Why Design Thinking Is the Future

By Marc Boisclair, March 14, 2017

LET’S TALK—A LOT.

When Maritz Global Events President David Peckinpaugh joined the company in 2011, “not much was being done in design thinking for meeting and events,” he says. Determined to change that, he set about implementing the concept at his new company. “Our basic goal was: How do we creatively solve problems in a very different way with our customers?” says Peckinpaugh. Working with speaker and author Jim Gilmore (“The Experience Economy”), The Maritz Institute and Maritz’s Vice President of Experience Design Greg Bogue, Peckinpaugh came up with Maritz’s own methodology. They called it experience design, described on the company’s website as a people-centered, science-based approach to producing meetings and events.

While reluctant to reveal much about the nuts and bolts of the proprietary process, Peckinpaugh describes the system as twofold, covering both design-thinking skill sets practiced internally by Maritz employees and the framework used to create meetings and events for its customers. Five years later, he says, the process has proven transformative. “We’ve looked at things internally—how it has assisted in new client acquisitions and retention for existing clients—and it’s been an incredible accelerator of our business,” says Peckinpaugh. “We’ve doubled our bottom-line results since 2011.”

One key element of how experience design works is the company’s soul-searching innovation lab, where Maritz employees meet up with various members of the client’s team to hash out their work-environment challenges and meeting/incentive expectations. Prior to its 2015 sales meeting, a dozen members of Maersk’s North American sales team, from top execs to sales reps, spent two days with Maritz, talking over their hopes and concerns. The process was intense but ultimately cathartic. “It gave people a platform to speak freely in front of our sales leader,” says Timothy Simpson, then head of marketing and communications with Maersk Line North America. “He listened and took what they said to heart.”

Maersk’s management team found the experience beneficial, but given how each customer’s needs are unique, there’s no guarantee on a consistent corporate willingness to buy into any out-of-the-box philosophy. That said, should a client’s attitude be, “Hey, at least they’ve got jobs; let’s get on with our meeting,” DT enthusiasts are prepared to respond with an appropriate pushback.

“Making safe decisions is the antithesis of any good meeting or incentive program,” says Bill Karwoski, vice president of sales and marketing for USMotivation, an incentive marketing company. One reason Karwoski joined the Atlanta-based firm in 2016 was to foster more creative decision-making for clients. Clarity research, USMotivation’s process to do that, analyzes a subject’s emotions using brain research to measure workplace enthusiasm, and thus develop better reward and recognition programs. Karwoski, along with Dr. Stephen Curtis, Ph.D., developed the concept at Sherpa Insight, the marketing research firm he founded in 2010, where he remains president.

Clarity research, says Karwoski, is designed to elicit employees’ most candid assessment of their workplace: How do they feel about it—their boss, co-workers, physical environment? What would their ideal job look like? Once tapped and recorded, those emotions are then quantified into an ideal subject profile, part of a road map companies could use to better hire, engage and retain their employees. “When you compare that profile to what they’re doing currently, you’ll get some deep data to help improve the quality of their employees’ lives,” says Karwoski.

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