passion for start-up

I am currently in India teaching design at Indian School of Business. One of the reasons that I keep coming back here is the students. They are smart, driven, often technological sophisticated and passionate about their work. Each day, I have several students visiting my office pitching their ideas, seeking advice. Today, I met one student who wants to change the way public education is done in India. He was a former fellow for Teach for India, a kind of an Indian version of “Teach for America”. He knew exactly what were broken in the system and had a great idea to work with. Another student I met today wanted to build a map of civic complaints for the entire India. Given how the government here operates, he did not believe that Indian government would do a system like 3-1-1, which is quite successful in many American cities. Instead, he would like to have a mobile app that would allow people to post problems in public infrastructure or government services. He wants to do it, not to report those to the government, but to collect and build a map to visualize those complaints. The map will show the intensity and diversity of the problems in public service in different parts of India. Brilliant! He believes that this might trigger a change in Indian government, out of shame.
I love this! I love this type of interactions with sharp, driven, and creative students who want to do something meaningful with their lives. I am glad to be help them and inspire them in any way I can. It is a blessing!

design as organizational capabilities

Design has emerged as an important function for business. The success of Apple, Nike, P&G and Samsung all points to the preeminent importance of design. They also point to a particular type of design approach, which is often referred to as design thinking. Design consulting firms like IDEO, Frog and Design Continuum are playing increasingly important roles in the business world. Traditional management consulting firms like McKinsey and Accenture are coming out with their own version of design approaches. Many business schools including Fox Business School, Weatherhead School, and Rottman School are making concerted and deliberate efforts to bring design into MBA curriculum. AACSB is offering design thinking curriculum workshops, which I have been a part of.

What I feel missing in all of this is the discussion at the management and organizational level about design as organizational capabilities. Much of the discussions I see are taking place at the individual level – skills, methods, tools, and processes. We are not seeing much discussion around how to organize design organizations and its relationship with other functions in organizations. How can we embedded design activities together with other organizational activities? What type of design tools should we use together with other tools? What is the idea relationship between design, marketing, engineering and operation? How do we make business cases for design investments? What are the proper relationship between CEO and design group? Should we have Chief Design Officer, if so, where does he/she belong? What is the proper form of governance structure of design functions when there are multiple design capabilities throughout an organizations. Perhaps, exploring these questions will help us bring design closer to management.

Evolution of Digital Materials | WAMC

Back in October, I made a short radio recording for for Academic Minute, a program made by WAMC – Northeast Public Radio. Last week, my show was finally aired. You can listen to the show and read the transcript here.

Dr. Youngjin Yoo, Temple University – Evolution of Digital Materials | WAMC

The research that was mentioned in this show was funded by in part by Fox School of Business, National Science Foundation (grant # 0943010 and 1120966) as well as a grant from CIGREF. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of mine and do not necessarily reflect the view of the funders. 

design innovations in India

I am currently visiting Indian School of Business to teach design inquiry and its application for digital innovations. With Design Inquiry, I ask students to focus on the FIVE key questions:

  1. What inspires you? 
  2. Who are the affected stakeholders?
  3. What are the unmet needs?
  4. What do you want to do to change the situation?
  5. What are resources you need to create and sustain the solutions?

When I teach my class, I typically ask students to identify “extreme” users who magnify the hidden needs that often neglected by the everyday users. Here in India, and I assume it is the case in other emerging markets, everyday users are often extreme users. When you see people hanging on to the doors and windows of a crowded bus, or when you see 8 or 9 people in a tiny little auto rickshaw, or traffic signals that are there merely as decorations, you don’t need to work hard to identify extreme users and discover unmet needs. As my colleague MB Sarkar once said, “the unmet needs are screaming loud and clear”. 

IMG 0182

Opportunities to design new solutions here are abundant. At the same time, students must deal with very tight constraints. They cannot assume that the government will make massive infrastructure investments (of course, the same is true in the case of the US). They have to deal with underground economy of auto rickshaw drivers who only want to deal with cash for an obvious reason of tax evasion. You deal with a large population to whom smartphones are still too expensive. 

