Designing For Dragons

“In the early days of navigation, mapmakers would mark mysterious gaps on their charts with cheerful warnings such as “There be dragons!” Truly creative people are those who are irresistibly drawn to do battle with them.”  -Marty Neumeier The Designful Company: How To Build A Culture Of Nonstop Innovation

So the question today’s leaders have to ask themselves is twofold…

What are our modern day dragons?  

And where are they?

The problem is that we are so busy implementing short-sighted answers, that we never engage the questions that lead to long-term progress. We are so caught up in planning for success, that we fail to design for any type of impact. We find ourselves so busy in the urgent, that we never leave time for the important.

In fact, most of the time we find ourselves slaying the wrong dragons.

In fact, what we often discover when we go hunting dragons is that our organizations and systems are designed with the structures and processes that keep us away from those “mysterious gaps” where “there be dragons!” Or they force our focus and attention on the wrong dragons, if they were even dragons at all.

Our modern organizations, if they’re ever going to do battle with real dragons, need to be designed to have layers, not lanes.

They need to allow us to push past our boundaries, to the edges and peripheries where “there be dragons!”  

Marty Neumeier, in his work The Designful Company, gives us three ways we can begin to lead in ways that we design our organizations to be more focused on doing battle with real dragons…

“Stay In The Dragon Gap As Long As It Takes”

Neumeier shares that we have to be willing to “embrace paradox” and have a “willingness to brave the discomfort of creative tension” if we are going to not only do battle with dragons, but find better solutions to the wicked problems and challenges that we face as leaders and organizations.

“Third-Brain Thinkers”

Neumeier shares that this is the place where “holistic thinking” kicks in and we allow ourselves to “zoom in and zoom out” on our problems and challenges in order to reframe our perspective and view of those problems and challenges. It is here we engage the AND of the whole to the granular. When battling dragons as “Third-Brain Thinkers” it is important that we “don’t settle for easy options.”

“Adrenalized By The Ambiguity And Uncertainty That Come From Constant Change”

Neumeier shares that in this space we have to be able to “trade the false security of best practices for the insecurity of new practices.” For which he adds, it is about being “driven to create wealth instead of merely unlocking it.” The problem with most organizations is that they are more focused on creating processes and structures that lead to linearity and predictability, than being willing to step out into the ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies change and the unknown.

Once we design our organizations and systems to do battle with real dragons, we will see a move from the urgent to the important; from irrelevant to relevant; and in the process we will create an environment that unleashes the creative and innovative spirit that often lies dormant across the entirety of our organizations.


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