In this conversation, between Tom Savigar and Clément Demaurex, Saskia Hinger, Serge Piguet and Iris Emmenegger of Studio Banana, we will dive into what ‘change’ means in today’s business climate and how change needs to be cultivated and managed in these transformative times, based on the experience we have gained helping international organizations such as McCann World Group, EY or Losinger Marazzi to transform themselves.
A cry for resilience
Is it just me, or does the word ‘change’ not fully express the current state of the business environment? The word ‘change’ just isn’t strong enough because what we’re experiencing is no less than transformation. Change is now increasingly natural, accelerating, exponential and compounding. So what does change mean in today’s business climate?
“I think nowadays businesses need to be able to adapt to any situation”, says Iris. “It is a strength to be able to welcome any new situation and adapt to it, and find a positive way to deal with it”. Indeed, change is now a buzzword synonymous with resilience, flexibility, and vulnerability. And this requires a lot of confidence and bravery on the part of businesses.
“Companies go through different stages of growth, whether social, technological, or economic, and it requires them to constantly rethink, redirect and remodel what they do”, adds Saskia. “The change for me is that this adaptability is now a constant for many businesses. If you stand still and don’t adapt, you will fall behind.”
If adaptability is now the new normal for business, then one’s “adaptability quotient” (AQ) will soon become the primary predictor of success. For some businesses, having an adaptable model is now the greatest privilege they can bestow on themselves and their stakeholders. “For companies like Studio Banana, having a high AQ is part and parcel of being a design business, with a design thinking ethos”, states Tom. “So, how do you help clients increase their AQ and not resist change?”
“As Peter Senge writes in The Fifth Discipline, people don’t resist change. People resist change being done to them”, comments Clément. “We change all the time, every day we adapt and we’re very resilient. Problems arise when other people want you to change into someone or something they want and have already decided. This is not the way we do things at the Studio. Co-Design processes put users at the centre and build ownership of the project”. This dynamic is increasingly at the forefront of new business transformation processes, and as it will create the conditions for clients to be willing and eager to change.
The new designer DNA
Designers have long been taught and awarded for imposing their visions and ideas for something. Be it a building, a product, a service or an experience. Indeed, to succeed, a designer is trained to lead the way, even if audiences do not immediately understand or want the final outcome. Empathy, caring, impact and resonance with others are not often a priority.
“As a designer, instead of jumping to solutions at the beginning of the process or foreseeing destinations for the client, it becomes vital to free yourself from assumptions and listen to the client actively and honestly”, says Saskia. “A strength of successful designers will be to adapt so that the objective of their design process is to empathise and empower clients. Through this process, clients will increasingly desire the changes taking place and feel empowered to drive them within their organisation.”
Indeed, designers should increasingly use ‘design’ as an intervention point in the process of larger, deeper transformation taking place. This creates voluntary responses in clients because they will be primed to be in their ‘growth zone’ — the zone in which they can achieve exceptional success by defining even ambitious objectives. Most successful businesses have made this journey and have taken the risk of leaving their comfort zone. It is the job of design to facilitate that.
From roadmaps, to radars
Usually, the mandate between client and agency is to go from A to B, defined by a brief and a project. The process takes the client from A to B through decision-making loops. But the world is not linear; change is the only constant, and any attempt to define a destination is often compromised because, by the time a client gets going with a strategy, the game has changed. “So how can we help clients adapt all the time?”, asks Tom.
“What I see more and more is that we need to think in a circular model. We need to enable clients to go through changes over and over again, for the long run and not just until the budget or timeline is spent”, says Saskia. “A more liberated and brave experience is needed for sure. Our primary job should be to help clients feel comfortable with not knowing everything and not knowing what is going to happen.”
“I like that thought. If the roadmap has been the main consulting tool for the last decade, I think the radar is becoming the new one”, adds Clément. “This means we don’t set objectives because it’s impossible to set them. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. This allows you to be agile, to shift quickly without losing yourself or losing something, keeping your attention where it needs to be and your intention alive.”
Constant change inside and outside an organisation forces us to think about who we are and where we want to go. Indeed, people often block organisational change because they are blocking personal changes they will be forced to undertake. These might be changes in attitudes and behaviours, ethics and values. “When working with clients, it is important to see change in the context of stakeholder’s private lives. Often we find that our work asks questions of our client’s personal identities, lifestyles and dreams”, says Serge.
