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Episode 20: Using Design Thinking to Drive Innovation

Luisa Schumacher, Design Thinking Catalyst Lead at Ford Motor Company, joins this episode of Change@Work. Listen as she and host Chris Thornton discuss incorporating human-centered design into everyday work, inviting abstraction into our work-style, and Luisa’s three key design thinking tools.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;24;18

Change@Work is a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, senior principal here at Daggerwing Group Together with partners, clients, and leading experts from a variety of industries.

00;00;24;20 – 00;00;53;09

We’ll share what’s happening in the world of work, how leaders can prepare for the future and how to engage employees along the way. Joining me today is Luisa Schumacher, Design Thinking Catalysts lead at Ford Motor Company. Luisa is a leader in social impact design using human centered design methods and strategies to create value in several sectors. She also has extensive experience in the fields of social innovation, philanthropy, culture, change and education.

00;00;53;13 – 00;01;18;00

Welcome, Luisa. Be here first. So glad you’re joining us today. Happy. Really happy to be here. So how’s it going in Michigan today? It is beautiful. I’m happy to say that sun is shining in the days where we’re fresh off. Some positive announcements from the state, including Michigan being the fastest growing economy, according to Bloomberg. Even through these troubling times.

00;01;18;00 – 00;01;44;19

So even with all that’s happening in the world, there are bright spots. And today, Michigan and Detroit feel like a bright spot. It’s incredible, wonderful. We always start off with a few questions about you and our guest and just making sure that we understand who you are as a person. Some ask you some fun questions. Yeah. What’s your dream job as a kid?

00;01;44;19 – 00;02;11;03

Do you remember? Yeah. I had two dream jobs that maybe are the same job. One was I wanted to be a diplomat. I thought it was very much like a James Bond life. Like I’d be able to wear evening gowns and entertain all the time and, you know, pass policy over like a dinner. Really dynamic dinner conversation. And then the other one is, I wanted on asylum.

00;02;11;05 – 00;02;36;23

Wow. Yes. So I was like always playing restaurant owner and like, party, for instance. So I you know, I explored those career pathways in a variety of different experiences as I’ve grown up. And sometimes I think that my work is not too different than that. I do think about convening and hosting and diplomacy a lot, but just in different contexts.

00;02;36;25 – 00;03;01;20

Salute is so specific though. Like was it going to have the swinging doors? Was there going to be a long bar? Like, can you paint a picture from honky Tonk like style for Honky tonk? Yeah. Just late nights, poker game. Sure. Got stops. The whole beer spittoons. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, Spurs, I got to go. Yes. Okay. Thank you for that.

00;03;01;22 – 00;03;35;19

Thank you. What’s your favorite city you’ve ever lived in? Austin, Texas. So there are definitely some honky tonk still in Austin. Some real old ones. But Austin is my favorite city. It is walkable, it’s fresh. It’s also simultaneously ancient with hot springs that come out of the ground that are just beautiful and effervescent. And then there’s music and texture and change.

00;03;35;21 – 00;04;00;27

I love it. It’s a great place to be. And tacos and cocktails and torchy’s. my gosh. The case on display. Let’s dip. Okay. We have to talk about cars. What’s your favorite car? So I work at Ford, and I just I got to say, I have two favorite cars that are not Fords. I’m still falling in love with Ford and getting to know Fleet.

00;04;00;29 – 00;04;31;26

My favorite is the 1998 Toyota Sequoia V8 engine. I use it to tow a 24 footer across the country and go. And that is an incredible that’s an incredible car. Just went to the Rocky Mountain Northern and Rocky Mountains and lots of really harrowing driving experiences with my rig in that car. And it really was trusty. And then the other one is the 1993 Cadillac sedan, Brazil, which was my car in college.

00;04;31;29 – 00;04;58;11

And it was my grandma and it was like smooth and cool. I just loved it. Smooth and cool and like, that’s a bigger car. Huge. Yeah, huge. Yeah. Yeah, It’s like it was like in a bigger state on ice on Michigan because it was heavy and it was like full metal body. So like, when you break on it, it just like, fly across the parking lot or like through an intersection.

