Innovation calling – How Design Thinking leads to innovation excellence

Twisthink’s Robert Niemiec, joined Syya Yasotornat and Erin Gregor on the Innovation Calling podcast.




Twisthink’s Robert Niemiec, joined Syya Yasotornat and Erin Gregor on the Innovation Calling podcast to discuss how when it comes to companies researching emerging technology and innovation, it can be tempting to innovate for the sake of innovating rather than for the sake of what your users may actually want and need.

We are also living in a world where the leadership of companies is dominated by left-brain thinkers, who will sacrifice creativity for the sake of numbers, and not failing for the sake of continuing to do what’s worked in the past.

Between these two issues, many companies are missing the mark on how to thrive. Now more than ever, it’s important for companies to understand that what has worked in the past isn’t going to get them very far. They must put innovation and user-centered designs first if they want to wow their customers and create a long-lasting company.

Listen in as they talk in-depth about how we help companies create a different narrative when it comes to implementing technology and how our team of creative thinkers are always focused on unlocking new value for our customers.



Welcome to the innovation calling podcast where we connect creators for the next big thing. We are hosts Erin Gregor. And Syya Yasotornrat.

Erin Gregor 0:02
Hey, it’s Erin Gregor.

Syya Yasotornrat 0:13
And it’s Syya Yasotornrat.

Erin Gregor 0:14
All right, we’ve got another great episode of Innovation Calling coming your way. Before we do, hopefully you’re joining us every Thursday because we can meet in person. Unfortunately, our women and talk events have been put on hold. Our Dallas school chapter events have been put on hold. So we can’t meet anyone in person. But we are going fully digital every Thursday with GLO, from an international level. So hopefully you’re joining us. These talks have been amazing.

Syya Yasotornrat 0:44
So there’s something that we hadn’t really spoken about before. But it’s official. In their lessons in leadership series, Microsoft has partnered up with global leaders organization. So there’s a lot of collaboration with Microsoft, which I think is pretty amazing. And just the caliber of guests we have on as speakers is right up there and [they’re] knowledgeable. And I’m excited by the execution of the topics that they’re sharing with us.

Erin Gregor 1:16
It’s really been about thriving in this whole pandemic. Not just how to get through it but this is a perfect opportunity, if you’re any sort of business leader (and i know many of our listeners are). I don’t mean to sound crazy, but this is a perfect time to really get a jump on competition. There’s a lot of people who have no idea what they’re doing. Maybe [they] didn’t take advantage of technology, [or maybe they are ones who are] scrambling. And there’s people who are really taking this as a great opportunity to pivot to change to, get not just get through it, but to stand above and really take a chunk of their market.

And that’s what a lot of our topics have been about. So Thursday morning. It’s [our podcast] free to join. Head over to, to get to RSVP for the latest [episode]. You’re gonna learn more about what global leaders organization is all about.  What is GLO? If anything, I promise you, you’re going to take something amazing away from every single morning. 9am Central is when we’ve been doing those, so head on over.

Alright, so we got another great episode to see who do we chat with for this one?

Syya Yasotornrat 2:22
Yes, so today’s guest is Robert Niemiec. He is a managing partner over at Twisthink. Its a funny company here. It’s a digital innovation partner, for lack of a better terms. What I love about them is that they [do] a lot of consulting [and] application development. That’s the core and craft of what they do. But they do it with the idea of integrating strategy with human centered design and leveraging technology.

But the critical part [which] they lead with is Human Centered Design. That’s their buzzword. And that’s their motto. And it’s basically boiling down to “we’re not robots”. Our interactions and the way we communicate and the way we use tools and technology is human. So you have a lot of intuition. It’s just not straight programming. And I really liked the way he goes about it working with his clients, and the products. The end results that they come [up with]. Robert is such a great visionary; so dynamic and just a cool guy in general. So I enjoyed my conversation with Robert.

Erin Gregor 3:28
This is a really important topic. This is design. It has been a discussion since technology ever came out. But it’s just [very] important because so many times we get so caught up in the innovation side; the technology side but we never really see [if] users can even use this? Do they even need it like? Or are we putting in technology for the sake of putting in technology when we’re not even thinking about the user? He is a really interesting guy. I just think, as companies are looking to add new stuff, you can’t forget how extremely important fundamental principles are. And that’s exactly what Robert does.

