design thinking

Why Rhode Island? It’s a Hotbed of Design Thinking and Innovation 

 

If you could track innovation with a heatmap, Rhode Island would be on fire. As home of the Industrial Revolution, innovation is baked into our DNA, but what’s more important is that the state is still actively cultivating creativity, both on the Innovation Campus being built with the University of Rhode Island and through our Innovation Voucher program. The latter allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to receive grants of up to $50,000 to fund R&D assistance from a local university, research center or medical center. Our state also offers Industry Cluster Grants to encourage companies in a sector to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent.

 

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Little Rhody is exciting for many reasons, but entrepreneurs and business leaders associated with the state inevitably say that they’re most thrilled by our unique and long-running capacity for design thinking and innovation. Here’s what some of them have said on the subject in recent months:

 

“We actually didn’t invent anything new. There’s nothing proprietary about what we do as a company. It was really translating what RISD teaches so well. It was being able to see two different things, and recombine them in a new and different way.” —Joe Gebbia, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate and cofounder of Airbnb

 

“One unique attribute in Rhode Island is design thinking. It’s absolutely essential; you can’t commoditize design or human creativity. In the age of the algorithm and A.I., anything that can be crunched will be crunched, but design rests on human creativity. Design, storytelling and the creation of empathy and relationships will become the most valuable scarcity.” —Andrew Keen, author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur

 

“Rhode Island excels in design, whether it’s tech design or traditional design, and we punch above our weight in engineering, between what’s coming out of Brown and the University of Rhode Island.” —Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley

 

“One of the things the Chamber has done over the past few years is convene people who have an interest in innovation—that had never been done before—folks in academics and business and government and research and development. The role they’re playing is very unique because they’re asking some very interesting questions: What does it take for entrepreneurs and young companies to be thriving and successful? And how can companies like mine enable those companies in a larger ecosystem?” —Donna Cupelo, regional president of New England at Verizon Communications Inc.

 

“The Community College of Rhode Island students epitomize innovation. When I think about innovation, I think about out-of-the-box thinking and resourcefulness, and in order to be an effective community college student you need to figure out how to work a couple of jobs, support your family and be a successful college student, so it’s just baked into their DNA. … They’re working in spaces that are very digitally driven, where they’re being required to really innovate on the move in order to serve the kind of employers that they’re going to go on to serve once they cross our graduation stage.” —Dr. Megan Hughes, president of Community College of Rhode Island

 

“There’s only one Silicon Valley. There only ever will be. We’d be ill-advised to try to replicate it. We have our own unique assets, and yet we can also draw upon that other fount of innovation in the country at the moment, Boston and Cambridge.” —Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island secretary of commerce

 

“There are a couple of drivers behind our innovative mindset. When we think about Rhode Island being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution 200 plus years ago and then we think of creating, designing and building the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016, [you can see that] it’s in our DNA. We have to innovate. It’s who we are. And it’s a really small state so the great part about being small among many is that we have a huge concentration of talent here [who are] furthering this design thinking and innovation.” —Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBS RI

 

“Without question, there’s a sense of innovation amongst our higher education institutions. A lot of our colleges and universities in the state are on the cutting edge in thinking about how to do curricular renewal and how to change the quality of the collegiate experience so that we’re preparing graduates who are more engaged and have more relevant skill sets and talent to engage with today’s economy.” —Frank Sanchez, president of Rhode Island College

 

The ability to solve problems in creative and innovative ways can be a game-changer for an organization. We invite you to visit our EntrepreneurProvidenceRI.com site to dive into the talent opportunities in our state. 

 

We Invited TechCrunch’s Andrew Keen to R.I. and Something Awesome Happened

For the past seven months, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has supported “Innovate 2017,” a TechCrunch.com TV series hosted by author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur Andrew Keen. During this period, Andrew interviewed numerous leading thinkers across public, private and social sectors to “pontificate” about technology and innovation. When he attended our annual meeting in Providence on Nov. 20, he also interviewed Gov. Gina Raimondo for the series, as well as our board chair, Alden Anderson, Jr., Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, and a number of other Rhode Island business leaders for a video series that we’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks and months.

