with Michael Tam - IBMiX & GLC

Design Thinking is a conversation starter as well as a conversation anchor because it anchors us on what the user wants.
— Michael Tam


GLC - Gianluca Cinquepalmi @ MT - Michael Tam

FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)

00:00:04:06 - 00:00:04:06

GLC: I first met Micheal in a Design Thinking conference. As I was sitting through the conference with the usual skepticism of someone who has attended numerous event, conferences, panel discussion both on both sides of the spectrum from business to academia. I've had the privilege of attending one of Michael’s keynote on _“Design Thinking in Business”_ As he approach the stage I immediately noticed his cool **Tee** skinny stylish Asian guy, Rockabilly hair, goatee, with a huge smile and a casual and approachable attitude rare to find. And then he kicked-off his keynote. Chickens Soup!!! How refreshing, finally someone with a creative approach… 

00:00:37:23 - 00:00:59:27

GLC: What’s striking about Michael is his optimism energy and his positive view of the future. His dedication in promoting creativity and his authentic belief that everyone can be creative. I owe Michael a great deal of gratitude. He was one of the first contributors to my book business beyond design and he wrote one of the most meaningful reviews I have. Ah! As I got to know Michael better I discover that he has one of the coolest Tees collection I ever saw. 

00:01:21:18 - 00:01:51:13

GLC: My name is Gianluca Cinquepalmi you are listening to GLC.Live my podcast dedicated to Business-Design. I’m an Educator, Design Entrepreneur and Best Selling Author. In this show I challenge designers, creatives and entrepreneurs to unravel the complexity between BUSINESS and DESIGN. In this episode:

CREATIVITY & BUSINESS and the flavourful - blend of business and design. with Michael Tam

00:01:51:14 - 00:02:41:15

MT: Good morning Gianluca. 

GLC: Ciao Michael and welcome, So what does a Chief Creative Catalyst @ IBM iX do all day? 

MT: Well I got this question for me. Almost every single day now that I got the title. 

MT: So basically I'm part of IBM iX which is the design consulting arm of IBM and we help our client transform their business. And my role is to put the user at the center of everything that our business should consider. Put the design as the main element to help elevate the business the client's business and hopefully with have the power of design. We help them to find a new way out fund a new future in a sense that now everyone is looking for big break. 

GLC: Absolutely. 

00:02:41:15 - 00:03:11:27

GLC: According to the 2015 Design Value Index Study Design-centric companies show 10 year returns yielding twice (228% to be exact) that of the S&P 500. What does it mean to be a Design-centric company? And is this what do you do in IBM basically. and What is the first step to become one? 

00:03:12:15 - 00:04:25:02

MT: Well first of all I think I think it's great that now we actually have an index to measure the impact of design. Obviously the I think the market is maturing to a point  people recognized the power of design. That's why you have an index. That's why people start coming up with figures that could help non-designers businesses  do visualize the impact of design. I think it a design-centric company is one that moves beyond looking at design as something that just to beautify a deck just to make a nice poster or you know in the old days you know designers probably just to focus on getting a more beautiful product or a better advertising campaign out to the out of the door. Now a good design-centric company means the designers have a say have influence within the company. They are being sought after as a consultant within the company no matter you are part of a consultancy or part of an in-house design team. 

00:04:25:04 - 00:04:40:16

MT: Their value of being their point of view of being highly valued within the company, which I think is going to take some time. But I think the good thing is we are starting, I think in the first few steps.

00:04:40:18 - 00:06:33:22

GLC: So we are integrating design let's say within the initial concept of a product and asking questions like why this product should exist in the first place rather than hey we thought that we need a new pot. And so. Okay. You Michael designer just make design the new pot. 

MT: Exactly! design is not says a single leader cocks in a machine or a single part or in part a lot of the time in in our history way it always come too late. But now in a design-centric company design the element of design the influence of design come from the beginning from it come from the core of the whole companies decisions. And the fact is we talk about the core is probably part of the whole structure is should be revolve around that as well. 

GLC: It is also this huge change what we discuss several times in our long discussion about at night and you know in a previous episode I talked about design thinking and my love and hate relationship. 

MT: Tell me about it I'm fighting the same battle. 

