Kevin Bethune is the founder and chief creative officer of dreams • design + life, a think tank delivering design and innovation services using a human-centered approach. His background spans engineering, business and design in equal proportions over his career of 20-plus years with leadership roles in companies like Nike, Boston Consulting Group and a variety of others.
Interview With Mauro Porcini and Kevin Bethune
Kevin Bethune’s background spans engineering, business and design.
I think the mentality that people should have now is the notion of a lifelong learner.… Your most creative days should not be in school.
Hear why he believes design’s purpose expands far beyond just a beautiful sketch or product and why he believes design is a “creative problem-solving toolkit” that can be applied to improving organizations and societal systems at large.
MAURO: Design is not some sketch artist with a notepad. It’s much bigger than that. Design unlocks solutions to our problems. I’m quoting, uh, the guest of today. He’s the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Dreams, Design and Life, a think tank delivering design and innovation services using a human-centered approach. He’s been [ground spanse?] engineering, business and design in equal proportion over his 20-plus year career, with leadership roles in companies like Nike, Boston Consulting Group, and a variety of others. He’s a prolific speaker, uh, with keynotes talks at conferences like TED, BCG, uh, Google Design, AIGA, DMI, MIT, and a variety of others. Right now, he’s writing a book, a multidisciplinary innovation for the MIT press, and I’ll make sure that we’ll ask him a lot about this book. So it’s a pleasure, it’s a real pleasure to have you with us today, Kevin Bethune. Hi, Kevin.
KEVIN: Hi, Mauro. Thank you so much for having me.
MAURO: So you were actually with us, with our design team at PepsiCo, uh, very recently. Uh, you-you join us for a town hall that we had, and you share your story, the story of your life. And you have been inspiring so many of us, uh, with that story, and especially, uh, with the beginning of that story, when you told us about how you start. You didn’t start as a designer. You start somewhere else, as an engineer. And then, uh, you know, the difficulties, the road blocks, uh, the lack of information about the world of design that you faced at the very beginning and how-and then at a certain point how you decided to change trajectory and embrace design, but connecting it with other kind of backgrounds that you have. Can you tell us this story? Can you share with all of us this story again?
KEVIN: Sure, uh, happy to. And, um, I think at the early outset when I was young, I had a creative volition. I-I loved drawing. I loved the arts, but I didn’t necessarily know how to channel that creativity, and honestly, design felt like a 1,000 miles away. Um, I-I spent the majority of my childhood in a downriver Detroit area, so in the heart of big automotive country. Uh, most of the neighbors were engineers or business people, and, uh, something like design was almost viewed under the-the house of art.
KEVIN: And coming from a middle-class upbringing, uh, both my parents, uh, black Americans from-from the south, um, you know, sacrificed so much for our family, the idea of needing to have a pragmatic job on the other side of college, as much as they were sacrificing, it was super important to fi-sort of find that pragmatic path more than entertaining something around the arts. And, uh, I-I would say as I started to navigate, um, you know, high school and looking and college, the intersections of mathematics and science were also appealing, so prag-so engineering made more pragmatic sense to pursue.
KEVIN: So I-I started as a mechanical engineer. I went to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. And, uh, when it came time to looking for, uh, potential employers, one industry in particular had, um, what I would call a “knowledge management crisis”. Most of the-most of the folks that had, uh, been a part of the early engineering efforts were on the verge of retirement, and they hadn’t hired young people for 10 to 20 years prior to me coming out of college, and that was the nuclear power generation industry. So I entered the nuclear industry with this wide-open door, and they’re hungry to provide new talent with these fresh experiences.
KEVIN: And it was a-a-a remarkable runway to hit the ground running, get some early cycles on product and wo-learn how to work with high-performing teams and build trust with them. Um, I would say through that engineering experience, that product experience, a-a natural curiosity for business arose in that journey, and I didn’t have a lick of business education going through my engineering curriculum. [LAUGHS] And so the-the curiosities led to looking at, uh, business school. And so I-I pursued an MBA, um, and the-the school that I chose was Carnegie Melon, and Carnegie Melon was a place that was empathetic to engineers looking to add that business layer.
KEVIN: But my eng-the creative itch for my background was still sort of scratching, and I told myself, you know what? I’m not just gonna go back to an engineering organization. I’m gonna-I’m gonna look for an organization that embodied not only technology and strategy, but also creative faculties, not knowing what I would do with that, but that was where, uh, the heartstrings were sort of tugging and informed the companies at the top of my list. And thankfully, um, at the time Nike was at the top, and they afforded me an opportunity to come into their organization. So I started in a business planning capacity, but I was really a product person at heart.
KEVIN: And I-I spent 18 months in-in corporate planning, helping investor relations, helping senior management understand the objective operational and financial performance of the business, but I was also networking with the creatives and really meeting real-life creative professionals for the first time in my career. And I became very curious about design and seeing how design could interplay with business and technology. That was quite fascinating for me. And so coffee chats, meeting more and more people led to opportunities to actually stretch myself for free to show those product organizations I was really passionate about what they did, and I wanted to learn, but while also bringing some of the skills that I had to bear.
