Monday, November 12, 2007

The usual suspects

I used to work for a large company that frequently announced new initiatives by sending out an an e-mail with a list of participants at the initiatives' kickoff meeting. The names on the participants' list rarely changed. I and some others in my work group referred to the names on the list as "The Usual Suspects" as in, "So, who was at the kickoff of The Next Great Thing Program?" "Oh, you know, The Usual Suspects." It was understood that the new initiative would follow the arc of previous initiatives. Everyone would advocate on behalf of their own business area, any new ideas would be compromised or eliminated from the final product, then everyone would declare victory and run off to the next big initiative. The script rarely changed no matter the real outcome of the project.

So when I was reading Jack and Suzy Welch's column on executive decision making in Business Week I almost split a gut when they used the phrase "the usual suspects" in the same way. Jack, of course, was an enormously successful CEO and leader, and it's impressive that he's able to see problems and solutions that seem almost to go unremarked on in many companies. At my old company, any suggestion from an employee that a kickoff include other than The Usual Suspects would have been rejected out of hand.

The Welches advocate for change agents in their column. Designers are by nature change agents. They're good to have around because they can see things from different perspectives. Execs and decision makers need to figure out how to identify and include them in new initiatives. And to stop relying so heavily on The Usual Suspects.

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