00;04;58;12 – 00;05;19;29

So and I also don’t think it had any like, great. So the wheel just slowed like you could just like spin the wheel on that thing. And so when you would start to spin out on the ice, you learn how to spin the wheel. So yeah, yeah, pretty fun time. My mom would always call the Cadillac. A Cadillac would go by and she’d say, Now there’s a classy car.

00;05;20;00 – 00;05;44;11

So? So she would see you going by and say, Now that’s that’s a classy car. Yeah, It’s hopefully and hopefully I was just kind respectful one. I’m sure you were. I have no doubt. I have no doubt. Let’s let’s get into your job at Ford. And as a professional design thinker, you and your team in so many ways are always operating ahead of the curve.

00;05;44;11 – 00;06;10;13

At least you have to be right. You have to be. Can you explain what design thinking is and how you use it in your everyday role at Ford? Yeah. So in a real basic way, find thinking is applying creativity to complex problems. So you can think of design in a lot of contexts. Everything is designed whether on purpose or by accident or just emerging.

00;06;10;15 – 00;06;41;08

And also Stanford, IDEO, all of these people who are leaders in this space, they do best job at designing signs. But for me, I think about it as it relates to its utility and then also how we’re applying it forward. So for me, I’ve been in the social impact space, so always designing for multiple stakeholders. When we talk about putting the customer in center of design, when we’re thinking about problem solving, so human centered design is kind of this design thinking gone a little bit deeper.

00;06;41;09 – 00;07;08;27

So design thinking is like creativity applied to the problem solving, and human centered design is thinking about humans and their needs and centering around people needs. So working in the social impact space, I’ve come up through my career realizing and recognizing that a lot of the experiences that we have as humans are not centered around our needs or maybe what can really benefit us in society.

00;07;09;00 – 00;07;33;18

And then you think about who things aren’t designed for sometimes and not even find for who sometimes are just designed, because that’s the process and that’s how it’s been done. And then also when we’re thinking about having social impact, we need to think about multiple stakeholders who are involved. For instance, you know, universal preschool, there’s a lot of stakeholders that are involved in universal.

00;07;33;21 – 00;08;01;24

There’s preschoolers themselves, their consumer group. There’s the parents who have to make decisions around preschool. And so that’s why most preschool leaders then there’s, you know, people who license those to make sure that those environments are safe. And then there’s also dollars that are allocated, maybe a government level. So all of a sudden we’re getting into complexity when we’re thinking about how might we design to be better for parents and more affordable.

00;08;01;24 – 00;08;27;08

And like some of these problems. So design thinking thinks about that system and human centered design thinks about what are the people doing and what are the people’s needs. And then how do we start interventions and experiences that can make it better and move from a status quo that isn’t working to something that might be more aligned to how we can live better and so forth.

00;08;27;10 – 00;08;48;18

We’re thinking about that, and a lot of times we’re thinking about that in the context of, of course, the consumer we’re thinking about in terms of all of the stakeholders we work with. Everyone’s through the things that cars are made out of. So being really comprehensive and in the division, I mean, with him for it, it’s de force, which is design thinking at Ford.

00;08;48;20 – 00;09;20;04

And I’m on a team of design thinking catalysts and coaches who work on a variety of different of those sticky challenges throughout the enterprise to either put the customer at the center or think about multiple stakeholders or buy creativity to the process and we get exponential results. And that’s the other reason why I like this process, since it gets results and it actually gets results pretty quickly and they’re human or human, and I’m all about that.

00;09;20;06 – 00;09;51;08

Yeah, you know, one of the one of the things I think about as you as you’re talking is we encounter clients so often who in the C-suite are saying, I just need my folks to get closer to the customer. I need them to really understand what the customer needs are. I need them to anticipate if they don’t know what their customers want for their birthday, they don’t know their customers well enough.

00;09;51;11 – 00;10;21;20

And okay, that’s that’s one issue that I think that’s not all CEOs, right. But it’s that it’s that kind of field that’s very long. You know it’s it’s that like you actually don’t know them. Right. And and then I think about teams who are overwhelmed by data. Right. Who are going, you know, I got all this data and they’re their choice for their upcoming birthday is not there.

