Amongst mankind’s great achievements you will find great inventions like the wheel, the boat, or the water closet. Not hard to imagine where civilization would be without these… Most of these inventions are by now taken for granted: we don’t even bother to imagine how the world would be without them.
To me, there’s one achievement of mankind that truly stands out, and that is also not being valued at such: that’s the bridge. It’s trampled on by billions every day, leading a predominantly miserable life between the banks it connects. Thereby it takes a crucial role in fulfilling mankind’s everlasting desire to discover the unknown, to conquer new territory and – most importantly – to outwit time. The purpose of a bridge is to connect what initially had been separated [for a good reason] by nature.
To overcome this separation for good, mankind created the bridge: initially just to keep our feet dry, eventually to negotiate deep trenches, dangerous pathways, or other sorts of divisions. The alternative is taking a long and cumbersome detour, or to abandon one’s journey altogether. Both are not a valid option, really.
Due to its significance, ‚bridge‘ is used as a metaphor a lot, mostly then when an attempt to connect two opposing sides is described. „He was a bridgebuilder“ is often heard in eulogies, referring to the persons’ ability to mediate between conflicting parties (and that it can go horribly wrong). To build a bridge between disunited ‚banks‘ is a difficult challenge, which requires skill and courage.
The divide between the administers and the developers within organizations, for instance, can be one so deep, wide and imponderable, that nobody dares to build a bridge across. Not only are both activities entirely different from each other, but they also have no intention what so ever to cross their divide!
Management and design feel quite comfortable, there where they are, and they are doing fine, having all that they need to function well. The chasm between them is of no concern to them since they are solely occupied with their own activities. If there is something that has to go to the other side (like briefing or deliverable), it’s simply tossed over the wall!
Like in nature, also in organizations divides don’t really matter unless you want to effectively get across or purposely connect both sides…
By now it’ proven that organization is most effective when the various functions and departments are operating in an integral fashion: not machine-like, sequential, and hierarchical, but organic, simultaneous, and collaborative. To overcome silo-thinking – next to increasing the employees’ loyalty – is the ultimate challenge in building effective organizations. And it’s here where organizations are clueless because they have no mechanism to effectively connect the various silos with each other. Hence they still pass on the important issues from one to the other: the central departments that are set up to conduct this ‚distribution‘, like HR, strategy, or brand management, are silo constructions themselves, just like all the others. What it takes are effective connections, not more departments…
Design management can act as such a ‚connection’ within organizations. It’s a bridge that can either be build beginning at the designer’s bank, or management can start with the construction: in both cases, the goal is to enable the effective and lossless flow of information and communication. This form of connection between otherwise divided worlds is a prerequisite for an organization to work effectively.
To build a bridge between design and management is also a fascinating undertaking, specifically if the chasm is huge and if there’s nothing to support the ‚bridge‘ during its construction. Ideally, you’d start from that side with the strongest urge to connect, and then try to reach the other bank step by step. But it’s way more efficient if there is a desire on both sides so that you can start to build from both sides accordingly. This approach requires mutual commitment and lots of coordination: in the end, you need to meet halfway, and at eye level too! Only skilled people, the so-called bridgebuilders, who can compensate differences, absorb changes of course, and thus allow both sides to effectively ‚bridge‘, can pull this off.
So if you run into a ‚bridge building‘ activity within an organization, do not judge too quickly, even it evokes the impression of Mafia-investment at work, with no real purpose! What you observe are most like design managers, who construct a bridge as a matter of prudence. The divide between design and management is just not visible to most of us yet: only if you start to cross the finalized bridge, you can see how deep it really is!