Strategy06: A UX Professional’s Experience of the Conference

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: September 25, 2006

“Strategy06 both exceeded and failed to meet my expectations.”

Strategy06, the second annual IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) Institute of Design Strategy Conference, took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA), Illinois, on May 17 and 18, 2006. The organizers characterized this conference as “an international executive forum addressing how businesses can use design to explore emerging opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve lasting strategic advantage.”

As a strong advocate of the viewpoint that UX strategy and design can provide competitive advantage to companies, I was eager to attend Strategy06, because I had hoped to hear about others’ views on the strategic value of user experience for digital products. Because the IIT Institute of Design organized the conference, I had assumed the conference content would emphasize strategy for technology products; however, that was not entirely the case. And, as things transpired, most of my favorite sessions were not those given by speakers from technology companies. So, Strategy06 both exceeded and failed to meet my expectations.

The Conference Content

First, I’ll provide an overview of each day of the conference, noting some of the speakers’ more interesting remarks, then describe my favorite talks in detail.

Overview of Day One

  • Patrick Whitney, Director of the IIT Institute of Design—On the first day, after a late start due to audio problems, Patrick Whitney, Director of the Institute of Design, opened the conference, characterizing Strategy06 as an “intersection of design, value creation, and strategy.” Not surprisingly, most of the opening remarks focused on design education.
  • Christopher Meyer, CEO, Monitor Networks—shown in Figure 1—“Networks, Innovation, Human Capital, and Economic Evolution,” or “Networks: A Theory of Everything”
    • Meyer spoke about meme change: “Memes are how management evolves. … Memes are ideas, habits, skills—things we pass from person to person. Competition between memes shapes our society. Networks—electronic or human—transmit memes.”
    • Describing how technology moves through our economy, he showed how technology is a predictable progression from science to technology to business to organizations to the information economy.
    • According to Meyer, drivers of networked innovation include science, behavior, and most apparently, technology. At their intersection, there is economic opportunity.
    • “Social networks are a frontier,” said Meyer. “Networks are enabling processes,” including human networks.
    • “Today, there is a shortage of human capital,” said Meyer. Then, he described the value proposition of his company’s WorkNets.
  • Rob Forbes, Founder, Design Within Reach
    • “Design is the artful arrangement of materials or circumstances into a planned form.”
    • “Acquiring and retaining the right customers is our most important business objective. The right customers don’t leave. A well-designed business acquires and retains the right customers.”
    • “Google hides complexity behind simplicity. Yahoo! and Amazon have a whole lot of options.”
    • “Design has become such a buzz word, but the understanding of it is not so great.”
    • Throughout most of his presentation, Forbes spoke about Design Within Reach, a retailer of furniture and objets d’arts, which didn’t really provide information that would be useful to me.
  • Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto—shown in Figure 2—“Designing in Hostile Territory”—This was by far the best talk on Day One. For a review of his talk, see “The Highlight of Day One.”
  • Jeffrey Li, President, Novartis China—shown in Figure 3.
    • “With innovation, there’s uncertainty you have to face.”
    • He offered the following observations about design in China:
      • China is shifting from imitation to innovation.
      • “It’s a demand-driven economy. There’s overcapacity in everything.”
      • “Innovation is a way to stay competitive.”
      • “The government is investing in innovation.”
      • “There are business incentives to companies innovating.”
    • “Quality is a given. Innovation in user experience is a way to make your products unique. That’s a powerful driver of innovation in design.”
    • “Chinese companies are developing innovation as a core competency.”
    • “The value of design to innovation is increasing.”
    • Chinese companies are pursuing “local-branding rather than global-branding strategies,” because there are differences in the Chinese market.
    • Li gave one of the more interesting talks of Day One.
  • Scott Durschlag, Corporate Vice President, General Manager, Global xProducts, Motorola
    • “A cell phone is really a remote control for your life.”
    • Figure 4 shows Durschlag’s “Top 10 Consumer Macro Trends.”
    • “Time is the most precious commodity. People are more impatient. This creates more complexity.”
