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The Design Challenge By Tom Peters

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Special Edition Reprint from the dmi: Review 40th Anniversary Issue


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: vol.1 no.1, 1989

REPRINTED: vol.25 no.4, 2015


Tom Peters




By Ellen J. Solomon

Though it has been more than 25 years since Tom Peters wrote about “the notion that design should be considered a valuable corporate asset,” that imperative is even more compelling today. Given both globalization and the rapid advance of technology, a major way that businesses can gain a competitive advantage is through disruptive innovation.

To achieve such disruptive innovation, organizations need inspiring leaders who embrace transformational change; who hire and reward creative thinkers and risk-takers; who create and cultivate a compelling vision that obsesses on customer-satisfaction; who nurture a culture in which they create, reinforce, and model values in an environment that enables creativity, experimentation, prototyping, and collaboration.

What Peters pointed out then is still true today: Design managers and leaders must make the business case for the strategic value of design upfront and throughout the organization so that the kind of thinking that is based on observation and other data-gathering methods, ideation, and implementation keeps the customers front and center and contributes to the business strategy. For when both business and design leaders understand and share the mindset that design drives business value, then we can move forward with effective human-centered solutions to complex customer, organizational, and societal issues.

When Tom Peters makes the case for design as a business resource, he delivers his message with wit, clarity, and a wealth of down-to-earth examples. In the arena of products, he hails perception as “all there is,” and notes how design shapes perception. With respect to being close to customers—be they employees, suppliers, or consumers—design is cited as a bridge to these constituencies. And in the realm of organizational management, design is celebrated as responsive leadership, as loving change, and as being passionate about quality and detail.



Ellen J. Solomon, MSOD, is the emeritus president/CEO of Strategic Change, Inc., an organization development consultancy. Solomon founded Strategic Change in 1993 after serving for six years as senior education/organization development consultant in the corporate management education department at Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, and before that for twelve years at the U.S. Department of Labor/ Employment Standards Administration in Washington, DC. She has a BA in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with distinction from American University/NTL Institute’s masters program in organization development.



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