In a recent Fast Company article, there was a discussion about how companies are changing the way they have traditionally operated by moving more towards a design firm approach. Basically, what that means is that in order to be more competitive companies are beginning to see the need to be more innovative. For them this means structuring their business model to allow for more creative approaches to problem-solving. And design firms are already structured that way.
In the traditional model, the company process ruled. In other words, when there was a need to develop a new potential product or service, ideas came from the top-down or were imitated from other sources, who were either doing the same thing, or something similar. Each department and employee in the company would do an aspect of the job, but the overall success of the new endeavor lay with those in charge. Thus the employees would not have a sense of ownership (just doing their jobs) and would not necessarily have an understanding of the ultimate goals.
In the new "design house" model, each problem is tackled as a single project, handled by a team of employees. These employees would be in charge of that particular project, while management's role is to supply the resources each team would need. Each employee would approach the problem as if they owned it. They would come at it as a small business owner would.
Some companies have been successful at migrating to this new approach, but there is an inherent problem. Since most companies are not design firms they can easily fall back into the way they have always done things. If they are to operate more creatively, they would have to reinvent their whole business model — which most are unwilling to do. This takes a lot of trust, and comfortableness with a level of uncertainty many businesses just don't have.
As a designer, I often work with uncertain variables. I never approach a new project the same way twice. Yes, I do have a process, but there are too many factors that are not always quantifiable, such as the effect a client's vision on the outcome would be. I simply minimize potential problems by having a basic business process in place. The rest, the uncertainties, I embrace as part of being creative and of creating something that has never existed before.
Many companies work with uncertainties all the time, but they often are fooled into thinking that by making everything quantifiable it would lead to success. Not so in today's global economy. If you want to do better than the other guy, you must offer something unique.