00;10;21;21 – 00;10;56;25

Yeah. So and we’re not going to put that on the next assessment or survey or observation. And I’m not sure what my question is, except the deep frustration that I feel for the teams or that maybe it’s the empathy, it’s the empathy that I feel for those teams who were saying, I want to get closer and I want to know my customers, you know, what they want for their birthday, especially if it means that they’ll buy my product.

00;10;56;25 – 00;11;22;07

I’ll send them anything, right? Just tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you if it means that you’re buying my product or service. But I don’t know how to cut through the data and I can’t get everything that I need. And I have to deliver something so that you buy this, you know, so that we get the sales numbers that we need.

00;11;22;10 – 00;12;05;10

And I guess I’m I’m empathizing with the folks who have to deliver, who can’t stop and figure out what the next birthday gift is for their customer and are saying, how do I do design thinking and deliver for now. So that future focus and the demand for today. I don’t know if there’s a question in there, but just observing the tension between now and tomorrow at the same time, how do you deal with that tension between the demand for today and that emphasis on getting closer to the customer that you just touched on?

00;12;05;10 – 00;12;50;21

So many, those are real. That is real life that those stretch, those examples stretch across many experiences I’ve had using design thinking over the last 14 years. And there’s there’s the process of applying human centered design and design thinking, you know, that follows the model that you see on Stanford’s website, and that’s a process. But there’s also design thinking mindset, you know, taking a beginner’s mind to think sleep, thinking about constraints, designing with not for the customer and so I guess that’s a really big one in terms of all the needs and demands that you as a person in an enterprise have, like you have, you know, you have the need to do, you have

00;12;50;22 – 00;13;11;22

your drive, your own performance, you have to be kind of above you and below you are just omnipresent. And then all of a sudden you’re asking people to allocate more brain space to think about customer needs and like you’re already thinking about who are these other partners or collaborators you have to work with to accomplish work? Where do you have time to sit in the customer?

00;13;11;22 – 00;13;32;12

Well, you’re really already designing for all these different customers. You’re designing for your boss, you’re designing for the people that work for you in a variety of ways through the decisions you make. A lot of times I like to think of design and decision making. You know, a car, it’s 10,000 decisions. So, you know, Wait, wait, wait, wait.

00;13;32;15 – 00;14;01;29

That’s let that let’s just have a moment there. That’s a really good cars, just 10,000 decisions. And if if we think about all of our work that way, that’s that’s pretty I think that’s profound. Okay. Sorry I stopped you, but that felt like it needed a moment. Yeah, it’s it’s. It is. We’re all designers, and I know that’s a controversial thing to say in the design community, and I take responsibility for that comment.

00;14;01;29 – 00;14;27;13

And I do feel that we are all designers. We all make decisions that design policies and experiences that shape our lives. You know, we design birthday parties for our loved ones. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s and that’s a big reason why I think of the role of, of design leaders. It’s, I think, awesome. Everyone is a leader too. So that’s not a controversial statement, right there.

00;14;27;16 – 00;14;55;08

No, I mean, this is also where the idea of posting to me becomes very powerful in design and in leadership. And that is thinking of yourself as a host for things to take shape and to happen. Yes, you can have some scaffolding or some architecture around it. So people know where the restrooms are. People can have the provisions or the resources that they need or are connecting the dots in different ways.

00;14;55;10 – 00;15;38;02

So I really embraced design thinking in an even deeper way to think of how we host time and host conversations around complex problems. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that host role, that facilitator role. I know that you’ve worked in a number of strategic innovation initiatives at companies like Ford, United Way, the city of Detroit, that facilitator or whole host role and mindset is very different than lead boss director, which which is an authority type of approach.

00;15;38;02 – 00;16;06;08

Now there are those roles, but but I’m hearing you come in with more of an enabler approach. Am I reading that right? Yes. Okay. And why? Why that approach as opposed to the person whose driving, directing, steering, as opposed to, you know, host or facilitator? So three, three reasons. And there’s there’s more. But these are kind of like 316 come to mind.

