IDEA : Can France be part of the Design Thinking Community ?

A few weeks ago, EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon communicated about the launch of a common venture : IDEA, inspired by Stanford D-School or Aalto University Design Factory in Helsinki. This is great news, since Design Thinking has not been very much mainstream in France so far. We have world-class designers of course, but some key elements of Design Thinking are not precisely part of our national habits or beliefs. Let’s see what are the main challenges that IDEA will face in realizing the beautiful dream that lies behind its creation – particularly in the French culture.

How to create and nurture a Culture of Optimism ?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, says in his book “Change by Design” (p. 76) : “To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power (or at least the power of their team) to create new ideas, that will serve unmet needs, and that will have a positive impact“. This is not precisely the description of typical French business culture. Critical thinking is deeply ingrained in our educational system. In many realms of life, this is definitely a strenght, of course, but when it comes to creating new products or new ideas critical thinking can only come in a second phase, after exploration and ideation. Not before.

It’s OK to fail – only if it’s early

In France, we love perfection. How many time at school have we been reminded that this is the goal : a perfect dissertation or maths exercise ? Recently, a Canadian working in France told me how surprised he was by his son’s teachers. When he would have reached a 17/20 mark, the teacher would focus his comments on what was missing to reach a better one. In Canada, he told me : “my son would receive encouragement several times a day”. This is something that get people very often paralyzed when it comes to taking action (for myself, this is obvious in my blogging rythm… maybe I would blog a lot more often if I was not trying to post only “interesting” things, when intellectually I know (?) that the interest of a blog is when it is an ongoing conversation, not a post every two months…:-)

Last week, I was with Jean-François Zobrist, from FAVI and one of the leaders featured in “Freedom, Inc” by I. Getz, and he impressed me with this single phrase : ” The secret is to go directly from intuition to action, without passing through reflection”. This is difficult. But this is how kids are our masters. I cannot imagine a Design Thinking school without a kid-spirit, where fun and laughter are as frequent as deep and serious conversations. Building such a climate in Descartes’ country is a pretty joyful challenge !

Harnessing diversity

The third challenge I see in French culture is the creation of a cross-cultural context. IDEA is a project led by two leading institutions (EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon). Despite their different academic background (Management & Engineering), these two schools belong to what we call “Grandes Ecoles” in our educational system. This means that they have a lot in common particularly an elitist recruitement based on rather similar criteria. Openness to diversity – be it diversity of intelligences or diversity of social origins – has not really been a tradition for French Grandes Ecoles. Introduction of a variety of point of views has only come in the last 15 years through the opening to international faculty and students. How will IDEA take this need into account ? As far as I understand, there will be classes in other academic institutions (social sciences or design, in particular). Will this be enough ?

I don’t want to be pessimistic or looking for perfection in this post…This IDEA project is beautiful !!!  I truly hope that the challenges I mention are adressed by its creators. Our country needs such spaces for breakthrough innovation – product innovation, business model innovation,  but more than anything management innovation. Long life to IDEA !

This entry was posted in Creativity, design thinking, Education, Education 21st Century, Innovation, Learning, management innovation, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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