    • Blogging is a reflection of our self-obsessed culture.
    • “We have so much stuff that’s being thrown at us. The velocity of change in information flow is increasing.”
    • At Motorola, strategy is grounded in consumer research. In 2006, there will be about 700 million cell phones in use. In 2000, 20% of people surveyed said they couldn’t live without their cell phones; in 2006, 75%.
    • In 2005, some of the top brands were Google, Apple, Skype, Nokia, Yahoo!, and Firefox.
  • Jim Wicks, Vice President and Director of Consumer Experience Design, Motorola—shown in Figure 5.
    • “The basics of design include principles, rules, and branding.” Figure 6 shows Wicks’s design principles for cell phones.
    • “Design-driven products focus on defining brand direction.”
    • “Motorola is building design strategy into the fabric of the company and locking our design process to group strategy.”
    • About management buy-in, Wicks said, “Having to go to the well and ask for permission every time just doesn’t work.”
    • Partnering results in collaborative innovations.
    • “Business problems are design constraints.”
    • “Innovations in how you work are critical over the long term, over many products.”
    • Motorola products featured heavily in both Durschlag’s and Wicks’s presentations.
  • Carol Coletta, President & CEO, CEOs for Cities, and Master of Design Methods candidate, IIT Institute of Design
    • “Women are now in the workforce at the same rate as men.”
    • “Cities are in a competition for talent.”
    • “Young people are mobile. You have to get them while they’re young. So, if you want to build a new business, you have to attract them. College-educated young people live in cities, within three miles of their workplaces.”
    • “Sixty-four percent of people choose a city, then a job.” The most desired attributes of cities are that they be clean and attractive and offer lifestyle choices.
    • “Design thinking has so much to contribute to cities. Design and innovation are the only ways to develop new strategies for cities. … Cities need new insights.”
    • “Characteristics of successful cities: talented, connected, distinctive, innovative.”
  • Todd Tillemans, General Manager, Skin, Unilever, and Chris Conley, Associate Professor, IIT Institute of Design
    • “Find a core objective and align behind it. We call this Phase 0.”
    • “To address a business problem, broaden your perspective. See things with fresh eyes. Look at both qualitative and quantitative data. Work on projects together. Prototype and pilot test. Prototyping lets professionals with different areas of expertise work together.”
    • For transformation to occur, “people must believe change is necessary.”
    • Progress from “brainstorming and ideation to rapid prototyping.”
    • “Choose momentum over perfection. Do things roughly right, then improve them incrementally.”
    • “If you’re not providing thought leadership, you’re resting on your laurels.”
  • Panel discussion with Bruce Nussbaum, Assistant Managing Editor, BusinessWeek, and Blaise Zerega, Managing Editor, Condé Nast Business Media—moderated by Patrick Whitney—“Design and Innovation Content in a Business Magazine.” I found this discussion, shown in Figure 7, quite interesting.
    • Zerega informed us that, in 2007, Condé Nast will launch a new business magazine, in print and on the Web.
    • Zerega: “It’s clear that good design is a competitive advantage, but how do you put a value on good design.”
    • Zerega: “With the commoditization of so many goods, companies must innovate to generate value. … We must really understand consumers’ needs.
    • Nussbaum: “Innovation is the new black. Everyone is into it, but they don’t know what it is.”
    • Nussbaum: “Design has now become a great tool for corporations.”
    • Zerega: “Adding openness and collaboration leads to exciting stuff.”
    • Zerega: “Condé Nast wants to explore the processes of design thinking.”
    • Nussbaum: “We’re sort of at a golden age of design.”
    • Nussbaum: “The creative corporation is a big frontier for design and innovation. We must redesign our culture or organizations to make innovation more routine.”
    • Nussbaum: “The New York Times doesn’t get design, Forbes doesn’t get anything, and Fortune doesn’t get it either.”
    • Nussbaum: “Businesses need to get into the innovation and design space.”
    • Zerega: “We’re not in the magazine business, we’re in the content business.
    • Nussbaum: “You get more reader feedback from the Web than from a print magazine.”
    • Patrick Whitney asked, “What is your primary market?”
      • Zerega: “We have the opportunity to provide the kind of coverage only a monthly can do. Someone who reads the business section.”
      • Nussbaum: “The innovation and design channel. Innovators in India, China, and Europe. Entrepreneurial people.”
    • Nussbaum: “We partner and publish information from others. We go to the smartest people in this business.”
“Roger Martin’s great talk was the bright, shining moment of the day.”

