Tom Wujec, author of Imagine Design Create: How Designers, Architects, and Engineers Are Changing Our World, opened the Marketing Research Association’s Corporate Researcher Conference with a keynote discussing research-driven innovation. He is an Autodesk Fellow helping inspire ongoing innovation at the $3B software leader. His goal: to increase the value of research from simply reporting to be a thought-leader for the business.

The Role Of Technology In How We Research And Think About The Future
Semiconductor processing power, like many other technologies, continues to grow exponentially: “things move slowly, and then they change suddenly.” Sensors, computers, and fabricators are powering a new paradigm:
• For instance, LIDAR lets you create computer-generated blueprints and animations of buildings in days.
• Computer models of real-world objects and environments are increasingly accurate.
• Fabricators allow you to push those computer models back into the real world as physical goods.

The pace of technological change is not going to slow down.

How Technology Is Changing The Industries We Serve
While technological power grows exponentially, industry output and performance follow the ups and downs of business cycles. Predicting these cycles is harder than ever, due to the rise of a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Ambiguous) environment. When a market is digitized, it is disrupted and democratized, from the fall of Kodak to digital photography to the rise of the 13-person Instagram to a $1 billion valuation in 2012. The current poster child: Uber has risen to a $50 billion valuation in 6 years.

Running shoes have been traditionally created using a physical wooden model of a foot, taking 16 to 18 months to deliver in the shoe in a standard 27 sizes. Now with capture/compute/create, you can get a digital scan of your foot to produce a model that creates a shoe in days. You buy the intellectual property of the model of your foot, lease the material flow, then subscribe to updated shoes. This workflow affects every industry, from fashion, to jewelry, to architecture, to high-end buildings, to automobiles, to bridge-building.

Computers can generate different random models of objects created through genetic algorithms then evaluate those objects using models of physical laws or having a human provide aesthetic feedback. Sometimes these solutions are even evocative of evolutionary adaption, such as the structure of a bike chassis resembling the composition of bird bones.

Watson has studied American Medical Association journals and can out-diagnose 12 board-certified surgeons. “What are the impacts for liability, accountability, and responsibility?”

The innovation continuum goes from the impossible, the impractical, the possible, to the expected and the required. “For instance, flight, required for most us to be here today.” The first time you are a passenger in a self-driving car it is “really freaking”; the second time is nerve-wracking; the third time you’re checking your email. “Sensors, computers, networks, and robots are radically changing industries.”

How To Creatively Tie These Together For Success
Tom believes creativity is not increasing. “Creativity is flat – we have the same number of brain cells that we always did.”

“Yet creativity feels endless and magical.”

To foster creativity in a group context, is a “complex, full-contact team sport”. You need to explore, exploit, and explain. “Fostering innovation involves identifying problems that matter by systematically exploring alternatives and delivering elegant solutions.”

At Autodesk, Tom fosters thought leadership, showcasing research and foresight activities. They’ve developed a process around conducting research, determining the organization’s Point of View, sharing the POV, and then doing integrated development.

Tom led us in an exercise of drawing how to make toast, and showed examples from past exercises which showed remarkable differentiation in where the process stopped and the visual language used to convey the steps. When individuals use cards instead of one page, they show more nodes. When more people are involved, you get richer, more comprehensive models.

Too often we approach meetings as exercises in talking rather than in making our ideas known and shared to produce better ideas. Move from a PowerPoint driven meeting to a highly iterative interactive process to make ideas visible. “This changes the underlying dynamic of what happens in meetings from pushing to push-pull, from talking to talk/make, from taking to giving.” These not only improve meetings, but conversations. Change meetings to have purpose, challenge, autonomy, learning, and feedback.

A half-dozen times Tom has brought 30 different presenters to answer one specific question in a shared setting. For instance, “how do we direct robots to do more interesting things and what is the impact for the organization?” This led to creating a new division within the organization.

“Research can take so many different forms in so many different ways. Research has a mandate to look at the organization’s blind spots.” Large, physical visualizations can make the business opportunities to apparent: “This turns into a cocktail party held within the visualization. This never happens with a presentation.”

Tom’s framework for collaborating through research:
• Technology: Capture, Compute, Create
• Industry: Digitize, Disrupt, Democratize
• Creativity: Explore, Exploit, Explain

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.