Art Vs. Science: Harness The Creativity Of Your Organization Through Technology

05/01/2017 11:49 am ET
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The art of transformation. Technology is becoming more deeply embedded and integrated into companies’ core functions and operating practices in addition to being a facilitating tool. However, it is not just about what technology you utilize, but also how you leverage it to transform and evolve your business. It is not just about the data you gather – big or small – but what you do with it.

Are you surfacing the intelligence of your talent? How much are you involving your extended corporate community in your product or service beta-test iterations? New and existing platforms and applications are allowing businesses to transform by exposing and better understanding their core expertise, exploring alternative or additional business models, and connecting more closely with familiar and invested audience groups.

For almost 30 years, IDEO has been a pioneer of human-centered design—putting people at the center of our work. They are clearly well-positioned for the future of work where the talent agenda is rising to the top of companies’ priority lists. IDEO U, IDEO’s recent venture, packages aspects of their unique content as course material. Leveraging technology, IDEO U extends IDEO’s reach beyond their core business through the creation of an online school where anyone can unlock their creative potential through design thinking and creative leadership.

In talking to Suzanne Gibbs Howard, IDEO Partner, Dean, and catalyst of IDEO U, I discovered why they had launched and how they had approached this opportunity. Howard also explained how she and her team utilize different means and media to identify and capture relevant internal thought leadership and pioneering ideas within their organization, to develop, test and refine new advanced-level courses.

Wade: What was the genesis for IDEO U?

Howard: As the challenges in our world get more complex, the idea of lone innovators being able to lead change is breaking down more than ever.  Collaboration is a necessity to tackle the fast pace of disruption and change. We sensed a hunger for solutions to tackle these business challenges. At the same time, open sourcing is a customary way of working at IDEO – working alongside clients, learning by doing and sharing. A significant portion of our consulting work has been to develop more innovative cultures within client organizations. Furthermore, we all have education in our DNA – we started with workshops, and teaching our approach through tool kits. Creating an online course was a natural extension.

Wade: What trends were you seeing that catalyzed the launch of a consumer-facing service after almost 30 years of focus on enterprises?

Howard: Many companies are getting comfortable with the basics of design thinking. Now, more diverse companies – domestically and internationally – want to understand and benefit from more creative problem solving mindsets. Meanwhile, those already practicing design thinking were asking for more advanced approaches. In addition, we saw movement in enterprise practices of learning and development from workshop-orientation towards online interaction and delivery. So, we started by creating a course comprised of the basic building blocks of our methodologies with best-in-class training, such as “Insights for Innovation.” Then we designed more advanced courses like “Leading for Creativity.”

Wade: What do you see as being some of the key benefits of IDEO U’s online distribution?

Howard: While workshops are a powerful forum for learning, the online medium has compelling benefits for our specific content. Apart from being able to reach a vast new audience, we have noted that habits can change further with practice over time. Since the online course extends over a period of 4-5 weeks, participants have the ability to try out what they have learned and then return to share what happened and reflect on it. This cycle of “see, try, share, and reflect” has great effect, allowing people to realize dramatic progress and we have many great success stories.

Wade: How do you source and develop courses, identify relevant content from across the 600+ people working at IDEO around the world?

Howard: For the first two courses, we had an enormous amount of existing content. For the more advanced courses, my team and I “listen” and “harvest.” We listen internally across the organization with a heightened sensitivity – we read e-mail strings, monitor Slack, attend online meetings and forums, and watch pulse points. We might visit a particular meeting about a passion project to listen and observe if it seems relevant. We spot knowledge patterns and distill for possible topic options.

Wade: How do you confirm the relevance of the course and its content?

Howard: In parallel, we listen to our clients’ requests. Where we find dominant themes and matches, we anticipate possible course content. We hone in and identify specific thought leaders and gather content to develop course material. This is then beta tested for topic and content interest on our website. We reach out to our learner community – including prior course participants – and host conversations and webinars. We respond to the circular economy, iterating our course content with those who are part of the external IDEO network, noticing when people are excited and inspired.

Final thought

Admittedly, Howard is inspiring to listen to, and IDEO is at the leading edge of innovation. However, technology affords all companies new possibilities to transform, using data scientifically and artfully to create new strategic vision.

Are you listening to and harvesting your company’s core intelligence to optimize and evolve your business? How are you using technology to drive, as well as serve and support, new opportunities?

This article was first published on SAP’s The Digitalist. Sophie is a Workforce Innovation Specialist and Future-of-Work expert helping companies transition to new ways of working, dealing with matters such as employee engagement, talent management, distributed workers and new career experiences. She speaks frequently to corporate audiences about Future-of-Work issues. Sophie is President of the NYC chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Follow her @ASophieWade. Her new book Embracing Progress. Next Steps for the Future of Work was published TODAY, May 1 2017.

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