Syya Yasotornrat 4:22
Yeah, absolutely. So without further ado, yet another great episode of innovation calling.

Welcome, Robert Niemiec to Innovation Calling.

Bob Niemiec 4:34
Good morning, and welcome.

Syya Yasotornrat 4:36
So that’s a great way to set the tone. So, Robert, one of the things we liked about you when we were doing some research (and yes, we did Google stalk you)…

Syya Yasotornrat 4:50
Ever since we’ve been to CES. I’ve been very hyper aware of a lot of trends that are going on right now. And with Twisthink, with what you’re doing with the team, I just thought it was a perfect segway for follow up from our…

Syya Yasotornrat 5:21
So CES [had] huge themes around, AI. There are all these emerging technologies with Internet of Things, robotics, whatever, etc.

Erin Gregor 5:30
So many buzzwords.

Syya Yasotornrat 5:31
But what brought me back to Twisthink and you [Robert]  is that you and your company seem to have this real need to make sure there’s a a design thinking with that human element. Could you help me understand what exactly do you guys mean by that, because I have my own impression. And I’d like your definition.

Bob Niemiec

“But the prototype was the desire to try and craft and build a team that had great trained industrial designers, sitting in a collaborative space in a creative environment, with well trained, heavy technology minds, which for us are hardcore, double e’s, hardware, firmware, ai minded leaders mixed in with passionate designers.”

Bob Niemiec 5:50
So the human element for us has always been driven or built on the power of industrial design, woven into our business. And so if I just take you back: this month marks our 19th year as a firm as a team. And when we launched in 2001, the premise behind the business was bringing great design, great technology and great strategy all as one team. And we started as a band of five in ’01. Today we’re grown to 45 going on 50. But the prototype was the desire to try and craft and build a team that had great trained industrial designers, sitting in a collaborative space in a creative environment, with well trained, heavy technology minds, which for us are hardcore.

Double E’s, hardware, firmware, AI minded leaders mixed in with passionate designers. And so to answer the question about design thinking and user experience, that fuel comes from the unique skill of industrial design. And the process of HCD, which really says any problem in industry, whether that be in the manufacturing realm, or in the service realm, or even in the education realm. Every problem should be viewed through three lenses equally balanced.

And those lenses are usability, desirability, (which is all about the experience, balanced with technical feasibility.) And then thirdly, [this point is] just as important, business viability. But when you lean into trying to solve a problem, like maybe what you saw in the AI domain, at CES in the past. When you lean into it, by looking at it through those three lenses, the opportunity for true innovation, and user experiences that create a smile, not a conundrum. That’s where the magic is. And that’s where success is. And so if you could imagine this team of 45, all of them now, not just the design team, or the designers, but all of them have experience and training, and even experienced teaching the process of Human Centered Design.

Erin Gregor 8:44
So I would love for you just to take a step back for us and and if you could give us an example of it because we’re talking industrial design, AI. We’re talking a lot of great buzzwords [and] we love buzzwords at innovation calling. But can you give us an idea of a project you’ve recently worked on that has helped intertwine those things that you’re talking about?

To create, like you said, top of the line. I’m a big user experience person too. I believe in the smile and it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to work with. But can you talk about just an example of something you were working on or you just worked on to bring those together and how that all works.

Bob Niemiec

“We no longer live in the industrial age. We no longer live in the technical age. We live in the age of user experience.”

Bob Niemiec 9:25
Sure and knowing you just had returned from CES, I wouldn’t be surprised if at CES, there was a leader by the name of Jim Hackett. Hackett is the CEO of Ford today. And one of his mantras at CES in the past and in industry today is “we no longer live in the industrial age. We no longer live in the technical age. We live in the age of user experience”. And I think he hits the mark in that statement and the power of [getting] new technologies, having a process that guides, where the innovation and where that technology should be best applied to align with stakeholders.

So for us, by way of example in recent months or years, I could take you to the office furniture industry, an industry that is a laggard when it comes to technology. And a journey that we have gone on and serving a major player in the office furniture industry that was looking to advance into the domain of digital technology and experienced the digital transformation. They came to us with, “hey, we have an idea to apply a sensor to this particular chair, to create this particular experience.” [This] happens all the time and in just about every company.

