Jeanne Liedtka has been a hugely successful faculty member of the Getty Leadership Institute’s flagship program for senior museum executives, Museum Leadership Institute. Owing in part to the energy and focus she brings to her highly conversational classroom style (her focus is on learning not teaching), her success with the leaders of cultural organizations is also based on her recognition of the deep differences between business and nonprofit thinking. The underlying assumptions of business thinking are rationality, objectivity and reality as fixed and quantifiable. Business thinking favors analysis aimed at arriving at one “best” answer. Its process is planning and its decision drivers are logic and numeric models. Its values are the pursuit of profit, control and stability as well as discomfort with uncertainty. Its levels of focus are “either/or.”
Liedtka brings the concept and tools of design to shape strategic thinking in the nonprofit sector. Thinking about strategy as design is a way to move from talk (how many nonprofits are driven by endless conversations with no conversation ever quite final) to experimentation and action. Design is tailored to dealing with uncertainty; design understands that products, services and cultural experiences attract real human beings, not target markets segmented into demographic categories.
The four questions of design correspond to the key questions of strategy: What is? (Current reality is analyzed honestly and thoughtfully.) What if and what wows? (The inspiring possibilities are conceived.) What works? (How can we make an exciting future our next current reality?) In service of these four key questions, Liedtka offers a variety of design tools that include visualization, journey mapping, value chain analysis, mind mapping, assumption testing, rapid prototyping and customer co-creation. The tools enable what Liedtka calls the “small bets” and “experiments” that trigger wise choices about sustainable futures – the key challenge to nonprofits.