As a public relations counselor, I'm often charged with helping clients assess their current corporate positioning strategies and tap sources of innovation within their organizations.

It’s with this in mind that I bring to your attention to IBM's plans to increase design thinking within the organization.

Now I'm not a stock analyst by any stretch of the imagination, but seeing such a splash made about this is quite concerning to me — and it should be a concern for those of you who seek to tap experiences within your consumer base as well.

Design: What Matters Most

For those of you who aren't familiar with organizational behavioral theory (uh, sure Michael, we’re all into that, yeah…), design thinking is all about putting emphasis on future conditions of a product as opposed to making products that are based on current needs.

I'm a fan of design thinking in my line of business because it allows me to challenge my clients on what they do, what they think, what they believe or (perhaps above all else) what they can be.

PR — like most industries — relies on the analysis of past and present performance to give an indicator of what the future will look like.

With design thinking, I start with the end in mind; leading with the future condition of a client allows me to generate new thinking and fresh approaches to predict how companies, products and executives can grow.

Say What?

Seeing the news of IBM bringing on more designers and managers to take on more of a design thinking approach seemed a bit out of whack to me —not just as a PR counselor but as someone who appreciates the world of experience design.

In the process of making a big splash on this news, it has proven just how much a company can lose touch with its customer base, and demonstrates how behind the times the company is compared to other tech manufacturers.

When I watched Ken Jennings go up against Watson (IBM’s public foray into AI) on Jeopardy several years ago, I was impressed. IBM was an early provider of design thinking to the marketplace.

After all, Watson’s applications were being projected into many new fields, new ideas and new concepts and changing how we can obtain intelligence. But at its core, IBM is a “traditional” computer company in that hardware and software create the most revenues.

IBM = I’ll Borrow the Mac

So what does this mean to me, Michael? I don’t work for IBM. I get user experience just fine.”

Glad you asked. I’ll answer your question with a couple of other ones:

  • Does your company start a product design at the beginning or end of the customer journey?
  • Do your clients know what the journey looks like in the months and years ahead?
  • Can you predict what your customers really want out of their experiences?
  • Are we tapping all of the sources of innovation that are available to us so we don’t have to make an announcement like IBM did?

To be fair, IBM is likely making the announcement to shake up how investors and other influencers judge the company — so it can compete better against its competition.

But if this is going to be successful, design thinking will only work if it permeates the entire organization.

This news showed me just how far behind IBM is in its customers’ journeys of the future. And the company needs more than a slew of new designers and managers to get it further along the path.

IBM needs to make sure that experiences start with the end of the customer journey in mind, not just the beginning of it.

Title image by Edgaras Maselskis