In late 2017, I had lunch with renowned innovation specialist, John Sanei. Highly descriptive, “switched on”, confident, engaging and relaxed are the immediate words from my memory of the encounter. 

Sanei, a trend and innovation specialist, global speaker, best-selling author, entrepreneur and Singularity University Faculty member was expanding a bit more on strategic thinking and future innovative growth imperatives to drive sustainable development and long term relevance in a changing world. 

The experiential economy
“The experiential economy is rising against the ownership economy and design-led thinking has a strong role to play,” was one of the key discussion points I made a mental note of. What did this mean in the bigger scheme of things? 

“At some point it becomes more rewarding and even financially cheaper to experience a product or service than take full ownership,” he further noted, (a point the millennial generation has taken note of). Something along the lines of using an Uber instead of owning a car that will depreciate daily in value further compounded (by rising maintenance and insurance costs). 

At the heart of all this is design. Think Uber, think Airbnb, think Google and think Apple, and the future becomes a bit clearer. These giants have risen because of integrating this simple aspect of forward thinking, flawless design and the experiential offering into their products and services. 

Design-led thinking and designs

Technology is revolutionising the way designs are turned into finished products, heralding a new era of digitally driven production. The new modern industrial digital revolution is upon us. 

In mid-January, I visited the only IBM research lab in Africa and witnessed a 3D printer at work. I was impressed with the machine’s attention to detail and it is safe to say it will change the manufacturing industry in a short space of time. 

Markus Keyser’s Solar Sinter machine is another example of the ingenuity of design-led thinking. The Solar Sinter machine is a solar-powered rapid prototyping machine that converts sand into three-dimensional objects (chairs, tables, etc.), meaning that it could manufacture items in the middle of a desert without needing any additional raw materials. Unorthodox and astounding. 
The polarising factor

Speaking in late 2017, the chief designer at Toyota’s Calty studio in the US, Ian Cartabiano, noted that Toyota President Akio Toyoda had given the firm’s designers increased “creative freedom”. Moving away from the bland design red tape that had at times limited the global car manufacturer’s creativity. 
“I respect something that’s new but not perfect, rather than something that’s beautiful but nondescript. I’d rather be challenged than made comfortable. Polarising is okay,” he said. 

The next big thing will not be endorsed by everyone. To make progress we need to think out of the box. An unorthodox idea without controversy is usually bound to fail. Let’s disrupt, re-define and polarise. The more we do so, the higher our chances of progress. 

This is our design issue. Design-led thinking; physical design and even automotive ingenuity are some of the core themes. Take a peek into the next phase of human development.

The future is what we make of it. Ideas are the backbone of human progress, however, creativity and design-led thinking are at the centre of it all. 

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