NewNorth leverages a culture of innovation

May 7, 2010
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HOLLAND — Good design takes everything into consideration, from environment to function. NewNorth Center for Design in Business is no different. All of the nonprofit's 2,100 square feet have a purpose in its new home in downtown Holland.

NewNorth describes itself as a hybrid business and educational institute. It infuses design methodologies throughout business, and it has used these methodologies, which center on the needs of the user, to develop its own programming.

NewNorth has been under development for a few years, but started to gain momentum last year with the arrival of President Nate Young.

Programs put in place

NewNorth is planning a roughly three-year ramp up to its series of eight programs. Those programs are:

Business Studio Series

Innovation Methodologies Certificate

Custom Training

Innovation Now!

Seminars and workshops

Design Summit Series

Sponsored innovation research

Postgraduate programs

"We went into a silent phase," said Young. "We started to build the infrastructure around it — due diligence with conversations with potential clients, customers and companies that we wanted to serve — all of that to build to a place where we could really identify eight key programs.

"We clarified the real essence of what NewNorth is all about, which is trying to bring traditional business operations and marry it with innovative thinking and the creative process. Most people think that operating systems are a discipline … but they tend not to think of innovation systems as discipline systems.

"NewNorth is really focused on saying, 'We want you to take those systems, which are already very good and efficient, and we think you need to add this other component to it as an equal.'"

The organization is getting ready to launch the first three of eight programs: Business Studio Series, Custom Training Programs and Innovation Methodologies Certificate Program.

Business Studio is a three-day to one-week workshop geared toward higher level executives. The goal is to educate executives on how to create a culture of innovation that mixes both left- and right-brained thinking. The course includes strategic planning, portfolio development, design thinking and organization design. Class size can range from five to 15 people and can be company specific.

Custom training programs have already begun; each program is unique to the needs of the company.

"When a company has a particular issue, opportunity, or set of complex systems that they want to solve, we go in and work with their team behind locked doors," said Young. "What that allows a company to do is build that kind of trust where we can develop systems just for them, pick through some of their individual issues and be good stewards of that information."

The Innovation Methodologies Certificate program will launch May 20. The class spans a year and is broken up into three 10-week sessions.

"IMC is a big investment in time for executives to take," he said. "They are learning in three unique modules or trimesters: (first) the exposure to world-class creative process; secondly, they get to start applying it; and by the third module, they are specifically applying innovation to their own company to bring back."

The IMC program will have consistent faculty as well as guest faculty with varying expertise to teach modules. Faculty includes names such as David Dillon of the Dillon Kane Group; John Berry of Design West Michigan; Kevin Budelmann of People Design; Chuck Jones of Whirlpool Corp.; and others from around the U.S.

Young said the 2010 goal is to launch the initial three programs, but a fourth program called Innovation Now! has been getting a lot of attention.

"What we're doing with that is working in a very controlled environment. We're actually running a project under almost ungodly pressure and constraint," he said. "We're going to do it in 20 weeks, and what we're going to do is take some people from NewNorth, handpicked, and some people from the company, handpicked, and put them in an innovation pressure cooker."

The Innovation Now! program has two potential companies lined up for late summer or early fall. It will bring in faculty from as far away as Spain and will serve companies not just in Michigan, but across the nation. NewNorth is already working on a project with an India-based scooter company, TVS Motor Co.

"That scooter company has asked us to do an Innovation Now! starting in June," said Young. "The NewNorth team will be traveling to India and working in three modules over the course of the summer and early fall."

NewNorth plans to build its initial footprint in the West Michigan, Detroit and Chicago regions.

Young, who was previously the executive vice president and chief academic officer at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Cal., said West Michigan is a natural fit for NewNorth because of the region's legacy in design and innovation. He also warned, however, that many companies in the U.S. have only tried to cost-cut their way out of the recession. Young believes the best way for companies to become stronger is through innovation.

"We have an area like West Michigan with a really strong heritage in creating things. … That strength is kind of unique. We have a great heritage of innovation, as well," he said. "Then you get a recession like the one we've been through, and it happens at a time when the world has gotten small, big media has gotten bigger and technology has changed the game. If a company decides to just survive the recession and position itself to come out the other end and pick up where it left off — we're fearful for that philosophy."

Young said NewNorth wants to provide guidance for the companies that are retooling themselves as well as for startup organizations.

"There are companies that have downsized and gotten lean, but you can't optimize yourself to your future. You have to create your future. What we say at NewNorth is, 'Keep your optimization process. Keep all of your operational processes healthy, but we think there's a dimension you want to add to that. That dimension is disciplined creative process that gets infused into your organization in a permanent, sustainable ongoing basis."

NewNorth's logo is half an apple and half an orange put together with a leaf sprouting at the top, and just like all good design, everything has a meaning. The logo represents the core belief of NewNorth — that design thinking in business creates economic growth.

"We're half apple and half orange," said Young. "The idea is that when you combine two disparate things that really need to be married, the leaf in the middle is the growth that comes out of that result."

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