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The case for right & left brain thinkers December 6, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in A Whole New Mind, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink shares 6 aptitudes that he believes are essential for fostering right brain thinking: design, story, symphony, empathy,play, and meaning.  The premise is that globalization and the increasing frequency of jobs being outsourced, the rise of technology and automation, and our society’s overabundance of resources has resulted in a backlash against traditional left-brain thinking.

Backing up for a bit — what’s left-brain versus right-brain thinking? Biologically, our brains are divided into two hemispheres. The left-brain is good at sequential reasoning, analysis, and words.  The right-brain is strong on holistic reasoning, pattern recognition, and interpretation of emotions and nonverbal expressions.  This insight can be extrapolated further to describe different ways of thinking and different approaches to the world.  People who are more left-brain leaning tend to be lawyers, accountants, engineers.  Those on the right, the artists, designers, writers.

Pink makes a strong case for integrated right- and left-brain thinkers.  In today’s world, it’s important to maintain balance but in particular, to foster traditional “right-brain” thinking.  To do so, Pink offers different exercises to allow the left-brain thinker to extend beyond their comfort zone and engage in improvisation, story telling, drawing, and playing games.

Given the 14-week semester that we’ve spent, as students in Sara Beckman’s Design and Systems Thinking class, I didn’t find Pink’s book particularly insightful or novel.  Many of the exercises and concepts were ones that have been shared by past speakers or previous readings.  Perhaps that’s a testament to Sara’s success in fostering “whole mind” MBA students this semester, or perhaps Pink’s book is better left as an introductory reader to the concepts behind design thinking.

Empathy – how we’re all wired to care December 6, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in Wired to Care, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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Dev Patnaik, founder of Jump Associates, recently published Wired to Care: how companies prosper when they create widespread empathy. The book made a compelling case for incorporating empathy for individuals and organizations, and walks through several case studies for well-known firms like Nike, Target, and Steelcase.  In particular, there were two themes that stood out for me as I was reading the book.

(1) How the rise of industrialization has exacerbated the disconnect between producer and consumer

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, producers and consumers worked and lived side-by-side. The two groups led similar lives and shared implicit knowledge about the other.  The baker lived down the street and knew what types of cookies were popular in his village. The blacksmith knew how to attach horseshoes for the types of horses prevalent in his district.  Information flowed freely between the two groups – producers and consumers.

With the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing became something that happened elsewhere. Clothing was mass produced in garment towns like Lowell, Massachusetts.  Food products like packaged cookies were made in a large manufacturing facility, where flour and sugar arrived from other manufacturing facilities.  The feedback loop between producers and consumers was broken.  As a result, it became increasingly difficult to innovate and design products for people whose lives seem alien to your own.

In today’s global society, snowshoes are made in rural southern China and winter parkas sewn in Mexico.  These producers don’t intuitively know what life is like for someone who loves to snowshoe or ski.  Thus, silly mistakes are made in the design and marketing because of this disconnect.

(2) Why firms like Nike and Apple are innately empathic organizations

The ranks of Nike and Apple are filled with employees who live and breathe the brand.  Nike’s campus features an outdoor track passing tall spruce trees and gorgeous lakes, soccer fields, basketball courts, and more.  Employees are actively encouraged to exercise during the work-day and use Nike products.  Nike’s employees are ultimately also their customers, and like all customers have opinions and ideas about how to improve the product and experience.  End result is an empathic organization with a strong feedback loop. Pretty powerful source of market research.

How to get Haas on the map? October 16, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in Design Thinking.
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BusinessWeek has a list of the top design programs across the globe.  Most of the programs are design focused, but there are some MBAs in Design Strategy and Emotional Design. Given the unlikeliness of Haas to start offering a MBA in Design, how do we share information about the integration of design and systems thinking throughout our core curriculum, especially when design is infused through our education?

Here’s a partial list of the top master’s level design programs below:


As the Future Catches You September 25, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in As The Future Catches You.
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In As the Future Catches You, Juan Enriquez highlights the major disruptive trends of the last century, from the rise of the knowledge economy to genetic coding to the industrial revolution. While the book covered many topics, I was left unsatisfied by the shallowness of Enriquez’s writing and the overall “sound bite” feel. Perhaps it was due to the typography and layout, but I felt like Enriquez was often “shouting” (shouting = large typeface) and the real examples and content were relegated at the bottom of the page, in tiny typeface, in parentheses. At times, I also felt like Enriquez went overboard with playing around with the text at the detriment to the content; I was distracted by the text waterfalls and brackets, parentheses, italicization, etc. While graphic layouts can be powerful in communicating key messages, As the Future Catches You was not a book that effectively used the space and text well, or in moderation.

Ignoring the aesthetics of the book, I felt that Enriquez had some powerful examples that emphasized his key thesis. Ones that stood out in particular were the mosquito & vaccine needle and the orange & floppy disc. By picking individual items that were seemly disparate and then creating a compelling argument for why they were similar, I was really struck by how DNA/genetics (A,T,C,G) and computer coding (1,0) were nature- and human-created tools that could re-shape every living thing in our world.

Challenges with Working on Multi-disciplinary Teams September 25, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in Design Thinking.
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Beckman and Barry’s paper on innovation, design thinking, and the learning process was an insightful conceptual framework for understanding individual paradigms within teams and how innovation can be institutionalized in different contexts. After reading the article, I was left with a much richer appreciation for different learning styles and their vital roles during unique stages of the innovation process. Oftentimes, “design” and “design thinking” bring to mind a certain type of person — someone hip, who wears cool sneakers (as evidenced by Tim Brown’s custom neon converses last Tuesday!), maybe dark rimmed glasses. But what I enjoyed about Beckman and Barry’s article is that it identified four different learning styles and how they each made distinct contributions that were all necessary to create the most complete set of imperatives and design solutions. To me, Beckman and Barry democratized the design thinking process from one where “they” (= hip, converse-wearing designers) came up with a brilliant solution, to one where people of varying backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets can all add value.

In addition, Beckman and Barry’s paper has powerful implications for teams and workplaces. Too often organizations view cross-functional or cross-department teams as sufficient inputs to fostering creativity. For example, last semester I took a civil engineering design course (Design for Sustainable Communities) where I was working on a team consisting of one mechanical engineer, one environmental engineer, one structural engineer, and an MBA. However, without having a concrete design framework for pushing the process along, we often found ourselves stuck with no “ah-has”, interesting stories, and general confusion and frustration. The individual team members all had distinct personalities (and correspondingly different learning styles) and we found ourselves at a stalemate halfway through the semester. The mechanical engineer viewed himself as more of a designer than an “engineer” engineer, and fit more closely into the diverging and accommodating style. The environmental engineer had a diverging style, while the structural engineer and I both fell squarely into the assimilating camp. Lacking someone with the converging learning style, who was able to articulate a high-level vision and goal and keep moving the team forward, was perhaps a big reason why we were stalled in the middle of the innovation process. A strong understanding of different learning styles (reflective observation vs. active experimentation, abstract conceptualization vs. concrete experience) and the accompanying design process can help companies create hotbeds of innovation and creativity within their organization.