Overall, Day One was somewhat of a disappointment to me. There was quite a lot of self-promotion going on in some presentations. Roger Martin’s great talk was the bright, shining moment of the day. In fact, it was so great, it almost single-handedly redeemed a rather lackluster day. Other high points were Jeffrey Li’s talk and the discussion between Bruce Nussbaum and Blaise Zerega. Nussbaum is a very witty man.

Figure 1—Chris Meyer

Chris Meyer

Figure 2—Roger Martin

Roger Martin

Figure 3—Jeffrey Li

Jeffrey Li

Figure 4—Scott Durschlag’s Top 10 Consumer Macro Trends

Top 10 Consumer Macro Trends

Figure 5—Jim Wicks

Jim Wicks

Figure 6—Wicks’s Design Principles

Wicks's Design Principles

Figure 7—Blaise Zerega, Bruce Nussbaum, and Patrick Whitney

Blaise Zerega, Bruce Nussbaum, and Patrick Whitney

The Highlight of Day One: Roger Martin—“Designing in Hostile Territory”

Roger Martin’s great talk, “Designing in Hostile Territory,” was about designing within organizations that don’t understand design. Martin told us that the root of the problem lies in the fundamental tension between reliability and validity, as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8—Fundamental tension between reliability and validity

Tension between reliability and validity
“The fact that designers can’t prove future outcomes is the reason they feel that they are in hostile territory when dealing with business people.”—Roger Martin

For someone seeking reliability, acceptable bases of proof derive from inductive logic (what is) or deductive logic (what should be), while those for someone seeking validity may derive from inductive, deductive, or abductive logic (what might be). The fact that designers can’t prove future outcomes is the reason they feel that they are in hostile territory when dealing with business people. Business people tend to seek reliability, while designers seek validity. Thus, there is a fundamental predilection gap between business people and designers.

As Figure 9 shows, “there are five things that any designer can do to be successful in hostile territory.”

Figure 9—Achieving success in hostile territory

Achieving success in hostile territory
“To put business people at ease, speak the language of reliability, regression, proof, and dependability.”—Roger Martin

Elaborating on his first point, taking design-unfriendliness as a design challenge, Martin said, “Designers love constraints, because they make design more interesting. Take figuring out how to get something done within an organization as a design challenge.” Martin suggested designers figure out what makes design-unfriendly people that way, because “deep user understanding is the key to design.” To put business people at ease, “speak the language of reliability, regression, proof, and dependability.” The language of design is “perfection, what’s cool, new.” That kind of design language terrifies business people. Because you can’t prove what doesn’t yet exist, use analogies and stories that will help business people imagine success. For example: “Here’s how this is similar…” or “Here’s how another company did something similar.” When attempting to prove something, prove something small.

Martin encouraged business people to “take the innovation challenge.” He told business people not to think “we have to reliably innovate.” You must “remove ‘prove it’ from your lexicon. Empathize. Listen to analogies and stories. To innovate, let a little progress happen.” Then, judge whether a product meets designers’ claims.

