Jul 19, 2011

Calling All Design Executive Officers: The Rise of the DEO

Maria Giudice's picture
Maria Giudice
CEO & Founder

Why are people surprised to learn that a woman with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art can be the CEO of a successful 70-person company? Was my success a fluke? A happy accident?
Why is it that people who have art degrees are viewed as unlikely candidates to lead successful enterprises?
I wonder about these questions often, not just because they relate to my own life story, but because I see them as having real implications for the way businesses and organizations are run today.

Earlier this year I gave a talk at TEDxPresidio called The Rise of the DEO: Building Creativity in Business. In it, I introduced a new kind of executive, someone that I hope becomes a more prominent figure in years ahead, the DEO—Design Executive Officer.

What is a DEO? What does she do?

  • DEOs are systems thinkers. They’re ideally suited for solving the big problems that organizations, businesses, and governments face.
  • DEOs create things that are relevant and meaningful. They’re not just focused on closing the deal or making the quick buck. They build lasting relationships and add real value.
  • Most importantly, DEOs embrace risk. This makes them catalysts for transformation, and agents of cultural change.

There’s more acceptance of creative leadership than ever before. This is due in no small part to the success of Apple and its CEO, calligraphy student Steve Jobs. And lots of writers, teachers, and businesses are already touting the virtues of creative thinking in business. Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, says that the MFA is the new MBA. Designworks, a multidisciplinary studio at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, schools MBA students in the processes and practices of design thinking.

There are still many roadblocks, though. A recent study showed that perceptions of prospective leaders as “creative” made them less likely to be thought of as strong leaders. We have a long way to go.

The simple fact, however, is that creatives do have a place at the executive level. Crafting a business model, maintaining client relationships, caring for employees, managing a supply chain—these aren’t just business activities. They’re creative endeavors. Building and running a business is an act of creative expression.
I'd like to inspire the next generation of creative thinkers to realize the potential of their abilities and shoot high to become DEOs.

Do you know of any DEOs out in the world? Do you have stories to share with us about the superpowers of creative leaders? I'd love to hear from you!