Once again, I attended a new session of the Designer’s Debate Club, the motion debated on this time was the question “Do Designers Make the Best CEO’s”, it was a memorable event and touches on a topic that I feel has become more and more important with business these days. More and more CEO’s come from varying backgrounds and training. As design in a business becomes more important, it’s interesting to think about how the creative thinking of a designer can benefit a business.
Debbie Milman (who in addition to being president of Sterling Brands hosts one of my favorite podcasts Design Matters) moderated the debate. Designer’s Debate club set up an excellent twitter tool, establishing the audience’s leanings before and after the discussions. This helped establish the effectiveness of each sides argument.
The Motion For:
Tina Roth Eisenberg, Craig Shapiro and Charles Adler formed the group defending the motion for designers being CEO’s. Tina’s arguments centered on designers being better at iteration and taking criticism. Charles took another path and argued that the root of what designers work for is empathy and empathy leads to better relationships. Craig made the argument that technology leadership started as relationships with servers and now it’s user experience.
The Motion Against:
Rick Webb, Gadi Amit and Jay Parkinson headed the motion against designers being CEO’s. From some of the responses they gave, you could tell they were setting themselves up to be the whipping boys of the conversation. After all, who wants to tell a room full of creatives that they shouldn’t be CEO’s? They handled it well though. Aside from the occasional antagonistic comment they made some interesting points. Gadi brought up the fact that no one is asking surgeons to be CEO’s why is it that designers should be suited better to this? However, he then followed it up by saying designers should be comfortable enough where they are.
I think the best argument against was that being a CEO requires much more than creative problem solving. It requires inspiring people, managing finances, and often times being a politician. If a designer is spending their time talking with financiers and investors, it’s taking them away from where their talent lies.
I’m somewhat biased in this argument, as most designers who have been self employed would be. I love startup culture and I feel we need more businesses that realize the importance of creativity in their business plan. I would never say that every CEO needs to be a designer. I think that would be silly. There are bad designers just like there are bad CEO’s, and some people are just not suited to be a leader no matter what their background. Whether or not they know what Gestalt Theory is, is irrelevant.
However, I think that creative thinking can improve almost any position. It’s easy to spot bad design but a bad CEO can seem to go unnoticed until the company stock tanks. I feel that if we give students in design school business classes, the resulting talent pool would be better than if we sent business students to design school. Now more than ever, design can what separates a successful product from an unsuccessful one. If not CEO, every business could benefit from having a Chief Creative Officer to offer strategy based on their own strengths. Whether it happens or not, this is a discussion that every business should be having. Even yours.