Design + Business as Agents of World Benefit

After attending a game-changing event, how do you share the experience so that a casual reader understands the impact? That, perhaps, there is a game being changed and that some projects we believed important before the event may appear less consequential after the event.

The 2009 Global Forum, Business as an Agent for World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University created such an opportunity. The conversation challenged thinking about the fusion of design thinking with business education. For many of the management people in the room, I suspect the design side of the equation opened new possibilities for creative re-thinking their own commitments. But the “world benefit” theme blasted through my expectations. Speaker after speaker challenged us to realize the significance of the moment in history. After last year’s spectacular global failure of “business as usual,” a passionate group of influential thinkers are insisting that businesses do the right thing. A clear financial case has been made for sustainability; the most difficult changes remaining are cultural and social.

Designers are also challenged to set aside their “known-knowns.” We like to think we are not culpable for things like the financial crisis, as we have always had the luxury of distancing ourselves from bad decisions. Not only do we need to Play Big this time around, we need to help business Play Well with Others. We’re all in this together, and design has a lead role to play.

Case Weatherhead’s Fred Collopy published a piece just after the conference in Fast Company online titled: Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking. This conversation leads toward the inescapable conclusion we are navigating a sea change fusion of systems and design thinking and even theory. But the game-changer is the shared commitment to a fusion of values and disciplines that transcends the differences and animosities among our fields. I see the values of positive social change, international business and social cooperation toward human goals, sustainable resource stewardship, sustainable management and leadership, and participatory engagement espoused and shared by ever-larger circles of conversation.

On the last day of the conference, our design breakout group collectively leapt to embrace the fusion value of Thrivability. A peaceful overthrow of sustainability has begun! It is time for us to contribute.

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