00;16;06;08 – 00;16;27;26

Really. The first one is it feels better. Okay. All right feels better to me personally to come in as a house than to come in as an authority. I it feels better coming out of the session, too. And what we need to follow up on it feels like it. The energy can sustain a little bit longer than some of the command and control.

00;16;27;26 – 00;16;56;00

Like Energy’s the other two. It’s like rooted in research and science, so that works out. Margaret We spent a lot of time thinking about change and convening, so I spent a lot of time on leadership and like the role. And so her work in research has greatly informed my taking this on. And then the other is the work of John Seely Brown, who was the leader of Xerox part timers in the early days.

00;16;56;06 – 00;17;33;20

Silicon Valley. I’m just like huge fan of his GSD is kind of what he goes by and he really brought to the forefront of both the tech space as well and exponential business change the concept of whole strategies versus push strategies and pull strategies being ones that are much more organic, essentially like you kind of create the conditions that people want to be drawn to as opposed to push strategies where it’s like we’re going to push it so all the customers buy 500 mattresses this month because I’m just we’re going to push it through.

00;17;33;22 – 00;17;57;23

We’re going to make it happen. You know that sometimes you need to have some like push strategy supply like you think you have to think about what kind of strategies you use for different circumstances. And for sure, there are going to be some situations where command control is very important in certain emergencies. When you know a level of precision is just absolutely required and discipline.

00;17;57;23 – 00;18;24;17

However, things that draw people in on stick and stay. And when we’re talking about lasting change or talking about solving complex problems, we really need ownership. And it gets to this like my one. But I had a boss, awesome boss, Mike Brennan, CEO of design consultancy Social Impact, and he said folks are in on it and up on it when they’re down on it.

00;18;24;19 – 00;18;56;06

So hosting helps people be in on it and help on it and create it again. That’s going to that. Designing with Saw. Yeah, yeah. And he created a leadership role for them. Exactly. For them, yes. To lean on when you think about accountabilities then when, when you’re not, when you leave that space where you’re creating together and then move into accountabilities where we actually then have to do it.

00;18;56;06 – 00;19;21;15

Yeah, we got to go do now do you see that host role change? Do you start morphing into something else or does the host role remain? Host role remain site because you’re you’re hosting people to solve. It’s like constant loops of also getting scrappy and trying something right away like taking action to go learn. Some people say act to things take an action to go learn, go for it.

00;19;21;15 – 00;19;43;15

It’s experiment right away. But if you have a hunch about something before writing 50 page memo with all of these points about what you’re going to do, get you get going on the big questions, you need to have answers. But with those, you know, loci and VP prototypes that people always asked about right now, Good. How are your friends?

00;19;43;18 – 00;20;17;12

Yeah, Sorry, sorry, sorry. You’re ringing some of my bells right now. And in some recent work that I’ve done. Yeah, in some some connections back into lean and. And agile sprints, for sure. Let’s. Let’s not solve it for perfect, but let’s make sure that we’re. That it’s. You’re here. Let’s roll and go. Yeah, yeah, yeah I don’t you don’t have to talk about Ford Let’s, let’s talk about the workplace in general right now I don’t know if you know it’s, it’s real hard right now.

00;20;17;15 – 00;20;50;09

It’s, it’s real tough. And I’m tired and a lot of people are tired because it’s so complex right now. This this return to work or not hybrid work and all of the problems and challenges that are facing our clients across the board. It’s just we’re it’s been years of being stretched in brand new ways and now we’re continuing to be stretched in brand new ways.

00;20;50;09 – 00;21;29;17

And it it looks like we’re going to continue to be stretched in brand new ways for the foreseeable future, which is just reality. When you look at innovation in design thinking, are there tools, Are there minds, sets where you go, we could totally tap in to that. Like we could totally lean in to that right now to help us with these challenges with being stretched that will help us move forward with with grace, with energy, with with something other than exhaustion.

