When innovation sparks, Tom Stat (CAS ’74) is the first one to turn his head. It’s his eye for the “it” factor that’s lead him to where he is today. As an experienced designer and business strategist, he is widely known for his skills in empathic design research, pattern recognition, generative synthesis, insight development, data analysis, and more. Tom will be joining us in Chicago for a conversation with Marketer, Chris O’Neill (CAS’96), CEO of The Ocean Agency & Logical Media Group on how the worlds of marketing, design, and innovation interact and complement one another in order for businesses to thrive.
As a precursor to the October 26 event, we asked him a few questions about his work, and how he got to where he is today.
1. When approached with a design problem, briefly explain your process in finding a solution.
I tend to look beyond problems to higher level opportunities. Merely solving problems (and there clearly are lots to solve) is NOT a particularly sustainable strategy. So, I look for deeper unmet and latent needs that may solve a problem but represent much larger opportunities.
2. Do you have a hero you draw inspiration from?
Steve Jobs – because of religious adherence to simplicity and beauty.
Jeff Bezos – because of his ability to think well beyond the immediate.
George Carlin – for his explanation of creativity and imagination as a kind of “Vuja De” (the complete opposite of Deja Vu).
3. What are some big products or services you’ve worked on?
Very diverse – I’ve been involved in…
- Development of a human organ transport device for a company called Organ Recovery Systems
- The design and development of an entirely new approach to fundraising for Children’s Memorial Hospital, the reinvention/rethink/redesign of the pharmacy for Walgreens
- A new store environment model for Starbucks
- Strategy for the redevelopment of a 3000-acre land parcel in Mumbai India for the second largest company in India
- Conception of a new mobile radio “ station” for Rivet Radio
- The development of a new research/residential rental concept for off-campus housing
4. In your opinion, what was the best project you’ve ever worked on?
It always tends to be the latest thing I’m working on – I’m really enjoying my current work for, “Sodexo Seniors” – rethinking, reimagining, redesigning the “aging well” experience.
5. During your time leading the Chicago office of IDEO, you launched a number of successful start-ups. What’s the “it” factor you look for when deciding to help a new business?
Very firm grounding in the genesis of the idea itself, a clear understanding of the behavioral economics and potential business model of the business, a passionate and smart group of people (not a single entrepreneur with a dream), and broader understanding of the user/consumer experience.
6. Let’s throw it back to your college days. Is there a lesson you learned at BU that sticks with you throughout your career?
Yes, I learned how I learn. I learned that by paying very close attention, by deeply listening and by focusing, I never needed to take a note. Also, I learned that I remember things through analogy, and understand experiences by leveraging my empathy. My psychology major and astronomy minor at BU really helped me focus on the “inner” picture and the “big” picture. These rather diverse perspectives inspire me to this day. People should know that your major isn’t your job.
7. What advice do you have for those trying to enter the world of design and product development?
It may sound odd, but my two favorite quotes that pretty much sum up my advice are: “Flying is easy, you just throw yourself at the ground and miss” – Douglas Adams, and “Art is a lie that helps you realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso.
These two quotes sum up the need for and value of courage, optimism, empathy, understanding, synthesis, and storytelling in the world of design, innovation, and development. That, and find that magic intersection of what you’re deeply passionate about, what you’re really great at and what the world needs. The why of what and how you do something is your greatest asset.