“We need more validity-oriented CEOs. Design-oriented CEOs are rare. The best CEOs balance the two viewpoints and explicitly understand both.”
—Roger Martin

Martin told us, “To convince reliability-oriented people to look at things differently, say ‘I understand what you want, but it’s not possible. You must go through the unknown to get to what you want.’” Or say, “If you want to know exactly where you’ll be one year from now, just keep doing what you’re doing.” Nothing will have changed.

Martin said, “We need more validity-oriented CEOs. Design-oriented CEOs are rare. The best CEOs balance the two viewpoints and explicitly understand both.”

Overview of Day Two

  • Ben Tsiang, EVP Product Development, SINA.com—“Do It Right or Do It Right Now”
    • User experience is a catchy term in China.”
  • Jeb Brugmann, Founding Partner, The Next Practice—“Hypothesizing the Emerging Consumer”
    • “To find the opportunity, we need to make our biases and knowledge gaps explicit.”
    • “The capacity to co-create causes the democratization of design.”
  • Doug Look, Master of Design Methods Student, IIT Institute of Design—“Innovation: Smart and Lucky”
    • Look gave an excellent presentation with fabulous visuals that showed some of the design work he’d formerly done at Autodesk, then the design methods he’s been taught at the Institute of Design.
    • Institute of Design methods are “structured, rigorous, and repeatable.” Research and design methods and tools include the concept sort, user insight tool, insight matrix, innovation insight tool, and concept catalog.
    • Research and analysis encompass group observation insights, individual observation insights, artifact observation insights, and activity observation insights.
    • “Share research in a tangible and visually compelling way.”
    • Figure 10 shows Look’s “Ways to Get Smart.”
    • “It’s really important to combine the business and design sensibilities from the very beginning.”
  • Clement Mok—Free Agent, Sapient Global Director of Design Planning—“Web 2.0 > Agency 2.0 > Design 2.0”—For a review of Mok’s fine presentation, see “Highlights of Day Two.”
  • Natalia C. Davis, Partner, Kairos Inc., and Russell G. Redenbaugh, Partner, Kairos Inc.—“The Wabi-sabi of Business”—This was the standout presentation of Day Two. For a review of the presentation, see “Highlights of Day Two.”
  • Jeremy Alexis, Assistant Professor, IIT Institute of Design, and Cynthia Benjamin, Senior Engagement Manager, Strategic Decisions Group—“Applied Creativity and Value Discipline: The Innovation Cycle”
    • Alexis and Benjamin gave a topical and interesting presentation on innovation.
    • In recent years, the number of published articles about innovation has exploded, but still, many companies are not satisfied with the return on their investment in innovation. As Alexis and Benjamin explained to us, “They may be using the wrong model of innovation for their needs.”
    • Figure 11 shows some effective approaches to innovation. “Models are a good way for designers and other people focused on value to communicate,” said Alexis.
    • Cynthia Benjamin spoke about innovation and growth strategy: “Iteration is an effective means of innovating in areas where the end-state is unclear and trial-and-error approaches enable rapid learning. Many of the best new products are developed in this way, and many that have failed have done so due to early commitment to ideas not yet fully formed. It’s important to generate lots of ideas. Designers are used to looking outside the box.”
    • There are many “reasons why innovation may not take root in an organization.” Figure 12 shows a few of these reasons and provides some principles for a new innovation model. “With innovation and creativity, we don’t know what the end game is,” said Alexis. “Innovation is applied creativity.”
    • Assess “which concepts have the highest impact on the net present value; and therefore, which concepts you should develop.” In this way, you can “use a financial model to learn what would be more useful.”
  • Panel discussion with Clement Mok, Natalia C. Davis, Russell G. Redenbaugh, Jeremy Alexis, and Cynthia Benjamin:
    • “Use a single metric such as time or customer retention. By keeping it simple, we could overcome all of the language barriers,” said Redenbaugh.
    • Alexis suggested that we “pair intuition with a financial model.”
    • “Frame an issue very well, then come up with a solution. You’re selling a solution.” said Benjamin.
    • Design is the whole act of making transformation,” said Mok.
  • Closing Address—At Patrick Whitney’s request, Chris Meyer gave an extemporaneous closing address, standing in for Bruce Nussbaum, who had to leave the conference early. The alacrity with which Meyer stepped up to this challenge was most impressive. He very aptly summed up the messages he’d gleaned throughout the conference, drawing them together under three classifications: the context of the past, the present, and the emerging future. I actually found Meyer’s more informally delivered personal reflections on the conference much more engaging than his prepared presentation on Day One.
    • “Business culture and systems are static and tied to the past, but we live in a time of accelerating change.”
    • “Business isn’t a culture of explorers. Business tends to fire the explorers. That’s why the MFA is the new MBA. Art school explores. Business school exploits.”
    • High rigor and low curiosity characterize business; low rigor and high curiosity are characteristic of art; and innovation requires both high rigor and high curiosity.
    • In speaking about business versus design, Meyer quipped, “As soon as they get over the idea of the Morlocks versus the Eloi…”
    • “At present, a merging of art and business is taking place and will create a new value chain. There is no value chain, until you pay for it with money, time, or information someone wants.”
    • “Power is shifting to customers. Bring customers’ voices into the economic system.”
    • “The economic system of the future will have these characteristics:
      • customer-created value
      • bottom-up governance
      • networks determining things collectively
      • serving the bottom-of-the-pyramid emerging market”
    • “The big design challenge will be designing organizational structures for a post-corporate economy.”
    • “The value of diverse teams is that different people see different things and create differently.”
“Day Two was by far the strongest day of the conference.”