GLC: You are master design thinker and so what's good about it and what's bad about it and what is that one thing that an absolute novice should know. And linking to the previous question the question is the fundamentals are very important and I notice that not everyone understands the pillars of design thinking they think is this magic formula right. Oh follow these folks that's amazing. And is it like that. Is it the magic formula? 

00:06:35:13 - 00:08:01:01

MT: Wow. It is and it is not. 

MT: I loved how you put it. A As a as a magic formula. How you describe it because just like magic you can go either way right. If you take it wrong runway is completely useless. 

MT: I think design thinking is great is a piece of magic. When we look at it as a way to us as a conversation starter as a way how we can bridge what we as designers always have been practicing to non-designers allow them to understand how we think how we break problems down how we place the user at the center of everything that we think when you consider. So I think in that sense it is a magic formula. But the best thing about it the same battle I've been fighting every single day is people take it too literally they think oh all right I'll follow the five steps then I'm done that you get innovative ideas you know that is gonna take you to the moon right. 

MT: No not necessary. And it is not a workshop you can just do a workshop do the five steps and then it is done is not like that. It is a mindset. It is at the end of the day. You try to understand where the problem is why the problem exists with the user and that is the magic of design thinking. 

00:08:01:01 - 00:09:37:01

GLC: I have this discussion and one of my one of the controversies that I found out was it is represented as a linear process and is not is a reiterative process which was much more complicated but this is the original version of it. The one that was written by David Kelly and Tim Brown in HBR Are was a radioactive process. 

MT: Well which is why at IBM we also try to find our ways to take it to the next level. 

MT: Which is why we have Enterprise Design Thinking. I think we approached slightly different we turn it into a loop as a symbol as a kind of a cornerstone of that mindset. How help hopefully help people to visualize it is not just the five steps you got to keep on going you can come back to the beginning of it. You can observe about it use it again and iterate again. So while that all we've been trying to measure the impact of it as well and it seems that we are going on the right track delivering two times quicker in terms of uh uh results in um 300 percent of ROI in terms of the impact of enterprise design thinking so I don't know is it going to be the end all be all solution. 


00:09:37:01 - 00:10:32:09

MT: I don't think so. Just like everything is a prototype so I think we are also still finding a lot of challenge to to getting people to exercise design thinking in the right way. 

GLC: And I think IBM is a great example of how a company that started by basically selling machines no?

MT: IBM which is right in the name. 

GLC: So for the people that don't know what IBM Stands for:

MT: transforms International Business Machine, I can't blame people if they believe we are selling machines.

GLC: Which is great. And then through the years, IBM transform itself and it became truly a consultant and they understood that yes. Selling the machine was an important component but then thy morphed the in this is the answers off of creativity in business. 

MT: Yes. 

00:10:32:14 - 00:10:53:27

GLC: So you are a great evangelist and I always say that creativity comes from constraints and probably like a huge corporation like IBM face this like OK now we are producing these products but we really need to change. And to that scale change is super scary. 

MT: Yes people are scared of change right is in our human nature. The thing is important that we mind them. They're embracing that change is part of creativity and that's why I always believe you know everyone can be creative but you need to take a step in the right and you need to take that first step take that leap of faith and that is the hardest thing to do. To do that I guess that comfort for people take that leap. And I think I'll take that as part of my job as a creative catalyst to help people to open the mind a little bit on that. 

00:11:28:04 - 00:12:57:08

GLC: So you remember that when I asked you a long time ago and I ask you to write this review you told me something that really struck a chord I don't know if you remember I You told me you need to find your signature sentence. 

MT: Oh yes. Yes. 

GLC: So I always say business historically is implemented and design is discovered. 

GLC: So I think this links to what we were saying like you need to take that approach as discovery. Yes because it's the hard part is when you implement something. Now when you implement a business it means that the puzzle pieces are known. 

GLC: Mm-hmm. While when you are discovering something the path and the result are unknown and that is scary. Okay. So when I was consulting and doing the same job and trying to convince CEO to take this leap of faith I said do you want to be an explorer. Do you want to be a discoverer? Right. And I think that that is very interesting because it pinches a little bit of an ego that everybody was I do want to be you know I a discover or this navigating these new ways. 

