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Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 4 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Fair warning: I’ve been drinking – a lot. AIGA and Yale’s Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders course is NOT like any educational experience you will ever have at ANY university. We’re on Fantasy Island here folks. This is a place where you drink from, then spin a giant silver cup on your head. There are Spizzwinks here. The caramel popcorn here has bacon in it. This is a place where you study manufacturing principles by building sail boats out of Bristle Blocks. Here kindly old professors make the entire class sing Who Let the Dogs Out and then suddenly start stripping in the middle of the lesson – for realism. This isn’t education it’s performance art. They need to take this course to Broadway. I am easily laughing as much as I’m learning. I would like to give a shout-out to our “Mr. Roarke” of this Fantasy Island – Mr. Steven Permut. He has the enthusiasm of a 12 year old on Christmas morning. His energy is infectious. Thank you. You’re my boy Blue! (I did say I was drinking earlier right?)

Ok, a few photos, then let’s get to the k-nowledge.

Here are the Spizzwinks; Yale’s oldest underclassman a cappella group. They sang to us during dinner.

This is Mory’s Cup – one of many such large silver cups. It’s filled with some crazy mixed drink.

Once the cup has been picked up, it cannot be put down until it’s empty. It’s passed around the table and everyone takes a turn drinking from it. I think our table drank six of them – along with our beer and wine.

Who ever finishes the cup must lick the entire rim three times, then spin the cup on their head three times. Finally, they slam the cup onto the table upside down. If a single drop of alcohol is left on the table, they have to pay for a new cup!

This is Arthur Swersey. This is him after he stripped out of his suit down to these surgical scrubs. The case study he was explaining was about a hospital’s service model. I wonder how my classmates sitting in the front row felt when he started unbuckling his pants.

I do apologize for the quality of all my photos in this series of posts. I’m only using my cell phone. I figured you’re not really reading these posts for the images anyway right?

Now, today’s lessons will not translate quite so easily into neat bullet points of insight like yesterday’s classes. Today we studied the concepts behind what’s known as LEAN manufacturing and we got started on the first part of our accounting classes. We will be finishing those up tomorrow. So… I only have a few thoughts that passed into my mind as I was sitting in class. And I’ll also recommend some reading that might help you consider the knowledge this course considers important to our businesses.

First, try to think of your business (selling design services) as a product manufacturing plant. Instead of building cars, you’re building websites. How does the project flow through your organization? Who does quality checks? Are your employees specialists or can they do several jobs? Are there bottle necks in your process? Are some parts of your company over-producing with the anticipation of need? Lean manufacturing suggests that you only do work the moment it’s needed. How can you get faster? If you’re working with vendors like photographers and copywriters, how can you shift more of the work burden onto them? Can the copywriter populate the website with their copy?

You should do some reading on Poka Yoke systems. It’s all about building systems through design that “fool-proof” the results. A good example is a camera’s SIM card which can only be put into a camera one way. As designers we have lots of opportunities to “fool-proof” our clients products and websites. But it takes extra thought.

Toyota became a great company because they had such amazing quality. It was built into their culture. Anyone on a Toyota assembly line can shut it down with the pull of a cord if they found a flaw. This kind of power put a lot of pressure on everything to be extremely high quality. Because even one defect could shut down their entire plant. But they also had great quality because they built it into their systems. A good system demands and ensures a good outcome.

Demand for your services are not consistent. Of course it would be great if you could build one website a month and each month on the first of the month a single client called you with a web dev project. But that’s absolutely not how it happens. Instead, you’ll get three projects in one month, then none for a month or two. Consider what you do when three arrive at once? What can you do while you’re idle so you can work faster when those rushes arrive? Is it possible to pre-build certain re-usable parts of a website in advance?

Suggested Reading:

Here is an article I found about applying LEAN to the service industry from Harvard Business School

Here are some other books that have been discussed amongst the “students.”

Thanks to Mark Badger for putting this list together.

I’m so tired. More tomorrow!

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
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  • Anonymous

    Long live business systems! Very entertaining read Bill.

  • Jeff Finley

    Another awesome read is The Lean Startup. It speaks directly about applying Lean Manufacturing methodologies to startups, web apps, or practically any business really.

    The most practical thing I got out of the book was to launch early, fail and iterate often, and listen to your customers. Stop delaying launch to get things pitch perfect. Don’t build the product with ALL the features the first time, build the Minimum Viable Product that allows you to see how customers use it and then learn what they do and what they need. Your goal is to LEARN what customers are going to pay for and then build that product over time.

    The customers define what your business is. Sure, you have a vision of what you want to do to make your money but oftentimes that ends up not being the case.

    For example, with Go Media, we’re at a tipping point where we keep seeing awesome results whenever we do something for the design community. But we still love working for clients and small businesses but we’ve struggled being really profitable in that regard. So is this a sign that we pivot – move our energies toward serving the design community and offering services and products that THOSE customers want? Does this eliminate client work? Or does it just change who our clients are? This is a question I don’t know the answer to.

    • Patrick Kelly

      Jeff, Do you ever read Inc. mag? Jason Fried of 37signals has a regular column you should check out. His company started as a web design firm but pivoted when they realized the software that they were making for themselves was what their customers really wanted. It was the right move. You may have heard of their signature product: BaseCamp. interestingly enough Fried is also a huge fan of Lean production. check this out:
      also check out 37signals timeline:
      I think you’ll find his company a good model for what maybe GoMedia is becoming.

      • Jeff Finley

        I don’t read Inc regularly, but I’m well aware of the 37 Signals story. It comes up as an example all the time when talking about this subject. ReWork was a great read too. Another example of a firm that has ditched client work is Coudal Partners. But I’m not sure if ditching client is THE answer for us, because a lot of our product ideas and credibility come from doing client work. At least that’s how it’s been.

        • Patrick Kelly

          only you know what’s best for your business, so you’ll just have to trust yourself on that one. maybe you do need to strike a good balance and have one arm of the business support the other, and vice versa. i just found this whole post interesting and wanted to share the 37signals story with you, if you hadn’t heard it before. but clearly you read a lot of books on this topic. i’ve been wanting to read reWork for a while. can i borrow it?

          • Jeff Finley

            I had it on AudioBook from iTunes and I’ve not had success sharing my audiobooks because of the DRM unfortunately

          • Eric Kuentz

            Amen to all. 37Signals is a great resource. Inc. magazine has made a place on my coffeetable, and I just started ‘ReWork’ and I’m loving it so far.

  • Eric Kuentz

    As entertaining as inspiring! I love this series!

  • Patrick Kelly

    looks/sounds like you’re having a great time, bill. looks a lot more fun than weatherhead, but it sounds like you’re learning a lot of the same things.

    • William A. Beachy

      I can say with confidence that this course is more fun than ANY business school – even Yale’s. This is business-school-concentrate. The teachers here are not just Yale’s faculty. They literally recruit the very best professors from the top universities. We have teachers from a number of different institutions including Cornell and Harvard. So, this is definitely a luxury educational experience.