KEVIN: And those stretch assignments, I-I would say, gave me evidence to sort of hold up and say, hey, you know, can you take a shot on me for the next role? Can I have a product role for my next opportunity? And thankfully, Global Footwear Product Engine took me onboard. I started in an operational job there, but got even closer to design. And some beloved friends, creative friends, gave me opportunities to actually cut my teeth on real footwear design, and that was the beginning of a soul-searching journey to really understand this-this converging opportunity. And I’m-I’m also looking outside of Nike and I’m seeing the world converge as well.
KEVIN: We were seeing the advent of iTunes and these ecosystems of opportunity, and so that’s where the love affair with d-with design, the love affair with design actually started.
MAURO: And this unique background in mixing engineering, business and design has-has been useful for you in your career. Do you think it’s something important that any designer should have? How did it help you?
KEVIN: Uh, I’ll be honest, though. I-I-I must start with the challenges in that, um, navigating those interdisciplinary sort of transitions was not easy. Um, whether I was an engineer looking for business, the business people were like, well, you’re an engineer. You don’t u-understand our culture, our language. You’re-you’re introverted engineer. Go over there. [LAUGHS] Or trying to understand design from a business angle within the Nike environment, I had probably for every one person that gave me the time of day, I had 99 people saying, you’re a numbers guy. We d-we just don’t see you playing over here. What-what are you doing?
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KEVIN: Um, so there’s that-there was that initial challenge. But honestly, um, curiosity was the thread that kept me propelling forward. And now that I see the world and reflect over the last five or 10 years and where the world’s going now, there’s so much change happening. So much disruption. And I honestly believe it’s not about being all things to everyone and just being such a generalist where you have no anchor. But I-I’m a big believer in this notion of breadth and depth. To-
KEVIN: To have breadth of life experiences, rich e-diverse experiences that allow you to understand how to solve different types of problems, but to have a couple deep superpowers or deep wells of expertise and experience that I can draw from, where people can still trust that I can deliver a certain outcome based on whatever needs arise.
MAURO: What-what is your superpower? Or your [couple of?] superpowers?
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] I-I would say from a-from a-a depth perspective, I love all aspects of what I would call “strategic design”-
KEVIN: -which is really helping to, uh, partner with business owners, enterprise leaders to problem solve the future course of their business and find ways through human-centered design, through future visioning, through future speculation, ways to make their organization more relevant and resilient for a dynamic marketplace. And I would say the other superpower, which is the love affair of-of sort of physicality and the-the-the love affair that I have with the industrial designer’s process, is really that industrial design capability.
KEVIN: And it-and it can apply to objects, of course. I love t-tangible form factors and fleshing out, um, affordances that can meet the needs of-of the audiences that we serve. But I think that same process is beautiful when it’s applied to digital experiences, as well as human service-based experiences as well.
MAURO: And you moved from one field to the other, uh, somehow, uh, you know, following your dreams, how do, you know, following your curiosity as well. And you decided to do that by starting in the different fields, by having an MBA, studying design. If, you know, for the people listening to us that are interested eventually to move from one field to the other, what would you recommend? Should they do an MBA or a Master in Design? Or is it enough to learn with that curiosity on the field when they’re working? Is just an accelerator, you know, the MBA or the Master in Design? Or is something that is necessary, because it give you the depths you are talking about before?
KEVIN: That an excellent question, Mauro. I think when I reflect back, it’s easy to say at hindsight 20-20, um, but early in my career I probably did suffer from a-a stepping stone mentality, where I thought, oh, to advance, uh, when I look around at my peers in the company, uh, whoever’s advancing or whoever’s getting the better job offer, um, the Master’s Degree is a difference maker. At least, uh, that’s what it felt like. So, uh-uh, it was almost like a mentality of I got to go get that piece of paper to check certain boxes, to get perceived to be credible for the next level. Um, so those were natural notions, but thankfully, uh, as I got into my engineering career, some mentors basically shook me and said, the days of the stepping-stone progression are over.
KEVIN: You-you better make sure any education investment is actually helping to empower [it is?] what you want to do in life. Like how you want to reposition your career and what you want to do moving forward. And honestly, after going through three educational experiences, I wouldn’t have predicted doing that at the start of my career, [LAUGHS] and in some-some ways, it was a major gamble to do so. Um, but I think the m-the mentality that people should have now is the notion of a lifelong learner. That you should never stop learning. Your most creative days should not be in school.
KEVIN: You should always want to soak it up, and there’s different modalities of learning, thanks to technology and the advent of all this-this content that’s around us these days. Um, but I think the more that you experiment, the more that you soak it up, try to find out like all the learning opportunities that you can have in your present job and your present platform. Ask for, uh, network with people. Ask to understand what they do. Offer to help them. Be almost subversive around finding ways to help the business grow, and you’re growing at the same time. Uh, but at the same time as you’re doing these little experiments and-and-and growing hopefully in your present platform, you’re gonna f-I found that you find these big forks in the road.
