Time for Reflection

Before I came to London I had completed a bachelor in Arts and Management, which is basically the same course as the one at Kingston University. There were obviously differences, both because the one at Kingston is at masters level and because the content was different. However, many of the modules had a quite similar approach, and even though I extended my knowledge, there were not many modules that were entirely new. There is one exception to this experience and that is Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship. In this module I was finally able to do something more practical. ‘Learning by doing’ is a concept sited by many, and there is a reason for that. Through Design Thinking I was able to accumulate my knowledge in marketing, economy, strategy and management and use it in a setting where you have to think on your feet rather than finding support in a theory book. In addition to learning how to set up and to some extent run a business I also got an insight in the creative world online. Before I came here I did not know what TED or Vimeo was, I did not have a Twitter-account and I realize now that I in general was not aware of how inspiring the internet can be. If you limit your use of internet to Facebook, online banking, newspapers, some blogs and occasionally a music video, you don’t comprehend everything that is going on out there. You might subsequently spend more time being inspired by non-technological things, and I’m not going to elaborate on how important I think that is, but in today’s society I believe it is important to know what is available online and what opportunities technology can provide. Not to mention the endless opportunities to spread ideas across cultures and borders. And if you have an idea that is not technological, the core of the idea might emerge from the understanding on what we would want and need of non-technological products or services. This is a part of how WHATIF cardmag was born.
I’ll get back to this business we started in Design Thinking. First I want to mention some of the most inspiring things I’ve seen online this year, all thanks to my fellow classmates at Kingston;

Thanks to Sarah who spread the word about Google Search Stories – a fun way to make simple videos capturing a period in life or a process of a project, and Nothing is True, which is just amazing. To Thierry for presenting this project that ‘captures modern society’ in lights and also led me to other projects this group of Norwegian students work with, such as Skaal. And thanks to Harry for introducing my to the poet Sarah Key, a girl that know how to speak her words in an inspiring – almost singing – way.

Learning by doing
Understanding the user through empathy
Going back to the concept Learning by doing – this is very much what Design Thinking was about. To understand the user when you are developing a business idea is more than conducting a market research and assuming based on thoughts and figures. At least in many cases it should be more. Putting yourself in the user’s position and testing the feeling and situation can be more valuable than any viable statistics. In design thinking we had to throw ourselves out there and acquire empathy and passion for people who cope with challenges or just situations that is different than what you experience yourself. Through doing this you can not only collect valuable information for a business idea, you can also come up with ideas you never would have thought of.

Another learning-by-doing aspect in Design Thinking was prototyping. I had no idea how important prototyping was until I started in this class. And the prototyping I knew, that I have learned as a part of large companies’ strategy in market expansion, was very advanced. I would never imagine the fruitful result that can come out of using post-its and rubber bands together with a couple of brains. According to Chris Bilton (2007), creativity thrives best when you are working in a team. Another important aspect to foster a good creative environment is according the Piers Ibbotson (2008:13) to have constraints. Increasing constraints will actually liberate creative vibrancy. When we did prototyping we had constraints both when it came to time and resources. This was a valuable experience for me to understand what Ibbotson’s statement involves.

WHAT IF you start a business?
A new idea
We spent a lot of time doing brainstorming to find innovative ideas that could become our business in the module. We realized that it was hard to come up with a totally new idea. When you think of being innovative and creative, a lot of us tried to think big and ambitious, and therefore it took us a while to settle on something as known as a magazine. However, through this course, I’ve learned that innovation is not about inventing the wheel or the gunpowder. It is about being able to combine existing ideas and knowledge into something new. Corrine use cookies as a metaphor for this approach and claim that the first stage of design thinking is ‘figuring out the current recipe so you can make improvements’.
This is what we did with the What If Cardmag. We combined the concept of a magazine with a smart phone app and through understanding the users’ needs in London, the content of the cards emerged. The What If Cardmag is a small magazine with the size of a business card. The cards are connected together with a metal ring. With good design and an interactive and user-friendly feature, we hope to inspire people to rediscover their local area or discover a new one in London. Learn more about our business here: whatifcardmag.com

