Sony should send its people to the Institute of Design.

Bruce Nussbaum

Something is clearly wrong when a company such a Sony that combines great design excellence with Hollywood movie-making can't integrate the two businesses to develop a Sony video MP3 player before an Apple video iPod. Most innovation comes from the interstices of two or three overlapping spaces and this was a natural for Sony--as it was for Apple.

My advice to Sony is to send a hundred of its top managers to Patrick Whitney's Institute of Design in Chicago or, failing that, get them to attend one of his many conferences around the country. I was fortunate to join Design Observer and Pentagram partner Michael Beirut in talking at one of this small gatherings of about 100 people in New York last week. It was standing room only and for good reason--Whitney is shaping design thinking and design strategy into powerful tools of change for corporations around the world. His "design" graduates are moving into all kinds of strategic positions. One, Mike Roberts, is the Client Experience Manager for JP Morgan Chase Treasury Services. He gave an incredibly detailed talk about designing a new customer-centric culture out of the many diverse banking cultures at his often-merged bank. And he reminded me of the growing number of Customer Experience Managers in Corporate America.

Of course, my real reason for going was to finally get into the Gehry-designed Conde Nast dining room that I have been seeing on Sex in the City for years. It was terrific. Gary Van Dis, VP Corporate Creative Director for Conde Nast and another graduate of the Institute of Design showed me around. He told me that Gehry had to hang his amazing glass panels on hinges because NYC sits on a major fault.

I gave a talk on why we are moving beyond the Knowledge Economy to a more Creativity-based economy (thanks to the rise of Asia and Eastern Europe). Design strategies are now key to a more innovation-based economy. I threw out Roger Martin's now famous quote about how corporate CEOs and managers would have to become less "algorithmic" and more "heuristic." Less linear, more flexible. Michael Beirut jumped on the world "heuristic" for a howlingly funny riff on the word that somehow involved pasteurization. He challenged everyone in the room to define the term innovation. It was a bracing question. Mike Roberts gave a meaty discussion just what he is doing at JP Morgan. Whitney closed with his analysis of why design and innovation are so darn hot today--top-line growth. Companies, he argued, have pretty much done what they can in cutting costs, boosting quality and playing the Six Sigma game. To get more revenue growth, they have to innovate. I couldn't agree more.

The evening was very, very informative. Great audience. People from Vanguard, Merrill Lynch and other financial services were there. Marriott, KPMG. Doblin and IDEO had people there too. No one from Sony. An incredibly interesting mix--good drinks too afterwards.

Whitney has a conference coming up on Dec. 1 in Beijing on emerging markets. I'll be there. Will Sony?

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