KEVIN: The evidence trail that you create from those experiments sometimes leads to a bigger fork in the road where you have a-a clear decision to make. And for me, it happened in the Nike environment, of all places. I was clawing and scratching on footwear projects, and I felt just amazing gratitude for seeing shoes that I designed in market under the mentorship of places like the Jordan brand and-and whatnot. Uh, but when I looked at the progression and how I was perceived in the Nike environment, I could have continued another 10 to 15 years to claw and scratch on more footwear projects to be perceived as a designer in some people’s eyes.
KEVIN: Or I could go make the investment in a sound design studio foundation through the arts [and other?] education I pursued. And ensure that no one could question-even myself, I-I-I could solidify that foundation and that I could step forward with confidence and credibility because I had the right foundational capability set.
MAURO: Yeah. It’s-it’s somehow an accelerator. I think if-if, uh, it’s about the core or what you want to do, for instance, you wanted to be a designer probably to study design in a formal way has been important for you as an accelerator. If you are a designer [in part?] and you want to learn more about adjacent work, you want to learn more about business, about the world of science, maybe in that case you still have the cho-the choice to go back to school, but you also-also have the opportunity eventually to learn on the go in, uh, in the company, or in real life, or leveraging the content you can find everywhere. So probably it depends on what you want to do and where you want to go and how fast you want to-you want to get there as well. Uh-
KEVIN: That-that’s right.
MAURO: Both-both of us, uh, we are every day working. We’re both designers and with a business world. And there are companies, like for instance, PepsiCo, [LAUGHS] that is hosting us today, there are companies that are investing in design, that are believing in design and there are others that don’t yet.
MAURO: Uh, in-when you interact with the business world, how do you explain design? What is design? You know, wha-how does design create value for the business world? And I think it’s a question particularly interesting for you and-and, uh, the-the answer is going to be particularly interesting, because you come also from the business world. You have been on both sides, so you understand the world better than anybody else.
KEVIN: Uh, I-I think that’s excellent. Um, design, for me, is definitely a-a creative problem-solving toolset, or set of capabilities. And I think there’s so many myriads and nuances to design as a capability. But when I think of how does it affect the-the business world, industries and enterprise players within it, I think about the notion of growth and relevance. So most-you talk to any business owner, I don’t care if they’re a C-level, uh, executive of a multi-billion dollar corporation or a startup from Silicon Valley, growth is a mindset that business people are after.
KEVIN: And there’s different ways to grow, right? I think we can think about building a business from scratch that’s almost like a zero to one explosive growth, and we might need to, um, address a new opportunity for a new market and that’s-that’s completely from green field. From scratch. Um, or it might need to be a new business exploration to replace something that’s under disruption. So we might actually need to replace a business unit by creating a new form of growth altogether. And then, you know, a lot of us, or a part of companies, you-you’re part of a company that has a very large platform that you have to be respectful and mindful of, large organizations, a lot of specialties, and so the growth there is rather different.
KEVIN: It’s-it’s incremental growth. It’s-it’s reengineering the-the present platform to ensure that it’s actually, um, still relevant for today’s marketplace, and also relevant for what’s to come over the next three to five years. So as a designer, I-I love bringing a creative aperture to the conversation. Not just a human-centered aperture, but a creative aperture to look at what-what are our opportunities for growth as we look to-between now and the future? Respecting history, but now to the future, what-what can we actually use, leveraging the creative problem-solving process to cross-pollinate needs of people that we’re serving, and not just the end user.
KEVIN: I’m talking about the ecosystem of stakeholders that surround us. You know, if I’m, uh, if I’m mindful to, uh, distributing product through a retail or a wholesale environment, there’s several stakeholders, uh, that we have-we have to think about. And they each-each human being in that, um, has a value criteria that we need to respect and understand and distill. And it’s-what’s exciting is you can design solutions against that value criteria. And some of those values are static. You know, human beings are human beings. But at the same time, they’re also being influenced by all these headwinds and tailwinds and trend, right?
KEVIN: So we have to be mindful what-for what value criteria is actually shifting as well. So that’s the people side of what we can cross-pollinate together. But then also what’s exciting is when I get to partner with business owners and business leaders, is we get to also question some of the paradigms that exist within the existing value stream, or the value stream that we’re imagining for a new business altogether. And as creative problem-solvers, how can we actually shuffle some of the pieces of that value stream around, or question some of the foundational principles that are-that are at hand? And then being a creative, I get to bring to them a plethora of trends, not just technology trends, but a full plethora of trends.
KEVIN: All the different categories of trends from social behavior, economics, environment, legal, regulatory trends, um, mobility trends, and then find real-life exemplars. Like people actually doing that, scientists, luminaries, startups, and bring all that to the conversation. And it’s something where you can’t expect the room to just [SNAPS] find the idea at the moment. But what I’m more interested in when I partner with teams, is to create an environment where we can sort of just immerse in all these diversity of insights and inspirations.
KEVIN: And I’m a big believer when you do that and you’re thoughtful and you provide people the room, natural sparks and connections will e-emerge that turn into ideas, that turn into credible innovations the more that you t-protype and exhaust and explore them.
