Book Review: Strategy by Design: A Process of Strategy Innovation

    By: PDMA Headquarters on Apr 09, 2013

    Strategy by Design: A Process of Strategy Innovation
    By James Carlopio. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 199 + xii pages.

    In search of iconic products and cutting edge thinking, managers are increasingly informed by design profession methods. Centers like the Institute of Design at Stanford University indicate recent commitments to design-related innovation management. In this sphere, design can be seen as a dynamic iterative process (p. 9) that may provide organizations with valuable product, service, process and strategy innovations.

    “Strategy by Design” offers scholarly voice-of-the-designer insights regarding strategy formulation. Management professor James Carlopio argues for the adoption of a “design attitude” (p. 35) in formal strategy development that reflects qualitative research methods that draw on “theory building” (p. 51) skills for improved results. The book is comprised of a contributor’s short Foreword, seven numbered chapters on its process, plus an appendix and chapter-specific notes.

    The Foreword establishes the book’s thesis that the rate and scope of change attendant to globalization has created the need for a new means of strategy development, specifically a design-centered approach that borrows from phasic new product development (NPD) frameworks. Chapter 1 provides background on strategic planning, finding seminal positioning school (Porter, 1980) and meta-theoretical strategy school work (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, & Lampel, 1998) shy on important strategy formulation considerations. To fill strategy creation gaps, author Carlopio suggests that design profession theory and methods should be applied toward radical industry redesign in solving society’s global problems and for strategy innovation.    

    The book’s “focused trial and error” (p. 134) process unfolds in the next six chapters, where redesigning entails unlearning known strategy to “help us separate from the past and to be more creative and innovate” (pp. 23-24). Chapters 2 and 3 surround project goal definition and the rounding up of informational inputs. Chapter 4 illustrates concept generation or ideation as divergent creative thinking employed during brainstorming (Osborn, 1957) activities, while chapter 5 covers the need for visual strategy prototyping. Chapter 6 explains convergent strategy evaluation’s developmental and terminal aspects as, respectively, (a) the iterative refinement of potential solutions and (b) the final judgment that leads to a particular strategy as innovative product output.    

    Overall, the author’s strategy formulation process, informed by design thinking concepts (e.g., Lawson, 2005; Rowe, 1987), is offered as a transformative solution for organizations and sectors. Thought provoking throughout, a close reading may lead one to ponder tacit innovation management topics in light of the design perspective, such as apt percentages of execution versus invention activity, expected ratios of incremental versus radical innovation outcomes, quantity versus quality in product ideation and the potential usefulness of creativity types’ activity patterns as bases for innovation methodologies. Of particular note is the fascinating theoretical analysis of strategy development paradigms that closes the author’s argument in the final chapter. The result is a book well suited for academic, leadership and management audiences interested in surveying the design thinking piece and how its aspects may be integrated toward the creation of innovative strategy solutions.    


    Dr. Erik A.J. Johnson
    Columbia University


    Lawson, B. (2005). How designers think: The design process demystified (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: Architectural Press.
    Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy safari. New York, NY: Free Press.
    Osborn, A. F. (1957). Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
    Porter, M. (1980). Competitive strategy. New York, NY: Free Press.
    Rowe, P. G. (1987). Design thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Released: April 9, 2013, 1:43 pm | Updated: October 14, 2013, 8:58 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog | Book Review

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