That is such an old story among designers that perhaps it is small wonder that designers tend not see themselves as leaders. If they have learned not to expect their professional judgements to sway clients or employers, how can they imagine leading corporations or communities, to say nothing of exercising leadership in the developing global arena? It is simply impossible for most designers to think of themselves as having a place in high councils of decision making.
But that is where designers are most needed – at the top. It is a travesty that the only professionals close to the CEO’s are lawyers and accountants. Designers have more to offer, because increasingly our organizations need to be design driven, not just market driven. To truly prosper, our global society must have its needs met, not just its wants.
Designers have even better preparation than most to assume leadership. They are especially qualified. Designers are already good at seeing things in context, already understand the sweep of history, already are conversant in the arts, sciences and humanities (as are the best leaders), already are good at working in ensembles, already are environmentally aware, already understand the limits of technology, its backfiring nature, already are capable of a high level of creative thinking, already can appreciate the esthetic dimensions of leadership. The first step, then, is for designers to begin to imagine themselves as leaders—of design firms, of communities, of cultural organizations, of corporations—and beyond.
If you are a designer or an artist, you might be more than you think you are. What if, instead of having training irrevevant to the business world, what if you have have exactly the skills needed to be a leader in the 21st century? Don’t underestimate the power of creative thinking.