MAURO: You know, you just gave me a second answer to a question that I ask you earlier. You know, how you’ve been leveraging your different background. You just explained design in a way that just somebody with a business background could do. And in a way, that y-y-you-you become in a way a-a-a translator, a facilitator, a connector among cultures, and-and this is so important. You know, connected to this, you had a role in, uh, in your past that is very interesting. You have been working for Boston Consulting Group, that is a-that is a firm that is used by many CO’s and top managers and executives of many companies. When you say “Boston Consulting Group”, as well as [INAUDIBLE] McKenzie and a variety of others, you know, there is already credibility in the name, in the brand itself. And you have been building a design capability within BCG. Can you tell us more about this, because if BCG decided to invest in design, it means that probably there is some value in this thing called design? And-and they can be amazing ambassadors also for us, designers and the design community, uh, in their conversations with the CO’s and the-and the boards of many of these organizations and companies.
KEVIN: Yes, uh-uh, great question. I-it’s funny. I have to start at-with that story and that answer, I have to start with some of the challenges I experienced as I was leaving art center. Here I was, this hybrid of [OVERLAP]
MAURO: I love how you always tell me the challenges. It’s-it’s interesting. You know, often from the challenges come innovation and opportunity, so yeah, [LAUGHS] I love how you do it. Go ahead, go ahead.
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] I-I can say, you know, this was like 2011, 2012-ish. Um, it wasn’t necessarily easy to s-look back at the marketplace for potential jobs. And me being a hybrid with, you know, with-with engineering, business and design, early design, um, to align myself up against s-you know, viable success profiles. Most of the feedback was, ah, you didn’t do one thing in the breadth of your career. You did these th-ah, we don’t know what to do with you, so the conversation’s over. That was honestly eight out of 10 conversations with potential employers.
KEVIN: But what was interesting, um, the one or-or-one of two out of 10 conversations did get it. They were immersed in a f-in a dynamic market where they-there was a desire or a hunger to want to connect disciplines together. And I-and I just so happened through a friend of a friend connections, I met a small group of players that had l-to your point, long runs at places like McKenzie and-and B-BCG and Bain. Um, but they saw, as they worked with large organizations, the perils of-the perils of, uh, the waterfall process.
KEVIN: Whenever you’re looking to explore a growth idea, so you would hire a, you know, BCG for a while. You might hire a-a design firm like IDO or s-Frog, for a while. And then you might have a couple implementators to build on the technology around the idea. But still, you might-you might only see a prototype one or two years after the initial conversation, and that’s just f-far too long in today’s fast-paced world. And as I met these-these small group of partners, they were in peril of serendipitously conceiving of a model where, um, they wanted to get all disciplines around the table.
KEVIN: And then when they met me, they said, oh, he’s the creative guy. Let’s get him around the table. And-and really, the ask was, don’t just, you know, design me a logo or design a, you know, a-an object or whatever, a widget. It was, you need to problem-solve with us, ‘cause we’re gonna go meet with this multi-billion dollar corporate and we’re gonna be in the room with the C-suite, and we gotta p-use all of our faculties to problem-solve our way through. And we just took a risk, all of us. And sometimes for pay, sometimes without pay, just believing in this early model of like what can you get when you get all the disciplines in the conference room together with the client.
KEVIN: And we were problem-solving on the whiteboard. They allowed me to bring in sketches and prototypes. Uh, we-we didn’t come in there with PowerPoint decks. We came in with digital landing pages. And we would have conversations around these early assets around their-their core issues. And we would feel that anxiety around disruption. That Silicon Valley startup might clean their clock and take their market share if they’re not nimble enough. So we would literally invent businesses in these problem-solving sessions. And that same team that we had could go-go then prototype the offering and create the assets in Silicon Valley speed.
KEVIN: And so we started doing that for a couple of corporations, and then more got in the mix. And then some of the reliable partners that have helped these corporations in the past started leaning into our team and asking about us. And we went through a couple gyrations, different parent companies, but, uh, the Boston Consulting Group ultimately took us onboard as sort of the-the final parent. They said, give us a list of what you need to be successful in doing things your own way. We don’t want you to do it the BCG strategy way.
KEVIN: And I-and I honestly think like why-why would they take a bet on us, these little guys, these misfits that are definitely not coming from the p-prestige of like a BCG career path? Um, we’re a bunch of makers. We’re a bunch of creatives. But-but they saw the impact we were able to make with their own client relationships and, uh, inviting us into the room in those conversations, and they saw like how quickly and how nimbly and how em-empathetic we were to the stakeholder needs, and coming up with prototypes and exotic solutions. Um, they-they just gave us what we asked for.
KEVIN: So they invested in innovation studios for us. Um, and I-I rode that chapter for, uh, about five and a half years to a point where, you know, the team had grown to roughly a 1,000 people. And one-third of that-an equal third of that was design, which was quite powerful that every-every what we call “ventures”, every venture team was multidisciplinary. Design got equal c-credence in the conversation. The clients, we didn’t necessarily j-fly to a client like BCG would. We said, client, you have to send some high potential people to live with us in residence, and we’re gonna cook a business together from the innovation process all the way through incubation and commercialization.
KEVIN: And those new things that we created, those new businesses would either, um, you know, become perhaps a joint venture and stand on its own as a new entity, or go back into the-the bigger client as a new business unit. And that was sort of the incubator that we formed. And we didn’t know what to call it as we were creating it. We just took a chance.
