A DEO, or Design Executive Officer, is a hybrid—part strategic business executive and part creative problem solver.


DEOs see themselves as catalysts for transformation and as agents of cultural change. With this perspective and these abilities, a DEO looks at business problems as design problems, solvable through the right mix of imagination and metrics. In the ever-increasingly complex and globally connected business world, creativity has become the number one driver of economic growth.

Six defining characteristics of a DEO:

Change Agents
DEOs aren’t troubled by change; in fact, they openly promote and encourage it. They understand traditional approaches, but are not dominated by them. As a result, they are comfortable disrupting the status quo if it stands in the way of their dream. They try to think and act differently than others. They recognize this ability as a competitive advantage.

Risk Takers
DEOs embrace risk as an inherent part of life and a key ingredient of creativity. Rather than avoiding or mitigating it, they seek greater ease and command of it as one of the levers they can control. They recast it as experimentation and invite collaborators. A failed risk still produces learning.

Systems Thinkers
Despite their desire to disrupt and take risks, DEOs are systems thinkers who understand the interconnectedness of their world. They know that each part of their organization overlaps and influences another. They know unseen connections surround what’s visible. This helps to give their disruptions intended, rather than chaotic, impact and makes their risk taking more conscious.

DEOs are highly intuitive, either by nature or through experience. They have the ability to feel what’s right, by using their intense perceptual and observational skills or through deep expertise. This doesn’t mean they have a fear of numbers. They know that intuitively enhanced decision making doesn’t preclude rational or logical analysis. They use both—and consider each valid and powerful.

Socially Intelligent
DEOs have high social intelligence. They instinctively connect with others and integrate them into well-defined and heavily accessed networks. They prefer spending time with employees, customers, and strangers rather than equipment, plants, or spreadsheets. “Everyday people” are a source of strength, renewal, and new ideas.

Finally, DEOs can be defined by a new set of initials: GSD—short for “gets shit done.” They feel an urgency to get personally involved, to understand details through their own interaction, and to lead by example. DEOs make things happen.

What kind of DEO are you?

Take the survey and find out.