Change and Innovation

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2008

If you missed the Sarasota International Design Summit in October, you might make a note to not miss it again. The summit, presented by Ringling College of Art and Design, is an annual gathering of designers, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and business and technology leaders. This year’s theme, Design + Technology: Visual, Social, Mobile, explored how design is shaping how we communicate using visual, social and mobile media.    

My takeaway was not only about design thinking, it was also about change and innovation and how vital they are to growth. Michael Alexin, vice president, product design and development for Target Corporation, the summit’s title sponsor, gave the opening keynote, and what he spoke about would resonate with any thinking businessperson. The summit agenda referenced Alexin as the Zen of Innovation and told us that his talk will challenge us “to think about how to create a culture that nurtures and values innovation and how to approach it in a holistic and practical way.” The more specific message to us was, “In this crowded global market, a company’s ability to innovate is increasingly becoming an indicator of its ability to survive let alone grow.”

Before sharing his eight steps of innovation (observation, imagination, brainstorming, design, simplicity, speed, collaboration, sustainability) with the attendees, Alexin talked about embracing change. He called change the only constant, and quoted Alan Cohen: “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” Alexin went on to condemn complacency and bureaucracy while praising creativity.

I left the session filled with ideas and a sense of pride and hope, knowing that this is what Americans do best. We’re masters of innovation. I thought of Thomas Friedman, the syndicated New York Times columnist and author, who almost five years ago wrote, “America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of many factors: extreme freedom, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a non-corrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.”

And my optimism about our future is supported by the innovators and innovations I see right here in our region, and my knowing that there will be opportunities for more innovation as we work our way out of our current economic predicament.

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