Jan 25, 2013

A Sneak Peek: Principles of a DEO

Maria Giudice's picture
Maria Giudice
CEO & Founder

Along with my friend and colleague, Christopher Ireland, I’ll be leading a talk at this year’s SXSW Interactive called WTF is a DEO?. Our presentation is an extension of work I first started back in 2011 when I gave a talk at TEDxPresidio, called The Rise of the DEO, in which I first introduced the DEO concept. Christopher and I are also co-authoring a book on this topic, due out this fall.

Now, maybe you’re wondering: WTF is a DEO?

noun \də-(ˌ)ē-ˈō\

Abbreviation: Design Executive Officer

A person who possesses the hybrid skills of a strategic business executive and a creative, problem-solving designer; someone who is a catalyst for transformation and the agent of cultural change.

The world needs more DEOs, don't you think? And that’s exactly what Christopher and I will be talking about: how people can recognize and cultivate DEO skills within themselves, and use these skills to effect positive transformation within their organizations and communities.

There are seven core principles of being a DEO and, in the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting a new principle each week—sort of a teaser for the talk at SXSW. So be sure to check back every week. And PLEASE: don’t be shy about feedback. We’d love to hear from you. Or, even better, see you in Austin.

Now, let’s get to it...

Lead by example.

Lead by example. Everyone here has a superpower. What's yours? Run with it. Utilize your superpowers to their full potential. What is your kryptonite? Make sure you surround yourself with the right people who can fill the gaps in your weak or blind spots. Finally, be your authentic you. Don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Have the courage to think differently. Have the confidence to BE different. Pass it on.

Iterate and evolve.
Be open to change.

To build an innovative culture, you have to keep the company in a constant state of change and reinvention. This should be the norm, not the exception, and not simply locked away in separate innovation labs that have permission to operate differently from the rest of the company. Agility and nimbleness require the right mindset, the right skills, and the ability to course correct regardless of organizational structure. Be responsive and open to change. Be nimble, evolve, and iterate. Pass it on.

Go wide and fail early.

It takes courage and vulnerability to throw out wild ideas and take some risks. Our goal as designers is to push our clients and ourselves to a place of uncomfortability. To places they haven’t dared going or even thought of before. That’s when the best ideas turn into groundbreaking solutions. This should be everyone’s end goal. Pass it on.

Champion creative culture.

Recent research on companies that are among the most successful innovators points to one common denominator—the right culture. And it can start with you, right at your desk. Break down the formal structures that keep people apart. Tear down those cubicle walls! Provide an environment that encourages and rewards creativity in others. Creativity and innovation need to be “baked into” the culture from the top down and bottom up. Pass it on.

People, not machines.

The success of all businesses lies in its people—and how we can make powerful, meaningful connections to one another. Business in not mechanical, but, more often than not, we run businesses like machines. I look at businesses as a community of interconnected human beings who share common beliefs, values, goals, and passions. As a DEO you need to have empathy and care deeply for people, their cultures, and the desire to do good on behalf of our planet. Pass it on.

WE not ME

We are no longer in the culture of ME, the lone rockstar in the corner, and recognizing people solely for their individual contributions. Instead, we live in the WE, so businesses need to create a culture of collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork. The best ideas and solutions to global problems come from a multi-disciplinary team effort where everyone feels like they’ve contributed to the design process. Collectively, we can be more insightful and more intelligent than we can be individually. More brains, more ideas, better solutions. Pass it on.

Design = Change

We need to think of design as an investment in the future, not an expense on a balance sheet. Design is about creativity. Creativity that expresses itself through any medium, not just artistic ones. Creativity that is inclusive, action-oriented, resourceful and refreshing. Creativity that everyone has and anyone can develop (even though most of us don’t recognize it in ourselves). Pass it on.

These principles are only a small sample of what’s to come at SXSW. So be sure to come see us if you’re in Austin. And, while you’re at it, also check out two other Hot-led talks at SXSW: Bill Fisher’s Mobile Apps Suck (But They Don’t Have To!) and Tina Santiago’s panel on how Pop Up stores are changing urban environments and retail. Bill and Tina rock and their presentations are sure to rock as well.

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more about the DEO, take a listen to a new podcast that Christopher and I put together. In it, we discuss what it takes to be a creative leader, and share some of our experiences balancing careers and families.