Influential blogger Andrew Keen says Rhode Island has extraordinary capacity in "design thinking"which is where the future is headed.

Influential blogger Andrew Keen says Rhode Island has extraordinary capacity in "design thinking"which is where the future is headed.

 

It was Andrew’s first time doing anything more than just “passing through” Rhode Island on the way to someplace else, and something awesome happened: He was blown away by the promise of our little New England state and in particular by our governor’s intellect and impressive background, calling her “incredibly smart and dynamic” and comparing her to another personable government leader he’s interviewed, Emmanuel Macron. By the time Andrew had completed his immersion in all things Rhode Island, I felt compelled to turn the tables on him, interviewing him about his impressions of our state. They are as follows:

 

·         Rhode Island offers the real deal: “The geography is incredibly rich with potential, at a time when geography is increasingly important. Digital pundits have argued that we’re in a post-geography, post-physical-space era—that it doesn’t matter where we are. In spite of those predictions, made goods and physical goods like vinyl LPs and books have become more valuable, and talent has congregated in places like New York and San Francisco. What digital has done is created an abundance of information, which has generated a new scarcity—attention. There are infinite amounts of movies, music and content online, but it’s no coincidence that young people are embracing the physical. And in spite of that fact that we can now speak or meet with anyone digitally or virtually, physical meetings, like TED conferences, have become increasingly valuable. Digital doesn’t replace physical engagement. Scarcity of the physical is one of the realities of the 21st century. It turns out, place does matter, and Rhode Island is an excellent place to be. We need to get people to experience the state firsthand; you have a wonderful state and a wonderful governor.”

 

·         The size is right: “What struck me, when taking the train from New York to Rhode Island and from Boston to Rhode Island, is that it’s really not that far. This is important—not only because of the state’s proximity to major urban centers, but also because of its size. Small, vibrant, flexible places will have huge value in the future as opposed to sprawling empires. The 21st century will be owned by smaller places like Singapore, Estonia and even Rhode Island. Rhode Island, being small, becomes a meeting post; it can play a central role on the U.S. eastern seaboard, but also globally. As America changes, places like Rhode Island have great potential.”

 

·         Its industrial pedigree bodes well for its digital potential: “Rhode Island was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, boding well for its potential as a player in the digital revolution. This is especially true now that Silicon Valley is in crisis in so many ways, and people are bored with it. I think there’s something to what Steve Case has written about with “the rise of the rest” and our country’s emerging startup ecosystems. Rhode Island just needs to roll its sleeves up. Your success is about the rejuvenation of America.”

 

·         Design is Rhode Island’s differentiator: “One unique attribute in Rhode Island is design thinking. It’s absolutely essential; you can’t commoditize design or human creativity. In the age of the algorithm and A.I., anything that can be crunched will be crunched, but design rests on human creativity. Design, storytelling and the creation of empathy and relationships will become the most valuable scarcity.”

 

·         Our governor is an asset: “My interview with Gov. Raimondo was one of the most successful that I’ve done. It generated a lot of positive buzz. People were impressed with her—how smart she is, her business-orientation, and they wanted to know more about her, especially these days with the explosion of gender in politics. It’s important for the state to leverage the governor’s vision for the future. Her background as a venture capitalist and her understanding of the investment landscape also needs to be stressed. It’s a compelling story, and it needs to be told repeatedly.”

 

·         What’s hot for 2018: “My new book [How to Fix the Future] comes out in February in the U.S., and on TechCrunch this year, we’ll explore solutions for a lot of the themes we pursued via Innovation 2017 around women’s issues, justice in technology, new technologies and algorithms that reflect biases—2018 is the year of solutions. Rhode Island is interesting because it doesn’t focus on problems, but instead on mapping out the future.”

 

Find Andrew Keen’s interviews with Rhode Island business leaders—ranging from Verizon’s Donna Cupelo to CCRI’s Dr. Meghan Hughes to BCBSRI’s Kim Keck and RIC’s Dr. Frank Sánchez and many more—on the Chamber’s web and digital channels in the coming weeks and months.