Yet, they still envision a public transportation system that is safe, reliable and convenient. In the process, students discovered existing data sources, clever ways to get real-time location information of buses, and ways to leverage crowd-based data. When I told a team to think about how to build initial contents of a customer review database, a student told me, “in India with all these people who are using these systems, it will be done in 10 days”. I am not sure if it will be indeed only 10 days, but I realized that we are dealing with a different scale.

Often the challenge is reframing the problem from one of a large scale infrastructure investment to one of massive collaboration network with cleverly designed incentives to create and sustain the participation of the public. Students are also often trapped by the lure of digital physical artifacts, rather than thinking about digital service that can be delivered through simple SMS technology. Instead of thinking about cheap and reliable SMS services, they want large interactive digital screens. With unreliable electric grid, I do not think that students should build digital kiosks for bus stop and train station. 

If they are successful, however, the solutions invented here — lean, sustainable, and large-scale — can change the way we think about digital innovations in more developed countries. We in the “first world” often complain about battery life of our smart phones — of course, it is because our screens are getting bigger. To power up LED screens on buildings and stations, we need to burn up more fuels somewhere. In cities like Philadelphia, I am not sure when or if the governments at any level will ever spend enough money to renew the aging physical infrastructures to make them smart. So, in an ironic way, places like India is a hot bed of innovations and design. In order to create new solutions for the real problem with extreme constraints, they have to draw on new human creativity, collaboration, and whatever that is available around them.

Somehow the success of companies like Apple have made design a thing of luxury. And that is bad. We emphasize human-centered design, but are we really solving the right problems? Making it easier for us to take photos and “instagram” them million times might be an interesting problem to solve, I don’t think it will make any difference to billions of people who desperately need solutions for their basic needs. We should stop solving what we have dubbed as #firstworldproblems and start solving real problems. Otherwise, design as we know it will follow the same fate of many other clever ideas that business schools and corporates have adopted in the past. That is, to disappear as a fad.

Steve Jobs and the end of Professional Society

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. There are so many postings and articles on the internet, remembering him and his legacy. In this economy where many wealthy people are being criticized for their outsized greed, no one seems to be bothered by his outsized wealth. Even protestors at Wall Street are busy twitting and posting on their Facebook using iPhone that Steve created, instead of criticizing Apple for its endless pursue of profit. (As a side note, this makes me also wonder if Facebook and Twitter would have been this successful without iPhone).

Of course, his greatest legacy is those insanely great i-products that he so much enjoyed introducing to the world, and the company Apple that designed and produced those products. However, Steve Jobs should be remembered as a person who personified the end of the Professional Society and the beginning of the Post Professional Society.

Ever since the industrial revolution, particularly during the 20th century, organizations have become bigger and more complex than ever. As a result the society has become increasingly professionalized. Instead of doing many different things, each of us are expected to perform fewer tasks but well. As a result, people rush to professional schools to get profession education and professional degrees. American-style business school and MBA degree was born out such professionalization of the society. Peter Drucker called the 20th century a “Professional Society.”

Steve Jobs, however, did not get any professional education on management, software engineering, design or computer science. In many ways, computers were his hobby. He was completely obsessed with his hobby, and together with another computer hobbyist Steve Wozniak, he built a computer for non-professionals. To him, management, design, and technology — all of these were just hobby. He was a Peter Pan who never grew up. He never had a ‘real job’. The only thing he did in his whole life was doing what he wanted to do. The only person that mattered for him was himself. He built products to make him happy. To that end, he started a company and created all those products. To many professionals, his obsession, passion and confidence for his products was unbearable toxic arrogance. To Steve Jobs, professionals who brag about their professional backgrounds were just “fakes”. Whenever Steve Jobs went on stage with his trademark jean, sneakers, and black turtleneck, he was mocking professional managers who, in their expensive suits, could only stiffly read off the scripts prepared by their staffs. To those professionals, the theatrical performance of Steve Jobs was nothing but an existential threat and inexplicable shocks.

