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Design Thinking the Future

Six Melton Fellows joined the d.confestival from 14-16 September 2017 in Potsdam, Germany. Here are some of the highlights, brought to you by our delegates.

In September 2017, six Melton Fellows joined 900 participants from more than 40 countries for the d.confestival at HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam, Germany. In 26 panels and presentations, 32 workshops, and many other activities, they engaged in discussions about the future of work, mobility, and learning to developed novel concepts for the application of Design Thinking in business, education, or science. This is what stood out for some of them:


Neli Blum (Senior Fellow from Germany) recalls:

Photo by HPI d.confestival

What would a design-thinking conference be without millions of post-its? And of course, they don’t miss any of the d.bates and talks either… 

Anyway, let’s move to the serious part. Design-thinking has definitely reached all industries – so it is apparently not only a tool for social innovation, which I thought for a long time when I first got in touch with it through the Melton Foundation.

Uwe Raschke from Bosch was presenting their newest twist-drill, which actually was developed through a human-centered design approach. I personally don’t care much about a new twist-drill, but his description of the development of the company was inspiring: An organization should move from a hamburger-structure (hierarchical organization) to a Burrito-style company, where all pieces are interconnected and the whole system is self-organized, just wrapped with a thin crisp of management. What a nice metaphor!
Google is probably one of the outstanding big corporates that introduced Design Thinking long ago. Although I am usually skeptical towards Google, the “Google: leading for innovation” workshop taught me what an effect it can have when managers “lead through vulnerability”. This is what made me think a lot about the empathy-sharing approach we want to spread with the Melton Foundation, in order to have open and honest conversations that strengthen human bonds.
I also found the “WeQ”-initiative by Peter Spiegel inspiring. According to him, the education system needs a shift from knowledge to skills. IQ isn’t what brings creativity and innovation to solve today’s problems. It is rather the WeQ, a conglomeration of everyone’s knowledge and skills along with critical thinking, collaboration and communication.
This idea aligns with the participatory approach used by InsightShare. They use video participation as a tool to work with marginalized communities to focus on change. They believe Collective Intelligence is the key to work on solutions for global issues, and I totally agree with that. This is also what I experience through all the Melton collaborations.

So, how can we use the Design Thinking ideas for our own projects?

Melton Fellow Pedro Poblete Lasserre and his colleague Hector Pahaut presenting about their project on Indigenous Rights FPIC.

Well – let’s definitely find problems to create solutions, just as Sam Yen from SAP shared his story! And during this process we can “Trust the waves”, a quote I took from Hector Pahaut, a graphic designer currently working with Melton Fellow Pedro Poblete on the FPIC, a website to promote Free, Prior & Informed Consent as the inherent rights of  Indigenous communities. Trusting the waves of our own journey, with its ups and downs is probably the only consistency we can believe in. In that sense: Why now let go of the control one would never have anyway?

Pedro Poblete Lasserre (Senior Fellow from Chile) reflects:

Networking, discovering, self-reflecting… HPI’s d.confestival was all about preparing for the future by understanding what multiple sectors are doing right now to discover all kinds of innovations, both incremental and radical ones.

Photo by HPI d.confestival

If I had to define these three days in one short sentence, I guess it would be “a glimpse into the future“. Design thinking is on everyone’s lips and for good reasons: traditional problem solving has proven to be ineffective in many ways and in many fields, and professionals in all fields are looking at new ways of doing things. The government of Finland is using design thinking to test universal income policies, Bosch used it to redesign their home tools department, and we – in the Melton Foundation – are using it to develop global citizens so they can become true changemakers and social innovators.

Over 900 people gathered together to show one another how design thinking is being used in their organizations: a show-and-tell of what’s possible, what is being explored, where are the gaps in the practice, and what adaptations and hacks are needed to explore new fields. We did our part by presenting our global citizenship approach and connecting with other social innovators. We engaged in conversations and we planted the seed for what we hope is going to become a collective for good.

Gone are the days of linear thinking and isolated teams. The future needs to be open, creative, playful, honest and interconnected. George Kembel, co-founder of Stanford’s d.school, said in his closing remarks “the world is the classroom”. Let’s make it a playground as well.

Lena Schmitz (Senior Fellow from Germany) points out:

For a “small-town girl” like me, it’s always an adventure to travel to capital cities like Berlin, Germany. The HPI D-School in Potsdam, a city close to Berlin, was also a huge surprise – I mean, everybody has some associations with “modern workspaces,” but the buildings, the decoration for the festival, and the colorfulness definitely blew my mind. From cubes and all kinds of shapes to walls basically made out of glass, with quotes and notes pinned everywhere, it was easy to get into the d.confestival mood of sharing, experimenting, and inspiration.

Photo by HPI d.confestival

So, here are my d.confestival highlights: Starting the day with Google’s philosophy on becoming a more optimistic person by being thankful for three things in your life every morning, to a day full of workshops (“How can I create participatory projects?”), panel discussions (“The neurobiology behind creativity”!) and talks with other participants or facilitators, accompanied by the diverse meals: from traditional German Currywurst to Cuban food (which made it easy to get in touch with other participants while having lunch) … I can say that the d.confestival was a great success from my point of view!

Juli Maier (the Melton Foundation’s Program Coordinator from Germany) recollects:

The d.confestival offered a broad range of workshops, panel discussions and activities. It made it hard to choose only one at a time out of so many appealing parallel sessions. After several panel discussions and theoretical presentations I was ready for something more hands on: I was ready to “FaciliTAPE”! – a workshop by Innovation Radicals. As the name suggests, this session was about how to use tapes in all colors of the rainbow as a multifunctional workshop tool.

Photo by HPI d.confestival

By taping my name on a window I learned different taping techniques: how to create 3D effects and how to play around with shapes and sizes. After a while I was ready for level two: we visualized the abilities of all participants by gathering in pairs and taping her/his special ability on our partner’s back. Last but not least, we went wild! The task was to take over the foyer of the main festival building. Windows, Walls, Doors, Floor, People,… nothing and nobody could resist our creative attack – the outcome was beautiful!



Photo credits: all pictures labeled with ‘Photo by HPI d.confestival’ were taken from the official d.confestival flickr page.