Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Verganti & Norman: Having a vision is not enough--it must be implemented

Roberto Verganti and I wrote an invited article for the Italian Newspaper Nòva. Our title was "The Age of Vision," and Verganti was the first author. They translated it into Italian, retitled it retitled "Per costruire visione servono nuovi contest" (To build a vision we need new contexts"), and listed me as first author. (A better title would have been "Having a vision is not enough--it must be implemented.")  It was published Sunday, July 13, 2014 in their technology section, Nòva 24 Tech.



Our English original is below, with the improved title.

Having a vision is not enough--it must be implemented

Roberto Verganti (Politecnico di Milano)
Don Norman (University of California, San Diego)

Innovation is important. People want it. Companies want it. Politicians want it.  But what is it?

Great, radical innovations change the world. Think of the radical inventions that changed the world, from Marconi to Edison. But these radical innovations are surprisingly rare.   How many radical revolutions will any one of us experience in a lifetime? Not many, perhaps twenty or fifty, but certainly not thousands.

Breakthrough innovation comes from visions: the capability of looking at the world and seeing what others do not. There is no single profession that drives innovation. It can come from anyone, from anywhere. 

Vision building is the most relevant and rare asset in our society. We do not live in a world where data and knowledge are missing. Indeed, it is just the opposite. The amount of information is overwhelming. What is rare is the capability to make sense of this enormous and complex picture, to go beyond the past and existing patterns and imagine what is not there. 

But having a vision is not enough. Visionary ideas are frequent: actual implementation of these visions is rare. Innovation requires that the vision be fulfilled, a task that requires immense courage, fortitude, and conviction. Great innovations often face great obstacles. Even the most successful innovations had a difficult time getting going, they faced severe scorn and ridicule, and they often took decades before they were accepted.

We still know little about how visions are built. Businesses claim to want innovation, but when innovative ideas are presented to them, they balk. Intuitive and insightful processes scare them. "But what if it fails?" they ask. Great visionaries, great innovators frequently fail. Failure, to them, is a learning experience. Great change does not come without earlier great failure. 

But the fear of failure has chastened the otherwise visionary drive of many. Designers, who had a good mastery of the process, have abandoned their peculiar visionary skills to embrace safer and more structured concepts that managers are more familiar with. 

A marketing manager once described Apple's market research as consisting of "Steve ?[Jobs] looking in the mirror every morning and asking himself what he wanted." This kind of statement is usually meant as an insult. A popular myth is that innovation is driven by sophisticated analytical methods and structured processes. Behaviours based on intuition are stigmatized. This myth has come from the traditional business environment that supports an orientation towards problem solving rather than vision building. This approach might solve the immediate issues, but it fails to prepare for the future. 

The new frontier is to explore the path to innovation by understanding the nature of vision building. For this purpose, we need new frameworks. We need to investigate the slippery intangible dimensions of thinking, the capability to unveil what is hidden into the mirror that reflects our role in the society.

We need to understand the dreams of people, to change the marketplace from the ordinary to a world that is still not there. This is essential if we want to leave in a sustainable world. A sustainable society can only be the result of visions that look beyond today, beyond immediate issues. 


Roberto Verganti is Professor of Management of Innovation at Politecnico di Milano. He serves on the European Design Innovation Leadership Board of the European Commission. His book, Design-Driven Innovation, was published by Harvard Business Press. 

Don Norman directs the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego (USA),and is former Vice President of Apple. His latest book, La Caffettiera del Masochista*, was recently published by Giunti. He has an honorary degree from the University of Padova.

* Note: La Caffettiera del Masochista* is the title of the Italian translation of Design of Everyday Things, revised and expanded.



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