What if You Tried Risking It?

Yuna Hur  &  Elaine Cheung  - Versions of a Retail Pop-Up, Spring 2018

Yuna Hur & Elaine Cheung - Versions of a Retail Pop-Up, Spring 2018

I’m honored to host a blog by one of my amazing mentees, Yuna Hur ‘18. Last year, as a senior, it was time to push academic limits 1 last time before graduating. This is her story about why it’s so important to take risk … because you never know what can happen! Thank you, Yuna!! *


Top: Elaine Cheung, Yuna Hur, students & Critiquers for ENGN 1971

Top: Elaine Cheung, Yuna Hur, students & Critiquers for ENGN 1971

May 2019: It has already been a year since I was persuaded to take a class Deb introduced to me my second semester senior spring [2018]. The class was called Iterative Design of Retail Value Propositions and Experiences - a blend of design and engineering. I never took courses related to business nor art, as I concentrated in cognitive science and education studies. My coursework had primarily focused around the topic of how people learn, both from a cognitive - neuro & psych perspectives - as well as an applied standpoint in my classes in the education department. I was in a good spot with regards to my concentration requirements. Like many other seniors, I was looking at loads of classes across departments. I asked Deb what time and how frequently the course would meet, and she said it would be once a week. If I’m honest, that was a huge selling point - again, because it was senior spring, though there was a huge part of me that was feeling incredibly insecure and unprepared for the course... no background in any of the topics that the course described. Nonetheless, because who can turn down Deb (?!!!?!!), I signed up for the course, not knowing what to expect, who’d be in the class, and how prepared I’d be for this mysterious course.

Here are 5 (of many) takeaways from taking this class (in no particular order) which are important for life beyond college:

yuna iteration timeline DISP.png
  1. Have a plan and be flexible - I started out the course thinking in my perfectionist mindset -- craving to find and work towards THE ideal solution. In this way, I have found myself digging deeper into details that were all uncertain because there was no singular “final answer”. I experienced a shortcoming from the expense of losing sight of what I initially set to work towards. Quickly, Deb convinced my perfectionist-self to take this class pass/fail -- and NOT just because it was my senior spring. This has been one of the best decisions throughout my time at Brown because it gave me permission and room to be okay with uncertainty, be okay with taking risks, and be okay with using my imagination.

  2. Value collaboration with individuals from diverse backgrounds - In this class, students came from a variety of concentrations, ranging from International Relations, Architecture, Sociology, Applied Math, Engineering, Economics...etc. My partner studied History of Art and Architecture, and I studied Cognitive Science and Education. We each brought different skills, as she shared her keen eye to visually display her reasoning, and I shared my systematic reasoning in informing detailed decisions we made for our project.

  3. Be human-centered - When thinking of different personas for the start-up the class was based on, there was no “one-size-fits-all” mold. My partner and I worked to create very different personas by pulling from our vastly-different experiences and socializations. This process, in-it-of-itself reminded me of how meaningful the individual experiences we bring to the table are. Developing these personas and then the different variations of the start-up’s pop-up store served as a reminder to know and expand intentional awareness to context-specific situations.

  4. Seek intentional feedback - Throughout the course, each group had consistent opportunities to pitch the progress they’d made to the class. Following each group’s presentation, there was always time dedicated for individuals to share thoughts, ask questions, and for presenters to ask and respond. I appreciated these interactions because the feedback I’d receive was immediate, relevant, and specific so that I would leave class with tangible things to work on for my ideas to continue growing.

  5. Trust your inner voice - During the first weeks, there were students from so many concentrations and with such awesome experiences. I was fangirling my classmates’ eloquent and thoughtful insights in awe of feeling like they were all so much better qualified for this course than I was. Students who were studying visual arts, for instance, had created aesthetically-pleasing vision boards, while students who were architecture concentrators precisely measured out floor plans. I didn’t feel confident in my ideas because I didn’t feel like I was good enough on understanding the business or design sides which the course was centered on. But what I was realizing throughout the course was that the value I was adding was the people-centered cognitive science and education background to my work. This was a rare moment in my educational experience where I relied on my intuition to brainstorm, create, and deliver the thousands of decisions that were made throughout the process.

Kathy Spoehr, me, Yuna

Kathy Spoehr, me, Yuna

I thank and am forever grateful for Deb, Barbara, and all of my classmates who I played with, explored with, and grew with together. These five takeaways have been incredibly valuable to the work that I not only engage with today but also in my future work -- which is uncertain AND exciting!

