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Creating a Future That Serves Us Well

Advertising Agency
Tokyo, Japan
INFLUENCER: Akihito Kunimi discusses what Dentsu Business Design Square is and what value it has to offer

At its head office, Dentsu has set up a specialist unit, Dentsu Business Design Square. Its task is to help client companies develop a strategy that will allow them to attain a desired outcome through innovation.

In this series of articles, members of the specialist unit will explain what the term 'business design' means at Dentsu. Meanwhile below, in this the first instalment of the series, team leader Akihito Kunimi discusses what Dentsu Business Design Square is and what value it has to offer.

Business as usual is not sustainable

Over the past few years, the concept of business design has come to the fore. However, given that the practice of business is not new - having existed since civilisations developed social institutions - one might ask why business design has attained such prominence.

I believe it is because digitisation and globalisation have rendered invalid the business constructs of the past, making business as usual no longer sustainable. Existing businesses thus may require thoroughgoing fine-tuning, in addition to which new businesses will have to be launched. 

Many business executives realise that, despite planning to launch a new business, their efforts to create the requisite new systems and structures may have been inadequate. One reason may be that current challenges previously did not exist. For example, executives might see the need to create a successful, new business approach in order to bring a breath of fresh air to revitalise currently accepted corporate culture. Or they may see it as a way of overhauling the heretofore accepted employee training system. Then again, they may want a new approach to transform the foundations underpinning corporate management. It is developments such as these that have made the term business design topical.

But what exactly is business design? I believe that it is the process of identifying the issues requiring a solution, and applying the methods necessary to solving those issues.

Corporate mission–societal needs mismatch

Business plays a societal role. Restaurants may be said to exist to provide meals for people who require them for a whole raft of reasons; and taxis allow us to move quickly from one place to another. In short, while enterprises that play no role in society may remain viable for a few years, they will find it difficult to survive for long.

While deriving value from knowledge - these days so easily attainable in vast quantities - as well as obtaining know-how, businesses are also experiencing knowledge saturation. Knowledge tends to be broken down and applied by companies to such individual issues in their respective value chains as product appeal and marketing channels.

However, what would happen were there a mismatch higher up the value stack, between the role companies believe they need to play and societal needs? The issue is critical, and requires examination of how businesses leverage their supply chain to drive their performance, and what might be hindering how they apply best practices to themselves. For all businesses, the starting point is their societal raison d’être.

Basic to my line of thinking are the following questions. Where does the brand come from? What is it? And where is it going? And I should say here that I have borrowed these questions from the painter Paul Gauguin, who inscribed them, in French, as the title on a painting he signed and dated 1897. 

When I meet with a client, I focus my thinking on Gauguin’s three points to create a business design for them.

Customised, well thought out methods

In redefining the ultimate purpose of an enterprise, or creating a new business, we must bear in mind its future. 

When an enterprise generates profit and is a going concern, it should be creating a better future and making those people it touches happy. Our role, thus, is to help our clients create a future that serves us well.

There are no standard methods in business design that can be applied across the board to all enterprises. The reason is that this human-centred approach to innovation recognises that, even if two companies are in the same industry, each has its own distinctive culture.

So, only a method that has been customised and well thought through can generate significant growth for any given company. Hence, I often hear people say that, when their company attempts to do something that proved successful for another, the outcome is not the same.

Further, while we may well believe in the potential of completely new thinking and ideas, and even have greatly inflated expectations, there is generally a feeling of anxiety and sense of risk involved. For this reason, we tend to choose more realistic ideas, the results of which we can imagine. We settle at a halfway point: between our most adventurous ideas and the current situation.

If we do not wish to fail by doing everything right—that is, to quote Clayton M. Christensen’s seminal theory, experience innovation dilemma—we need to seize the next wave of innovation by raising the level of our ideas and acquiring those skills that will enable us to assess their validity. We also must acquire practical networks and ideas that enable us to overcome intra-company difficulties.

Dentsu Business Design Square services

1. Visioneering 

When an enterprise redefines its purpose, the process becomes part of its new-business creation layer, which is indispensable for insuring that the enterprise endures as something of value to society. The process involves designing while also logically calculating the impact of the vision.

2. Finding opportunities

When striving to reach a defined vision, we establish potential opportunities in concrete terms. So if the company has redefined its purpose, social value increases on the back of specific ideas for new businesses generated by the new definition, as well as perspectives and ideas needed to reform existing businesses. At the same time, we create innovative opportunities to generate earnings.

3. Integrated design

This is a process to further substantiate how the opportunities identified will be developed. If it is a new business, ideas for the core product and service design are converted to a visible format. 

If a new marketing channel is involved, the design process includes all aspects from the establishment of roles within the channel to space design.

4. Business framing

Ideas that have undergone integrated design, and have been refined to show their potential, are applied to a business model. Elements that must be decided strategically are converted into a story, while a business model is built that can be launched immediately and will be capable of achieving a growth trajectory. 

In such activities as the selection of elements, creation of a story, and selection of a model, a process is used that requires advanced technology.

5. Deep prototype

We verify whether the designed business will actually be accepted in society and the market. By turning the ideas into formats that may be touched and examined visually, we verify whether the business can be transformed into a finished product or service that has appeal. 

We also verify how the idea will be evaluated in the marketplace, and conduct checks until we are confident the idea will fly.

6. Future analysis

Once the idea has generated an adequate level of confidence, we investigate how much in sales and profit it is likely to generate. 

We clarify the business structure, and quantify the idea based on calculations using various scenarios. We also provide key evaluation criteria for the final decision to be made by senior management.

7. 'Sherpaing'

Even in the case of ideas that finally are given the green light by top management, obstacles and hurdles will appear along the way as the idea is turned into reality. 

The verb sherpaing is a neologism derived from the word 'Sherpa,' the name of an ethnic group of people who live in the mountains of Nepal. Sherpas act as guides and porters for climbers who ascend Mount Everest. In similar fashion, we act as guides for our clients until new ideas reach fruition. We think, work, and master the challenge with them.

Business design + the right human resources

Dentsu Business Design Square has drawn together know-how and people from Dentsu Inc., the Dentsu Group, and companies with which Dentsu has formed business alliances.

Our professionals include strategists, business architects, product designers, graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, technologists, finance managers, decision managers, analysts and project managers.

Having fused creativity and logic, our organisation is a one-stop specialist unit that can apply the principles of both original ideas and validity. When there is only creativity, logic-related anxiety remains; and when there is only logic, actualisation can be beyond reach. 

Original ideas and validity are necessary elements in management and sales. So it is that, by continuing to design in such a way as will speak to the purpose of a business, the way will open up to a future that serves us well.

Akihito Kunimi is Executive Professional at Dentsu Business Design Square, Dentsu Inc.