While Day Two began rather weakly, it rapidly picked up steam. Day Two was by far the strongest day of the conference. The speakers sustained a high level of quality and energy.

Figure 10—Look’s Ways to Get Smart

Ways to Get Smart

Figure 11—Approaches to innovation

Approaches to innovation

Figure 12—Principles for a new innovation model

Principles for a new innovation model

Highlights of Day Two

My two favorite presentations on Day Two were given by Clement Mok and co-presenters Natalia Davis and Russell Redenbaugh.

Clement Mok—“Web 2.0 > Agency 2.0 > Design 2.0”

“The fragmentation of the various channels is forcing advertisers to make choices.”
—Clement Mok

Clement Mok is an engaging speaker, and I enjoyed his presentation. According to Mok, “The top three technology themes for marketing departments” are:

  • “customer info systems”
  • “better online experience”
  • “better multichannel experience”

Calling advertising “a world of snake oil and shamans.” Mok said, “Reckoning day is coming for the ad agencies, because of the Web. … Power to the people. The user is absolutely in control. … The fragmentation of the various channels is forcing advertisers to make choices.”

Mok described the evolution of the Web, as follows:

  • Web 1.0—Publishing digital media on the Internet.
  • Web 1.5—“Using the Internet as a platform.”
  • Web 2.0—“Customers are co-creators of content and services,” as shown in Figures 13–15.

Figure 13—Web 2.0 according to Mok

Web 2.0

Figure 14—Comparing Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

Comparing Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

Figure 15—Web 2.0 companies

Web 2.0 companies

“Firms have focused on developing best practices within their own domains”—digital media, Internet, or BackOffice IT—but in 2000, IBM announced its intention to broaden its focus from technology and marketing to the Total Customer Experience. “Now that digital media is in the mainstream, marketers are feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the number of marketing options. However, marketers have more power than ever before,” said Mok. Figure 16 provides an overview of the roles different types of businesses play in marketing.

