I began my career as a licensed architect and educator, but something unexpected happened during my years in professional practice - I became increasingly interested in the business side of the creative process. I started to observe how architects worked with their clients and the general public, and the impact those interactions had on what ultimately was produced.
My professional story after that has three inflection points.
The first inflection point occurred when I returned to school for an MBA so that I could more directly influence how the business world understood and engaged with designers. Similarly, I believed, I could also bring strategic thinking to the design professions.
After graduation I was fortunate in that I found the right sandbox in which to conduct these explorations with a company called IDEO, one of the best known innovation and design firms in the world. Over the course of a decade I focused on product, service, and environments programs for clients in a wide variety of industries.
The second inflection point came when I left IDEO and the life of a consultant to better understand the innovation process from a vantage point on the inside of organizations that ranged from non-profits to enterprise software.
What I learned from these experiences is that the most successful design and innovation programs do not result from a “big idea”. Generating ideas is actually the easy part. The real challenge is to mobilize individuals or teams within an organization – and often beyond, in collaboration with other stakeholders – to shepherd things through various development stages and out into the world.
That, unfortunately, is where great ideas often get stuck or die altogether.
It was this reality that set me up for a third inflection point - focusing on the human side of the innovation process. As a practice leader I had worked almost exclusively with service organizations, engaging in all aspects of the design and development of new services and the revitalization of existing ones. In particular I worked with leaders of these organizations to improve the way they engage with their customers by improving the way they engaged with themselves.
After years of facilitating everything from weekly meetings to multi-day workshops and retreats, something began to shift for me. Getting through the event was not enough. A sustainable agreement or course of action was the true goal. When transformative change was on the agenda – and let’s be clear, innovation is all about change - these interactions had to stick. And so facilitation transformed into mediation.
Because all transformative journeys involve a series of mediated conversations.
These journeys are not always easy. They require that stakeholders have the curiosity to understand perspectives different from their own, and the patience to align interests and values. Often this involves interactions within and across project teams, functional groups, or strategic partners. Inevitably it includes customers or clients.
The dynamics of innovation and mediation are so similar because they both address the need or desire for change. And although change brings with it the potential for relief (as with mediation) or commercial success (as with innovation), it is inherently risky. Both versions require a leap of faith.
Which leads to where I am today.
My current work integrates consulting, facilitation, mediation, and coaching. I’m on a quest to bring mediation and conflict engagement techniques to designers, entrepreneurs, and businesses who are bringing new innovations to life. I hope to guide and support the dynamics within and across these groups, to help individuals and teams have new kinds of conversations. Conversations that support innovation. Conversations that lead to real change.