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The Transformation Conversation: Is "Transformation" a Better Concept Than "Innovation" to Guide us Forward?


We are having a great conversation on one of the most important subjects in our lives??ow we can change our broken institutions and out-dated culture to survive and thrive within 21st century forces. The thread is brilliant and I?? learning a lot.

Here are the reasons why I think the concept of ??ransformation?is of great utility and power than “innovation at this point in time.

1- Our institutions aren’t working. They are broken. Corporations, investment banks, health care, schools, universities, Congress, transportation. The current crisis is accelerating the breakdown in the major institutions of our lives that began in the 90s.

2- Digital technology is disintermediating every organization, eroding the role of all middle men and women, from ad agencies to college professors, from newspaper editors to hospital administrators, from political parties to savings banks. The shape of all our institutions is radically changing.

3- The power to create and participate is moving to the masses. Digital technology is giving everyone the tools to tinker again, to design and shape their learning, their working, their play. Craft is back in newly significant ways that we are just beginning to understand.

4- “Innovation” is inadequate as a concept to deal with these changes. You have “game-changing” innovation, which is big but rare and incremental innovation which is small but common. “Innovation” implies changing what is. “Transformation” implies creating what’s new. That’s what we need today, a huge amount of totally “new.”

5- Design is the answer. I use the term “transformation” to capture the immensity of the task ahead of us and to guide us in the magnitude of that task, but the actual tools, methodologies and, yes, philosophy of that mission is found within the space of design and design thinking. This is what many of those in this thread of a conversation are saying and I agree. It is the design schools that are creating the tools of transformation and graduating the people to implement them, not the business schools (one exception—The Rotman School of Management). It is the Institute of Design in Chicago, The D-School in Stanford, DAAP at The University of Cincinnati, the Parsons School of Design in New York City, The Art Center College in Pasadena and RISD in Providence where “Transformation” is being developed.


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