MAURO: Fantastic story. Fantastic.
MAURO: You know, we have been talking a lot about business, and while you were talking, I was looking at the poster behind you. And for anybody that is-doesn’t see the video and is listening to us, uh, Kevin has a poster of a-a documentary, a video documentary, called “Objectified” by Gary Hustwit. Uh, many, many years ago, I was in Barcelona and I-I met Gary at the premiere of the movie, uh, in Spain and we spent a crazy night together. And so I-that’s the last time I saw the movie. But from what I remember, it’s really a celebration of product design, industrial design, and-and the world of-of form and beauty on one side, and functionality on the other with many interviews with amazing stars of the design world. So going back to the world of design, and thinking about the movie and thinking about the emotions that it gave me back then when I saw it, uh, there is often in our world this debate between the role of form on one side, static beauty and functionality on the other. So question to the engineer and the designer-
MAURO: Form follows function, or function follows form?
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] That’s a trick question.
MAURO: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHS]
KEVIN: No. Uh, that’s funny. I-I, uh, ended up, um, meeting Gary for the first time, actually, a couple of weeks ago.
KEVIN: He invited me to a panel for the, uh, Idea Phase Extensibility Summit. And so we-we had been talking over the last couple of weeks and developing a friendship over sharing inspirations with each other, so that’s funny you have-you have that anecdote as well. Um, form or function.
MAURO: He’s a fun guy, yeah. [LAUGHS] I loved him.
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] Form-form or function. Um, for me, it’s the chicken or the egg. Ultimately, I believe any new experience that we’re conceiving, i-ideally, it’s multidisciplinary, right? But we still give room for design to do its thing and really flesh out proper form and function. But ultimately, my hope is that e-every outcome that we consider is opening up a new path of new utility for someone. Some audience. It can be B to B, B to C, I don’t care. It’s ultimately a human being at the end of the day.
KEVIN: Um, how are we creating a new avenue of utility for them that they naturally want to walk through? That we’re not making them come into our-our market funnel or our machine and feeling uncomfortable, like how can we embrace them with a new avenue of utility on their terms? And in this world of computation and big data, um, I worry a lot about all the noise that’s impinging on us. I mean, I feel it. I look at my family how everything is aro-surrounding and how people are being influenced by all this information, good and bad information. How can we as designers help design experiences that parse through the noise and surface out the relevant information that will make someone feel more comfortable walking through that path of utility we’ve just created.
KEVIN: Uh, it could be a device, service app, whatever it might be. And then lastly, are we doing more than just solving incremental pain? Are we-are we transforming how someone connects with the brand? Do they feel like their life has been actually uplifted? Do they feel more empowered? Do they feel like a hero? That emotional resonance is-is ideally what, um, I strive, or, uh, the teams that I influence, strive to achieve. And if we hit all three together, that’s-that’s like a moment of truth that you can build a business around in itself.
MAURO: Yeah. Yeah. Y-you mentioned that [INAUDIBLE] I think you find this [to dwell], uh, you have been participating, you have been joining a sustainability conference, right? Uh, sustainability is actually something obviously very close to-to our heart as designers, in PepsiCo in particular. Obviously, we are trained to understand how to be as much as possible a sustainable company. We have so many targets, investments. Uh, we had just launched recently, uh, this new platform called Sodastream Professional, uh, to customers. Your drink with reuse-reusable bottles. Uh, so we-we are trying to do the right thing. Uh, but it is not easy. It is not easy because there’s an ecosystem. The brands and the companies have a role, we designers, engineers inside these organizations, marketers inside these organizations have a role. But then you need also consumers to embrace what you are proposing them. You need a-an entire society to change eventually some behaviors. To, you know, to take some tradeoffs in some form of convenience, uh-
KEVIN: [MAKES SOUND]
MAURO: -they’re-they’re used to. So what’s your point of view on sustainability in this world? What designers can do to drive sustainability in-in this world? What this society should do? How should we change? Because sometimes it’s not just about the product itself and, uh, what the company is offering you, but it’s about the people embracing this offering, change in behavior, trying to-to think and act in a different way. What-what is the future of sustainability?
KEVIN: Wow. I think-I think that’s a huge multifaceted opportunity of course. But [OVERLAP]-
MAURO: [LAUGHS] Yeah, give-give me the answer so we can use it. [LAUGHS] Yeah.
KEVIN: I-I-I-I think it do-it does tie to the conversation we had early around growth. Um, I think the growth ideally that we are all after in the future, and e-even now into the future, is a sustainable growth. A respectful growth. A responsible growth. And meanwhile, a lot of our companies like Pepsi, um, are sitting on massive supply chains, right? And you could argue-y-you could critique that supply chain all day of how sustainable or not it is, and I-I feel the desire and I-and I applaud the-the initiatives like Sodastream and to-to consider new models of way to deliver value to customers.