Figure 16—Marketing

Marketing

Mok went on to describe the evolution of agencies, as follows:

  • Agency 1.0
    • “built-in latency”
    • “organization of individuals”
    • “big concept advertising play ”
    • “media is decoupled from creative execution”
    • “technology is a channel of delivery”
    • “focus on client and work”
    • “believes the agency builds brands”
  • Agency 2.0
    • “real time—predict the future by inventing it”
    • “organization of teams—collaboration is a core competency”
    • “platform advertising play—understanding and leveraging the power of the network”
    • “media is the message and an integrated part of the solution—embrace Web 2.0”
    • “technology is a critical tool to harness—micro-data becomes product development research”
    • “focus on business and industry—results”
    • “believes customers own and build brands”

In Agency 2.0, “teams and collaboration are built into the fabric of the company. … Rapid-cycle testing

  • leverages real-time focus groups and online panels
  • identifies the most efficient campaign within hours
  • gleans customer insights for the best positioning, imagery, calls to action

Mok told us, “Advertising is no longer a communication design problem; it’s a user design problem.”

Natalia C. Davis and Russell G. Redenbaugh—“The Wabi-sabi of Business”

“Wabi-sabi is where action and opportunity meet.”—Davis and Redenbaugh

Davis and Redenbaugh gave a sublime presentation called “The Wabi-sabi of Business”—shown in Figures 17–20. They told us, “Wabi-sabi is the Japanese aesthetic associated with the tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi exemplifies universal spiritual-philosophical tenets. We are using the Wabi-sabi view to show that value is universal. Wabi-sabi is where action and opportunity meet.”

Their core belief: “Things are either evolving from or devolving back into the nothingness. Businesses are either increasing or diminishing in value.”

Figure 17—Wabi-sabi state of mind

Wabi-sabi state of mind

Figure 17 shows just one many slides that so beautifully communicated Davis and Redenbaugh’s philosophical viewpoints.

“Because time is the only non-renewable resource, it’s an excellent metric for design.”
—Davis and Redenbaugh

“Because time is the only non-renewable resource, it’s an excellent metric for design. … Savings in time for customers or users” is a measure of success. “The first law of wealth: Wealth flows to organizations and individuals that squander the abundant resource and protect the scarce. … Account for customers’ time. Your customers’ time is important. The thing that’s been neglected is customers’ time. Find a way to save it. That’s the value of design.” They exhorted us to “Respect the cosmic order of the holy trinity of business: Shareholders, Customers, and Employees,” shown in Figure 18. “Always create value for these three different groups of people.”

Figure 18—Holy trinity of business

Holy trinity of business

“Time, not money, is the universal currency. We are always trying to get a return on our investment of time. The greatest value is the greatest return on one’s investment of time. Time to transact, find, understand.” Figures 19 and 20 show the Wabi-sabi path to value.

Figure 19—The path to value

The path to value

Figure 20 —Creating value

Creating value

Roundtable Discussions

“The organizers should have made a greater effort to welcome newcomers and ensure that they could avail themselves of the roundtable discussions.”

Unfortunately, the number of attendees who could participate in the roundtable discussions that took place during the lunch breaks was limited. While the program mentioned these discussions would occur on the second day of the conference, it neither mentioned there would be roundtable discussions on the first day of the conference nor informed attendees about how to sign up for them. When opening the conference, Patrick Whitney made no announcement about the roundtable discussions. Thus, by the time newcomers—who would have benefited most from the opportunity to meet and interact with new people—learned about the roundtable discussions just before lunchtime, those in the know had already signed up for them, and all of the roundtable discussions were already fully enrolled. Since more than a third of all attendees were either ITT faculty or students and the majority of attendees had also attended the first Institute of Design Strategy Conference in 2005, there were a lot of people who knew better what to expect than newcomers did. The organizers should have made a greater effort to welcome newcomers and ensure that they could avail themselves of the roundtable discussions.

Those who were lucky enough to participate in the roundtable discussions at lunchtime were probably able to find something of interest to them. During each lunch break, nine different roundtable discussions covered a range of topics such as:

  • Design for Non-Designers: A Corporate Strategy for Innovation
  • The Money of Innovation: New Approaches for Strategic Investment in Innovation
  • Design Management and Design Leadership
  • Defining a Research Agenda Around the Role of Design in Business Strategy

The roundtable discussions took place in a crowded tent outside Puck’s, in windy, rainy weather conditions. Between the noise of the weather and the noise of the crowd, participants had to struggle to be heard over the din. Thus, I felt fortunate to have chosen a roundtable that was actually more of a workshop.

