Overcrowded - Ideas for Leaders


Designing Meaningful Products in a World Awash with Ideas

About Author/s:

Roberto Verganti is Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Politecnico di Milano. Here he directs the Leadin'Lab, the laboratory for LEAdership, Design and INnovation. He has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School twice, and at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on how leaders and organizations create meaningful innovations. He is the author of Design-Driven Innovation, named by Business Week as one of the best design and innovation books of 2009.


Verganti’s approach to innovation is a very human one. While most books on innovation work on the premise that the world has problems to solve, and what gets us out of bed in the morning is the urge to solve those problems, Verganti sees that what actually motivates us is a search for sense-making, for meaning. And that solving problems is part of that search – so for innovation to be motivated and driven it needs to have a meaning.

Core Idea

Verganti sees that we live in a time of an abundance of ideas. For most of the developed world we don’t need more things, but may have problems but we rarely are clear about what we want to solve them. The innovation industry has been trying to identify these creative solutions for problems we don’t know we have for decades. It does so Verganti states through two core principles: direction – to find solutions you start outside and observe user behaviour, we think ‘outside the box’, to come up with novel solutions. Which we do by ‘ideating’, that is having an open mindset to all new ideas. This approach is founded in Linus Pauling’s quote of “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” which requires a mindset of being open and initially uncritical.

Verganti turns this on its head, as he sees this as generating lots of ideas, but no meaning. In order to have meaning he thinks the idea must originate from inside the innovator – and appraisal should be ‘grounded in criticism rather than ideation’. This is formula that led to the Nest thermostat, IKEA, Apple and Uber – all products originating with a passionate idea.

He has developed a process for innovating for meaning. It starts with individuals critiquing hypotheses on what people will love, not ideating on solutions. Verganti proposes a number of different best practices to achieve this, through what he terms as individual-stretching, pairs sparring, radical circles clashing and fusing, interpreters questioning and groups doing. This being a spectrum from exploring from the inside to from the outside.


In a world brimming with product, ideas and services, Verganti's approach clearly is tapping into a different seam – that of desire rather than need. It is more appropriate for B2C operations than B2B though he makes a fair claim for both.


  • Title: Overcrowded: Designing Meaningful Products in a World Awash with Ideas

    Author/s Name/s: Roberto Verganti

    Publisher: MIT Press

    ISBN: 978-0-262-03536-1

    Publishing Date: March 2017

    Number of Pages: 218

Author Knowledge Rating: 1-5 (based on their years of experience, academic expertise in subject areas, and exposure to cross-functional thinking in the area)

Readability: 1-5 score(1=dense and v academic; 5=frantic; page turner)

Appropriate Length: (1=could have been written in 25% of the length;5=could have been longer)

Core Idea Value: (1=nonsense (or entirely esoteric); 5=game-changer)