Elizabeth Olson, the Vice President, Design-Brand Expression & Inspiration for Procter & Gamble, spoke on "Busign" at the HOW Design Live Conference last month. What the heck is Busign? It's a contraction of "Business" and "Design"! In the past, I used the phrase "polylingual" which is the ability to speak Creative, Production, Finance, Human Resources, and any other departments we managers interact with on a regular basis. But I've converted to "Busign." It gets to the point faster--like all good design solutions.

Ms. Olson focused on the concept that Busign is the tool to use to "get a seat at the table." Do you want a window seat at the table of leadership?

We have many opportunities in our career. Each opportunity is a fork in the road. How often have you taken the "I'm a creative, I don't need to deal with that stuff" approach? How often have you taken the "I'm a creative, a department leader and a business partner to my colleagues in other departments. I need to understand this stuff" approach?

The first path will keep you at the table where you are handed the projects. You may get to do great creative, but it's unlikely you'll be respected as an equal when it comes to department needs and company direction. The second will get you a window seat at the table of leadership. You'll get a window into what makes the company run, and you may get to affect change in the way you want.

Creatives are known for pursuing new ideas, new solutions and new materials, but embracing the language of business can be intimidating. There is a perception that it is foreign to the creative brain. This is just plain inaccurate. Business tenets are exactly the same as Creative tenets:

  • Form Following Function (FFF)
    This most basic tenet of design is also the foundation of business. The form of the company must follow the function of the company. Why move the performance reviews to mid-year? Why have accruals at the end of every month? Why does procurement need to get involved in my print production? It's FFF based on the values of the organization.
  • The Why
    Just as we consider the Why of a project, apply this to our colleagues in Human Resources or Finance. Their objectives are specific to their departments and the more you consider it, the easier it becomes to understand their Why. This enables us to partner at a senior level.
  • Flexibility
    We take an iterative path when finding the best solution to a design challenge. These same muscles work when looking at how to run a business. When you experience a zig-zag in company direction, consider the possible reasons. When you ask with authentic curiosity, rather than dismissal, you'll learn something, be seen as leadership, and likely be asked to contribute to the decision-making process going forward.
  • Consistency
    We know how important it is to be consistent when communicating the brand to our end customers. The same applies to how the Human Resource department communicates performance review programs or Finance runs monthly accruals. Embracing that this is their business, as Creative is ours, is a step toward your seat at the table. Supporting them will get you that seat.
  • Push The Envelope
    We also know how important it is to stretch the minds and hearts of our end customer; the same applies to our relationship with our colleagues. With the understanding described above, you will be asked to contribute to all kinds of topics. You may find it fascinating, fun, and fruitful.

  • Leadership is not for everyone, but it can be truly satisfying. If we want a seat at the window table of leadership, we need to work toward it. We may not like all we learn. In fact, we may be aggravated at the reasoning behind some of the decisions. But I find it way more interesting to be a part of these conversations and have the opportunity to move the ship just a smidge left, or right, or wherever I believe it makes sense than to watch from the sidelines as the ship goes in unknown directions. I'm also a better leader to my team when I am "in the know." I can give them clear direction, I can give them comfort, and I can carry their voices to the top.

    Whatever path you choose, do it knowingly and with confidence that the choice is yours. You are capable of being a Busign leader. You've been doing it for years.