00;21;29;19 – 00;22;00;25

As we face these new challenges that seem to pop up every single day. Yeah. So that I think about this all the time. Respect to everyone out there, no matter where you are, what you’re going through, it’s real and it is not an easy time and it is a time for us to be using and sharing tools. And I’ll just share from a design thinking standpoint three, three tools that make makes a huge difference.

00;22;00;27 – 00;22;28;24

The first one is the impact, the difficulty matrix. Just getting real methods nerdy here for everyone. So the impact difficulty matrix, good old x y axis with high impact on the x and high impacts on the Y, and then you just plot your to do list against listening to whatever your priorities are. And I encouraging people to stay on to things that are high impacting my difficulty and like you know, thinking three week increments.

00;22;28;27 – 00;22;53;08

So just play a little bit with your time horizons and think about what you can do in that high impact mode, difficulty space. So make it easier on itself to go for high impact and don’t waste your time on low impact, high difficulty stuff because we know that people are also going to add high impact, high difficulty stuff onto our plate because there’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult in high impact, but we do need to go for it.

00;22;53;14 – 00;23;17;08

But avoid avoid the low impact zone, go for high impacts but low difficulty and then save, save the high impact, high, high difficulty ones for the ones that really matter. So that’s one the only one it’s going to focus. And then abstraction. I’ll just start with abstraction. I’m done focus because maybe our brains want us to do that order that way.

00;23;17;11 – 00;23;38;08

So focusing on abstraction, you are going to have to shake it out and put new data and new experiences and connecting to your senses in ways that you haven’t before. So get abstract and things really get outside of your comfort zone and sort of maybe go towards things that bring enjoy. This is a lot of things that are difficult that we have to stay in the difficulty out and get in slow time.

00;23;38;08 – 00;24;06;12

For many of us with great discomfort and some feels about holding discomfort for long periods of time. So when we get into abstraction, exploring space, exploring, you know, looking at things in a different way, going to your museum and turning it into a scavenger hunt of sorts, just change up the furniture in your brain. Okay? And then the last one is focus some, then spend time focusing and it doesn’t need to be focusing on tasks.

00;24;06;12 – 00;24;34;22

It can just be like focusing for one minute on something that sits directly to stare and just like, let your mind be still and see what comes in. Just spending time, being mindful and focusing on anything in particular, Just practice focus. I got that one. Can you help me with abstraction? Sorry. And I’m I think producer Lauren is going to be laughing hysterically because I’m probably the most abstract person on the team.

00;24;34;24 – 00;25;04;11

Tell me more because I’m so intrigued by that. I got the museum. I get, I get that. What are other ways we can bring abstraction into our reality that allows us to enter into abstraction? What are some ways or ideas that you could lead us toward abstraction? Outside was listening to music? Absolutely. And listening to music. That’s not the music we listen to.

00;25;04;14 – 00;25;31;10

Maybe music in another language. The other is poetry. Poetry takes you right away of abstraction, and it makes you have to imagine different things in your mind, puts different words and concepts together. The saying is free form arts of any sort, just like let yourself doodle. Getting just getting into a new headspace is like, what? I was going to send that rocket up out of your current context.

00;25;31;13 – 00;25;56;18

It’s entering into the realm of abstraction, and when you’re in the realm of abstraction, synthesis ends up becoming a lot easier. Pattern recognition becomes easier when you’re on your way down from abstraction. Wow. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I am totally just so you know, I’m fresh off of an awesome presentation that my boss gave around the concrete abstract curve and like, she’s going through that journey.

00;25;56;18 – 00;26;24;04

And so it is so applicable to a lot of things that I’m working on that I think about a lot and also practice. And then to learn that there’s a design thinking method that really lines up to the point related to how we go to get great ideas through difficulty, like it’s just such a helpful tool. So the concrete abstract for that comes out of idea of how we recommended doing it.

00;26;24;06 – 00;26;44;05

And it’s, it’s a really helpful one. It’s like the importance of pushing your thinking and pushing yourself to experience and try different things that get the brain five different ways. Have you thinking from an angle? I’m so glad I took you back there because you gave us like five more things to go after. Thank you for that. Thank you.

