Avoiding unforeseen consequences

February 4, 2020

The title is a contradiction. If it is unforeseen, then it cannot, by definition, be avoided.

However, as Einstein pointed out, “imagination is more important than knowledge” and that gives us hope, as we are in a creative business. On the other hand, Niels Bohr said that “predictions are difficult. Especially about the future.” So how should a humble service designer make an impact in situations where geniuses fear to tread?

In some ways, the tools are quite simple. The first is a consideration for the environment as a whole. Ensuring that the delivery of a better customer experience doesn’t mean more wasted resources, packaged products and pointless stuff. Secondly, the business model needs to become inclusive for all stakeholders, rather than one serving the other. Thirdly, there has to be a focus on delivering lasting or fundamental value, rather than just transient benefits.

The environment

No news here: there is no planet B and we’re screwing the one we’re on quite royally. The good news is, that the planet and life will survive. The bad news is, that if we humans want to also be part of the great circle of life next century as well, then how we live and consume will need to fundamentally change. This primarily means creating no more waste. Either solid waste or through combustion.

For industry this means embracing the circular economy and ensuring already in the design of products the means for reusing the products. Recycling, up-cycling and down-cycling allow us to consume products without burdening the environment unduly. Moreover, these products are of higher value and, eventually, lower cost than today’s versions, which should be more than enough incentive for business managers to start making a change.

Reducing waste and improving product quality makes for less things and better things. Which can be sold at a price premium, thus not impacting the bottom line negatively. However, it requires a fundamental attitudinal shift, where all industries start valuing quality over quantity. Mindless consumption must end.

Inclusive business models

The gig economy is an interesting phenomenon. Ownership of the service has been decoupled from delivery of the service. AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Bolt, Taskrabbit,, Ebay, PayPal, WeChat, Apple Appstore etc all have one thing in common: those that deliver the end benefit to the customer are not actually employed by the brand. More and more integration and organisation brands are separating dedicated service providers from their beneficiaries. Freelancing, when you cannot control your means of income as you have no direct influence over who is buying and how and when leads to perpetual subservience.

Technology is disrupting more and more professions and futures. What should a 16 year old learn today, which can be beneficial for him/her for the next 10 years? How will he/she re-educate him/herself at age 30 while trying to pay a mortgage? How will work and the work-life balance need to be redesigned, if we want everyone to have a better future on a sustainable planet? Lots of questions. Few answers. But, in the design of organisations, businesses, products and services, it is a start already to just ask these kinds of questions.

(Read also a blog entry from a long-long-time-ago: What will the machines eat?)

Lasting value

The fact is, that good stuff costs money. Crap can be had for peanuts. That’s why junk food is so cheap but real, sustainably made food, is expensive. Of course, junk food isn’t food at all and healthy food is much better for everyone (including the person who eats it:) But why is junk food and cola available everywhere but fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t?

Lasting value is expensive. A proper table sustainably made costs a lot of money initially, but can last generations. By far the cheapest option, in fact, if measured in dollars per day of use. But (in case you read the first article of BM Bulletin #57), this really requires organisational change. Where improving the customer experience is considered from the whole lifecycle of the product as well as customer needs, to change the whole business model how lasting value is delivered by making less things, but better things.

Delivering lasting value, in products and services, really means making better things and convincing customers, that they don’t just need more stuff. It means taking a shot and marketing industry’s need to peddle more to the masses and turn that on its head. Quality instead of quantity.

Responsibility for the commons

The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action. It was first mentioned in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd while making his point on grazing land use in England and Ireland.

However, while the commons was then perceived locally, we now know that it is global and interlinks everything. Our actions in our organisations and businesses impact the commons, which we all share. And while it sounds altruistic to consider something that doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, it is in fact, just good marketing. Aware consumers (a group that is growing rapidly) is choosing products and services that do less harm. They choose employers with principles and refuse to blindly follow the loudest voice in the room. So while all of the above is hard to do and requires more than just making money, it is also the best way to ensure that your company and organisation keeps on making money.