Saturday, 10 January 2015

Advance Review: Design to Grow by David Butler and Linda Tischler

Agility and scale are often considered mutually exclusive attributes of companies. Smaller companies are generally flexible and able to act quickly on things. Larger corporate behemoths are able to easily obtain scale merely by virtue of their largeness but are often mired in red-tape and SOPs that hinder their ability to act quickly on anything. Apparently the Coca-Cola corporation has been largely able to circumvent this problem (though some former top officials have recently called the company "structurally bloated and often slow") at least to a sufficient enough degree to warrant a book about how they did so. Design to Grow examines Coca Cola's ability to balance agility and scale by utilizing the power of design and provide lessons for other companies looking to do the same. It was written by David Butler, the VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the company and offers some case studies illustrating how the company used design elements to continue chugging along atop the beverage market and key takeaways for applying his concepts. It's a decent and quick read though it suffers from some of the expected general pitfalls of mass-market business books.

Butler provides a very broad definition of "design" that basically encompasses packaging, signage, websites, visual identity, advertising, materials and various other similar elements. He outlines some initiatives ranging from altering the design of bodegas in Latin America to rolling out the Freestyle drink machine. Butler is a senior executive at the company and was highly involved in many major company innovations, allowing to offer considerable insight and perspective into many of these decisions. These experiences make up the bulk of the first half of the book while the rest of Design to Grow concentrates more on adopting his principles to other businesses.

The book reads decently well (it was co-written by a senior editor at FastCompany and feels like reading a very fleshed-out magazine article) but it suffers from some of the problems endemic to the business book genre as a whole. Examples seem cherry-picked, not everything coheres particularly well probably because Butler's definition of "design" is incredibly broad, and there is a good bit of repetition as major points are hammered home. Butler also seems especially focused on catering to the owners of startups who usually face few issues with agility but considerable difficulties with achieving scale. Maybe it's because I've personally worked on a lot of CPG brands and find the vertical fascinating but I wish the book took a more narrow approach with its lessons rather than trying to provide one-size-fits-all template. I can't really hold it against him though given it would severely curtail his potential audience. Overall, Design to Grow is a pretty good read and I think it's worth seeking out even if you aren't one of the startup owners Butler seems to be primarily catering to. I learned a good bit about Coca-Cola's overall philosophy and some of the case studies, particularly those in the developing world like Latin America and Kenya were enlightening.


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