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Shift your expectations: A report from the Better by Design study tour of New York

It’s amazing the difference distance makes. Today I was half-a-world away from home, yet I now understand where I came from better than ever.

One of New Zealand’s strengths as a nation is our no.8 wire mentality. When faced with a problem we rapidly devise practical solutions using whatever is readily at hand. Born of a need to survive independently in a far-flung land, historically this way of thinking served us well.

However that was then. And this is now.

As part of the NZTE Better by Design study tour of New York, we were able to see ourselves from a very different point-of-view. From Adobe to Contently, IDEO to SYPartners, each company we visited challenged us to re-design our thinking. To scale up our ideas. And our ambitions.

At first when SYPartners asked our tour group of 20 NZ businesses to imagine new possibilities; our natural instincts were to shift quickly into solution mode. Developing ideas that we knew were doable. Buildable. Which might be fine when working in isolation, but in a socially-connected crowd-sourced marketplace simply isn’t enough.

To push our thinking forward, Adobe’s Behance and 99U shared with us the importance of falling in love with the problem, not the solution. Away from what is, to what might be. Which, for their business’, had resulted in a pivotal evolution from building tools to developing communities.

Contently then scaled our ambitions even further. Going beyond simply having a vision for our own businesses, they provoked us all to think about our role in redefining history. For Contently this required them to stop thinking of themselves as a digital content business, but instead as the next step in a line of storytellers. This line stretches back through time to Shakespeare and, before that, the very first stories around cave fires. Contently is driven by the core belief that those who tell the stories rule the world.

Sound like an impossibly big ambition?

That’s the point. As IDEO reminded us, the scale of your aspirations shouldn’t be defined by what is. But by what might be.


Dave Wild is a strategist and innovation coach who has been at the forefront of significant market shifts, from design lead on Air New Zealand’s e-commerce transformation to digital innovation with Vodafone to accelerate the market shift to mobile.

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