Once a year the IIT-Institute of Design brings together top executives and academics to compare strategies and discuss the role of design in exploring emerging opportunities, solving complex problems and achieving long-lasting strategic advantage for global businesses. This event happened last week at The Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference 2011, which took place at the Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, on May 12 and 13.
The conference’s theme, “Where to play, how to win”, structured a well diversified set of presentations. It explored the opportunities existing in emergent economies, challenges of the “broken educational system”, how human-centered design approaches are creating competitive advantage in businesses, and steps being taken to preserve famous design pieces. Yet, the presentations were heavy towards two topics.
By far the heaviest topic of discussion was finding business opportunities at the Bottom of the Pyramid – BoP communities, led by Glenn Armstrong and Seth Starner (both from Amway); Ted London (University of Michigan); Jamshyd Godrej (Godrej Group); Jun Cai (Tsinghua University); and Navroze Godrej (IIT-Institute of Design). They all talked about the opportunities and challenges of emerging classes in the developing world. They were generous to share examples of how robust research, co-creation exercises, and product adaptation strategies have helped them to define value to these communities. Amway’s presentation about building a local business model for Ghana in Africa was not only inspirational, but also a great case about encouraging new thinking among top executives of that company. They could write a book about it.
The second main topic of discussion was education. Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation), addressed the need to innovate in public schools to help us all transition from a “stock of knowledge” mindset to a “flow of knowledge” mindset. It was an inspiring, and much needed, presentation that hopefully will wake up policy makers in the immediate future. On that same page, Neeru Khosla (CK-12 Foundation) envisions a new text book industry providing more updated content to our youth and fewer trips to the chiropractor. Dr. John Seely Brown (Deloitte Center for the Edge and co-author of A New Culture of Learning), who calls himself Chief of Confusion, made us think of how human contexts impacts our ability to improve ourselves and achieve success. He thinks we need to rethink how we actually learn, and how we might cultivate imagination. He introduced an incredible story about five or so kids that came together to fiercely compete in surfing but also to continuously learn from each other. These kids would post their own surfing videos over YouTube to observe themselves experimenting – trying crazy moves, failing left and right but never getting discouraged. As a group, they learned from each other and created mind-blowing aerial moves. Among them is Dusty Payne who became a world champion and leader in above-the-lip surfing.
Putting more emphasis on the human-centered design process, the Peapod Labs guys (Jared Allen, Guillermo Krovblit, and Junyoung Yang) showed that the “secret sauce” to success is to prototype, prototype, prototype! While doing projects together at the IIT-Institute of Design, they created a successful platform of educational apps for the iPhone and iPad. This is because the difference between prototypes and real products is fading away, specially in the digital world. You can put a beta up and get feedback almost instantly these days. Peapod Labs has leveraged the strengths of this new reality well.
Chris Meyer (Standing on the Sun/Monitor), Jim Hackett (Steelcase), Jeanne Liedtka (UVA Darden Busines School), Kun-Pyo Lee (LG Electronics), and Larry Keeley (IIT-Institute of Design/Monitor) shared their perspectives on the future of capitalism, design systems and how design helps them with creating strategic value and competitive advantage. It is worth noting Jeanne Liedtka’s point of view on the intersection of Design Thinking and Business. Based on her previous research and books (The Catalyst and Designing for Growth), she explained Design as a set of behaviors that can help managers migrate from a fixed mindset to a high growth mindset, and also as a problem solving approach (as shown in the diagram below). Far from giving the appropriate credit to each speaker, it was a set of thought provoking, theoretical discussions. Craighton Berman, from Core 77, captured the essence of each of their presentations with nice sketchnotes.
And last but not least, Bill Moggridge (Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum) addressed an interesting topic for the Strategy Conference. He shared his latest experience in leading the efforts to preserve historic and contemporary design at the the only museum of that nature in the United States. It doesn’t sound like an easy job to attract lay people to the museum, especially in the middle of the Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, NY, but Bill is confident it will do well. His slides were visually rich and entertaining, with some elements of IDEO’s personality, the company where he worked for many years. Michael Simborg shares more notes about Bill’s presentation in his UX|SearsSpeaks’ blog.
As always, the conference was well orchestrated and organized by Patrick Whitney, the Dean of the IIT-Institute of Design, and his team. With many years of experience putting on conferences, they know how to make a conference run smoothly.
So, is this a conference worth going to? I had a great time and learned some new things at the Strategy Conference despite the fact that some speakers are becoming repetitive. To enable it to reach its full potential in the coming years, I hope its organizers will take an iterative approach to reaching out to other communities that are also solving complex problems in creative ways. For next year, Patrick promised more excitements and we can’t wait to see how the conference will evolve.