And so as we started our journey with them, seeing that it was basically passionate technology being applied to a product. We just said, “hey, let’s take two steps back first.” And in this amount of time, (which is far shorter than the whole development cycle of applying that technology to that particular product in a much shorter period of time), let’s go through human centered design as a process. [Lets] really make sure that this technology application is aligned with the stakeholders that you’re trying to serve. And so we went on a journey. And we talked to facility managers, and we talked to their dealers and we talked to this particular kind of technology application had a health and well being mantra to it.

So we went and we talked to health and well being experts within a major corporation, and we sat down with them and we kind of engage with them much like we’re engaged right now. And it’s through the kind of a specific approach to Human Centered Design and using tools that allow you to really get to the pain points. [Its kind of] the head and the heart of what those stakeholders are faced with that allow you to then say “this is the right path that you’re on”. Or “Hey, why don’t we pivot based off of what we just heard from this variety of key stakeholders.”

You have primary stakeholders, and you even have secondary stakeholders that are very key to enabling a product or service to be successful. And so Human Centered Design as a process allows you to map all of that out, weigh all of that out, and then set the right direction, paint the right target. And quite honestly though, they came to us with an idea and said, “Hey, will you develop this for us?” We back [them up] and encourage them to, “hey, let’s take two steps back.”

First go through human centered design as a process. And by doing that, we learned in a matter of 90 to 120 days that though they were generally speaking on the right track, we we kind of went from going north to… let’s pivot and go North by Northwest in order to get to the right destination. And that’s what we did at the start. You could call all of that kind of broadly speaking “front end innovation.” And once the target was painted, and it was there and aligned in the C suite, there was alignment with the stakeholders. There was alignment with the functional team that was tasked with bringing digital transformation to this fortune 500 company once the target was painted.

The actual “hitting the field and executing” almost quite naturally followed. And they’ve now gone on to launch that product and in a sense innovate in their industry by having a well played, well mapped out digital portfolio. The one question that repeatedly came out of that journey of HCD is “let’s really make sure we understand where the quote unquote coin slot for this technology application is.” And so through HCD, that you’re not only innovating in terms of putting technology on a product, but you’re also innovating in terms of the business model. You can’t do one alone.

Syya Yasotornrat 15:13
Exactly. It’s so funny because everything you just said, I can harken back to multiple former podcast guests touching on each bullet point. It’s just not because I’m like, “Oh, yeah. So and So said [something].” You might have a leader that says, “you know what, I see the target, it looks amazing.” The reality of it is some folks are set in their ways, or they think that target is finite. It’s etched in stone. How hard is it to really get that feedback from the team to really help that leader understand you need to pivot [or else] your original concept is not going to be successful. Or “Hey, that’s great. You want to make this great widget. But it’s not marketable.” There’s no real business or audience. There’s no audience or market for it. So can you talk about that a little?

Bob Niemiec 16:05
Yeah, I could. I could tell you a day’s worth of stories around that one point. We don’t have a day. All I can say is, we all know that the pace of technology is moving fast. I’m sure you saw that in your recent visit at CES this year that that pace is not slowing down. And the demand in every organization, large and small, is getting to the finish line faster.

“Come on, let’s go. Let’s go, we got to convert. Wwe got to launch this by this date, right?” That’s the world we all live in. And so what that does is it puts huge pressure on [development]. We don’t have the time to go through HCD, let’s just start to develop. And quite honestly, that’s why so many leaders of many companies are frustrated or disappointment with their return on investment because they charge the team, they even fuel the team with capital.

But the outcome did not hit the market, like the leader had hoped or like the leader had been told it would. And I would argue case after case that many times, 90% of the time, it’s because there was no effort made using a process called Human Centered Design. That’s a repeatable process. It’s it’s proven. It’s got a four clear steps. And there’s tools and there’s methods that along the way can help shape that target to then allow a team to go after it.

So in a sense, they’re running after something without having a target to fire at. And we all know that’s not going to work. And again, we’ve been at this for a solid 19 years, but I saw this previous to Twistthink in the automotive industry for another 19 years. I’ve been going through this a few times over over the last four decades.

Syya Yasotornrat 18:27
Do you think it’s just human nature when you think about all this? The digital age is ushering so much. Technology’s enables us to be able to automate certain activities, but due to human behavior, the way our brain functions; Do you think we’re ready for this digital age that we’re all talking about?