“I agree, and I think a key lever/opportunity is to rethink the relation between individual and collective interest. Often, people think you need to decide which one to favour: either you put pressure on professionals and get good performance, or you focus on well being and need to lower ambitions. I think it comes from a misunderstood connection between the individual and collective ambition’, adds Clément. “They are actually correlated and reinforce themselves mutually! Moving forward, we need to pay attention to how projects help connect personal and organisational intention, growth and well being.”
Design companies know the benefits of listening to clients at the start of projects. Immersion, synthesis, discovery — Studio Banana realises that, in order to deliver transformative design, when the project starts, many things happen before the role of ‘design’ comes into play. During the discovery phase, interviews with multiple stakeholders establish dreams, drivers, assumptions and ideas, and ultimately the ‘brief’.
“Our discovery phase is important because it lays the foundation for what’s going to happen to the project”, says Iris. “Some clients know exactly what they want because they’ve decided they want, say, a new office. They see a new office as the change required in their organization. So the direction is clear for them and us, and it’s easy to proceed.”
However, Studio Banana is finding that the change required, which stakeholders often voice, is far more systemic and fundamental. “It sounds like that there are two sides of the discovery phase”, comments Tom. “On one side is Studio Banana, who gets what it needs in the discovery phase to do the design job properly. And then there’s the client side, where they realise what change is actually needed in the future. Balancing both sides from the outset is key.”
“At the start, we create an emotional alliance with the client and get the true intention for change. We are helping clients discover what their true ambition is, which can sometimes be a personal one”, adds Clément. “Making the intention explicit shows us what the real playground looks like.”
The process of ‘revealing’ enhances traditional design thinking methods, especially the transformative potential of design on an organisational level. “I’ve noticed that we’re engaging with clients that see the office, for example, as a vehicle for transformation because change is not happening on a singular layer. It is happening holistically, with different touchpoints and different factors all coming together through this vehicle”, says Saskia. “The spatial dimension of a project, like an office, provides a frame through which to understand and design for wider and deeper behavioural transformation.”
However, there is a time and place for transformation. “Say you go to the garage to change the tires on your car, and the engineer asks what your purpose of driving in your life is? I’m sure you would be confused, perhaps annoyed and reply that you just need them to change the tires”, says Serge. “It’s the same for us. Sometimes a client just wants us to design a new office for them, and if we see something bigger in the brief, something more transformative, they block the process. This is because we naturally think holistically about the bigger meaning of the design, but clients don’t always have the luxury of thinking like that.”
“This is what we do in the Get to Know phase. We understand what level of change the client is aiming for, but still show them the range of change that might take place during a project with us”, adds Saskia. “Designing fundamental things like chairs and tables is important, but so is designing new visions, systems and processes, holistic infrastructures, behaviours and beliefs.”
Studio Banana knows the terrain ahead is complex and transformative, and it thrives when things are uncertain and ambiguous. Its comfortable place is uncomfortable for many clients, so helping clients close the gap between knowing and not knowing is key to its success. And managing the tension between ‘normal’ and ‘transformative briefs’ is an opportunity focussing on moving forward.
“I think our job is to be as clear as we can with clients so that they can decide for themselves what they want. Do they want to change tires, or do they want a different means of transport like a bicycle, which could lead to a transformation journey? This allows clients to build a common sense of what is happening to them and where they intend to go. Doing so, we help organisations strengthen their ability to adapt and make a change in a collective capacity,” says Clément.
“I agree, but I think it’s going to be more difficult to have clarity because there are so many complex, interlinking issues arising in the world. The future of change will be holistic, and we must speak more and more to the personal side of our clients”, adds Serge. “We must empower clients and build their courage about what the future holds.”
“I also believe that the role of spatial design, as in buildings and interiors, will have a huge effect on people’s empowerment and courage levels”, adds Saskia, “and we must make clients aware of this when they brief us to design a new office. The spatial design will create the conditions for humans to change for the better, which raises a bigger question about the role of an office, a library, a museum, a school, etc… in the future.”
There is a lot to look forward to in the changing nature of change management, and Studio Banana is constantly experimenting with these new realities. Here are a few thought starters to inspire our next conversation: