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Running its course: Leading innovation in complex systems and why it’s time to embrace change

Innovation is in the air in Kenya. Following on from Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in 2015 in Nairobi, the already embedded spirit of innovation that has inspired start-ups, non-profits, corporates and governments to push the boundaries of what is possible has been strengthened. In Nairobi, Kenya, the city that brought you M-PESA, a diverse range of professionals came together to take part in the Leading Innovations in Complex Systems Course held at the United Nations complex and run over 3 days by ThinkPlace.

The course, supported by the United Nations Population Fund and the University of Nairobi, was aimed to develop executives across a wide range of industries to gain a deeper understanding of design thinking, complex systems and the attributes needed to be a leader of innovation in these contexts. Representatives from a wide range of sectors including the UNFPA, the Kenyan Healthcare Federation, Concern Worldwide, The Retirement Benefits Authority, University of Nairobi and FSD Kenya amongst others took part. Facilitated by ThinkPlace’s Founding Partner, John Body, participants were taken through a high energy and activity focussed 3 days. They had a chance to gain hands on practical experience of a design process by going through a one day design charrette where they had to innovate around a real world problem and generate user centred and empathic solutions.

Participants were found, notebook in hand interviewing real world customers and conducting ethnographic research with businesses at the Warwick Centre in Gigiri. Business owners and staff gave participants insights into their lives, their challenges, hopes and dreams and delved into the challenges they were facing as a business. Participants were tasked to answer the real world question (created after initial research in the area):  How can the Warwick Centre become a thriving, viable and sustainable centre for business excellence? Participants generated insights from their research, generated ideas to address these insights and clustered ideas into larger solution concepts. During the last day where students reflected on what they had learned and what I meant to truly be a leader of innovation, they had a truly unique opportunity. The participants were part of the first external group to test the world’s first Design Profile psychometric tool that was developed by ThinkPlace Canberra and the Australian National University. With profiles such as Pioneer, Strategist, Engineer and Explorer in the room, participants had a lively debate about their profiles and how their different profiles could work together to further innovation within their own organisations.

At the end of the 3 days participants left with a different mindset of what it meant to be a leader and create meaningful change through innovation, as Albert Einstein once said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

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