Design Thinking in Action: Embrace Global

In conjunction with the launch of our new game Design Thinker, we will post several real world examples of design thinking in action. Today’s post highlights the work of Embrace Global and one of its co-founders, Linus Liang.

20 million premature and low-birth-weight (LBW) babies are born every year. Of these, four million will die within the first month of life. Those that survive face severe long-term health problems like diabetes and respiratory disease.

99% of neonatal deaths occur in low to middle income countries. Why? The proven treatment – the infant incubator – is cost prohibitive. At $25,000 for a single unit, this life saving device is out of reach for the world’s poorest.

The solution seems obvious – design an affordable incubator.  In 2007, Linus Liang and his team at the Stanford d.School were tasked with the ambitious objective of creating an incubator for 1% of the standard cost – a mere $250.

I recently shared this story with a friend who is an accomplished engineer and his immediate reaction was one of excitement. “It actually might not be that difficult,” he claimed, “incandescent bulbs, analog, combined with appropriate insulation would be a starting point.” A talented, visual thinker, my friend appeared to be working up the schematics in his head.

And perhaps he’s right – it might not be that hard. However as Linus and his team soon discovered, hard to design or not, an affordable incubator would have little impact because it solves the wrong problem.

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Got Innovation?

To succeed in a future we cannot yet grasp, we must re-think thinking.

In the past week, my son and I made balloon animals on my phone. I checked in for my Vancouver flight online and, the next day, received a reassuring text message with updated departure and gate information. Thanksgiving was saved when I learned how to make gravy on YouTube. I discovered via a podcast that “Mutually Assured Destruction” kept us safe during the Cold War, and via Facebook that my Cold War era classmate is excited about her new flatware.

We all have similar stories. Yet we’re so immersed in this rapidly evolving modernity that we can lose sight of our time’s singular truth – our worlds have become hyper accessible and interactive in ways that none could have predicted.

When today’s leaders look forward into this complexity to divine the next breakthroughs, they do so with an alarmingly high assumption-to-knowledge ratio, one that effectively undermines traditional analysis and business thinking. To quote Rita McGrath of Columbia Business School, “it is increasingly difficult to plan by extrapolating from a platform of past experience.”

So how do we prepare for a future we cannot yet fully grasp? One approach is to learn “Design Thinking”.

The design profession is focused on creating innovative solutions that are by definition outside of our experience. As a consequence, Design Thinking (and its manifest methods and tools) is optimized for the purposeful discovery of possibilities amidst complexity. Designers don’t predict the future so much as they quickly learn their way into novel solutions that are simultaneously desirable, technically feasible, and financially viable.

Start here.
Breakthroughs are at the overlap of Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability.© 2009 IDEO


Design Thinking has helped deliver safe drinking water in Africa, create category revitalizing products for P&G, improve the quality and accuracy of patient care in hospitals, increase commitment among casual blood donors, and much, much more.

And what’s the best way to learn Design Thinking? One must experience it.

Therefore ExperiencePoint knew we had a role to play in the democratization of Design Thinking. We sought out the leader in the field, IDEO, a global consultancy that “creates impact through design” and over the past year have worked in partnership to create an energizing game that introduces the essentials of Design Thinking.

The result is “Design Thinker”. In this workshop experience, competing teams flex their Design Thinking skills to solve a realistic and complex challenge. In so doing, they engage with the terms, techniques, and thought patterns of designers. Participants leave ready and able to affect meaningful change back on-the-job.

We are excited to share Design Thinker with the world and will be making it available in January 2010. We hope you will be among those who join us in this re-think of thinking. The world will be the better for it.

ExperiencePoint at LEEF conference on June 18

Toronto, Canada – ExperiencePoint is pleased to announce its participation in the 2009 Learning and Entertainment Evolution for Simulations and Performance conference at Harrisburg University on June 18th and 19th.

ExperiencePoint co-founder and Principal, Greg Warman, is scheduled to present “Lakeview: a case in building faster, better, and cheaper simulations”.

The Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum (LEEF) is a cross-industry event designed to inspire innovation and introduce new knowledge and techniques that can improve the results of learning initiatives. LEEF brings together learning leaders, entertainment developers, designers of leading-edge technologies, business decision makers, creative entrepreneurs, and researchers who are focused on using emerging and experimental technologies to improve performance and enhance learning.

Further details can be found at the official conference website.

4 out of 5 doctors recommend…

The perennial question in our industry is about pay off. It’s sensible for clients to want an indication that their investment in simulation games will result in learning, new desired behaviors, and ultimately bottom-line success. It’s a tough question to answer for any learning program, but because simulations tend to look less like the formal education we’ve accepted culturally as “correct”, my experience is they receive extra scrutiny.

Fortunately this scrutiny has resulted in a growing body of academic research which is gradually but effectively building the case for simulation based learning. In 2006, Jennifer Vogel and her colleagues at the University of Central Florida undertook a meta-analysis of published research on simulation based learning. For one of my ‘Share’ pieces at ExperiencePoint, I built a quick summary of the key findings of this study.