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Managing Change: Marty Neumier’s The Designful Company

Posted on: 05/01/2013

How many business books do you own whose value and relevance is undying—books that you keep opening and sourcing throughout your work—books that you keep buying for your prized clients and peers? I have only one. And it couldn’t be further from the galvanized curatta of Harvard Business Review; however, it’s the one that should top it.

Marty Neumier’s book The Designful Company is that book. Because it handsomely mirrors the work I have been doing for the last 15 years with a simple and elegant, no-bullshit approach. I feel like this book provides me with a peer sensibility and a confirmation. If you design strategy and help companies transform, you now have a bible in the most unconventional way.


This book is easy to read and almost magically broadens its appeal to practitioners like me — who cannot find comforting precedents to give me confidence that I am on the right path — all the way over to corporate leaders who are only beginning to aspire toward change. It’s an accomplishment to appeal to a spectrum without depleting value for either.

I also respect this book for how it makes me pause and contemplate the balance of the current state of affairs (with respect to the client strategy I work on) and the “what if” scenarios of the future.


Neumier points out many factors of change in his book, which I consider to be diagnostics, to illustrate why companies are feeling the abrupt need to change:

  • Customers now control your company
  • Jobs are becoming avenues of self-expression
  • The barriers to competition are no longer controllable
  • Strangers are beginning to design our products and services
  • Fewer features are better
  • Advertising is becoming counter-effective
  • Demographics are beside the point
  • Whatever you sell, you take back
  • Best practices are obsolete at birth
  • Meaning talks
  • Money walks
  • Stability is fantasy
  • Talent trumps obedience
  • Imagination beats knowledge


“The management model that got us here is underpowered to move us forward. Are we getting better and better at a management model that is getting wronger and wronger?”

This quote really struck me. And in my opinion, references two levels of management. Both what you are managing and how your management structure works. First of all, managing yesterday’s issues always makes me wonder: Is it right to keep measuring what we are measuring? Second, are we managing the right stuff? And lastly, are we chasing value creation or are we chasing revenue­––or both, indiscriminately? They’re different but both are critical, and most certainly deserve individual focus and work.

So, how do you know? What can you do when the industry you are in is steadily becoming more saturated with new, stronger entrants? Neumier suggests for companies to seek competitive differentiation more aggressively. He also suggests that it is no longer enough to be simply, better.

“To build an innovative culture, a company must keep itself in a perpetual state of reinvention. Radical ideas must be the norm, not the exception. Companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course, they fail because they can’t imagine a better one.”

When the economy sucks and you’re responsible for making several ends of the company meet, you have to think differently to stay ahead. Sometimes companies need to transfuse to transform. They need to get the old stuff — way of thinking, processes and pragmatism — out and let some new in. Why? Because things are changing! The way people interact and the way your company meets the demands of its customers is undergoing transformation. It is wise to pay close attention to this. The old stuff can bog the company down.


I know change sucks for most of us, but when you are in the business of helping organizations make the most strategic changes happen in the most economical way, this book is great. I continue to look for more writing and interaction on this topic and I applaud Marty for sticking his neck out and writing this book.

I am sure there are many Six Sigma black belts and hard-core pragmatists who see this book and dismiss it due to its almost-subversive or counter-normal management approach.

But I encourage you to take the risk. Read this book and see how it impacts the way you think about your business, your craft and your mindset.


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