Although Steve Jobs is now gone, the Post Professional Society that he started is only just beginning. I don’t know what is going to happen to Apple. It may face the same fate that Microsoft faced — another company that was founded by an amateur Bill Gates. Once professional manager, Steve Ballmer, took over the company, Microsoft lost its spirit of amateurism. It is too professional. Now, Apple has Tim Cook, another professional manager, at its CEO position. Under his leadership, Apple may become another professional organization. Or perhaps, the amateur spirit that Steve Jobs left in Apple might survive the temptation of professionalization. No matter what happens to Apple as a company, what is certain is that the future belongs to amateurs. No longer the future will be determined by those professionals who make boring PowerPoint presentations using the templates provided by Microsoft.

Of course, I can see how the current Korean government is busy setting up policies to produce ‘professional amateurs’ and many moms in affluent Kang-Nam area in Seoul are looking for expensive private tutors who can teach their sons and daughters how to become one of them.

“스티브 잡스와 전문가 사회의 종말”

스티브 잡스가 세상을 떠났다. 그를 칭송하고 그리워하는 수많은 글들이 인터넷에 뜬다. 요즘처럼 부자들이 욕먹는 세상에, 7조원이라는 엄청난 재산을 축척하고 세상을 떠난 그를 ‘욕심장이’라고 욕하는 사람들은 찾아볼 수 없다. 더러운 욕심의 상징이 되버린 월스트리을 점거하고 있는 시위자들 역시 애플이라고 하는 회사를 욕하기 보다는 오히려 애플이 만든 아이폰을 이용해서 페이스북과 트위터를 사용해서 자신들의 생각을 세상에 알리고 있다. (만일 아이폰이 없었다면 페이스 북과 트위터가 과연 지금 처럼 성공을 했을까 싶다.)

물론 스티브 잡스의 Legacy는 그가 만든 i-제품들과, 또한 그런 제품을 디자인하고 만들어낸 애플이라는 회사이다. 그러나, 스티브 잡스는 전문가 시대의 종말을 고하고 후기 전문가 시대(post-profession society)를 본격적으로 시작한 인물로 또한 기억되어져야 할 것이다.

산업화 혁명 이후, 특히 20세기에 들면서 기업의 조직들이 거대화되고 복잡화 되면서, 사회는 점차적으로 전문화 되었다. 기업의 모든 영역, 더 나아가서 삶의 모든 영역을 지배하는 것은 전문가 집단이었다. 그리고 그와 같은 전문가가 되기 위해서, 전문교육을 받고, 전문가로서의 스펙을 쌓아야만 했다. 이와 같은 20세기의 사회를 가르켜서 피터 드럭커는 전문가 시대라고 불렀다.

스티브잡스는 전문 경영학 교육도, 전문 디지안 교육도, 전문 소프트웨어 엔지니어링 교육도, 전문 컴퓨터 과학 교육도 받지 않았다. 그는 엄밀한 의미에서 컴퓨터는 그의 취미였다. 그는 철저한 아마츄어이다. 그리고 그는 그 취미에 미쳐서 동료인 스티브 워즈니악과 함께 자신이 원하는 컴퓨터를 만들었다. 경영도, 디자인도, 기술도 그에게는 모두 취미였다. 어떻게 보면, 그는 평생 자신의 취미만을 추구하는 피터팬이었다. 한번도 진정한 의미에서 직장을 가져 본 적이 없다. 그져 자기가 좋아하는 일을 했을 뿐이다. 그에게 있어서 중요한 사람은 오직 자신 한사람이었다. 자신이 정말로 가지고 싶은 기계를 만드는 것이 그의 관심의 촞점이었다. 그렇게 자신의 취미에 미쳐서 그것을 추구하다 보니, 애플이라고 하는 회사를 만들었고, 아이팟, 아이폰, 아이패드를 만들었다. 그러다보니, 전문적인 경영학 교육을 받은 다른 사람들에게 그의 열정과 집착은 마치 지나친 독선으로 보였다. 스티브 잡스가 세상에 보여준 것은 전문가적인 입장에서 정답만을 찾아서 성공하는 것의 한계점이다. 그에게 있어서 전문가라고 하는 간판을 걸고 거들먹 거리는 그저 흉내만 내는 “가짜”일 뿐이었다. 청바지에 운동화, 검은색 티셔츠를 입고 무대에 설적 마다, 그는 비싼 양복을 입고 남들이 적어준 발표문이나 읽어내는 다른 기업의 전문 경영자들 비웃고 있었다. 그 전문 경영자들에게 있어서 스티브 잡스가 만들어 내는 “reality distortion field”는 도저히 이해되지 않는 충격이고 존재론적인 위협이었다.

