In the tech community, there are countless entrepreneurs who think they have an idea that’s so original, it’s bound to change the world. But is creativity really the secret ingredient for disruption?
No, says Micahel Gough, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Design of its Applications and Services group. He believes the quality of a product’s design and a team’s ability to execute are what really matters.
He shared his theory during a panel discussion that followed a screening of the documentary, “Design Disruptors,” in Seattle on Thursday:
“I think originality is vastly overrated. Almost all good ideas are emergent. They come from a thousand different places simultaneously. What we’re good at if we do our jobs well, and we enjoy our jobs, is seeing the context. So we see what’s happening out in the culture, we see what’s happening out in technology, and we make these cognitive leaps at the same time that thousands and thousands of other people are making the same damn leap. Ideas are cheap. In fact, every time somebody says to me ‘I’ve got this great idea,’ I just want to punch them.”
Using the new Facebook Stories feature as an example, Gough noted that there were likely “a couple hundred” employees who worked on the project.
“So you’re going to have to convince a hundred people that idea is worth making all of the effort,” Gough said. “That’s our job much more than being original or unique.”
Masuma Henry, executive director of design consultancy firm Artefact; Amazon Executive Creative Producer Cameron Campbell; and Facebook Product Designer Francis Luu joined Gough on the panel. Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Greene, author of Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons, moderated the discussion.
In essence, Gough said that innovation is all well and good. But a team of designers with the skills execute, he said, is what it takes to disrupt something. If you have that horsepower, it doesn’t really matter if someone else thought of the idea first, he noted.
Henry agreed that borrowing and improving on the ideas of competitors can be advantageous, but she said it can also stifle the mission of the designer.
“The idea of looking to the competition and what’s happening in the marketplace is a sound business idea, but it doesn’t always translate well to being creative and being a problem-solver,” she said.
The panelists shared their insights with a full house in the Cloud Room of Chophouse Row, a space that oozes intentional design in its own right. The venue is fastidiously decorated with industrial touches, chic mid-century modern furniture, warm wood and natural fibers. It’s just two floors up from the headquarters of Seattle design studio Tectonic, which hosted the event.
The discussion centered on design’s ascent to top priority for many technology firms, as users increasingly expect seamless, easy-to-adopt products.
The screening and panel were part of Tectonic’s ongoing mission to foster conversation and collaboration among members of Seattle’s design community.