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Design in business: Alpha versus Beta

I recently read ‘The fall of the Alphas’ by Dana Ardi, which is a look in to today’s business environments. It talks about how the hierarchical system should be a thing if the past and make way for the new Beta system which promotes communication, collaboration and curation.

Beta, in a nutshell, believes in a more horizontal system which allows for better communication, by pooling ideas and information, and focuses on teamwork, rather than individual competition, playing to its individuals strengths. In theory is creates an better environment for innovation and creativity.

It has massive benefits, better communication both internally and with a company’s customer can lead to stronger relationships, shared responsibility, a sense of ownership and enhanced loyalty from all areas, if the parties believe the companies words to be genuine. It sounds easy enough and there are plenty of industry tales which illustrate how important transparency through good communication can enhance a companies reputation bringing increased customer loyalty however to do this in a genuine way is extremely hard. Furthermore if a company is seen in any way to be disingenuous this can damage their company significantly.

I believe that communication throughout is vital, whether it is with the customer or a fellow employee but it is very interesting that one of today’s most successful design companies, Apple, follow the Alpha concept of intense secrecy. This extends to consumer and employee alike yet the intense secrecy surrounding their products only seems to enhance the excitement behind a product launch and strengthens their customer loyalty.

In terms of collaboration, Beta is all about shared responsibility and therefore shared compensation. It follows a more democratic way of working which leads in empowerment of staff. This is all well and good when things are going right however when inevitably mistakes are made or problems arise the reasons for the issues must be identified which will more than likely go back to an individual way of working. When something works it is often due to many areas, or people working well together towards one goal so shared compensation and reward is fair however issue that arise need to be identified more specifically so it won’t happen again and this is where I feel the Alpha model comes in to effect.

Furthermore this beautiful collaboration approach is based on everyone working equally as hard and bringing equal measures to the table. Sadly in reality this is never the case so will the shared compensation concept in these cases breed resentment and issues? I don’t believe in the Alpha approach of an individual carrying a team, this can also cause resentment within a team but surely a happy medium in this situation us key?

Something I did find much more beneficial in the Beta environment was that one’s career path isn’t predetermined like that of the Alpha route. An individual can choose what path they want to go down rather than be pushed down a route that isn’t right for the individual. I have seen this many times in many different forms and environments through my professional career. Many individuals who are not only exceptional at their job but also very happy in it are made to become managers, or team leaders, as this is the ‘natural’ progression and offers the only way of promotion and thus the only way for a pay rise.

I don’t believe that any business should fully adopt the Beta way, nor do I believe many companies will ever fully be able to, or even want to. However a good balance between the two can lead to a great working environment for any designer and surely this can only lead to better innovation and creativity which are the tools required to drive a business forward.

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