스티브 잡스로 시작된 후기 전문가 시대는 이제 막 시작되었을 뿐이다. 애플이라고 하는 회사의 미래가 어떻게 될 지는 나는 모르겠다. 또 다른 아마츄어 빌게이츠가 시작했던 마이크로 소프트가 전문 경영인이 스티브 발머를 맞이하면서 퇴색의 모습을 띄는 것 처럼, 애플 또한 탐 쿡이라는 전문 경영인이 맡으면서 아마츄어 정신을 잊어버리고 점점 전문화되어 버릴 수도 있을 것 이다. 아니면, 애플 구석 구석 스티브 잡스가 심어 놓은 아마츄어 정신이 그 회사의 미래를 끌고 나갈 수도 있을 것이다. 그러나확실한 것은 앞으로 미래의 주인은 아마츄어들이라는 것이다. 더 이상 많은 스펙을 가지고 비싼 양복을 입고 목에 힘주고 멋있는 파워 포인트 프레젠테이션을 하는 ‘전문가’들의 시대는 끝났다.

물론 요즘 한국 돌아가는 모습을 보면, 전문 아마츄어를 만드는 정책를 만드는 정부와 전문 아마츄어를 위한 과외를 찾는 극성 강남의 엄마들의 모습이 보이기는 하는 것 같다.

Fox DESIGNWeek 2011

I am thrilled to announce that we will have Fox DESIGNWeek 2011 from March 11 – 18. The event has two components: North Broadband Challenge and incitexchange.

North Broadband Challenge

+ How can we use increasingly pervasive digital technology to re-imagine the future of the city?
+ Can we use digital technologies to inspire, mobilize, and create social, economic, cultural, political, and intellectual connections to solve the complex challenges that cities face today?
+ Can we build a sustainable open platform that encourages and supports a vibrant ecosystem of neighbors, entrepreneurs and communities?

Modern American cities that were built on physical infrastructure almost a century ago now face historic challenges of embracing digital infrastructure to re-invent the meaning of “urban life”. The city of Philadelphia represents post-industrial American cities facing this challenge. The Nutter Administration is particularly interested in how the City can work together with local institutions like Temple University to instigate sustainable economic and community development to transform neighborhoods.

Temple University has three campuses – Center City, Main Campus and Health Sciences – on Broad Street, Philadelphia’s main North-South artery. Each individual campus offers substantial physical, technological and intellectual resources that can be used to enrich neighboring areas.

The design challenge is to leverage Temple’s campuses and other existing technology assets along North Broad Street and the surrounding area to prototype a digital ecosystem. We envision North Broadband as a vibrant, generative, and entrepreneurial ecosystem where citizens, business and government can develop new products and services to meet various needs in our city by inspiring and mobilizing our collective efforts through the use of digital technology. The design should be environmentally responsible, economically sustainable, and humanly satisfying. The solution must be replicable and scalable, as it serves as a prototype for larger initiatives.