KEVIN: But it’s not gonna happen immediately overnight, so when we think about is there a leap that we can make around sustainability, does that fit in a growth context that’s outside the core platform, that’s a question that we might have to consider. Does it need to be its own brand, like a Sodastream, or a-a new sort of distribution channel that hasn’t been built yet that-that we get to think about. Meanwhile, the big-the big platform of Pepsi is running. Um, so what can we do with the net platform that’s respectful of the business, respectful of the people that are running the business and the-the existing customers that you have to keep- [LAUGHS] keep, uh, sustained with product and services, uh, but how can you be more respectful about moving the needle and identifying opportunities?
KEVIN: It-you can call it incremental, but for a company the size of like Pepsi or Nike, that’s a huge impact if you are able to move incremental needles in that such massive supply chain. So I think we just have to be, um, opportunistic, but also respectful of if-you know, where ma-where many of us are managing large freighters and we have to-we-we can’t break the boat in our effort to want to change, uh, but ideally we have a vision of what the future does look like. And this is where designers can be a huge influence. We can use our-our prowess around visual and sense making and-and capturing emotion to tell new stories of possibility.
KEVIN: And once we tell those stories, we’re gonna excite our stakeholders and get them bought into the vision, and then we can then prioritize like what’s feasible, what’s impactful, and how do we organize the steps that we take against those different growth levers, if that makes sense.
MAURO: Yeah. Yeah. And I agree completely. Uh, I-changing subject completely.
MAURO: I, uh, about a year ago, uh, it was September 2019. We were both in Boston. We both sit on the-on the board of the Design Management Institute, uh, and you had been always a great advocate on diversity and inclusion in a variety of different ways. And back then, I ask your help, because we want to really to accelerate our diversity ratio in a variety of different ways, gender, uh, people of color, and-and you help us. And we we-you know, we continue a journey, you know, that we started even before, uh, with your help. And then more recently, a variety of different things happened that we are all very well aware about, you know, something very bad and very tragic. Uh, and I think people like me, you know, I am a privileged, uh, white Caucasian man, uh, you know, many of us, first of all, we are, uh-uh, now I’m gonna talk about myself. I’ve been extremely touched by-by what happened and, you know, we-we talked a lot about this. Uh, but I now, I’m mostly in a process of learning. You know, I-I’m really trying to understand exactly how to do, how to react. Uh, I think as individuals, and companies as well, you know, with so many missteps and companies trying to figure out what to do, we realize that action is more important than words. I was very pleased when our CO, Ramon Laguarta, announce an initiative, you know, with investments of 400 million dollars over the next five years to help, uh, the black communities in the country and beyond. Uh, but there is so much more to do and to learn. Uh, so what’s your advice to anybody like me, uh, that wants to help these A-African-American, the black community, uh, and in particular, because this is a design pod-podcast, you know, the design community. We know IGA. IGA did a census, uh, of their brand design community, uh, in 2018, I think, and, uh, out of the census, we found out that, uh, just three percent of the, uh, population of graphic designers in the United States is, uh, black, is African-American. So is-is not easy, but-but there is so much more to do. So what’s your advice to us?
KEVIN: Yeah. It’s-this-this definitely has been a-a very challenging conversation, but I think with recent events being so vividly, you know, showcased in the media, you can actually see-everyone can see this. That’s def-
KEVIN: And I’m coming from a lived experience of generations of my family, uh, parents from the south, descendants of slavery. And seeing the systemics happen and hearing their stories even before social media. Like for example, I think we-I told you before-
KEVIN: -my-my mother when she was two, uh, one of many kids, uh, the-the siblings are lined up. One of the oldest siblings is holding my mother, my two-year-old mother, and there’s burning embers behind them because the-the house got burned down by the Klan. You know, these, uh, terrible moments are a part of just our lived history and our memories growing up and listening to our elders. And then I remember, you know, bricks getting thrown in the back of our, uh, windows in ho-homes, um, growing up. I vaguely remember those memories being the only black family on the block, or th-things of that nature.
KEVIN: Um, but the jarring events that happened also, and I think this is true for everybody in the black community, um, it-it-it makes us remember all the subversive stuff, all the covert racism, supremacist-behaviors that occur within the workplace and within academia. And right now, I think we’re at a time where we have this awareness which is great, and it-and it gives me hope that people want to actually see a change. But we do need to recognize that the systemic, uh, threads of racism run so deep in this country.
KEVIN: Like reading resources, like for example the work of, uh, Nikole Hannah-Jones for the New York Times, where she made a-a-this beautiful mosaic, this curation called “The 1619 Project” a few months ago. And then recently, sh-she’s making the case for reparations. And just, again, shining a light on the systemic threads that are just not part of our education here in America. I mean, black history usually when I was growing up in the history books, it was one or two pages. Talk about- [LAUGHS] sort of non-non-Anglo-Saxon history was reserved to one or two pages.
KEVIN: So unfortunately, we’re navigating, at least in an American sense, a society that is poorly educated on these systemic threads, and I think everyone needs to become very aware of those. And-and then how that permeates the behaviors sub-subconscious, w-as well as conscious, that happen in places like the workplace or in-in institutions. So because the threads are so deep, my-my recommendation for any conversation that we have is to treat this like a systemic, uh, like a systematic transformation.