*In true serendipity, Yuna’s advisor taught me one of my first Cognitive Science classes 1st semester my freshman year, Kathy Spoehr. Generations of strong, bright women!!!

Innovation in the Hopper

Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to see all his Maine works on exhibit at the Bowdoin Museum of Art.  A lot of his time in Maine was on Monhegan Island, a noted artists’ colony for over 150 years, close to us in Pemaquid. Hopper’s experimentation and evolution of style and technique remind me a lot of how we innovate.  I’ll explain in a minute.Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19)

Hopper’s paintings became more realistic and less impressionistic over time.  His early paintings (1916-19’s) were very impressionist with deep texture and detail in the brushstrokes, such as Monhegan Rocks and Seals (1916-19).

And yet, Hopper goes back and forth between realism as in Captain Upton’s House Captain Upton's House (1927)(1927) and a bit of impressionism in my favorite of all his works, Pemaquid Light (1929), as he experiments and integrates the various styles and techniques (you can see the influence of Manet and Degas).  After this several year experimentation with impressionism, Hopper returns to his comfort zone: darker colors and more realistic representation – as in his very famous painting of a bar in Greenwich Village, Nighthawks (1942).    I get lost inPemaquid Light (1929) these paintings – I hear the men at the Pemaquid Light discussing their latest catch, where the stripers are running; I eavesdrop on the couple’s conversation at the bar.

As we innovate over time, our style and technique also evolve and blend.  The ways we interact, write, design and communicate shift as we have more experiences and relationships.   The shift is rarely linear – a few steps forward, a few backward, a few sideways, a few perpendicular.   Why? Because we are experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, blending aspects of both into new forms and Nighthawks (1942)techniques.  Think back to how you have approached business and life as you’ve matured.  Our perceptions of the world, of others, of global events have all changed and hence, impacted our view of needs, problems and solutions.

So, how has your perspective changed over time? What have you learned through the varied experiences and relationships of your life that you can apply to when, how, where, why you innovate? How can you turn those learnings into solutions that impact lives as much as paintings impact souls?

Packaging Up Innovation & Radical Management

In May, I was honored to be part of Steve Denning's workshop on his Radical Management principles for redefining 21stCentury management.  Recognition that we need to find a new way to ‘manage' work is gaining ground. We tend to think of 21st Century ‘new management' companies as those in ‘cool' industries: Internet, tech, alternative energy, social media, etc. These companies shun command-and-control!  However, there are some "old" "boring" companies that are surprising 21stCentury.

So, think packaging. You know, those brown boxes that your amazon books come in? Those displays at the end of store aisles that get you to buy more snacks? It's a commodity business, ruled by big huge vertically integrated behemoths with entrenched hierarchies held sacred.  Kind of boring huh?  You bet...not!

In the middle of Wisconsin (not Silicon Valley) is a 163 yr. old, private family business that reinvented itself, pulled a few classic "Blue Oceans" and looks more like a 21st Century newbie than a 19th Century oldie: Menasha Packaging Corporation (MPC).   MPC views their transformation as a journey, not a destination.  Their success is due to their most important asset - people.  And it's not just words, its action based on their values.  MPC has organized itself not as a traditional hierarchy, but as a network to enable and foster their culture.

A small headquarters organization is focused on removing obstacles and leveraging synergies while maintaining a strong entrepreneurial culture in each business.  Instead of centralizing the usual functions and capabilities, MPC relies on standardization, when applicable, to drive efficiency without bureaucracy.  Additionally, if one business has expertise another business needs or could use, it's shared in a center of excellence construct across heterogeneous businesses within MPC instead of being duplicated.  This allows each business to use its resources more innovativelyeffectively and efficiently...a rather unique approach for an ‘old' company.

In one business, an employee created an engaging way to identify and monitor safety issues.  To her, this was just a normal thing to do - see a problem, create a solution.  Soon it spread through the plant and shifts, becoming named "Safety Snags".  Eventually, this became an internally branded initiative throughout MPC.

MPCs culture of customer co-creation is based on listening to customers, quickly creating prototypes set in realistic environments, getting feedback and iterating the experimentation/prototyping until its right. This is also done across MPC businesses to find the right solution.

My initial perception when I started working with MPC, of an old manufacturing company, was quickly changed, and continues to be.  It is not just the new, young, hip companies that are reinventing management and seeing the results.  So what does this say? That it is really possible to create and sustain innovation in established companies.  Perhaps, it starts by innovating management itself.