Romantic Recipe for Disaster

Having read posts on the Core77 design forum by American designers and having spoken with clients in the U.S. who echo their thoughts, BusinessWeek columnist Roger Martin has penned something I’ll be sending their way in the future instead of trying by myself to convince them that the West doesn’t own the ability to innovate (which so many of them seem to believe). From his entry (Link):

There is a romantic notion in North American business that its future lies in design and innovation, while India and China will be the home of less skilled, lower-paying operations churning out the products and services the U.S. comes up with.


These globally oriented outfits are not entrusting all creativity, design, and innovation to “first world” opponents while they huddle over their workstations. True, they have staggering cost advantages over traditional competitors. But that doesn’t mean they are incapable of design and innovation. (Their North American rivals just wish they were.)

To be sure, there are some serious challenges facing both countries, but to make assumptions about what they can and cannot do would be like … well … U.S. automakers in the 1970’s claiming loudly that the Japanese will never make a car to rival an American product (my own regular example, but also used by Mr. Martin). Here’s something else I keep telling them which you’ll see in the article:

Assuming that capabilities are static and advantages are permanent is a mistake.

And last but not least, here’s something you’ll hear plenty of industrial designers say (though I don’t know how many other business-types say it; in practice it certainly seems as if too many have never entertained this thought):

If North American businesses genuinely want to ward off Indian and Chinese rivals, they’d better start by rejecting the notion of an apparent trade-off between low cost on one hand and design and innovation on the other.

In my opinion the real question now is: does the West really want to hear all this? Between the above-the-law CEO’s with their over-inflated, golden-parachute egos, and the productivity-worn laborers who can barely enjoy life after all their unpaid overtime, I fear this message will in large part go unheeded. The CEO’s think they’re too good and the workforce just doesn’t care anymore. This may not end well.