Designers are put in the picture

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THE BUSINESS excellence model is also being championed by the design community, not least because it is seen as a way of getting the discipline recognised as a contributor to success, writes Roger Trapp.

Accordingly, one of the central events of this year's Design in Business Week is tomorrow's seminar "The Total Company - Designing Excellence" led by Edward de Bono, the originator of "lateral thinking". As the organisers of this event - the Design Council and the British Quality Foundation - point out, leading organisations achieve success by "optimising every aspect of their performance". And if a company is going to look at its performance in the round then design - in its widest sense, rather than just look or feel - is bound to emerge as a factor in developing a competitive advantage.

With too many companies thinking in boxes, Dr de Bono will be leading a session at the Design Council's headquarters in Covent Garden aimed at exploring the power of creativity to unleash new business potential. The business excellence model comes in because it provides a structure for companies venturing in this direction.

The following week, the same venue will host another attempt to show that putting creativity into a framework is not a contradiction in terms. The Design Council and the Economic and Social Research Council's Innovation Programme are holding a one-day workshop on managing innovation.

Fiona Steele, the programme's director, says there is a tendency in business "not to take a holistic view". But unless the board and other senior managers encourage people to take that view, it is difficult to get out of the box.

As she acknowledges, successful innovation is largely about having a supportive culture in place. Nevertheless, there are things organisations can do to gain confidence. The idea behind the workshop is to demonstrate - through four of the programme's projects - what sorts of tools and techniques other organisations are finding useful.

For example, academics from the Manchester School of Management have developed a "knowledge-management audit tool" through looking at the practices of such companies as Hewlett-Packard, ICI and Ove Arup.

The idea is that the tool enables other organisations to carry out a "health check" on how knowledge is shared and disseminated within their research and development departments, and then benchmark it against some recognised leaders.

A team from the University of East Anglia will be describing a just-finished analysis of the use in the UK of "hoshin kanri" - a Japanese concept that follows on from Total Quality Management in aiding the integration of strategic objectives and day-to-day operations.

This is always a challenge for organisations and the tool is seen as a method of aligning people to a common cause and instilling an organisational adaptability so that managers always know how they are faring with regard to executives' objectives as well as what is happening in their markets.

In many ways, this project encapsulates the message that the Innovation Programme - currently halfway through its five-year life - is seeking to get across.

Dr Steele says: "There's a balance between fire-fighting and trying to take a lateral view and step back from the day to day to ask, where do we want to go and what are our competitors doing?"