Bob Niemiec 18:48
I think we’re talking about it. We’re excited by it. We all like kind of aspire that something new brightens our eyes. So there is that intrigue in our hearts. But I think a lot of us are left brain dominance. Yeah, we live in an age and companies are led by left brain domination. Very analytical, very linear. We don’t have the time to create. In fact, we don’t even have the skill to create an imagine and visualize new opportunity. We live in I think corporate-dom and its dominated by lean manufacturing as a process.

Syya Yasotornrat 19:39
Lean manufacturing as a process. What does that mean?

Bob Niemiec

“Lean manufacturing is all about operational excellence today. Human centered design is all about innovation excellence for the future.”

Bob Niemiec 19:43
Well, again, I promote human centered design is a great process. I have highlighted that a couple of times. There’s stage gates, and there’s tools that can be used, but there was a process that really was born. You could go all the way back to Japan and the automotive industry and it’s called lean manufacturing. And that’s a process that’s been used by organizations quite heavily since, at least in North America, you could say, since the ’70s. 6 sigma and reducing waste. That’s a great process.

Lean manufacturing is all about operational excellence today. Human Centered Design is all about innovation excellence for the future. And in my opinion, most companies are wrapped up on the lean methodology of today, and don’t appropriately appreciate or respect that there’s another great process. Innovation doesn’t happen from brainstorming. It happens from following the process, knowing how to engage in stakeholders, knowing how to align technology, with opportunity, knowing how to weigh out business viability. Those are all the the key factors that go into human centered design. But as we said earlier, most companies being left brain dominant only focus on today.

Erin Gregor 21:26
Well, and I would love to explore the side of human centered design a little bit more because we are in an age where there’s so much technology that I can see companies wanting to jump in on features and things just because you can, versus does the user really want this? Or can the user use this. And I had mentioned previously when we jumped on, I came from a background of user experience. And I remember as we would sell this to companies, we would say, “Okay, well, we’ll make you know, we’ve got high end designers, which will do  will build a great system for you. But if you pay us more, we’re gonna do users. We’re gonna go and do usability studies and really get this right.”

And they’d be like, “No, just do it right the first time. Why would I pay you more to do that?” So it was a very hard sell. I would love to know how you’re incorporating it and the resistance you’re getting from companies [that say] we just want to have AI and we’re gonna be sweet. Well, your users may not want that. How are you working with them and getting them to understand the importance and even kind of push back on some of the technology because you may not need it all, right?

Bob Niemiec

“If you stick with the process of human centered design, i can guarantee there will be innovative outcomes at the end of it.”

Bob Niemiec 22:30
So some of it is trying to give them in small steps. That’s a big mountain many times that you have to climb especially within a culture that isn’t familiar with the process. They feel that innovation is “Oh, that happens randomly from folks brainstorming.” And the reality is no, if you  stick with the process of Human Centered Design, I can guarantee there will be innovative outcomes at the end of it.

But because of the hurry up offense that many times we’re all in, it gets set aside. And so I think, knowing that that’s a big mountain, I think what we’ve learned in this role of being a mountain guide is, let’s start with a couple of small steps first. And so rather than trying to inspire a leader, to go through 90 days, or 120 days of Human Centered Design as a process, let’s break it up into just one solid base hit, and allow them to see it. And to see what it can deliver and then be inspired to “Okay, after one small step. Now let’s take another another equally sized steps.” And I think for for organizations, again, on the on the product side and on the service side that are unfamiliar with the power of the process, that’s one way to innocence, bring them along in the whole journey.

And we’ve never broken it up into those smaller steps. We’ve never had a client at the end of the HCD journey, look at us and say, “Well, what the heck did you do that for?” It’s usually Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now that we’ve made that rather small investment, we can now feel more confident in deploying the capital to bring it to life and to convert. And so when you look at the investment of HCD, versus the investment of somebody standing up IoT platform, (which you know, quite honestly depend on the market and the application can can be north of seven figures.)

So to say for a few dollars up front, we can promise you that the target will be clear and you’ll know exactly where to direct your team and your capital, it’s a it’s a pretty small price to pay. But boy, I could show case study after case study. We’ve been building digital platforms within this team for 15 of our 19 years.  And I could show you the ones that were a great success, like the example I cited earlier. And I can also share ones where we didn’t quite hit the mark because that particular organization would not take the time to go through the discovery, the Analyze, the Create, and the Develop phase of Human Centered Design.

