Combining business and design for strategic innovation

American Express, Burberry, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, GlaxoSmithKline, PepsiCo, Cisco, Aviva, FedEx and scores of other leading global businesses have a secret that is helping them to stay ahead of others. It’s not brilliant acquisitions. It’s not clever marketing. And it’s not a crystal ball that’s allowing chief executives to peer into the future


When their chief executives or chief marketing officers, all running powerful brands faced with big-time challenges, needed innovative ideas and implementation to capture emerging opportunities, they called on the same firm – Idea Couture.

Perhaps the best kept secret of innovation, Idea Couture, which describes itself as a strategic innovation and experience design firm, has been riding a fast and steep growth trajectory over the past five years by solving some very complex challenges for some very large companies.

With some of the best industrial design, interface design, brand design, service design and other projects successfully brought to market for FTSE and Fortune 500 clients in such a short time, the secret of the firm’s success lies in their application of business-school and design-school thinking.

“Big organisations need a human, social, agile, multidisciplinary and financially smart approach that puts innovation at the core of every move they make,” says Idea Couture chief executive Idris Mootee, whose most recent book, Design Thinking For Strategic Innovation (Wiley 2013), sets out an agenda for how to build such an approach. “Our combination of business-school thinking and design-school thinking brings this to life in a way that makes innovation real and purposeful.”

Unlike many of today’s creative agencies and design shops that claim to offer innovation services, but leave their clients with the bitter taste of ideas that cannot be executed or lack strategic rigor, Mr Mootee, who began his career with strategic consulting, has brought together the financial competency of a strategy consultancy with the creativity of a design and media lab.

The result, he says, is that Idea Couture is not in the business of producing cool or creative concepts; strategic innovation is ultimately about engaging human imagination and corporate competencies to take a leap to create new value. For Mr Mootee, it is about creating a new game.

“This isn’t a place for producing creative ideas. This is a place for purposeful innovation, as well as innovation implementation; the serious business of helping companies navigate a hyper-competitive landscape and discover growth opportunities. Creativity is a key component of that mandate, but it must always be balanced by what are sometimes stark business realities.”

Idea Couture knows a thing or two about stark business realities. Launched in 2007, during the peak of the global financial crisis, the firm spent more than a year working to establish a foothold in undefined space. But thanks to a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a roster of early clients, including Aviva, Diageo, Kraft and LG, that foothold was strengthened and Idea Couture has since expanded with offices in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Mexico City, Dubai, Shanghai and Cape Town.

With new opportunities to collaborate across borders inspiring its global team of strategists, anthropologists, engineers, designers, and others to drive competitive advantage and build revenue for its clients, the growth trajectory of Idea Couture seems poised to continue onwards and upwards thanks, in part, to what might be its secret of success – constant balance.

“We often describe ourselves as driven by an informed intuition that combines empathy and economics, insight and foresight, art and science, intelligence and elegance, and creativity and rigour,” says Judith Mizrahi, managing director of Idea Couture London. “I think it’s those combinations and how we apply them in a balanced way to discovering and designing for human truths that’s the real secret to our success so far.”