About a month ago I went to a talk by Mel Ewell, alumni of Kingston University and a former CEO of Amey. When he first started working there the company was about to go bankrupt yet Mel managed to turn things upside downs. He increased the turnover to almost £3bn which was four-fold. As impressive as these numbers are I remember thinking to myself: ”Who is this guy? And why am I here?”. I just couldn’t relate to him at all. It was quite late and I had no interest in listening to some great duke of business displaying his achievements just to flatter his ego. I was sitting on one of those tight row-chairs surrounded by people on both sides – I felt it would be quite awkward to stand up and leave. However, I subconsciously might’ve had some faith in university that it knew what it was doing by inviting him to give a talk to current students. So I stayed.
And of course, it turned out to be ok. In fact, a lot more than ok. As the old saying goes “good things come to those who wait”. I believe he was showing those numbers to create some of the authority, which clearly worked (perhaps a bit even too well so that I almost left), only later to reveal how much Mel believes in human values. When someone from the audience asked him to give advice on how to be a great leader he laughed. And then answered – human. Mr Ewell said to treat people with respect and make sure they trust you. Wow. I mean that’s a no brainer. We all know it but to hear it from that kinda guy was truly inspiring, and even encouraging! It’s extremely refreshing to hear it from a big fish rather than my mother. This reinforces that I mustn’t forget that no matter what line of business I’ll end up doing I must remain human who has values and principles; must not forget that money is not everything, albeit it is important for survival in current economic climate.
There are different ways to express those values and one of the ways that I’m particularly interested in is Human-Centred Design (HCD) i.e. where the process starts with constantly having people in mind you’re designing for and finishes with the end product/service/experience meeting those people’s needs or serving their particular issue (see video below). IDEO, a global design agency that aims to positively impact the world through design, created a platform called “Design Kit” that is all about HCD including educational videos, methods, case studies and even a short course to perfect it.
Dave Thomsen, a former employee of IDEO, argues in the article on WIRED why Human Centred Design matters (2013). He makes a great case:
“Seeking a more digestible breakfast alternative to baked bread for his brother’s hospital patients [W.K. Kellogg], the bespectacled former broom salesman accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat out overnight. The wheat became softened and when he rolled it out and baked it, each grain became a crispy flake. Kellogg tried the technique on corn. Over the course of several years, he perfected the tasty flakes by experimenting with different formulas and testing them with his brother’s patients. He had invented — or designed — corn flakes.”
In reflection, I’d like to remind future self:
- not to judge a book by its cover (I finally see the reasoning behind that saying) and have some faith.
- Also (!) persevere values and ideate.
- And (almost) always always always T R U S T Y O U R G U T