KEVIN: Just like you would with a digital transformation, or call it design thinking, digital whatever, this notion of hard [INAUDIBLE] organization to be diverse, equitable, just and-and fair and inclusive, um, should be part of every organization’s DNA moving forward. And we have to be honest, too. Like we-we-we may not know where things are. We may not know how to anchor ourselves or how to benchmark ourselves. We’re all, I think, collectively learning. We all need to share and be transparent. And especially in a hyperconnected world, I can go on Twitter right now and hear from every employee inside of a Nike or a Pepsi.
KEVIN: I can hear what they’re saying. [LAUGHS] R-regardless of whether the company wants it-the message out or not. We-we know. We just-now-now in a connected world, we know what’s going on behind a brand’s walls, so the external messaging has to match the internal, uh, energy and effort being applied. Um, one-one example that I liked recently was Roy B. Parker. They actually broke down their metrics of up and down the corporate strata, what is the representation that matches their marketplace and audience up and down executive all the way to front-facing employee.
KEVIN: And w-w, you know, what-what they recognize as clear, you know, departures from how to best mirror their audience. And-and they making that very visible and transparent and saying, hey, we-we-we-we are way behind. And let’s like partner, let’s learn, let’s figure out how do we start programs and investments that get us to this, um, trajectory that we have in mind. So I think that-that is what I encourage for every organization.
KEVIN: Think about it systematically, like a-like a strategy, like a s-transformation and-and put your money where the-where the mouth is in terms of, I think one-one pitfall I see a lot of organizations and professionals, especially in design innovation, make is I think there’s a lot of appetite to want to help, but we have to go about it with a-a sense of service and humility. So I think if we take a servant leadership mindset too, on top of the transformation that we need to make, uh-
KEVIN: -servant leadership. I’m a big believer in that. It helps us get in the right mindset and use the right tactics to start to recognize exclusion. To start to recognize barriers to people’s growth and acceleration in companies. Um, so it’s about moving those barriers out of the way. Servant leadership helps us do that. Um-uh, we-we-we have to think about, um, e-education, mentorship and exposure, and education, uh, for the audiences so that you can give them a sense of what it would be like to work for your brand one day. And that there could be a career path for them, because you respect them as an audience member. They bring in insights.
KEVIN: And how can-how could we make space. So ultimately, it’s about like, sometimes you gotta just hire and fund the people that are looking to be a part of your equation. A-again, back to the pitfalls, sometimes our professional friends want to quickly go to coaching and mentorship, which I applaud, right? I applaud their conviction. But many of the people that are knocking on design’s door actually have skills. They have insights. There’s a-there’s a pipeline, albeit small. And-and organizations can be transformed by some of these talented people.
KEVIN: Some of my black design friends that are out there in the market that have knocked on certain doors and have been excluded and they have not been taken seriously because by some subjective measure that’s not transparent or not clear, they’re just kind of waved aside. And-and now brands are reengaging and it’s a mistake. It feels-it feels, um, less than authentic. I’ll just say that.
MAURO: Mm. Mm. Yeah. Yeah. You-you gave us also some very precise tactical advices that I think would be useful to anybody listening to us right now. For instance, uh, going to, uh, education before college to educate about design, because many people don’t know about design. And like it was your case, you didn’t know too much about design and you went for engineering. So that’s something that anybody can do. We-we-we are putting together a plan, you know, me personally and many people in my team, we go to high schools, you know, around the country to-to talk about what design is. Uh, so that’s something that everybody can do. Uh, we found out actually in the town hall with you that some of our designers were already doing it. [LAUGHS] You know, in Miami, for instance, in other parts of the-of-of the country.
MAURO: And then i-creating internships and the, uh, doubling down again in, uh, in the search and the hiring of people that can come in, and then change from within. Actually, as we are here for anybody listening, uh, we are looking for, you know, for A-African-American people, people of color. Uh, we-we are really, really serious about-about this, so help us improving, uh, is-is our ask for help as well, in a very humble and respectful way-
MAURO: -because we are in a learning curve as well. Um, well, uh, we are running out of time. One last question. How do you inspire people around you and what inspires you?
KEVIN: How do I inspire people around me?
MAURO: And then what inspires you?
KEVIN: Oh gosh.
MAURO: So it’s you to others and others to you.
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] Well, I-I think-
MAURO: I-I-while you think about that, I’m gonna say something that inspires me of you, so I’m sure it-
MAURO: -inspires many people around you, i-is your kindness. Your-you-you look at your face, your body language, your way of talking, your content, and you can feel the kindness. And I think in this world we live in, we need kindness as much as possible. I think kindness connected with content, knowledge, confidence, you know, the-the-curiosity, many things that you talk about today can move mountains. I was looking at the-relooking at the video of our town hall with my fiancée, [INAUDIBLE], at-at home-
MAURO: -and she made the same comment. She look at your face. Just looking at your face and she’d say, wow. A-you know, it’s-he looks so kind, so buono. In Italian we have a word, buono.
KEVIN: Oh. [LAUGHS] Thank you.
MAURO: So I’m sure you inspire people in that way. What else? Or do you agree, by the way? Do you agree that that’s something that inspire people when they interview you?
