Business 2.0, Design

The new MBA: Mastering Business Ambiguity

Lisa Kay Solomon has a great post entitled The New MBA: A Masters in Business Ambiguity:

Long gone are the days of “Mastering Business ‘Administration.” (What are we administering anymore?) Today, the model we should be teaching is more appropriately titled: “Mastering Business Ambiguity.”

It’s a great piece—I’d recommend checking it out.

But it also sparked for me some thinking about the role that we (at Zumio, but also designers more generally) play, and I think that a critical part of our value to our clients is in working through ambiguity—the so-called fuzzy front end of business and product development.

We help to disambiguate a project or product, or even a business model—to work through this phase through stakeholder engagement, lean startup practice, and strategic design thinking. This can happen at the business/strategic level, though more often than not we are engaged at the project level (which does present some constraints on the degree of questioning and transformation we can effect).

I was reminded of this in a recent conversation with someone who has been a successful business analyst in software development for many years. They recognised being challenged when the product wasn’t fully defined—most of their experience had been in developing and refining an known product. But when faced with determining what the next product should be, the methods, skills, experience and techniques that had proved so useful in this context weren’t as applicable.

Approaches like design thinking and lean startup are ideally suited to respond to this challenge. Probing through action research and discovery, imagining new solutions, reducing risk through iterative development and learning.

However, I believe there’s another dimension to this.

It is a natural human instinct to feel uncomfortable in such ambiguity. There’s always a drive to find clarity. To make a decision. To move forward.

To be successful in our striving for innovation outcomes, we need to be ok and hold ourselves in that ambiguity. It can be a danger to make decisions too early. It can also be problematic to leave it too late.

During the recent Design for Social Innovation conference/workshops, friend and colleague Penny Hagen relayed on Twitter Sam Rye’s comments about “enuffness”. I really like that term as a way to describe this sense of being ok in the ambiguity. Sam went on to suggest the analogy of a rock amongst fluidity.

Both of these articulations point to an idea of being ok in making a decision that we may not have 100% confidence in being “right”, but that is well placed within the process—sufficiently considered and informed—to support the required momentum to move a project forward and to get to the next learning. And, especially important, is demonstrating a degree of confidence to others around you—team members, key stakeholders—so that they have confidence to take those steps with you.

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