Syya Yasotornrat 25:43
Yeah, so that right there, you nailed it with a question. My next question I want to ask you is, do you see more one industry over another embracing Human Centered Design, or even just evolving themselves or in embracing innovation? Do you see one industry or the other, or is it all dying?

Bob Niemiec

“What are you doing to digitally transform? How are you going to use ai to create a new user experience for your customer.”

Bob Niemiec 26:05
I think they’re all the same. They’re all lagging. I spoke at an event in Detroit in October. 400 leaders of midmarket manufacturing biased organizations from the Midwest and the East Coast. This is an event by the way sponsored by an accounting firm that is trying to inspire their clients to do what: to be bold and change and innovate. I mean, how interesting is that? Nonetheless, at the start of the presentation, I asked the question, “hey, audience of 400 plus leaders, raise your hand if you or your organization have invested in the training and the practice and the process of lean manufacturing.” And everybody raised their hand. And I even whimsically said “and raise both hands, if you’re still super fired up about lean manufacturing.” And there were people in the audience that went like both hands up. You’re like, wow, that’s just so predictable.

In today’s day and age, so no surprise. There was a second question. “Hey, what about this other process called Human Centered Design, as a proven process that creates value and allows companies to transform and grow even faster than lean?” Not one hand went up in the audience and you’re like, “Houston, we have a problem.”

All these great manufacturing companies that are doing really well today in their markets for their stakeholders and their industry, whether it’s aerospace or medical or automotive. They’re on it today. But they have no response to what about in a decade? What are you doing to digitally transform? How are you going to use AI to create a new user experience for your customer. They have nothing. They’re just turning the crank.

Syya Yasotornrat 28:21
But that just sounds like to me, maybe it’s because salesperson hears it just screams opportunity now. Then for you guys to just take the helm and guide them along, kinda like Peter Piper.

Erin Gregor 28:34
But they’ve got to, I mean, they’ve got to get on board with it. That’s the thing. There’s a lot of opportunity. It’s just a completely [different] way to think and I can’t imagine on a manufacturer side, how hard it is to get them to adapt to this.

Bob Niemiec

“Only 9% of those companies had any visible and tangible proof of being innovative and being committed to serious innovation.”

Bob Niemiec 28:49
I just had the same conversation with a leader of a law firm, a major law firm in the Midwest. And what would he cite? We are so in the weeds on commodity that I’ve no idea what our law firm is even going to represent in five years time, let alone 10. And I’ll also cite for you and it does his part of you. It’s like wow, there’s 400 leaders, their hands didn’t go up. That’s got to turn into immediate action for Team Twisthink to serve but it really points to…I think Erin you were hinting at it points, it’s not an easy sell.

It’s not a no brainer. And when your left brain dominant, and you’re being challenged to exercise the other half of your brain, the creative side, the imaginative side, the side that has more risk associated with it. There’s no guarantee per se to “guess what, I’d rather just go back to turning the crank.” And HBR confirmed in 2016, they talked to leaders of over 5000 companies, so not 400, 5000. And their report back was only 9% of those companies had any visible and tangible proof of being innovative and being committed to serious innovation. Only 9%. When I go to CES, “hey, what’s Twisthink all about?” part of the answer is we’re trying to help get more companies into the 9% Club. We want more companies to have an appreciation, not just for the hardcore technology, but the process that can lead to the technology being deployed in a way that creates a great experience.

Bob Niemiec

“You innovate or you die. And it’s just, it’s a very cliché message. But it’s a message now becoming more and more important.”

Erin Gregor 30:55
Is there a way to slowly start bridging the gap? Because I mean, I mean, we see it all the time, you innovate or you die. And it’s just, it’s a very cliché message. But it’s a message now becoming more and more important. But how do we begin to bridge that message across to these companies and slowly getting their feet wet, because like you said, If you really want to innovate, instead of sitting a group of people in a room and trying to figure it out, start talking to users start having working with them and what they need. I mean, in your the ideas are truly endless, just on the AHAs. And I’ve, I’ve always found, I don’t know if you found this, but once you start to introduce them to that, and you see the power of the feedback, they’re sold for life, they’re like, Oh, my gosh, I don’t know why we didn’t do this. So how do we begin, you know, to slowly start getting these people to accept this, and even just, alright, let’s try doing this this way. And maybe it’s not a huge investment, but a small enough investment where it starts to open that up, because these companies won’t be around if they don’t start accepting this, and another 10 years.

