Better by Design Study Tour: Feeling the buzz of innovation

You can feel it everywhere. The city is alive with it. From sunrise to sunset and beyond, there is an inexorable force. Passion and a belief pushing everything ahead, improving customer outcomes day after day. It is in the sounds of the streets, the urgency of the traffic, the chatter in the cafes and the hustle of the businesses we have met.

It is the spirit and buzz of innovation. The creativity and process of design-led thinking.

Whilst all of us on this NYNY Better by Design Study Tour are thinking about how we apply the process to our businesses back in New Zealand, the founders and executives of the top innovative companies over here are really “just doing it”. We have seen a wide selection of organisations from huge corporates like Ogilvy & Mather, Google and IBM Watson through to inspirational growth and early stage businesses like Behance, Contently, Normal, and Red Antler.

However, not all the businesses and entrepreneurs we have met necessarily articulate it as them following a formal design process. The reality appears to be that design led thinking here has reached a stage of maturity where it is simply built into how they operate and think every day. They do it by default.

They may not be explicitly sitting down with a process map and leading their teams through the stages of “developing empathy for users, defining the problem, ideating the concepts, prototyping to explore, testing to learn and storytelling to connect”. But they have most definitely embraced the philosophies of this structure. As have their own stakeholders, investors and staff.

Every one of our hosts has spoken with huge passion on the importance of, and the business success that can blossom from true customer insight, on meeting the specific and personal needs of each and every customer in a way that delights them.

And most importantly, of all the things we have seen on this fabulous trip, it is clear that this customer centricity is embedded and intrinsic to the culture of their business. And they all view culture as the single most important component of their future, their most critical foundational asset. And then they develop their customer approach, recruitment choices, office space and business strategies based on leveraging their culture and fundamental values.

It is just built into to the way they think, what they believe and how they operate because they are surrounded by it. Their peers, mentors and staff have grown up in a business environment that has reached the next stage of strategic development, where customer centricity and empathy drives every action they take.

It is also apparent that Brand development and identity means more than ever before, and it is now truly recognised as an investment in the growth of your business. It is the convergence of the product, the user experience and the storytelling. And the sum of those parts is what takes you on a journey to exponential growth.

To quote one of my travelling colleagues: “I feel like we have not yet learnt how to breed and support entrepreneurs who emulate those we have seen. But we can breed All Blacks because the passion for rugby and exposure to it is all around us.”

So we must strive to create that aspiration and customer centric drive, to build it into the Kiwi business psyche through design led thinking. Then you will feel it on the streets and in Kiwi businesses, embedded in our culture day to day. Just like the Big Apple. 

Simon Brown, general manager, Accelerator Services Callaghan Innovation