DMI Rethinking Design Conference San Francisco – Recap

This is my 3rd DMI conference. What can I say? I LOVE THEM!

(To see the complete list of speakers and their credentials, see this link)

Robert Verganti, Darrel Rhea and John Fly.

TOP 3 REASONS WHY I LOVE THIS CONFERENCE.
1) Phenomenal speakers.
Out of the 8 sessions, I enjoyed Katie Taylor’s talk the best. Katie is the President and COO of Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts. She is simply an amazing leader. Here are some bites from her.
“You have to accept that mistakes happen in business. It’s about treating them as opportunities and not disasters.”
“You cannot have high level of customer satisfaction without high level of employee satisfaction.”

Katie emphasized a lot on team and culture building, and how everyone at Four Seasons hotel is important. A senior manager’s role is equally as important as the dishwasher guy or the maid. Now THAT is rare to hear.

2) International audience
Apparently there were attendees from 16 countries! Design thinkers are global. It was great to hear the charismatic Roberto Verganti talked about Italian and design management. Here are some bites from Roberto Verganti.
Italian designs are really not Italian designs, since 40%-60% of those great works are by foreign designers for Italian manufacturers.”
“What’s great about Italian design is its management.”
“Don’t just change, but do meaningful change.”

Insights from Kyun-Won Chung of Korea and Marco Steinberg from the Finnish Innovation Fund were great. Just that I think we need a medical professional up on stage whenever we discuss healthcare systems in the U.S.

3) Open discussions/ conversations
The best thing about DMI is the fact that you don’t have to always agree with the panels/speakers on stage. Maybe DMI and its moderators do this on purpose because the off-stage discussions were even more revealing, uncensored and far more “disruptive”. LOVE IT!

International Attendees at DMI. Photo courtesy of DMI.

John Fly's mix-matched shoes. And of course my favorite United Nude by Rem Koolhaas.

I am still debating if I will be attending DMI annual conference in Rhode Island. I am hoping some of these topics and issues will be addressed.

THINGS THAT I’D LIKE TO SEE MORE AT THE UPCOMING CONFERENCE
1) More diverse speakers
I would personally like to hear from design thinkers and leaders from the different generation of Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y (millennial). I feel that there were a lot of boomers in the audience that were more than happy to dis the younger Gen Xers and Yers and there were no representatives on the stage from those two gens. Quite unfair wouldn’t you say? Not all of us young designers are lazy, self-entitled, self-absorbed professionals.

2) More breakout sessions.
70% of the attendees at this conference were corporate peeps, 20% were consultancies and 10% from educators. We need breakout sessions to break up those corporate cliques! Hard to penetrate those guys when they love to hang out in their own group. I would love to have the opportunity to probe their minds more.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. LET’S DISCUSS MORE!
1) Is design process democratic or should it be when one person decides everything? Question is based on Roberto Veganti’s statement on Steve Jobs at Apple.

2) Understanding users may produce great designs, but does it stifle innovation? Based on Roberto Veganti’s remarks on user-centered design is not sustainable and may not always produce innovative products.

3) What is meaningful design?

4) 90% of CEO’s of FORTUNE 500 did not receive their degrees at Ivy League colleges. Is it because local universities offer them a more non-judgmental venue for experimentation and exploration vs. Ivy League students having to constantly prove to their peers that they are “smart” and not “stupid”. This is based on the heavy discussion of business and design education by Jeanne Liedtka, Joel Podolny, Randy Swearer and Roger Martin. I swear, the panels used the words “smart” and “stupid” over 20 times.

5) You often hear this, when a company downsizes, managers flip out because they don’t even know how to do the most basic stuff. Everything is always beneath their Ivy League education. With such emphasis on leadership, producing managers and “thinkers”, have we forgotten about “doers”? Shouldn’t the discussion be on how to produce managers that can think and do? Delegating does not necessarily mean doing.

6) Can this event be more “disruptive”? Isn’t design thinking about challenging the status quo?

7) So many people came up to me asking if I got the answer to my question on, how to use design thinking to “play” office politics and deal with “nasty, unhappy people”. Many were dissatisfied with the politically correct answer given by David Butler, Roger Martin and Charles Jones of Masco.
Well, I have actually received a couple of great book recommendations. One is called Authentic Happiness referred to me by Kieran Duck from 2nd Road and Survival Savvy referred to me by Jeff Muzzerall from Rotman School of Management. And don’t forget this great You Tube video of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, referred to me by Dan Shedd, the CEO of Taylor Box. It became a viral video that was passed around at this conference. I enjoyed it tremendously. And yes, I am learning to grow some brass balls!

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