Understanding Ourselves in the Context of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation

“Each of us determined his or her creative problem-solving style.”

On Day Two, Garry K. VanPatter and Elizabeth Pastor, of the UnderstandingLab and NextD (NextDesign Leadership Institute), led an excellent, though abbreviated workshop called “DeFuzzing Who: Understanding Ourselves in the Context of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation.” They outlined several ways in which “design in the real world is changing,” as follows:

  • The way designers work is changing from traditional design approaches in which designers either work alone or are part of single-discipline teams to methods involving cross-disciplinary teamwork.
  • The problems designers face are becoming increasingly complex and their solutions require skills and tools from multiple disciplines.
  • Formerly, designers were often brought onto projects late in product development cycles, but now designers work with cross-disciplinary teams from the start to finish of projects.

To show participants how they fit into this changing world, Van Patter and Pastor had each participant complete a “Creative Problem-Solving Inventory”—a research instrument from Basadur Applied Creativity—through which each of us determined his or her creative problem-solving style. The results showed each person’s “unique orientation to gaining and using knowledge for creative problem-solving”—in most cases, emphasizing one of the following four approaches to problem-solving:

  • experiencing—“Gaining knowledge by experiencing,” through direct personal involvement.
  • ideation—“Using knowledge for ideation,” by generating options without judgment.
  • thinking—“Gaining knowledge by thinking,” or detached abstract theorizing.
  • evaluation—“Using knowledge for evaluation,” by applying judgment to options.
“Each individual’s profile showed his or her balance between the following four problem-solving orientations.”

Each participant next derived his or her own “Creative Problem-Solving Profile,” or “Innovation Profile,” from the results—using another instrument from Basadur Applied Creativity. Each individual’s profile showed his or her balance between the following four problem-solving orientations, usually with an emphasis on one of them:

  • generator—“Getting things started,” by blending experiencing and ideation. Generators identify problems that needs solutions.
  • conceptualizer—“Putting ideas together,” by blending ideation and thinking. Conceptualizers see the big picture, come up with ideas, and formulate solutions.
  • optimizer—“Turning abstract ideas into practical solutions and plans,” by blending thinking and evaluation. Optimizers evaluate ideas and turn them into practical solutions.
  • implementer—“Getting things done,” by blending evaluation and experiencing. Implementers take whatever action is necessary to make solutions real.

With such a diverse audience at the conference, it was very interesting to evaluate the profiles of participants in light of their different professions.

“Teams with a heterogeneous mix of preferred creative-process styles significantly outperform teams with a homogeneous mix.”—Basadur Applied Creativity

Individual team members, teams, and even entire organizations possess unique innovation profiles. According to Basadur Applied Creativity, all problem-solving orientations are necessary to the process of innovation and, therefore, valued equally. Within a creative organization, different roles require different problem-solving approaches and processes. However, one individual, team, or organization can be skilled in all four approaches. When doing work that requires innovation, “teams with a heterogeneous mix of preferred creative-process styles significantly outperform teams with a homogeneous mix,” because the necessary skills for “all four stages of the process are readily available within the team.” Though homogeneous teams, working with like-minded teammates, experience more job satisfaction, it’s essential to “ensure the creation of balanced teams capable of tackling tasks from problem-finding through implementation.”

