Chapter 5

Design Challenge

Break Down the Monastery Doors

Sooner or later, every wave is bound to crash on the shore. And for the wave of change sweeping product design, that shore is the rock-hard immensity of mega-corporate process.

To say there is something grossly deficient in the closed and inflexible way that large companies design and develop products is hardly controversial. By now, I expect even remote tribes in the Upper Amazon have heard of the “not-invented-here syndrome.” My favorite example is how Xerox invented the mouse but ignored it because the “wrong people” came up with the idea, only to have the young Steve Jobs come along and scoop it up to transform the personal computer industry. And even the dimmest smartphone buyer can tell you how Apple trumped Sony’s silo mentality by combining every conceivable function in a single device that fits in the palm of the hand.

It’s not hard to see why.

Corporate product development establishments are eerily like medieval monasteries. The lanyard-wearing monks sit in their cubicles, cloistered behind card-lock doors, adhering to a strict hierarchy and bound by a code of secrecy. Although they no longer illuminate scrolls, corporate monks work on three-dimensional computer-aided design (3D CAD) with the same solitary intensity. Many enter the order as youngsters and do not leave until retirement.

The analogy may be exaggerated, but not by much. I ran up against this attitude in my first job working for a door maker in Estonia. ...

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