00;26;44;08 – 00;27;16;18

Another emerging priority. And and for for some companies, it’s like a screaming reality is ESG. Yeah, right. And as millennials are going to make up like 75% of the workforce by I don’t know, tomorrow, It’s not. All right. And thank goodness one of their main concerns is environmental, social and governance issues. It’s a huge shift in focus for so many organizations.

00;27;16;18 – 00;27;51;05

It’s becoming a priority for so many more. When you think about innovation and design thinking, how are you seeing organizations starting to use those? Or can you in to use those to go after ESG problems and opportunities? Yeah, this is one of the most exciting spaces that exists right now in business and in social impact. It’s the ESG movement, and I and so ready for it.

00;27;51;05 – 00;28;18;25

And cheers to everyone who is expecting this. This is the customer expectation, and the expectation is already here. So to me, in terms of thinking of that talent group of millennials and the groups that are to come, this is a good expectation to have and continue to knock on the door, to open the door to host, to help us make this more sophisticated space, because it is here now and it is growing.

00;28;18;28 – 00;28;51;24

And for the first time it has the attention of the leading businesses in the United States, particularly in 2019, the Business Roundtable came out with an incredible statement stating that the purpose of the corporation was not just to serve the stock older or the shareholder, but that its multiple stakeholders. And yes, that’s what ESG is all about, is recognizing that we have multiple stakeholders and getting to design for all of those different groups and connecting in to responsibility and interconnectivity.

00;28;51;24 – 00;29;24;14

So yes, yes, and more. Yes. And in terms of how design thinking methods and application within enterprise can help accelerate this, this is all about getting close to people’s needs, connecting with each other, connecting with additional groups and making it so we can actually deliver on results. With ESG, we’re coming out pretty strong in sustainability. We need to see more work on social and governance, and I think that that is where we’re going to see some increased sophistication in the coming year.

00;29;24;14 – 00;29;47;14

So it’s a true invitation for all people to think of themselves as designers in that space. And for all the talent coming into these roles. Think of yourself as a designer. You are an anomaly detection content creator, which means your survey matters how you fill out that SurveyMonkey, how you fill out that Citrix form. You are a content creator.

00;29;47;16 – 00;30;27;19

So by being an anomaly that doesn’t go with the norm, you end up creating content. So by being a person who demands ESG or voting with your feet on where you want to get your paycheck from based on their core principles, do that because we will start designing experiences for what those needs are. So this is one of the greatest things about the data that exists, and it’s things like Net Promoter Score and let’s integrate the data because the people are saying they want to recognize the interconnectivity and the responsibility of these systems working together in a unique way and making faces on here.

00;30;27;19 – 00;30;58;29

And and I know you paused when when I did, but you make me stop and think so many times in what you just challenged me with is the filling out of a survey is an act of it can be an act of screaming as loudly as you can if you need to. And sometimes we don’t need to. But if that’s how you feel, like it’s actually people are listening.

00;30;59;02 – 00;31;37;00

People are listening to the way you fill those things out. And it’s really interesting that. What did you say? Anomaly detector. What did you say? Yes, anomaly detection content creator. So and I and in the algorithms of machine learning and anomaly detection is when something is outside of the norm, actually it informs the learning of the machine the rate that the normative behavior because they’re always like making decisions when you get to quantum computing would be like even, yes, you know what?

00;31;37;02 – 00;32;05;05

And so when you’re an anomaly outside of that, you are detected in one state and learning. And so to be an anomaly detection content creator, you’re thinking of the fact that when you give feedback, you’re helping to shape learning and designing, and so be a content creator in that space. It’s really powerful. Thank you for that. Listen, I want to keep talking to you.

00;32;05;07 – 00;32;31;22

I want to keep talking to you. But we have to wrap up because I know you have to get to your next meeting. Luisa Schumacher, Design Thinking Catalyst Lead at Ford Motor Company. I don’t want our conversation to end. This was so energizing. I can’t thank you enough for this time and for your thinking and for your guidance and your facilitation for the way we think about design, thinking and innovation in how we approach our work.

00;32;31;25 – 00;32;53;15

Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you. Thank you. It’s really a pleasure. Take care, everybody. Thank you.

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Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.