00:12:57:11 - 00:13:33:06

MT: And I think it's funny how we when we position discovery as if it's something that we looking out what's right. People think about results and they try to say all right. You take a leap of faith you become a uh explorer looking outwards Look finding solutions. But a lot of the time for business, especially in business design, does that discovery comes inwards. You can look back into why are you doing this you know what's driving you, what's the cause of the business then that's where the authentic creativity comes out. 

00:13:33:09 - 00:15:06:24

MT: And then you find new solutions because you find new ways to represent your brand your business and then like you say then your business revolve around that and you start executing and start delivering it. And maybe that's why media used to give people comfort that you don't need to stop looking out to the unknown territory. Is this insight is it. 

GLC: But sometimes if you ask anyone as oh tell me about your true inner self is even scarier 

MT: it isn't as hard as the discovery is always hard this always. 

MT: I think you might have a framework for helping us?

GLC: I might! Why is creativity important in business today? And how does chicken soup fits in all of this ?

MT: I'm so glad. First of you remember that presentation 

MT: is probably one of the best one I have to say. I still come across people who who who remember that the presentation and asked me about chickens soup. 

MT: I think I use the chicken soup analogy is similar to what I just said about looking at what is is is you know chicken soup it gives you that kind of sense of calm sense of mindfulness. And I think as for designers it is very important especially for business designers because the business world we face particularly our clients enterprise clients. There are so much noise all around them. 

00:15:06:29 - 00:15:47:02

MT: You know what they should be doing how the market train is going what everyone else is doing or this kind of noise blocked them from looking in what new funding what these should truly stand for. So I think having that chicken soup finding their own mindfulness trying to block out the noise and then really assess and prioritize what the business needs what is the real challenge that they're facing and what they really should be focused on is that chicken soup for business. 

MT: So that's where it all sort of came from. Although came from more of a personal sort of approach. 

00:15:47:09 - 00:18:04:27

GLC: That's awesome. So I would like our audience to take a break go on the website GLC.live if you will and download the template of this small exercise about creative thinking and inward thinking that is called The Time Machine. So maybe we can have a small pause on this discussion download the framework and then come back and we will do this small exercise with micro. 

GLC: So Michael let's find an interesting problem, something simple that our audience can follow. 

MT: Okay let me think. 

MT: Well you mentioned about my T-shirt 

MT: like I did at that level yet I haven't spent a lot because I tell you the reason I have not spend a lot on T-shirts is because I struggle to find T-shirts that really represent who I am so I'm really picky. So I actually don't have that many T-shirts. You know I am not sure if the audience when you mentioned about my T-shirts. they they might visualize that I have a whole closet of of different retro T-shirts. 

GLC: I think you do. 

MT: No no no I don't. Because the challenge is to finding a good T-shirt that represent you. I think that's my biggest challenge. 

00:18:05:02 - 00:19:34:24

GLC: Okay so let's say that that that's our framework right. Our problem statement is finding a t shirt that truly represents you. Mm hmm. So let's do it let's do it. So there are three simple questions and then we are going to do another small exercise that is reframing the challenge. 

GLC: How do we reframe this idea of finding this T-shirt. So if you're the target. So how are you acting now and how are you solving your problem today today. 

MT: Okay. Well I guess first of all I'm always trying to pay attention to what's out there. I've been looking online probably browse hashtag and the cool T-shirt. 

MT: What else do I do?

MT: Probably go you the typical popular store's way where you say graphic tees or retro tees or um look up cool websites like movie websites oh Avengers in the latest offering and uh oh recently I've been watching or not quite recently. And StarTrek discovery and then I start looking for discovery the crew T-shirts and stuff like that. 

MT: So I can't buy anything cool. So that's my pain point 

00:19:35:08 - 00:21:45:18

GLC: So far we did this initial analysis. So this is how you solve the problem today. Now if we were to now take our time machine. We go back in time and we say Okay how would you have solved the problem 50 or 100 years. 

MT: Oh my God there is no Internet. How can we survive on the Internet now. 

MT: Oh okay. We did 50 years ago. Yeah. There were T-shirts 50 years ago 100 years ago. 

MT: I think um. We talk about funny things that represent yourself. Um I think back in the days people probably are restricted by the amount of uh resources that they have right in terms of materials of clothing.  Well let's say that T-shirts um probably screen print everything so um maybe we should create a um screen printing hobby club. Get it in. Tried to do one different uh pattern every week. And then we exchange physical um that could be one way to solve that you know. 