We will conclude the DESIGNWeek 2011 with incitexchange – an annual conference organized by the Center for Design+Innovation at the Fox School of Business, Temple University. Each year, a roster of international leaders in the fields of design, innovation, management and technology gather in Philadelphia to exchange ideas about their work, their thoughts and observations. A series of rapid-fire short individual presentations, coordinated dialogues and moderated panel discussions combine to encourage participants to talk, share and spontaneously collaborate. Hosted in the state-of-the-art facilities of the Fox School of Business’ Alter Hall, incitexchange builds upon the Fox School’s groundbreaking initiatives to integrate a design perspective into the culture of management education. As the first major business school to integrate design into its required all MBA programs, this conference reflects the goals to break down barriers and cross boundaries to generate innovative ideas.

The theme of incitexchange 2011 is “Boundaries: Re-imagined, Re-shaped, and Re-defined”. Our world is divided by boundaries between disciplines, entities and ideologies. Boundaries between Art and Science, Government and its Citizens, and Business and Consumers. Breaching these boundaries is where real change occurs. This year, we will explore a range of ideas from the emerging possibilities for technology to redefine urban experiences to the way a design perspective is reshaping management education. Join us to share ideas with industry leaders, web renegade activists, designer advocates, political leaders, foodies, and discipline-crossing academics and researchers.

Come and join us!


Digital city as a generative platform for urban innovation

Couple days ago, I gave a talk at the 2010 Mayors’ Technology Summit. After the talk, several participants asked me to share my slides. Given the way I use my slides, I felt that just sending out slides wouldn’t be that useful. Instead, I decided to post the whole talk in text here after the break.

Continue reading “Digital city as a generative platform for urban innovation”

Discovery of Service-Dominant Logic

I was at Cambridge to participate in FMM 2010 (the Forum on Market and Marketing). Of course, I am not a marketing person and I never thought about being a marketing person. When I was asked to come to the workshop about a year ago, I did not think much of it. I just thought that this would be another venue where I can ramble about the importance of digital innovation and how we should think differently about products and organizations. I thought I would tweak my standard talk on digital innovation to link to the idea of “market convergence.”

Boy, was I wrong and what a difference a couple days of intense intellectual discussions can make! Right from the beginning, I was completely surprised by the broad introduction of Service-Dominant Logic (SDL) by Steve Vargo. There were so many interesting and deeply thoughtful ideas that I cannot do justice by summarizing on this blog. But I saw so many connections between SDL and many threads of ideas that I have been struggling with, particularly the idea of design and increasingly problematic nature of products. SD logic can be best explained against Good-Dominant Logic (GDL). In GDL, goods are the central output of the firm’s activities and they are put together and then thrown over the wall so to speak to be consumed by consumers. To the contrary, in SDL, goods are conduits of services that are sold, integrated and appropriated by customers. Therefore, unlike GDL that assumes the value is inherently embedded in physical goods, SDL sees that value is co-created at the moment when the service is appropriated by the customer. GDL is noun-centric where as SDL is verb-centric. GDL focuses on the foreground, while SDL sees the value in the background or the contexts.

An important point that connects SDL, design and digital innovation is the fluidity of the meanings of products. Design as an inquiry method provides many practical and theoretical tools to deal with the fluidity of meanings. Digital innovation provides a theoretical basis why the separation of service and products take place. In fact, in my digital innovation paper, I argue that one of the key consequences of digital innovation is the separation of physical device and service layers. I am glad that we used the term service (as we could have used other terms like applications). SDL on the other provides a broader view that connects different activities that takes place throughout the value network.

