Design Driven Management: mixing exploitation and exploration

According to Kotter we have too many managers and not enough leaders in today’s business world. “Managers focus on timelines, budget, structures, metrics, controls and numbers. Leaders focus on vision, buy-in, motivation, culture and people.”


Most managers are educated in traditional management that relies mainly on deductive reasoning, analysis and exploiting current business. For the challenges facing us now, like digitalization, new ways of working, customers and employees taking more and more charge, managers require a different set of skills, like creative, holistic, intuitive, user-centric thinking.

This doesn’t mean the skills of the past become abundant or worthless. That would be too easy, just replacing old skills by a totally new set of skills and applying it successfully wherever you want. The world of business just isn’t that black and white.

Instead, managers will need to be able to switch between exploitation and exploration and between managing and leading. On the one side they manage projects and teams in day-to-day business, learning from the past, continuously improving business models, products, services and ways of working and on the other side they explore the future and invent new business models and processes.

I like to call this hybrid approach ‘Design Driven Management’, a combination of management and leadership, managing the current business and exploring the future possibilities.


One of the main challenges for managers nowadays is assessing which approach to take when. By observing the current status, assessing what’s going on, keeping the antennas open to detect triggers for change, managers can decide if it’s time to look at the past and improve or if it’s time to totally rethink and innovate the current way of working by exploring the future.A very concrete example: recurrent issues with mails might be solved by deeply analyzing what worked in the past and improving the ‘mail process’ from there or it might be solved by working in a brand new way, using new tools like Slack or Basecamp.

A Design-Driven Manager should be able to do both, looking through his or her glasses at the current reality, observing and assessing whether to (for the challenge at hand) search in the past, using a more deductive magnifying-glass, or search in the future, using the more explorative binoculars. Of course, again, the world isn’t just black and white, so exploring the past or analyzing the future might just as well be part of the manager’s set of skills. The main message here is that managers should be able to both exploit and explore and assess every situation to decide what to do next.

By Sara Coene


Contact us!

Curious about the creative possibilities in your organisation? Or are you facing a challenge and do you need our help? Please contact us, we like to come over for coffee!