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Imagine, design, prepare, lead


We live in a golden age of design. From the industrial era to the dot com era and beyond, good design was a privilege reserved for a few companies with large budgets to devote to R&D or branding. In a world where every business is a technology and data company, design is now the competitive advantage. In fact, I think the recent all-time high in unicorns is not only indicative of access to capital, it is also indicative of access to brilliant design.


Much has been written about design thinking; however, I prefer to discuss design thinking as an imaginative skill rather than a methodology. Most of the approaches focus on the product or become extensions to problem solving. For example, empathy for a situation or a client is good, but it’s like being on a treadmill: it keeps you in shape but in one place.

Design is a metaphysical ability to imagine. It is probably best discovered through these two statements:

• Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

• Donald Judd: “Design has to work. Art does not.

In these statements, you learn about the disruptive and transformative nature of design and the need for it to be functional, leading to an emotional experience for users.


I favor curiosity, design and imagination. These three very human capacities are essential to build a future yet to be discovered. Design is a fragile human process and possibly the best competitive advantage in the age of automation.

In the words of Jony Ive, “Ideas are extremely fragile. Ideas are not predictable in terms of when you will get them or how many you will have. Over the years, we’ve created a team and an environment that when they arrive, we nurture them. “

Let me guide you through the four dimensions.


Design is that pure idea as it occurs to you, unaltered by the limitations of existing reality and unbiased by what is possible. This idea is the brief of the imagination. Revolutionary ideas can be attributed to the brilliance of a imaginative memory that is inspiring and distinct.

An enduring example of this is the iconic Coca-Cola bottle design in 1915. It comes from a fictional memory that is iconic in itself: a “bottle so distinct you would recognize it if it was in the dark or if she was lying on the floor. “It also sets out some design principles that set out how this idea is to be brought to life.


With an inspiring and distinct imaginative briefing completed, now is the time to get some details on paper on how the idea would work. To keep the idea pure, resist the temptation to jump into the realities of execution. Drawing the details and interfaces helps create a compelling working vision of the imagination brief.

Imagine a traditional animator drawing frame-by-frame storyboards. It is this level of passion for bringing the brief (story) of the imagination to life that made characters like Mickey Mouse powerful enough to have a direct impact on copyright law in the United States. Many companies, including Uber, Xerox, Airbnb, and Zoom, have also made design a verb.


This step is about identifying and developing the right leadership, technology, process, and organizational capabilities to bring the idea to life. It is about experimenting through prototyping to test these capabilities before being transferred for live production. It’s about gathering information that helps refine the compelling last mile customer experience storyline.

You must be asking yourself, “Is Apple good at the imagination or is it better at creating the right abilities to bring an idea to life?” The contrast in culture and organizational methods between NASA and SpaceX is another prime example of how rocket iteration and development quickly put the first humans on a commercial spacecraft.


Lead is the powerful last mile when the idea interacts with users. A product or service, a solution or even an NFT interact to create an experience. It is this narration and this focus on the last mile that matters to validate the imaginative briefing. This is what I call the Pixar moment for your idea.

The race for super apps is a shining example of last mile storytelling and focus. The ability to help customers reinvent the way they service in areas of seemingly disparate needs met in the last mile is fueling the race for Super Apps from WeChat, Paypal, Yandex, Rappi, Grab, Reliance, Tata, Gozem and many others.

Is Your Business Committing Design Crimes Against Humanity?

No one creates a good design by default. In fact, the world is full of leaders who create poor designs. This includes interfaces that just aren’t human, customer processes designed for internal convenience, job application processes that don’t want you to apply, cities that are too complex to navigate, and totally dysfunctional airports.

To avoid this conundrum, remember two things: Always start with a brilliant fancy memory and eliminate unimaginative leaders, especially at the top.

Hari Abburi Helps CEOs and Businesses Be at Customer Speed® | Global Director, Caltech Exec. Education | Managing Partner, The Preparation Co.