What is most interesting is that in a larger historical context, service exchange was a more natural and dominant form of economic activities before the industrialization. This idea of mass producing and distributing physical products was an outcome of industrialization, and GDL was a key logic that enabled much of economic activities during that era. What is becoming increasingly clear to me is that the era of single GDL logic is coming to an end, if it has not yet ended. We will look back the last 120 years of modern industrialization as a historical hiccup as we as a society continues to struggle to free ourselves from the tyranny of things. Of course, industrialization as I understand it came in a wave of decoupling of economic and social activities, which Giddens would might call time-space distanciation. First, we saw the separation of production and consumption (which Adam Smith observed). Next came the separation of labor and production (through automation, as Karl Marx observed). Then came the separation of management and production (this is by and large what Alexander Chandler observed). Most recently, we saw the separation of finance from production. Each process of separation was deliberately pursued to bring new leverage as a way of maximizing the utilization of given resources. Yet at the same time, they brought increasing complexity, uneven distributions of return and risks, separation of knowledge and materiality and inability to handle unexpected changes. What design, digital innovation, and SDL collectively represent is an intellectual efforts to recognize and respond to the unsustainable trend that was caused by these series of separations, without completely distancing ourselves from the unprecedented benefits that these separations brought to our society. This perhaps is the next grand challenge in social science.

Organization Design with Toys

Yesterday, my class discussed Sony case. The case covers how the traditional organization structure that Sony had with product silos led to its failure to respond to digital challenges. Instead of discussing the case, I ask the students to build 3D representations of Sony to explore the problems deeper. Then, we discussed how Frank Gehry uses his projects as a way of organiz-ing, drawing on “From Organization Design to Organization Design-ing“. Based on the ideas from the discussion, they modified their models to develop concrete suggestions for Sony. Here’s a brief summary of their works.

Group 1: From Walls to Spaghetti


This group was trying to depict the “walls” separating different product groups and redundant knowledge resources (represented in different colors of Play Doe). They discussed the possibility of “back-channel” rogue communication attempts among engineers which are often thwarted by the management (you can see a small black tube through a wall in the back). The senior management sits on the top of the wall, not really connected to the day-to-day reality of each product groups.


Their revised model resembles Spaghetti organization. But, in fact, it is more like a matrix structure with a couple of twists. Each chunk of Play Does in different colors represents a community of knowledge. Each circle represents a convergent projects. Different color lines represent design visions that pull certain members out of their own home base (communities of knowledge) to join these projects. They felt that the firm still needs some type of central unit that coordinates these de-centralized efforts, which is represented with the Play Doe can in the middle. They identified that a key challenge here is preventing the central coordination unit becomes the innovation Nazi, enforcing the central vision. Yet, at the same time, separate project teams need some type of resemblance in order to maintain the sense of identity as a firm. Also, they kept the bended construction paper after removing the wall — noting that the scars from old structure will likely remain.

Group 2: From Vertically Integrated Silos to Core Integrative Platform


This group represented each product group within a small circle. The tall structure in the middle of each circle represents a vertically integrated product structure that is managed within the narrow band. What is not shown here (because I took the picture before they finalize it) is that the location of senior management. The group built a high tower in the middle of these circles to place all the senior management. Again, similar to Group 1, that was meant to represent the isolation of central management from the grounded realities of each product group.


Their revised model shows a series of convergent product built on a shared platform (represented by a large flat panel). The three circles in the middle represents three core integrative capabilities that they identified (they did not specify those capabilities). These elements represent the core of the organizational structure – that remains stable. The periphery structures with different products are dynamic teams are brought together for specific innovation opportunities. These ideas are crowdsourced within the firm. The strength of their models was that they tried to represent both product and organization structures simultaneously, trying to explore relationships between the two.

Group 3: From a Maze to Whirlwind of Innovation


This group represented the old structure with a maze. This was meant to represent a micro-level experience of an individual engineer who had a break-through idea. He or she might want to have a conversation with another engineer from different product group, but finding the right person feels like an impossible task. Each product group again has redundant resources. Senior management is gathered in an isolated location (HQ).


The modified vision again was represented from a ground-level view from an individual engineer’s perspective. Here, each Play Doe can represents a community of expertise. The firm has established an integrative design process by which individual ideas can be swirled into a whirlwind of innovation that is propelled by a design vision. The product (represented as a lump of Play Doe of mixed colors) shows a complex mixture of different knowledge resources (both in and outside of the firm). Unlike the other two groups, they focused on a micro structure of the new organization design.