Subject matter expertise is a valuable denominator for good reason – it allowed society to leapfrog, make discoveries and advance any discipline-specific body of knowledge.
However, the complex challenges we are facing today on a global scale can no longer be solved in one-dimensional ways. Inquiry needs to be informed by questions across disciplines. Answers become the product of recognizing a wider range of possibilities and stepping out of discipline-focused comfort zones. Developing appreciation and openness towards the language, methodologies, and tools of various disciplines allows us to harness alternate insights and viewpoints on a more holistic playing field while acknowledging the multiple facets of complex challenges.
In order to translate discipline-focused expertise into tangible impact, we need to converge disciplines and create platforms where researchers and practitioners are able to explore the limits of their disciplines while co-creating new language and a common understanding of what is required to identify problems, outline goals and work towards solutions.
Intentional curation is required for this type of collision since professionals typically don’t intersect with other disciplines on a regular basis in their day-to-day work environments. Organizations aware of creating connective tissue will be best equipped to positions themselves for true impact in this new paradigm.
This approach has been at the heart of our work at Accelerate, Wentworth Innovation + Entrepreneurship Center, and is reflected in the ThinkTank format we have developed to convene academia and industry across a multitude of disciplines.
Big to small – Scenarios to Solutions
Conversations about the future are often hypothetical and aren’t grounded or relevant for today. Human tendency is to embrace the equilibrium, the status quo and the present. Both are tangible, impacting us here and now. “The future in contrast, is the field of possibility, uncertainty, and intangibility. Although the future is challenging, we can […] better prepare, tackle, embrace [it] and even enjoy changes they happen.”
“Scenario planning is a methodology that uses the inherent human capacity for imagining futures to better understand the present situation and to identify possibilities for new strategy” Future scenarios are not “about predicting the future. It [helps to] break the habit, ingrained in most corporate planning, of assuming that the future will look much like the present.”
Future scenarios are important considerations, packaged in “unthreatening stories,” of how the future may evolve. “Scenarios are intended to set the stage for a future world in which readers imagine themselves as actors and are invited to pay attention to deeply held assumptions about how the world works. What happens at a scenario’s horizon date is not as important as a story’s clarity of logic and how it helps open the minds to new dynamics while making it plausible.”
We utilized future city scenarios as a context to open the minds of thought leaders and participants across different disciplines and embrace possible alternative futures they might not have previously considered. These scenarios created the backdrop to uncover and ideate towards opportunity spaces anchored within the human lens of different generations and abilities.
Moving from scenarios to more concrete opportunity spaces informs the context for further investigation and creates the launch pad for participants and their organizations to develop strategies and tangible problem definitions that could lead to impactful solutions down the road.
Design Thinking is a mindset and process originally attributed exclusively to the design profession. However, it has become increasingly popular in recent decades, being utilized within organizations and across disciplines to create value and competitive advantage in the development of products and services. Design Thinking provides a holistic context and framework to orchestrate and strategize around possible solutions for ambiguous and uncertain future challenges.
Its human-centered approach seeks to understand the underlying needs of consumers, populations, organizations, and systems. The process allows participants to tap into the unknown to uncover opportunity spaces and identify problems while asking questions, testing assumptions and ideating towards possible solution sets iteratively and in non-linear ways.
Based on Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO the following approaches can provide impact:
1. Cultivate curiosity and a beginner’s mind
2. Experiment early and often utilizing divergent and convergent thinking
3. Collaborate across silos
4. Spread ideas packaged in stories
5. Create a surplus of ideas allowing you to eliminate some along the way
Facilitators from innovation and design firms such as Business Innovation Factory, Essential Design, IDEO, Optum, Continuum, i2i Experience, and others provided expert guidance throughout the “Future of Aging” ThinkTank to ensure that all participants were able to immerse themselves in design thinking mindset and methodology while also experiencing the aforementioned approaches outlined by Brown.
“Life is a complex matter and requires the contribution of everybody. No matter the age, the competence, the skills, the knowledge that we have acquired in our lives, we all have something to share from very different perspectives that can help us foresee the future.”
Nicola Palmarini, Global Manager – AI For Healthy Aging, IBM Research
“It’s really important for a diverse group of people to participate in this ThinkTank because it’s not one sector or silo that is going to be able to transform how we reimagine or think about aging.”
Eli MacLaren, Chief Market Maker, Business Innovation Factory
“I like this format because there’s a tendency in any profession for the same people to talk to each other over and over again, so to come here and interact with people who have never really thought about aging and who have a different perspective than my own is really interesting.”
Alexandra Schweitzer, Board President, Goddard House