Personal Stories

Annual Review 2017

Phew! What. a. crazy. year. I never did that before but here it is: My recap of personal highlights in business of this year. I learned a big deal and feel grateful for many things that happened. On that score, I somehow felt the need to write it down. And as not everything I did is listed on my page of current projects and speaking engagements, I also hope that this post is especially useful for those dear fellows in the co:dify network, whom I see only rarely: Ok, let’s start — this is what drove me in 2017 …

The Madness of Running Design Sprints in Big Organizations

We facilitated some really interesting Design Sprints (GV-Style) for German Hidden Champions Mittelstand together with our friends from Playframe (e.g. for a manufacturer of incontinence products). Running sprints in innovation immature corporate environments is – no surprise – a challenge in itself. As a rule of thumb: It takes nearly double the time to prepare the stakeholders and the organization, to get access to customers to then finally being able to run the sprint. Of course, we knew that upfront (from our DT sprint experiences), which is why this time, teaming up with Playframe, we collected all the best practice not only from our past experiences but also from the interwebs (we liked this one for example) as well as from the best (co:dify) coaches and facilitators we know. We now have codified this into all sorts of comprehensive checklists of challenges and helper tools for onboarding (and circumventing) internal clients and corporate antibodies. Even though I love teaching, running sprints and organizing innovation projects, I realize more and more that I gain the most, when I codify clever ways to overcome innovation barriers of all kinds.

Thus, our sprint experiences also fed into our workshop format series HackThe.Org, which we improve continually. Unfortunately, I was not able to run one myself this year. But some of my colleagues at the HPI did a session in New York, and Ingo Rauth ran one in Copenhagen. It’s great to see, how our hacks database is growing slowly yet steadily.

The Intersections of Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile

Speaking of workshop formats: My personal highlight this year was the co-development of a special three-days learning experience on the intersections of “Design Thinking Lean Startup and Agile” together with my friends Holger Rhinow from the HPI Academy, Überproduct’s Markus Andrezak, and Abraham Taherivand (More info here »). In order to prepare the pilot, Abraham and me also developed a first version of a comprehensive teaching poster.

Teaching Poster

You can download the Teaching Poster here. The download link comes via mail. This is work in progress.

First it helped just us in thinking, but I now also use it in our 3- and 5-day Boostcamps with co:dify clients. It has proven beneficial in not only making exploration as a ‘process’ more transparent but also highlighting its consequences to organizational structures to decision makers who often fall into the trap of the simplified ‘DT-, LS-, or Agile-as-a-recipe’ promises of certain actors in the market. From Abraham and Markus, I learned a great deal about the roots of ‘Agile, the ‘Fake Agile‘ movement (I wonder if such a movement will come up for DT in the near future?) and also became a big fan of Jeff Patton (from him I learned the hilarious word ‘discovery theater’).

Iteration II of the DT, LS and Agile course is on its way: The next one runs in Q1 2018 and all participants will receive another exclusive ‘reduced to the max.’ poster that Holger and his HPI Academy designer colleagues compiled. In its complexity ours is good for discussions with methodology experts and managers (who have to bear such complexity as well as they should realize and acknowledge that speed comes from taking conscious steps and iterations) but it is definitely a bit over the top, when it comes to quickly aquainting novices and intermediates with these topics. So, if you are an internal expert and need material for the latter: join one of this years deep dives (and please note: the course is only for experienced ‘design thinkers’).

Design Thinking and Systemic Change

Another learning journey I embarked on is understanding more how the ‘systemic consulting‘ tradition (a school of thought, which is held up by some boutique consultancies in the D.A.C.H. region ) could better help us organize and structure ‘change by design for innovation’ programs. We (and also our ‘systemic partner’ Heitger Consulting) gathered some first experiences in projects and there are definitely overlaps between systemic thinking and agile management ideas like DT, LS, or Agile. But bringing them together in detail – especially codifying it into a learning experience for internal change agents is another story. Good news is: Here we also developed a pilot, which we will run in Q1 2018 (more info here »).

Deconstructing Innovation Toolkit Best Practice

Speaking of codification work: Another short, yet very exciting, project I ran with my HPDTRP colleague Axel Menning (and the usual background support of Ingo Rauth), was a design and innovation methods toolkit comparison (≈100 collections in total). We did it for HPI Academy for a major German car manufacturer. So, if you plan to create just another starter methods toolkit for your organization, please give me a call first. There is that much open source best practice out there that you shouldn’t waste 10(0)K by hiring an agency or letting your retrained design novices re-invent the wheel (yes, this is what we observe everywhere in companies jumping on the design bandwagon these days).