MT: And then I see other people's screen print patterns and then um we might like it. We might find that hey that that pattern represent me. Um another way we always do I think throughout time let's say 100 years ago. Right. There's different trading ports around the world. There's not a lot not a lot less nowadays. But you have these trading ports and then you see um comments um design materials um being shipped all around from all around the world. And then you see something that's different from another continent. Um then you might find that represent me. 

MT: And then you suddenly see in the streets of Shanghai suddenly someone wearing garments from the Middle East or Africa. Beautiful parents from Africa. So maybe that's how they used to do it. 

00:21:46:03 - 00:23:01:27

GLC: It was I had an amazing experience in India. I visited this a custom custom shop and they were doing this beautiful embroidery in the complexity of it and they became very famous because they could customize everything and the Pharisees were the first from Middle East to moving to China. Mm hmm. And so there a theme that is very popular even now in India is this Chinese inspired because they were such masters that the emperors will ask them to do this embroidery so at the time maybe even more than 200 years ago there was this customization idea. 

GLC: So if you have to wear something that represents yourself you would do it custom made up right. Yes. Okay. We have we have some points. 

GLC: So the next step of the time machine we went on in the past we are now going back to the future. So how would you solve your problem. Wow like a hundred years from now. We need a time machine for sure for a hundred years from now. Okay 

00:23:01:27 - 00:24:41:01

MT: Okay um. Something that is nanotechnology differently.  Okay. If we think about people's human nature right. We change all the time so our authentic self could be changing all the time. So I think in a hundred years from now our mindset our own self-identity could be changing every and every second every moment every minute. So how do we represent that? We need something that is that could almost like shapeshifters that go along with our identity. So So if I want a club right now I need a T-shirt maybe that that with flowers and lights. 

MT: I don't know that the Nano tank. No, I don't know. As could be biotech as well as now that fun! biotech. So it's almost like the armor of Black Panther that you get to use your mind to control the head of it. Right. And then I walk into a club it becomes dark like Black Panther and I go into the retro and then start suddenly turn into almost like Captain America 50's outfit you know in a split second later. So maybe that will be fun right. That's your authentic self but it changes with your government. I think that would be pretty cool. 

MT: So I don't even need to call search for hashtag anymore. 50 years from now it's just come to me as my mind shifts my clothing shifts my T-shirts shifts. 

00:24:41:01 - 00:25:50:13

GLC: Very interesting. OK. So thank you so much. This was amazing. 

MT: This is fun. 

GLC: what we're done in this small exercise is what we call reframing a problem or as I like to say is reframing the challenge. 

GLC: So it's let me spend one minute on on what does it mean to reframe the challenge as you. We were discussing before we approach problems especially in business in only one dimension. So we only see one thing. Right is very linear. And so our ability when we talk about creativity in businesses and this is how business designers or consultants could help a company is to have this shift right. 

GLC: So to change this mindset what we have just done in this exercise is it's a reframing of a challenge. So the classic example of reframing the challenge can be. OK. Every every single CEO I met it was like OK. Increase sales OK. That's sounds familiar. 

00:25:53:01 - 00:27:33:08

GLC: We want to increase sales and reframing the challenge means shifting this question from increasing the sale or you want to increase the profit margin because at the end of the day when you ask this question we suddenly go like way Yeah no I'm more interested in the profit margin than the sale. 

GLC: So we are reframing the challenge or sometimes we can do what we call an actionable refrain this actionable reframe is we want to increase sales versus let us find three actions that help us to increase sales but also let us find three actions within our company that is actually reducing our ability to do to generate sales and is another way of framing this this problem. 

GLC: So wrapping up if we look at this very simple example just the approach of what we call the time-machine we discovered what we discover that you have one dimension of research which is basically you going outwards but when you start thinking about the past we figured out that maybe there is a sharing economy that would be interesting. This customization part is starting a group right. 

GLC: So unless you have clubs that have clubs maybe today we can have that right. If you if you start a movement and you say hey guys by the way I can hook you up with my friends Teeshirts clubs or clubs. 

00:27:33:21 - 00:28:49:19

GLC: And then what you're seeing here is also you know when we look at the future what you're seeing changeable now customizable something that reflects your personality. Now we are not there yet but this shows what this shows a need for you. They're saying Okay you need to have a collection of T-shirts that in a different moment of the day represents me in a different way. 

