The Role of Harmony in Innovation


At NeoCon this year, I spoke briefly about where innovation comes from and, more importantly, the need to bring all the interested parties together to affect change. It’s not a new scenario, but one many organizations continue to struggle with.

Years ago I spoke about how, if you were in a pickup truck in the 1920s and were listening to a Chicago Cubs game on your transistor radio, it would keep falling off the dashboard. Finally, someone said, ‘why can’t we just put it in the dashboard?’ One may think all one had to do was cut a hole in the dashboard that would hold the portable radio.

Yet that would miss something we’ve all worked hard to understand and I have been pounding…which is the need to modernize the relationship between the portable radio and the car such that their combination makes both of them better. This means we could rethink the antennae. We could move it off the portable radio and use the larger surface of the windshield. We could change the knobs on the radio because it’s now not moving around or being portable, and we could put push buttons to allow the driver a safer way to change the stations.

Design thinking takes something to a fuller potential of opportunity than might have been seen otherwise.

The problems global companies are solving for aren’t always as clear as a radio falling to the floor. And the answers to the most complex issues don’t live in a vacuum, but come from multiple touch points and departments that have their own insight to share.

So how do you find that harmony? What’s it like when it’s done together?

One way – and it works well for us – is bringing together the designers, manufacturers, marketers…in fact, everyone who touches an idea during its life cycle. It creates the collaboration that allows a company to see their products or services from all angles simultaneously. As the product or service grows and evolves, it can do so with a brain trust of input and the immediately available feedback that comes from their diverse perspectives.

In some cases, one aspect just needs to catch up with the others. With video conferencing, the technology to transmit picture and video around the globe moved forward by leaps and bounds in recent years. But, to improve the experience for the user and to bring that technology to scale for global organizations, simple aspects like lighting and audio needed an upgrade to stay on track with the already sophisticated technological components. This enables the end product to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the years, I’ve often asked and wondered how we can find the harmony between space and technology. And with the example above, what I see today are the first spaces where it doesn’t feel like one is upping the other. It feels like this is the way it always should be.

As we look to the future – both near and far – we must continue questioning how to find this harmony, especially as businesses experience unprecedented change. What are the barriers that keep individuals and groups from making these mutually beneficial connections? And how can we take those barriers down and make these connections sooner?

The results may just save you a radio.


Written By:

Jim Hackett

For Steelcase


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