who can make decisions on their own in a very
quick and responsive way. Jazz offers an excellent way into understanding that. I’ve applied
the work of another academic, Frank Barrett,
who’s also a jazz musician. (See “Seven Business
Lessons From Jazz,” p. 84.) You don’t necessarily
have to have all seven of the elements. It’s really
much more about helping people work much
more improvisationally, and then breaking down
what that means.
You describe yourself as a hybrid thinker. What is
People really relish the opportunity to not forgo
qualitative research even as they enable quantitative research. For example, right now big
data is a very popular phenomenon that’s very
helpful — big data shows us patterns. But big data
doesn’t necessarily tell us the why when there’s a
concentration of behaviors or patterns of Point X
over Point A. It’s the qualitative research methods
— the ones that require much more on-the-ground
work, face-to-face conversations, observations,
interviews — that lead to that. I think that any
time an organization can integrate qualitative and
quantitative methods, you’re much better off.
And what would you say is the essence of
It’s a problem-solving process that we borrow
from the way designers frame problems and
challenges when they’re designing the tangibles
— [like when] a fashion designer is designing a
garment, or an industrial designer is designing a
new product, or an architect is designing a building. We take that problem-solving process and
we transfer it to the intangible. You can actually
design experiences, you can design services, you
can design processes and systems that are much
Your background is in anthropology and fashion.
How is anthropology relevant to people who are
Anthropologists are trained in what I call the
worm’s-eye view. Other social sciences, like soci-
ology, economics, and political science, deal much
more in the realm of statistics and have much
more what I would call a bird’s-eye view. Anthro-
pologists are equipped to ask a very different set
of questions. Really, design thinking is 50-percent
cultural anthropology and 50-percent these
human-centered design principles at work.
I’ve used anthropology every single day in
my career because of what it equipped me to
do — whether when I was working more in the
fashion industry or in marketing initiatives. Marketing really benefits from the anthropologist’s
perspective, because their method of inquiry is
set up so that you start with observing people and
what their needs are — similar to design thinking
— versus pushing a product or pushing a service
onto a market. You want to make sure that it’s a
good product/market fit, and the better way to do
that is to start with the people who you want to
buy your products or goods and services. It seems
obvious, but many, many companies actually do
not do that.
You do a lot of writing and research about the future of work. Where do you see meetings fitting in?
I think that work is being disrupted quite a lot
through technology, obviously, so that people are
able to have virtual meetings — people are able
to meet across time zones in a much more facile
way. Digital technology is helping people to meet
in much more creative ways. It’s helping organizations to scale. As in education, there’s this idea
now of the flipped classroom, where
time spent together is much more
interactive. You show up at the meeting prepared to do a lot more.
I think that, in the future, we’re
going to see a lot more of that mirrored. What I’m waiting for is technology that can help us to truly be
more interactive in the digital space.
Right now, what we have are abilities
to see each other, to hear each other,
and there are wonderful platforms
like Mural that enable you to brainstorm collectively online. I foresee
there’ll be a lot more of those.
How do you design your own workshops?
They’re very noisy — a lot of interaction, you’re
on your feet, it’s not passive. There are certain
moments where I have to deliver up some content,
but for the most part it’s learning by doing. .
Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital
content for Convene.
ON THE WEB
Natalie Nixon will deliver a
featured PCMA Business School
session at Convening Leaders
2018, being held in Nashville
on Jan. 7–10. Learn more at
Read Natalie Nixon’s columns
for Inc. magazine at convn.org
/Nixon-Inc. Listen to a Design
Story podcast with Nixon discussing design and hybrid thinking at
PCMA CONVENING LEADERS PREVIE W