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Society, the Overseas Press Club, and the Industrial Designers Society of America. Nussbaum is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. For more of his thinking and writing, you can read Nussbaum on Design or follow him on Twitter. Photo credit to Alex_Cheek.
David: You've been a huge advocate for the field of design and a believer in what's commonly known as "design thinking." Movements in how people collaborate in an open fashion or trends such as crowdsourcing are positioned to influence how designers think and work. What do you think are the challenges and opportunities for designers as these shifts take place?
Bruce: Crowdsourcing and client participation in design are huge new opportunities that are really exciting. We now have the technology to engage consumers, learners, drivers, patients - everyone - and make them part of a process that generates new options, services and experiences. Of course, that means "experts" have to give up some control and that includes managers, designers, branders (is that a term?). Yeah, this is especially true in branding where social media empowers consumers to demand control of the brand, brand strategy and, increasingly, the products/services that make up the brand.
David: Business models are being disrupted in real time. You recently shared an opinion on how this affected BusinessWeek. In your opinion, what should a business be doing right now to ensure that they are positioned to thrive?
Bruce: The same forces decentralizing power and participation in media are sweeping business organizations. So we have social business models arising in the same way that we have social media models. I think you guys are pioneering in this area, David. You know, there is a health practice in Brooklyn called Hello Health where young doctors organize their practice around a Facebook platform--maybe it is Facebook itself. I think that's the model of the future for many business organizations. It's beyond flat. It's networked. Changing big corporations to do that will be a huge task. AG Lafley, before he left as CEO of P&G, said his job of just opening the silos there was only 10% done after nearly 8 years. So moving from hierarchical to horizontal to networked is an immense task--but it has to be done to compete in the global economy. I'd guess that one out of 10 big companies will be able to make the switch. Maybe 1 in 20.
You have to be in the culture of your consumers and clients and certainly with Gen Y, that's how they live, that's where they live. It's not just the future, it's like tomorrow.
David: You've written on the topic of innovation for some time providing alternative perspectives on processes such as Six Sigma etc. Has your view on innovation itself changed or is it the same? How do you personally define innovation?
Bruce: Innovation, for me, is invention that generates value for people. Often that value is monetary and commercial and produces profits, jobs, taxes and economic growth. Increasingly innovation is happening in non-market civic arenas--health, education, transportation, warfare (yes warfare), where the increased value is not necessarily monetary alone but hugely beneficial to the people it effects. The fastest growing field in innovation and design consulting is health care. Yet, there is a lot of money to be saved and earned in that space, but the biggest beneficiaries are patients, doctors and nurses.
David You've recently joined the ranks with many of us on networks such as Twitter. Why did you do it? What have you learned and what in your opinion is the opportunities and or risks that networks provide to the business world.
Bruce: I touched on the importance of networks earlier. They are the crucial building blocks of organization for the future. And hey, they were in the past. Church groups, unions, political parties, block associations--all networks. Just without the technology that binds these days.
I use Twitter to create a human search engine that screens information and links it to me quickly. It is so much better than a mathematical algorithm that doesn't know me. This posse is my information curator. Increasingly, I wake up in the morning and use Twitter to get my information, not the NY Times or the WS Journal. I rely on my Twitter-mates (don't go there) to put me onto trends way before they show up on data bases. And yes, I also am entertained by them. I hope I give them giggles from time to time as well. And I hope I serve them as well as a curator of information.
David: You've written a good deal about the current economic climate, how we got here and what we could be doing to get out. If you were a CEO of a large business today, what would you do to fuel economic growth? Do you think business leaders can help turn this around?
Bruce: CEOs should have been innovating throughout the recession and need to innovate even faster as we exit it and move toward growth. Every serious study shows that when companies innovate in an economic downturn, they pick up market share vis-à-vis their competitors once growth accelerates. Apple does this so well.
But most executives just cut costs and then find themselves with nothing new to offer consumers when the game changes. I think we'll have a new normal consumer culture in the next business cycle and companies that figure out the needs and wants of people in that culture will do exceedingly well. Also, Gen Y is beginning to move into the workforce. It has a very distinct culture that very few companies understand. I'm talking different values, behaviors and platforms of interaction and delivery. Those who "get" Gen Y will do well.
David: "Social media" for the lack of a better phrase seems to be on everyone's mind. What's your take on the current state of matters related to this? Where specifically do you see opportunities and what should we as both citizens and members of the workforce be mindful of?
Bruce: "Social media" has evolved to the point where we should drop the word "social." Most media is now networked, engaged, participatory, looped. It's the norm. Social media is where Gen Y live and social media is where aging Baby Boomers are gravitating toward. We are still sorting out the technologies and rules of the game for social media. There are different cultures for different platforms. You have to study these cultures as if they were different villages in different continents.
I see virtually all corporate consumer business, retail, media, education and health moving onto the social media platform. Think Mint vs. Intuit (which just bought Mint). I believe hybrid social media models will develop that integrate the personal with the network. I think one of the next big things will be in cheap, portable video conference systems that link to social media systems that make them much more personal. Let's face it, Skype sucks, especially compared to HP's Halo system but Skype is free and Halo is expensive. So far. A disruptive technology in video conference could make a huge difference in both social media and social business platforms.
I'm hoping that all this will change our political system which has become hugely corrupt. Unlike Asia, where corruption is rampant and fought, we in the US have simply legalized it and call it "lobbying." Social media has the promise of taking power away from the few in Washington and giving it to the people. Yeah, yeah, I know. Be careful of what you wish for. But, hey, this is all good and fun and, yes, important too.