About a year ago, I happened to be at breakfast panel at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, where Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, was speaking. At the time, the topic, “What is Wrong with American Design?” was much in the air. Figuring this was as good a place as any to pose the question, I raised my hand and blurted it out.
Tim looked a little chagrined. “First off,” he chastised me, “you have to define what American design is.” Good point. There he was, a native of rural Oxfordshire, England, working at IDEO, one of the pre-eminent design firms in the country–but headquartered in Palo Alto. Down the road, in Cupertino, was Jonathan Ive, also a Brit, churning out lust-worthy products for Apple. Up the road, in San Francisco, Yves Behar, a Swiss, was crafting Jawbone headsets. In New York, Dror Benshetrit, an Israeli, was designing condo projects in Dubai. What is American design, anyway? D’oh!
In retrospect, I’m not surprised by Tim’s response. Having led IDEO’s San Francisco and European offices before becoming CEO, Tim has always been a global thinker, as comfortable mulling problems of irrigation pumps in rural Africa as he is the shoe-buying experience at Allen Edmonds. To him, parochial distinctions like nationality simply aren’t relevant to the problems at hand, and no country has a lock on innovative design.
Since that breakfast, I’ve been following Tim as he brings that same incisive, grounded thinking to other design issues of the day. Most recently, I was engrossed with his astute explanation of design thinking in the Harvard Business Review. It’s the best discussion of this important topic that I’ve seen.
Tim’s new book on how design thinking transforms organizations, Change By Design, will be out in September.
Fans of Brown–of which there are legion–will be delighted to discover him this week as a guest blogger for Fast Company. Even better, they’ll be engaged by his provocative series of posts on what he calls “The Participation Economy”–and how it might be a productive path out of our economic malaise.
Tim’s first post asks why we’re so obsessed with consumption when it’s clearly been so bad for us. In subsequent posts, he’ll propose a new way of thinking about a post crisis economy that might rest on something more sustainable. I was totally intrigued reading these ideas, and I suspect you will be too.
Feel free to chime in!