KEVIN: I-yes, and, uh, sometimes I’m often like I blush and I’m caught-I’m caught off guard by these comments, but they happen more frequently. And I think one of the reasons is earlier in my career, maybe less as an engineer, because I was at least somewhat comfortable in my skin there, but when I was navigating the influction [PH] between business and then being aware around design and trying to even decide if design was gonna be part of my arsenal, um, I-there were times where I did not feel comfortable in my skin, and you-you could feel it. My family could feel it. My wife could feel it. My son could feel it, you know.
KEVIN: And but when you s-when you make certain bets and commitments to yourself to transform yourself, reposition yourself for what you want to do, what you believe your life’s purpose is, I-I no longer want to have a conversation of whether I fit in or not. I-I want to bri-be my full me. I feel-I feel very grateful to be walking on a path where I can be my full self, I can leverage my lived experiences in the problem solving and to help organizations, startups, products, whatever-whatever it is we’re working on, that’s-that-that is a non-negotiable anymore.
KEVIN: I-I want to be my full self and I-when I look back, and especially when I’m around other people and hope that my-my influence can inspire them, is I always encourage them to think about how-how can you nurture creativity as a beautiful thread in your life? For me, it’s been the defining thread. I would be lying if I said the things I’ve done were part of some master plan. It absolutely wasn’t. I- [LAUGHS] I probably would do things differently if I could repeat. But curiosity has been a beautiful thread, and then getting people to experiment on those curiosities o-in the cur-in the present job, for hobby, whatever it is.
KEVIN: And maybe the curiosity and experiments take you to a big fork in the road, right? Um, and it’s not about shooting in the dark with any experiment in any direction. We can look outside. I get a lot of inspiration and I try to inspire teams when I say “look outside”. Even when I was at Nike, you know, you could walk through a very masculine sport category, but I look outside and there’s nothing but women running around. [LAUGHS] Running around the campus. You know, it’s like are-are we speaking to what’s happening in the market is wha-is the challenge for any team or anybody I’m engaging.
KEVIN: And there’s real need. There’s a ton of stuff out there waiting to be solved. There’s a lot of human potential waiting to be unlocked that we haven’t even touched yet. So that-that’s what I try to keep pointing to, and that’s what guides my convictions. And like what-what inspires me is just constantly meeting diverse communities and enga-engaging in deep thought beyond just like the-the team brainstorm in a design thinking workshop. Like I’m a-I’m a big proponent of design thinking as a-as a philosophy, um, as-as-as what’s critical for a business conversation, but I am also interested in like balancing that with deep topics where we’re literally trying to like, who are the people?
KEVIN: Who are the scientists? Who are the fringe edge dwellers that are actually forging new territory that we don’t even know will become products yet? Like that-that fascinates me.
MAURO: You-you-you just mentioned diversity. If you think about the real value of diversity for inspiration-
MAURO: -it’s all about having people by you that have a different kind of background. By definition because it’s their background, there’s a deep background somewhere, somehow. And when we talk about diversity now, I-I refer to all kind of diversity. The dif-different abilities, different religion, different color of skin, any kind of diversity. And it’s magic because innovation is all about looking at things with different eyes. Seeing something that you never saw before and innovating in that way. And so you look at everything that surround you every time in the same way. Then if you have somebody by you that look at the same thing in a different way, and that is gonna enrich you first, but the beauty is not just the different perspective, but is the dialogue between the two perspective that is, uh, is gonna generate a third perspective, that is the novelty perspective. That’s the most beautiful value I think of-of diversity. We’re running out of time, and I start this podcast talking about your book. I didn’t ask you about your book, but this is great, because it means that I’m gonna invite you again when your book is ready and is in market to talk entirely all the time about the book. But in 30 second, can you give us a teaser so that people will be there waiting for your book like, you know, to read it, buy and to read it?
KEVIN: Well, I appreciate that. Uh, the working title is Strategic Innovation Through Design. And really, building on what we know about design thinking, is I believe there’s a-a deliberate arrangement of design and innovation capabilities that are necessary to help organizations understand how they-they can become more relevant to the marketplace in terms of human-centered understanding and-and future fitness, uh, future foresight, that kind of thing. IYS_EPISODE_7_KEVIN BETHUNE_2020.06.25 [00:48:20]
KEVIN: Um, and-and just making sure that, uh, we-we also think about the implementation against that context that we’ve just surfaced, and then re-really leveraging the depth of design craft to understand how to-in-in conjunction with other disciplines, understand how to bring the best outcomes when we think about that strategic context that we surfaced creatively together. So that’s-that’s sort of the [rubber on?] design and innovation capabilities. How do we arrange them whether you’re a startup or a large enterprise to maximize relevance and future foresight?
MAURO: When is gonna be, uh, when are you gonna launch it? When can we read it?
KEVIN: [LAUGHS] So my-it’s still TBD. My-my manuscript, though, is due on September first. So we’re under an aggressive schedule.
MAURO: Fantastic. We can’t wait.
MAURO: So Kevin, thank you so much for sharing your insights, for inspiring us today. And I can’t wait to meet you in person very soon, Covid-permitting, and to –
MAURO: -read your book, uh, very soon as well. Thank you so much.
KEVIN: Thank you. Thank you, Mauro for having me. Appreciate it.
MAURO: Thanks, everybody. Bye.