You don’t get the required outcomes if you don’t change the way you think about design in everything you do says Anirban Bhattacharya
Anirban started The Painted Sky in 2010, with an idea to change the way typical corporate training and L & D workshops were being conducted and make them more engaging & immersive.The Painted Sky is now hailed as leaders in Art-Based Trainings worldwide, running programmes across 5 countries,60+ large corporations and have trained more 25,000+ participants. Anirban is an MBA from the IIM- Calcutta, certified in Transaction Analysis for Organisational Development, and in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), under Richard McHugh, Ph.D. He’s also a speaker at various leadership forums, an art collector and a jazz lover.
To participate in Anirban’s workshop, please register for the conference here.
Let’s begin with understanding a bit more about your personal journey in design. How & when did your stint in design begin?
Design has been a very happy coincidence for me. I am not an engineer or a designer, but in many ways, Design & creativity had a lot of overlap with what I have been doing all along in my stints in sales & marketing across numerous global organizations. As Intuit’s Scott Cook puts it, “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it is what consumers tell it is”. Both Marketing & Design require a deep understanding of consumer behavior and psychology, both need to put customers at the center. But it’s only after I attended a Design thinking workshop in 2009, that I could connect a lot of dots in my head with respect to what I was doing and wanted to do. I decided to start ‘The Painted Sky’ to blend in my creative pursuits, consumer know-how, with the training & development needs across various industries. I also started studying design thinking in Darden and conducted training programs, till design thinking just became a very natural way for us to solve any problem.
Tell us a little about the work your company ‘The Painted Sky’ does? Also, curious about the story behind the name, if you could share?
During my 17+ year stint in the corporate world, I underwent numerous training and my biggest challenge always was, staying awake during the workshop, leave aside remembering key takeaways and applying those in the real world. So we decided to solve this problem differently, and blending art was one of the ways we felt we could make it really engaging.
Through The Painted Sky, we are taking a unique art-based approach to training & problem solving in general, across a spectrum of industries. All the programs that we deliver have more than 60-70% experiential components that are seamlessly blended in the coaching, using a variety of art-based elements like paintings, theatre, legos, storytelling etc.
We believe that learning is more powerful through various visual cues, metaphors and by involving everyone and making them “create” something new. When you do all these, the learning automatically comes as a byproduct. We have had very senior executives who had never painted in 20 years, and we made them use oil pastels & canvas, and they went away with huge takeaways on how to adapt to change and overcome their resistances in experimenting with anything new.
On the company name, we didn’t specifically look for it, it just came along. I think it just connotes what we strongly believed at that time, or even now i.e. endless possibilities to paint with your imagination and creativity.
What are some of the companies/teams you have coached in design/ innovation? If you could elaborate on 1-2 unique stories.
We have worked with many organizations across the spectrum, including the likes of Flipkart, Walmart, ANZ, TCS etc, as well as many PSUs in Oil and energy sectors. Working with each of these has been a very enriching experience.
To draw a few examples, one would be the work we did with one of the largest banks in the middle east who was struggling to stay relevant with the millennial customers. We facilitated discovery workshops that uncovered a lot of the hidden biases within the conventional banks and helped them come out with a differentiated communication strategy for the millennials.
Another one was an immersive workshop we did with an Indian PSU in the Oil sector, to improve their vendor relationships. It was amazing to see the energy & openness with which their executives and team members engaged in the Design Thinking workshop, and collaborated together to come out with new procurement tools, processes, and approach towards their vendors.
We are working with many HR teams to streamline their hiring and onboarding processes and craft a unique candidate experiences through programs like ‘Day in life of an employee’, we work with a lot of sales organizations on their go-to-market approach & strategies, and even with government offices and schools on various education and health-related initiatives.
Are there examples where it didn’t click? If so, any learnings to share?
Well, as with any large-scale initiative to be successful, the first success criteria for coding design thinking in an organization’s DNA is the commitment & buy-in of the senior leadership. Design thinking is a culture, and to change the culture, they need to change the value system and to change values, they need to change the thinking of the leadership team and how they operate with their teams. If it’s just tick-in-the-box activity, then it would fade out very quickly. But if they are serious about bringing in this level of change, then it needs to be a long-term initiative.
The other success factor is what they do after the initial buzz and training. We can go and run powerful training programs for a few days, but people will forget about it once they go back to their day jobs. It becomes very important to reinforce it continuously, run mentorship programs, have evangelists etc. You don’t get the outcomes if you don’t change the way you think about design in everything you do.
There are dozens of definitions floating around on ‘Design Thinking’. How would you personally describe it? Is it a process or a tool or just another buzzword?
Design thinking, to me, is more of a philosophy, culture or a mindset, than a process, tool or methodology. It’s a way of life, to get to the heart of the problem, discover hidden insights about the problem space before we even start thinking anything about solution space. It’s saddening to see the amount & time organizations spent in development that leads to failed products. If organization spent even 2/3rd of the effort in systematic problem discovery, we could save millions and deliver awesome experiences. In fact, design thinking is not just about finding problems around humans, but around humanity itself. If we start applying design thinking to the day to day problems that are plaguing humanity, the world will be a very different place.
Tell us a few of your favorite books on design, something you might have to give out the most?
I actually hate a lot of books focussed just on design or design thinking, as more often than not, they reiterate the same point or boast about their own success stories. But if I have to give few names, I would recommend ‘Creativity Inc‘, that talks about Pixar’s innovation journey into creating award-winning movies like Toy-Story, Coco etc. I also like Randall Munroe ‘What-if’, Jonathan Shariat’s ‘Tragic Design’ and Don Norman’s ‘The Design of everyday things‘, that really drives home the importance of design.
What’s the one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring designers or makers?
I would say just ‘observe’, go where the “problem” is, spend time with the problem and the people facing the problems, understand what they do and why they do it, gain empathy around the problem space before you even start thinking about the solutions. Without this, you end up at the risk of solving the wrong problems or the wrong way, build bridges and buildings that collapse, products that just do not work for what they were intended for.
Which company/product as per you is really innovating if you had to just pick one?
This s a tricky one because I have worked with a lot of organizations, and won’t be fair for me to pick out a name. But in general, I am certainly excited about the way the world is converging on our fingertips, with the power of mobile and wearable devices. This is really bringing the design at the center or rather in the hands of humans. So very exciting space to watch out for.
Who are some of the best design thinkers whom you look up to or get inspired from?
There are a lot of them out there. In fact, a lot of the organizations have been using design thinking as an approach to problem-solving for years, without actually realizing it or labeling it as a unique approach. I like what O’Reilly has been doing or even Don Norman. But I would give credits to Tim Brown of IDEO to evangelize and package ‘Design’ as a key element of problem-solving. I love what Muhammad Yunus has been doing with Grameen Bank or what GE’s Doug Dietz did with the pirate shaped MRI scans. In general, I am more inspired by folks who design for ‘humanity’, and not just focus on human-centered design.
Let’s talk about the workshop you would be conducting at Agile India. What should the attendees expect to get out of that?
Our workshops are usually spread across 2-3 days or at least a day, but this 90-min short version of the workshop would offer leaders and managers, a simulative experience of a design challenge. It would provide them an overview of the steps involved in Design Thinking approach, through a quick hands-on experience of application and feedback.