As there was something important to discus, my colleague took me „to catch some fresh air“: for me it was just fresh air, for him the same, but compounded with the heavy fume of a filterless Gauloises.
Soon after we had reached the terrace, the smoke started to penetrate in small cloudlets from his nose and mouth: the clear predictor of an imminent eruption!
It didn’t take long for him to eventually ‚explode‘: with wild gestures and the cigaret-butt miraculously glued to his lips, he started to ventilate his anger and frustration with our company, with incompetent product managers, who just could not see the truly relevant issues when developing products. Every complaint or swear he spat out was accompanied by yellowish smoke, which made his lamenting even more impressive to experience. The whole show reminded my of a French ‚film noire‘ and I enjoyed it for as long as it lasted.
How much I adored him for being so truly French and also for convincingly perpetuate all the stereotypes that are linked to his nationality, but foremost to his profession: he was a true ‚designer’!
All he did, or thought, appeared to be originating from his gut, after which it would erupt in heavy bursts of creativity, or madness – just like a volcano clogged-up with magma. Once he was ‚dormant‘ again, there was hardly anything you could possibly do with him: any pressure from the outside was pointless, he would only respond to the pressure coming from within.
The power he could unleash, once fired up, was impressive: when he did mix up a meeting, you could literally smell burned rubber days after. The way he would wipe the floor with engineers and product managers, convincing them to follow his design directions, and not those coming from marketeers, had become a company tale for years after. Product managers knew that they had to embrace for impact if they intended to give him an instruction for a design execution.
Also on that day, when we met on the terrace, they had tried to ‚instruct‘ him. The situation eventually had culminated into some sort of conflict, out of which neither my colleague, nor the product manager involved, could emerge as a winner – the situation was deadlocked.
These deadlocked situations often were the reason why he actually reached out to me, in the hope that I could help to unlock them again. And also in this particular case I did take over the communication, liaised between the two parties and eventually proposed a compromise that both sides could accept, allowing the project to be finalized with a satisfactory result.
It occurred that due to my conciliating skills colleagues, engineers and product managers increasingly started to ‚use‘ me as a ‚liaison‘ in order to bridge between management and creatives with the goal to eventually reach consensus, or come to an agreement of some sort: factually it meant that I ended up in design management.
Both managers and creatives did acknowledge me that they felt understood when dealing with me, and that I was able to talk ‚their language‘… and ever since I feel part of the diplomatic corps. But just like in diplomacy—or democracy if you like—there is a disadvantage to be reckoned with: consensus might ease the tension between opposing parties, but it can suppress truly ‚eruptive‘ solutions that can achieve a turn-around and thus overcome old, inefficient habits. Truly great solutions rarely arise from a consensus.
That’s why design management has to achieve more than just bringing opposing parties at one table: foremost it has to design! Design management has to design and create a collaborative environment where designers and creatives can generate tangible value alongside and within the restrictions set by management, but also allowing for new and creative ‚eruptions‘ to emerge that can break through the control mechanism management installs.
To achieve this design management has to be conducted as a design activity and not merely a management measure. It enables creative eruptions—that change the existing for the better—in environments prone to stability and conformity, to really take place – without the whole volcano blowing to pieces!