GLC: So for example, if I had to in this example let's say I'm consulting you right now and you are the t-shirt you are trying to make this business. I would say Okay why don't you do a package right. 

GLC: You only sell three T-shirts is Nothing innovative but then you can sell it. Morning afternoon and night so you only sell packages and you know if you can customize whatever you want. But this comes into this formula. So now what we achieved is with the simple problem I don't find T-shirt or I want to find T-shirts that represent myself with so many dimensions just by thinking about the problem in a new way and 

00:28:49:27 - 00:30:26:18

MT: I think it is really beautiful. Um your time machine exercise. As you said is a reframing of the problem. You're looking at the problem from a different perspective. And then you start to discover a lot more things right. Looking at the future we are actually discussing the fact that people have multiple identities and maybe it is probably we don't need to wait for another 50 100 years because before we recognize that people these multiple identities are shifting every single moment. It is actually quite true nowadays as well. 

MT: People have multiple IG accounts so it's the same thing. We have multiple identities of how we because of this insight. How you say how we can repackage your product your solution in a sense the answers those needs. Yeah package three. Morning or afternoon in HK. 500 degrees. Yeah the weather is crazy. I mean the same sort of insight an approach can apply to all these different business problems not just shirts you into shirts that will be fantastic if 

GLC: it is always trying to give our target right our references something to think of and I think this is the essence of what we discussed. So if you are interested in this mall exercise you can download it up GLC.LIVE and thank you, Michael, for your inspiration. 

00:30:26:27 - 00:30:43:02

MT: I'm glad you have me on this on this show. I'm really glad to be involved in this and I think I really love this template. It's a great way to change the conversation of you know people want more sales into another problem. 

MT: Exactly it's a conversation starter as well as a conversation anchor. because it anchors us on what the user wants. 

MT: glad you have me on this on this show. I'm really glad to be involved in this and I think I really love this template. It's a great way to change the conversation of you know people want more sales into another problem. 

00:30:43:07 - 00:33:34:22

GLC: So if if I want to recap our conversation three key points and correct me if I'm wrong Michael. So designers now are becoming an integral part of the decision process the decision-making process and this is what makes a design-centric company slash looking at the user right pulling the user at the center. Exactly. That's number one and 

GLC: I would say a user is number two. So number wise designers are at the center of the conversations from the beginning. They are a torchbearer to be part of the conversation. From the inception from the strategy of a company. 

GLC: Yes. Number two is centering the user and by centering the user means also using a conversation. We set design thinking I love this design thinking is only a conversational tool that helps us to understand maybe this user better to understand our company better. And it is a conversation starter and it doesn't need to be this absolute magic wand or the secret formula but these are conversation-starters because if we don't talk about it if we ignore the problem. We need to talk about hard problems as well. 

MT: Mm hmm. 

GLC: So as a whole is the very last one that I that I loved was number three is designing the business design is discovery and this discovery needs to start from the inwards instead of outward so it's it's beautiful. 

GLC: I talk about this when I talk about trust in the book and I say that trust cannot be given to us. It needs to be earned. But to do so we have to start by showing that we are trustworthy. Mm hmm. So which is it is exactly what you manage to say in simple words which is starts from the words what you can do for the user or the company instead of what the company should do against the competition. 

GLC: I think you wrapped it up really well. So Michael if we want to find you where should we find you. 

00:33:34:29 - 00:34:09:28

MT: Oh well you can definitely on LinkedIn. Look at Michael Tam and. Well that's probably only one Michael Tam with IBM iX. You can find me there and I would love to have more conversations with anyone who is interested in design business design design thinking and that thing is important we have these conversations together all of us together because there's such a big market for us to educate the rest of the world. 

GLC: Absolutely. Thank you so much Michael.

MT: Thank you Gianluca 

GLC: And I'm happy and I hope you enjoy the show. 

MT: I really love it. 

00:34:09:28 - 00:34:14:12

GLC: GLC.Live is produce by Gary Moran, special thanks to Michael Tam and IBM iX I’m Gianluca Cinquepalmi. If you enjoyed this podcast subscribe and comment to our podcast on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcast for reference and link visit GLC.live.