Coming to the end of the week in Finland, the dust has now settled from our workshop on innovations for emerging markets this week at Aalto Design Factory (though the snow continues to fall) and there finally has been some time for reflection. First, a huge thanks goes out not only to my partner in this prototype, Niti Bhan, but to the generous team at the Design Factory and its leader, Kalevi Ekman as well. Without Niti's personality, her suggestion of the workshop, and her work within the Design Factory, none of it would have started. Without the DF team's generous support and interest, none of it would have actually happened. And from the workshop and the connections made, both human and cognitive, many positive things will surely emerge.
The Design Factory describes itself as a passion-based co-creation platform, which suited the day very well. Many people showed up in the dark Nordic morning to take part in this event because of their passion for combining design, innovation and social development. Because of this, collaborative creation of ideas was the key thread throughout the day. The blend of students, entrepreneurs, and people stepping out of their roles in private companies and government bodies—with both local values and global views—was exactly what was needed. We put the workshop here because, as Ekman pointed out before the event, Finland is uniquely positioned to leverage its skills, assets, energy, IP and unique social values to help solve serious problems and improve life elsewhere in the world.
Niti and I took the first hour or so to describe the realizations from our respective roles and trajectories that brought us to this point—mine from the consumer culture side, hers from her field work experience and research in low income, challenging environments. Along the way, these trajectories met, and new patterns are now emerging, showing us possibilities of new ecosystems blending technology, social and cultural structures that are uniquely configured.
We were there just to set the table, however. The core of the day, and the best part of the workshop, was generated by the participants. Organized into teams, they were tasked with taking on a new unfamiliar roles, in new countries, cities and situations, and a unique set of external factors and barriers around which they needed to create a solution for a specific target user. It was fitting that took place within the Aalto Ventures Park facility, which itself is a converted workshop. With a variety of tools, materials and working styles, each created something uniquely suited to their task: water delivery systems that doubled as information networks, thoughtfully conceived community centers in conflict zones, a mobile platform for local jobs, and more. Each used the human networks already in place, and each contained multiple innovations worth considering alone.
Given that our tendency today is to throw technology at problems in scattershot ways, most striking to me was how the groups constructed or leveraged existing networks and ecosystems giving only the lightest touch to technology—resulting in an appropriate simplicity and resilience in every solution. No hammers looking for nails, no new complexities created to suit potential capabilities, just carefully considered balance of tools and needs. If this was the only takeaway, it was a day well spent. Luckily, there was a lot more to leave with, not least a sense of momentum and whetted appetite—for us, for those who participated, and for the broader Aalto community as well.