Last spring, Xavier University students used Batterii to ideate, research and prototype, eventually building a prosthetic for a three-legged service dog, Tiny. The student-led innovation project was another success story for Xavier’s Center for Innovation (CFI), an on-campus idea and innovation incubator that helps students and the region’s community drive problem solving, renovation innovation, and transformational innovation. Xavier’s CFI uses Design Thinking as their approach to problem solving and innovation.
Because of their Design Thinking approach, this fall, CFI will offer Batterii’s innovation software to more than 15,000 Xavier University students, staff, faculty and alumni. After several successful pilots last year, Batterii will continue to help students and community members learn, communicate, share and curate research and ideas. The program rollout will coincide with design thinking curriculum aimed at helping learners find more impactful solutions for problems. We sat down with the Xavier’s Chief Innovation Officer, Shawn Nason, to find out how this new way of thinking and working can help students have a competitive edge.
Batterii: How do you envision design thinking transforming education?
Shawn Nason: Design thinking is allowing us to put the consumer, or the student, back in the center of our processes and our business. In an industry that has not been consumer-friendly or consumer-centric, design thinking teaches us the art of empathy. Design thinking also gives us what I would consider a very flexible and agile process to take ideas and ideation through the process for prototyping and testing and back, which is really what the basis of education is.
Batterii: Empathy is a focus in the human-centered design process, which is something you’ve written much about. How important is empathy for the design thinker?
Shawn Nason: The importance of empathy is, to me, the crucial nugget to all design, to all innovation, but has been what I would consider a lost art. I understood, and got back into a high place of empathy when I worked for the Walt Disney Company because we did not do anything without understanding what the guest wanted—and what the guest needed and requested.
Again, as in with what the healthcare system has done, education has been so focused on meeting either standardizations, when you talk about K-12, or you have to get so many hours or credit hours to get your degree in higher education, that we haven't stopped to put the student and to put the learner back in the middle to say, "What's best for that student? What's best for that learner?"
We [need to] put ourselves in the position to walk in their shoes, to feel what they're feeling, and to see what they're seeing. Empathy helps [us do that].
Batterii: You’ve written about this from a personal angle as well.
Shawn Nason: Yes, becoming a parent—I'm a parent of a 7 year-old and a 3 month-old—inspired me to write that blog because the thing that drives us crazy the most as parents about our children is when they keep asking the question, "Why?" But yet, people pay thousands of dollars to be trained in design thinking, and one of the biggest principles is asking the question, “Why?”
We take that innate instinct in us as children and get rid of it, and now we're trying to teach people to bring it back. That was the inspiration for that blog post.
Batterii: With design thinking, this idea of empathy and having curiosity is paramount. How does design thinking lead to incremental—and transformational—innovation?
Shawn Nason: Design thinking can be around what I call renovation or incremental innovation, so in the small things, but design thinking can be [transformational,] too. You'll hear people talk a lot about being aligned to the core or adjacent or transformational.
Design thinking leads to transformational innovation because, once again, we have put the person that needs to be in the middle, at the middle. Whether it be a patient, whether it be a student, whether it be a consumer in a retail store or a manager in a retail store, when you put that person in the middle and you understand where they are coming from and you're walking in their shoes, you develop processes and you develop situations that allow for transformational growth to take place, or transformational business-model innovations to take place.
Batterii: In your opinion, how else does design thinking enhance a person’s skillsets as they begin or re-launch their career?
Shawn Nason: Design thinking aligns perfectly with our students when you're talking about Cura personalis, or caring for the whole person—which is what we teach them about. Again, we're giving a skillset to students that is based in empathy and in the understanding of a person, and this aligns to Cura personalis which is a core value [we have] as a Jesuit Catholic University. They then have those mindsets and those capabilities that can allow them to impact organizations in a powerful way.
Batterii: Do you have any notable examples you've experienced or seen in which corporations applied design thinking to innovate?
Shawn Nason: Yes. In previous roles of mine in the healthcare space, we used design thinking to understand the needs and desires of members and of patients in how to deal with their well-being. I could not offer a solution or a new service to a member if I didn't understand where they were coming from, so it was key to use those skillsets as we were looking at creating new products and new services—and as we conducted ethnographic research.
I’ve spent hours in people's homes and communities to know and feel and see what they do. I believe that's what's really transforming and starting the transformation of the healthcare industry today.
Batterii: You’ve written before about how innovation isn't work, it's a lifestyle. Can you expand on that?
Shawn Nason: Yes. It's simple to me: it’s really a mindset. Innovation is not a job, it is really is a mindset. It's the idea of, I don't take no for an answer, and I don't give up. It is about the power of “yes.” We use yes, and we talk about yes, and using it when doors open, or with opportunities we have…
For me, the idea that innovation is a lifestyle is just part of who I am: it's what I do. It's how I live. It's how I parent. It's how I'm a husband. I'm always looking for: what impact can we make in a new way? And with design thinking, it’s how do I make sure that I’m always putting myself in somebody else’s shoes?
Batterii: Do you have any other advice for educators looking to help students adopt some of these skills and mindsets, or those educators looking to implement design thinking curriculum?
Shawn Nason: Whether it be design thinking or some other capability, have a system in place to do innovation, not just another quick, fast or in-a-hurry program or solution. My advice to other educators is not to focus on building another program, but to build a system.
About Shawn Nason
Shawn Nason (“Man on Fire”) Innovation Evangelist, Chief Innovation Officer for Xavier University says, “Innovation isn’t work, it’s a lifestyle.” At Xavier University, Shawn leads the strategy and implementation of the innovation process within Xavier, while developing a portfolio of innovation clients and strategic partners, which will drive non-tuition based revenue within the university through the Center for Innovation.
Prior to Xavier, Shawn worked three years at Humana leading a team focused on strategic and consumer Innovation with a focus on design. Additionally, Shawn spent six years at The Walt Disney Company in various capacities within Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney Imagineering. An inspirational thought-leader both in the innovation space and educational space, Shawn has a proven record of gaining confidence from key executives, stakeholders, peers, and employees at all levels.
Shawn has a BS in Business Management and Finance and an MBA in International Business and Finance. Shawn is currently working on his DBA in Organizational Leadership & Change. Shawn states, “I have the amazing honor to ignite teams, organizations, and individuals to tap into their creative mind and spark ideas and solutions they never dreamed of!”
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