As the earth's resources get squeezed, there's a growing need to leverage design thinking in creating products and services that can be both sustainable and innovative, says IDEO CEO Tim Brown.
Japanese companies can play a unique role in helping the transition to more sustainable, design-centric economies by leveraging their expertise in innovation, engineering and creativity, Tim Brown, CEO of design consultancy IDEO, told attendees October 31 at Panasonic's Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018 in Tokyo.
"The amount of resources that we're using today is the equivalent of one and a half planets, and before very long, that will have increased to the rate as though we have four planets," Brown said.
Echoing Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga's keynote speech that kicked off the Forum, Brown said that in order to minimize their environmental impact, products should be designed to last much longer and be more easily reused. This "circular economy" should replace the linear manufacturing model inherited from the first Industrial Revolution, in which resources are extracted for the manufacture of disposable goods, he said.
Running from October 30 to November 3, the Cross-Value Innovation Forum marks the 100th anniversary of Panasonic's founding with exhibits and presentations by keynote speakers from Panasonic itself as well as outside firms such as IDEO.
Founded in 1991 in Palo Alto, California, IDEO is a global design and consulting firm known both for iconic products--it created Apple's first production mouse and the Palm V personal data assistant--as well as the concepts of design thinking and human-centered design. It works with clients to bring new products, services and experiences to life.
In a discussion with Michael Peng, Partner and Managing Director at IDEO Tokyo, Brown gave an overview of design thinking, calling it a problem-solving method of fostering both curiosity and innovation while always keeping the focus on end users. Design thinking can be imagined as a process ranging from inspiration to ideation to execution.
"Design thinking attempts to demystify how design works," said Brown. "Instead of it being just a small number of creative people all dressed in black who are allowed to be designers, we feel it's important that many people in the organization have the permission and the skills to be design thinkers."
The design process can start with a big question. Brown cited the example of Innova Schools, a leading education chain in Peru that got its start when a Peruvian entrepreneur approached IDEO with a question: How could the country's bottom-ranking education system be improved? IDEO designed a new school, curriculum, and business model that would only cost $100 to $150 per month per student. Dozens of Innova Schools have since been built and students' academic performance is far above the national average, Brown said. He also cited the case of PillPack, a U.S. online pharmacy startup that worked with IDEO to develop a device that dispenses precisely measured doses in simple-to-use sachets. Amazon acquired the firm in September 2018.
"Collaboration in design thinking is one way that companies can stay competitive as industries undergo upheavals with the rise of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and other technologies," said Brown. He pointed to IDEO's CoLab, a collaborative space where IDEO designers worked with lab member NASDAQ and blockchain firm Filament to develop an internet-connected solar panel that distributes carbon credits via blockchain technology.
"We need many ideas to find the best ideas and we need to reduce the cost and the risk of exploring those, and I think we can do that through a design-based approach," said Brown. "We can think about ideas, play with the technologies, build prototypes, and try them out with users quite quickly."
As industries change with technological progress, Japan's role will change too. Brown lauded Japan for its engineering prowess and ability to learn from the rest of the world, but said that as developing economies get a greater share of commodity-based manufacturing Japan could take on more of a collaborative role. This applies to both the transition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which cyber-physical systems such as IoT, artificial intelligence and robotics are changing societies everywhere, and the greater need to foster a circular economy that can sustain our planet while meeting its economic needs.
"The world is looking for companies to lead in a thoughtful, human-centered, culturally sensitive way," Brown said during his concluding remarks. "To be thoughtful about the role technology should really play. To be thoughtful about how to make the lives of people genuinely better. To be thoughtful about taking on the problems that really matter. I'm sure that Panasonic will be one of those companies."
[Global Keynote Lecture] The Future of Business and Society through Design and Creativity
Date and Time
October 31, 10:45 a.m. -11:45 a.m. JST
Mr. Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO
Mr. Michael Peng, Partner and Managing Director of IDEO Tokyo
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