What is outcome design? Outcome Design is a methodology I developed to help companies, innovators and engineers design solutions that yield better ‘outcomes’ for society.
Why does this matter? Well to quote myself, “When you incorporate risk or disadvantage as part of your design,
you’re able to monetize what was previously not monetizable.“
Most innovators focus on features or sophistication of a solution, but
orienting design around outcomes can help reduce risk, eliminate
potential PR disasters, and ultimately make companies more profitable.
Below you’ll find the talk I gave at Maine Startup and Create Week with examples of how it works.
As a technologist I specialize in an area of called
Outcome Design. I work with organizations to help them best understand the
potential downside of the things they make. This helps them become better, more
I myself am a software developer I spent the last
decade building software solutions that help corporations and technology
companies improve the way their innovations affect society. Initially, I did
this as a consultant to organizations that literally worked in areas of
disaster response – responding to wide-scale human disaster. Organizations like
the Red Cross, World Bank, United Nations, FEMA, Department of Defense and
others. In 2010 I was working with a
team to deploy tech solutions in response to the earthquakes in Haiti, the
floods in Queensland, Australia, and in 2011 the devastating tsunami in Japan.
However, these days I mostly work as an investor and
consultant to corporations. I help enterprises and rising tech startups improve
technologies of all sorts. Way less stressful, but equally important.
For investors this is important as identifying and
mitigating these risks early on can add a lot of value a young company as it
continues to grow. If I invest in your company, I want to know you’ve planned
for all scenarios, best case and worst case. For larger companies this helps
them avoid embarrassing public oversights or loss of shareholder value.
However, before I talk to you about how to designing
for better outcomes I want to put into context why this matters to me. We are living in a period of incredible technological
achievement and innovation. Some have gone as far as referring to this period
as a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new technologies, apps, smart cars, bio-technologies,
and I could go on. These technologies are terraforming our world both
metaphorically and literally.
Two examples. In the literal sense, wind and solar
farms offer the potential to change our skylines. In the not-so-literal sense,
when is the last time you visited a Blockbuster
video store? In both cases, new technologies have affected the physical
world as much as the way we go about our daily lives. It seems small and
insignificant but some people’s lives have totally changed because of these small proliferations. What was once a staple of family entertainment, the video
rental store, has been upset by streaming services like Netflix or automated
vendors like Redbox.
I give those examples as a reminder that technology
has both a tangible and intangible affect on the world around us. These are the
outcomes I’m referring to in when I use the phrase ‘outcome design’.
And yet, if you’ve turned on the news lately there are
a number of sobering reminders that in some ways much of the world hasn’t
changed at all. Why does it seem that so little societal change follows all
this amazing technical innovation? When Tim Berners-Lee and his peers at CERN created the
foundations of the Internet in the late 80s they imagined the internet would
become a great equalizer for communication, for commerce, for marketing, and
education. They succeeded exponentially, in ways that they couldn’t have even
hoped to have imagined at the time. As the internet developed others built on
that legacy, hoping that the internet would be come a democratizing force
Its estimated that since 1991 the Internet has
generated $19 trillion dollars in value to the global economy, and even that
number that is probably a gross underestimation. The internet of things is
projected to add ten times more than that!
Yet we know that the internet has also been a
disruptive force that’s destroyed as many industries it’s helped to create. An
article in the UK recently said that there are 10 million jobs at risk due to
the advancement of internet technologies.
Software is eating the world venture capitalist as
Marc Andreesen once famously said. By this, he meant all industries are being
impacted by the internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a
music producer, an architect, a barista, some form of connected technology has surely
cemented itself in your professional or personal life. It’s true, software is
eating the world and the internet is eating software.
But every invention ever made has duality. A hammer
can be used to build a house or it can used to bash in a skull. A stone can be
used to build a wall or take down a giant. The internet can be used to bring
people closer together, or tear them apart.
The problem at most technology companies is that they
forget about the downside of innovation until it becomes a law suit, public
relations disaster, or a competitor exploits to oversight to steal business.
So we’ve established that technology has the power to
terraform the world. We know this can be for better, we often forget it can
also be for worse.
This is not a moral argument, although it certainly
could be. I help companies maximize their value by avoiding risk as part of the
Ultimately, when you incorporate risk as part of your outcome design,
you’re able to monetize what was previously not monetizable.