Bob Niemiec 32:00
Totally. And back to my earlier comment, I think what we’ve had to do is break it off into smaller steps First, much like a mountain guide, yeah, you know, doesn’t doesn’t start a climb by getting you right into the repel, there’s some, there’s some walking along a proven path first, before you get to that don’t that dimension of the climb. And I think that kind of analogy or application starts here is you gotta we this is us have learned to be a little bit more patient. And a little bit more careful in trying to not only do great work for our clients, but also instructor teach right out of the gate, so that they can, they can experience our thought process and see the tools in action, which is why in our space, we’re constantly bringing our clients here trying to get them out of their corporate domain and get them into a different environment. One that even kind of promotes creativity and imagination and has a little bit of background music to it and just a little bit of a vibe and an energy that allows somebody who’s maybe really never gone through the discovery phase of human centered design to see it and be inspired by it. And and again, once we get them through one round of HCD we have yet to have a client say to us, that was a waste of time. In fact, we got to say hey, if you’re not fully inspired and pleased with the journey, we just led you on through four stages of HCD You know, this ain’t about money you can have your money back we don’t care, right but it’s having kind of the the patience to to help them get through that once once their throat once I think we’ve seen that they’ll never let it go.

Erin Gregor 34:04
That’s awesome.

Syya Yasotornrat 34:05
Okay, so it sounds like you mean, there’s a lot of psychology in this cause dealing with human interaction, getting people on board to embrace a new concept. Do you guys apply any psychology within your Human Centered Design conversation and process?

Bob Niemiec

“This is the beauty of the skill of industrial designers. They have a bias and an ability to collaborate and empathize and ask really good questions to tease out of stakeholders legitimately what is the real pain point that we should be trying to solve?”

Bob Niemiec 34:21
Yes, and we apply a lot of the skill of great research too. So again, when you look at a great technically trained engineer, right, they, they have a certain passion for solving wicked hard problems. And, and usually when they’re teed up effectively, it’ll make they can go solve it. The technical feasibility side of Human Centered Design is not the Roadblock, the roadblock is, and this is the beauty of the skill of industrial designers. They have a bias and an ability to collaborate and empathize and ask really good questions to tease out of stakeholders legitimately what is the real pain point that we should be trying to solve? And what is the real opportunity and then again, but that skill, what are they usually very strong in is, hey, let’s visualize that as a sketch. And then use that maybe to go back to those stakeholders and validate more pain points or learning and and assure that we’re on the right pass. So we have a tool that we call a visual research tool that is a part of the HCD process that we use to gain that alignment up front. And, and, again, I think for organizations of any size, that don’t have a connection to the skill of industrial designs, whether it be internally, they’ve got their own team, like perhaps you guys have experienced in your corporate domain or through some extended network. That skill is, I believe, the only skill that can allow a company to stay in the domain in the fresh air of innovation. It’s ironic to me that most leaders or most companies would dismiss it as that’s only something that Apple and Google and Amazon can do, I can’t afford, or I can’t have that skill plugged into my business of being a great manufacturer, as a tier one automotive supplier. And that is a sham. A huge lie. And it’s so frustrating to say to a roomful of 400. leaders, if you want your business to be relevant in a decade, you need to go figure out not just how to get great accounting support, which most leaders are comfortable doing or great legal support, which most leaders are comfortable on doing. Go get some industrial design support.

Syya Yasotornrat 37:11
What’s wrong with you people? It’s almost I’ve said this so many times is it is amazing, especially now that we’ve stepped away from the corporate world. And we’re now outside looking in is how many companies are successful in spite of themselves?

Erin Gregor 37:24
My gosh, huh? You’ve got to see this all the time to we’re like, wow,

Syya Yasotornrat 37:29
Like you just dropped a million dollars on this application that has absolutely zero relevance to your business, but it’s got a great buzzword attached to it. If there’s no business value, there’s no, you’re you’re your own community within the company is not even buying into this, but you just dropped a million dollars. I mean, Erin?

Erin Gregor 37:46
Yeah. No, don’t even get me started on this topic.

