Design Thinking — Step 2: Extraordinary strategy

This is the second, in a three-part series on the “how” of Design Thinking.

In the first of this three-part series about Design Thinking, Tim Smith talked about Discovery and how Skidmore digs under every rock, heads outside to talk to customers and walks a mile in our client’s shoes to be sure we empathetically understand our clients’ brands. This process starts with Discovery and ends with Execution, but what what does it take to bridge the two? How do we achieve extraordinary Strategy?

I have to confess that I wrote three drafts of this blog post trying to explain how we develop Strategy before I realized that I was over-complicating it more and more with every sentence I wrote. That’s when I realized that Strategy can be explained with just one simple story.

So permit me to tell you a quirky little tale set 100 years ago in the town of Bridgeless. It is about two men who each set out to build a bridge…
The first man, known in Bridgeless as Baron Magnus VonBiddlewort—and usually spoken of in hushed tones with sideways glances to be sure he wasn’t standing nearby, because he nearly always was—had made his fortune, made his name, and generally made a rather large and unnecessary presence of himself in Bridgeless.

By contrast, the second man was the humble, but very bright young Jonathan Goodlight, an energetic and enterprising engineer of whom everyone agreed, “There goes a good chap,” whenever he rode by on one of those fancy new bicycling machines.

Now Bridgeless was, as the astute reader may have guessed, bridgeless. (The local residents not being very imaginative and the Naming Commission having been on holiday when the town was established.) The beautiful river Aquis had very inconveniently decided to separate the townspeople, who all lived on the eastern riverbank, from their pastures and fields on the western riverbank. This forced everyone to travel one mile upstream to cross over in the town of Bridgeton, a trip which was generally considered by all to be a “damned nuisance.”

Neither VonBiddlewort nor Goodlight were willing to sit idly by while their fellow citizens labored under the river’s oppression. So on an especially drizzly Tuesday in March each man made up his mind to do something about it. With bridges being the traditional choice for crossing rivers in that part of the country, each man began their bridge-building career that very same day—albeit with entirely different methods.

VonBiddlewort was a man of means, a man of decision and a man of action, by Jove! Of course he knew just the thing that was needed: a footbridge painted yellow (his favorite color) for late afternoon strolls (his favorite pastime). Men were hired, materials were delivered and a pleasant little yellow footbridge very quickly existed in the place where none had existed before.

On the other hand, Goodlight was a man of thoughtful consideration, a man of enlightened understanding and a man of insightful vision. Of course he knew just the thing that was needed: a bridge that would not only provide his fellow townspeople with easy access to their pastures and fields, but accommodate the flow of livestock and produce back and forth. With that vision, men were hired, materials were delivered and a wide, sturdy gray bridge very quickly took shape.

“Why gray?” asked the reporter from the Bridgeless Bugle the day the bridge opened.

“Because it won’t attract undue attention to itself,” replied Goodlight. “It’s not about the bridge; it’s about the people who need to use the bridge.”
The people loved their new bridge! The Goodlight bridge saw a great trafficking of chickens and sheep, corn and millet, radishes and rutabaga. But the VonBiddlewort bridge saw nothing…except one large, pompous, self-serving “man of action” strolling a lonely, dejected stroll each afternoon around 4 o’clock. THE END.

“And what,” you will ask (because you’ve forgotten the purpose of the story), “has this got to do with strategy at Skidmore?”

Our clients, or their products and services, are on one side of the river. And the people to whom they want to sell these products and services are on the other side. Strategy is building a bridge that will connect the riverbanks. Good strategy is building a bridge that people actually want to use.

Extraordinary strategy is building a strong bridge that people want to use, and which makes you weep when you look at it because it is so beautiful.

In the next installment of this series, our Design Director Shawn McConnell will talk about how to design extraordinarily beautiful bridges.