Classic Boostcamps

Who knows me, knows that I’m pretty fed up with all kinds of innovation theater (I count 90% of design thinking trainings into this category). Yet the classic Standard Design Thinking Bootcamps are still in high demand and most companies just embarked on their design and innovation journeys — this is also true for most of our clients. So instead of resisting and trying to avoid running Boostcamps (what I did the last three years), I decided to go with the flow. I now sneak more and more new content into them while simultaneously ‘forcing’ clients to make them longer (min. 5 days) and then sign up for our co:dify learning module system with respective deep dives (only then we can also go into topics of org design, method intersections, etc.).

One particular partner in crime for doing so in 2017 has been my friend Elias Barrasch from the Education Innovation Lab with whom I ran not only the funniest but also place-wise most interesting workshops (Feuriger Tatzelwurm!). He and other very senior facilitators (Joy!, Abraham!) have helped me polishing our classic co:dify/Edu Inno Lab DT Boostcamps to such an extent that for now they have become really fun again. And what’s also great in terms of learning: we worked with B2B clients like Infineon or Voith. Their questions and demands drive us to continue adapting the experience to the special needs of B2B.


I also worked for some banks this year (most of them I can’t disclose). That much I can say: some try to get better and strive to become ‘agile’ but for most it’s just lip-service and innovation theater. Not my favorite clients …

One bank though, which was also the most interesting plus the one I can talk about is the ECB: under the lead of our co:dify partner Heitger we ran the first of a series of workshops with an internal services unit. I spontaneously jumped in due to a sick-leave. And hey, great teams and lots of fun. The ECB even has ‘creative spaces’! Who would have thought it? It is fascinating that the (service) design thinking spaceship has landed everywhere. Let’s see were that engagement goes.

Learning and Teaching

This year time did not allow to do any teaching at unis or the like. But I was happy to bring the S-D Logic gospel to a German-speaking Ux/industry audience. Although Service Design is now ‘well known’ and sought after in the D.A.C.H. area, one cannot say that there exists an in-depth understanding of relevant theories behind it. Thanks to Martin Jordan, who helped me thinking through the simplification of the slide storyline last year, I got an attentive audience, nice feedback and I heard that some people even bought the book. Mission accomplished.

Learning-wise I thoroughly enjoyed our DTX meeting at IBM in Austin. It was interesting to see how IBM’s way of transforming their culture with design unfolds. Ingo and I did interviews with many IBM folks and we collected enough data to soon release a comprehensive case study on

IBM's Phil Gilbert and Doug Powell on the cultural transformation program

IBM’s Phil Gilbert and Doug Powell on the cultural transformation program

Speaking of that: we added some new resources to the Resources Page and my favorite article of the year came from Julia v. Thienen, where she describes the origins of ‘design thinking theory’ by analyzing John E. Arnold’s foundational work.

Finally, I wish I had spent more time at the D-School as an active ‘onlooker’. It’s all over town: Molly and her team leveled up the whole thing and made lots of improvements to the student and teaching experience (you should check out her cool protobot site … makes a great warm-up experience). In the past years, I had the impression that the Potsdam D-School rests a bit on its laurels and runs more of the same over and over. This has now changed and I hope the D-School team keeps this good spirit up.

What’s coming in 2018

Right now, I’m enjoying the holiday sun and develop a nifty little (consulting) framework that visualizes all the possible components of an innovation system. As such this can will be a shortcut for all kinds of strategic conversations and the first official co:dify ‘product’ (gosh, this nasty p…… word).

Together with my brother in spirit, Ingo Rauth, I’m also going to release another surprise in 2018, which might become very inspirational and useful for industry change agents and academics alike. Stay tuned. More info will follow soon (if you want to know first what it is, just subscribe to our co:dify newsletter).

So, I want to thank everyone who inspired me and made 2017 a year of great learning: Abraham Taherivand, Markus Andrezak, Holger Rhinow, Elias Barrasch, Patrick Boltz and Vicky Tiegelkamp, Martin Jordan, Antonius Greiner, Matthias Pöll, Miroslav Azis, Seth Jonson, Lisa Carlgren, Joy Belgassem, the Diffferent directors circle, Alice Šáchová and Beat Walther, Katja Leu, Andrea Anderson, Lauren Miyashita, Molly Claire Wilson, Adam Royalty and as always Ingo Rauth.