A valuable part of starting a business was networking. Many people were very interested in our idea, and it was fun to show it around on events and amongst other students. The most fruitful networking we did was through engaging people to be our mentors. We had one mentor from the business school and one from Nat West. They were very interested in our projects and gave us different advice throughout the projects. In Norway mentoring is not very common, and I’m glad to see that our mentors enjoyed helping us. This will make it easier for me to find a mentor in the future when I’m working with a project or need career advice.
I’ve also learned a lot from my individual mentor. I met him at a networking event in October, and he is a Managing Director for the Community Interest Company KSL. I worked for him for several months, and he taught me a lot and included me in many parts of the business. I continuously kept him updated about What If and this led eventually to a partnership with KSL. They wanted to use the What If Cardmag as a marketing tool in their projects during the summer. These days, we are designing the cards and the first pilot will be in the beginning of June on the Download Festival. This will give What If a proof of concept and a kick-start on a wider service that we can deliver to businesses. KSL did not know anything about QR-codes or how to run a Twitter campaign, and we realized that the What If team have a pool of different skills. This combined with the cardmag as a marketing tool can give us the opportunity to deliver a holistic service to businesses that wants a campaign with a creative approach.

Building a website
Even though I was not the one responsible for building the website for the business, I’ve learned some key factors on how to present your business online. Through the article “How to make your website sell more” the MD of Return on Digital Guy Levine summarized the most important ones. This involves make it simple, to give a strong first impression and post client testimonials. You should continuously evaluate your web page through using Google Analytics at least monthly. I put this knowledge into practice and made a suggestion for a website for the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen. Even though I’m probably not going to work with web design in the future, I value this knowledge. All businesses need to have a web page, and I can now feel more confident giving advice or being part of the process where a web page is going to be made or change.

Design Thinking
Understanding how to build a website is related to understanding design thinking. According to Tim Brown, design thinking can be a way for businesses to create their future strategy as it plays an important part in developing new products and services and getting new markets and partners. In our business, the core of our idea was connected to design thinking. Our magazine’s differentiation is liked directly to the design. By developing something that is presented in a new way, that you can interact with differently and has an added value through this new shape and design, innovations can evolve.

Through one of my last blog posts I discussed the concept of innovation. Innovation is as mentioned often is perceived as something entirely new. Oded Shenkar, professor of management at Ohio State University, claims that this is the age of imitation. It is now important to figure out what you can do to imitate the already existing ideas. To imitate successfully you also need to innovate in the idea. Shenkar therefore launched an accumulation of the two words imitation and innovation and encourage us to be ‘imovators’. However, if you look at the definitions of innovation, most of them do not include the ‘entirely new’ aspect. UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) defines innovation in organisations as ‘including new knowledge management systems, changes to the organisation of work and its management, changes in the relationship with other firms, changes in design and packaging and changes in sales or distribution methods’. (Chapain et. Al. 2010:17) Accordingly, the term innovation should still be valid when new systems, design or products emerge. We don’t need to redefine the term; we just need to reconsider the perception.

Innovation and entrepreneurship
Among the many things I was not fully aware of before I came to London was the huge gap between Norway and the UK when it comes to innovation. According to European Innovation Scoreboard, UK is an innovation follower in Europe, holding the 6th place in the ranking. The innovation leaders, holding the 1st to 4th place, are Switzerland and 3 of the 5 Scandinavian countries. Norway is not one of them, and is conversely holding the 17th place in the innovation performance measurement (Pro Inno Europe 2010). In UK there is a lot going on, and assumable the major fraction of this is based in London. As a student studying the creative economy in London, there has been a lot to learn, from events, talks and clusters of creative people and businesses all around London. Norway could benefit from acquiring inspiration and understanding of what is going on in countries such as UK as well as the innovation leaders, which remarkable enough is Norway’s closest neighbours.

Design Thinking has helped me develop my creative-thinking skills and taught me about entrepreneurial behaviour (In supplement with other modules on the course). In the future I want to work with creative projects and collaborations leading to innovation. I think that bringing my experience from probably one of Europe’s most innovative cities will benefit my on my way to reaching that goal.

Non-online references:
Bilton, C. (2007) Management and Creativity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Chapain et. al. (2010) Creative Clusters and Innovation – Putting Creativity on the Map. London: NESTA.

Ibbotson, P. (2008) The Illusion of Leadership: Directing Creativity in the Business and the Arts. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Levine, G. (2011). How to make your website sell more. The Market. No. 4.


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