VanPatter and Pastor described the roles of individuals with different creative problem-solving profiles on cross-disciplinary teams within continuous innovation cultures. The Basadur Innovation Profile connects each basic type of problem-solving profile to the process of innovation, as follows:

  • generator
    • problem-finding—Proactively seeking out and identifying new opportunities and challenges.
    • fact-finding—Asking questions and seeking information that illuminates identified opportunities and challenges.
  • conceptualizer
    • problem definition—Looking at opportunities and challenges from many different viewpoints, clearly defining the scope of problems, and identifying possible directions for solutions.
    • idea-finding—Generating various ideas for solutions to defined problems and devising innovative solutions.
  • optimizer
    • evaluation and selection—Evaluating proposed solutions, refining flawed solutions, and determining the most practical solution for a given problem.
    • planning—Creating a plan of action comprising specific steps that will lead to the successful implementation of the selected solution.
  • implementer
    • acceptance—Overcoming resistance to change by demonstrating the benefits of the selected solution and showing how possible problems can be minimized.
    • action—Executing a plan of action, adapting it as necessary to ensure its successful implementation.
“I found this method of assessing individuals’ approaches to creative problem-solving very valuable.”

Our group chose to carry on after many of the roundtable discussions had ended, so once we had completed our profiles, we were able to continue our discussion under quieter conditions. This workshop provided much food for thought and, for me, was one of the most enjoyable parts of the conference. I found this method of assessing individuals’ approaches to creative problem-solving very valuable.

Elegant Arrangements

“The IIT Institute of Design brought a strong design sensibility to every aspect of Strategy06.”

The IIT Institute of Design, one of the foremost design schools in the United States, brought a strong design sensibility to every aspect of Strategy06—from the simplicity of the conference program to the modern elegance of the stage setting in the MCA auditorium.

Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, the MCA provided a great venue for this small-scale conference with about 300 participants. Many fine hotels are within easy walking distance of the MCA.

Each day of the conference began with a continental breakfast, and beverages, pastries, and fruits were served during morning and afternoon breaks. Box lunches were available from Puck’s at the MCA, but seating in both the restaurant and the outdoor tent for conference attendees was limited, and the weather was inclement. During one lunch break, the sky unloaded a deluge of garbanzo-bean-sized hailstones. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant also prepared the buffet dinner for the dinner and cocktail reception that took place on the first evening of the conference. Long breaks—breakfast, 1 hour; morning coffee break, half an hour; lunch, two hours; and afternoon snack break, 45 minutes—and the evening reception provided ample opportunity for networking.

Most MCA exhibits were open to conference attendees throughout the conference, including the headliner exhibit: Andy Warhol: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters.

The conference program was compact, Wire-O® bound, aesthetically designed, printed on high-quality paper, and included pages for notes. Oddly, while the program provided informative bios on each of the speakers, it did not indicate the topics on which they would speak.

Several of the speakers’ presentations are available on the Strategy06 Web site, along with excellent articles by and interviews with some of the speakers and what was a fairly active blog on the event. I hope this great information will remain on the Web in perpetuity, but information relating to the Institute of Design Strategy Conference of 2005 is no longer available on the Web.

In Summary

“Strategy06 was a well-organized, worthwhile conference, but with room for some improvement.”

Strategy06 was a well-organized, worthwhile conference, but with room for some improvement. In my view, conferences that feature invited speakers—as this one did—have the most potential for greatness, and the best of this conference’s speakers were really excellent. However, the content of future Institute of Design Strategy Conferences would benefit from a greater focus on aspects of strategy relating to both business and design—after all, that’s probably what attendees expect to learn about and discuss at this conference. As a UX professional, I hope that there will also be a greater emphasis on UX strategy.

The organizers should also ensure that all speakers prepare content-rich presentations, providing information that is likely to be both of interest and useful to the majority of attendees. Organizing a single-track conference is, in a way, a more difficult proposition than putting together a conference at which attendees have a multiplicity of choices throughout each day. At single-track conferences, all topics must have broad appeal to satisfy the entire audience. At such a pricey conference—depending on how far in advance they registered, this conference cost between $1200 and $2700 for attendees paying the full fare—there’s no tolerance for dross.

Photos by Pabini Gabriel-Petit

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