Bob Niemiec

“Commodity is usually driven by complacency. Yeah, it makes it doubly difficult in today’s day and age, because we’ve had a decade of economic success. So people have just been turning the crank and cranking it out. And that brings about, we don’t need to worry about adjacencies or transformative markets. Let’s just stay in our core and keep turning the lean manufacturing process crank.”

Bob Niemiec 37:48
Yeah. It’s frustrating. But I don’t know. I feel like we’re in many ways, though. I don’t know you that? Well, I feel like we’re kind of like-minded in some of our experience that we’ve had and trying to serve leaders and inspire them to do something different. And, and innovation is all about fearing easy. If your companies are built on natural default of, hey, we’ve been producing this for all of these years, let’s just keep turning the crank. And let’s take we know what our customers wants. Let’s just do this because it’s easy. If if you’re a C suite, if you’re anyone on a team, when you hear those words, you’re a warning sign should go off that we’re we’re not on the right track. And commodity is usually driven by complacency. Yeah, it makes it doubly difficult in today’s day and age, because we’ve had a decade of economic success. So people have just been turning the crank and cranking it out. And that brings about, we don’t need to worry about adjacencies or transformative markets. Let’s just stay in our core and keep turning the lean manufacturing process crank.

Erin Gregor 39:11

Syya Yasotornrat 39:12
So you said something that just struck me on there. Because as startups as you know, when you started out 20 years ago, with Twisthink and by the way, Twisthink to me, I feel like I’m slurring at that time. So, but we all start a business with a mission, there is something that’s driving us we found a need, there’s a gap, there’s an opportunity to help another, you know, business, improve, etc. Oftentimes, it’s like, for you, me and Erin, it was our kitchen table with a glass of wine in hand at the time. I’ve heard you say something about a shed. So

Erin Gregor 39:49
yeah, I’m glad you’re going there because I want to know about the shed too

Syya Yasotornrat 39:52
When you started twisting you yourself launched in a shed, for example, what does that actually mean?

Bob Niemiec

“Leveraging human centered design as a process to rethink where are they today in their core, and continue to innovate in their core, but also appropriately explore what adjacencies might we target and grow into and, and so we look at any company should, should have an innovation strategy that’s well balanced.”

Bob Niemiec 40:00
A set in the context that we’ve been writing about and promoting is trying to inspire organizations to create a separate space where a team can be liberated to really leveraging Human Centered Design as a process to rethink where are they today in their core, and continue to innovate in their core, but also appropriately explore what adjacencies might we target and grow into and, and so we look at any company should, should have an innovation strategy that’s well balanced, and balanced in three ways. One, you know, and you could say the bulk of it is in your core business, granite, that’s got to be important. And even processes that we’ve referenced earlier, like lean are, are useful and helpful for being strong in that part of the portfolio, but you can’t just focus there. That’s true. And, and technology, AI, IoT digital transformation, is allowing companies to really take two steps back and say, Okay, what kind of investments are we making in appropriate adjacencies? We know we’re dominating in this core, but any business is going to be stronger, if it can have a portfolio that’s slightly balanced. And not just dependent on one just like, our personal finances, we’re not all in on one particular financial investment, where we’re wise to have a portfolio that has some strength and balance to it. And innovation is the same. So you got your core, and then you’ve got maybe 20% of your core 70%, you got 20% of your time and effort and dollars looking at adjacencies. And then maybe that final 10%, no surprise as looking at the transformative space, way out there. Where’s your shed is a little bit of a battle cry to industry, to manufacturers, to service companies to create the space that will harbor the team and, and really drive a culture within an organization where innovation is done. And it’s done seriously.

Syya Yasotornrat 42:42
Like it.

Erin Gregor 42:43
I know I like it. So this has been an amazing conversation. Robert, I want to thank you for taking time today to talk to us. If somebody wanted to reach out to you. If theyre like “I’m kind of getting sold or I’m sold” and they wanted to learn more about twisthink, where should they go?

Bob Niemiec 43:03
Well, let me spell the firm’s name. Because as was mentioned earlier, it’s a little bit of a tongue twister having a name Twisthink but we’re trying to for 19 years now, emphasize the power of a team with different skills together. Yeah. And it’s only got one t in the middle. So it’s TWISTHINK all one word. And you’ll find all you need to see the team and experience who it is we are and what it is we’re trying to accomplish.

Erin Gregor 43:40
And of course, we’ll have that on our notes. Page two Syya?

Syya Yasotornrat 43:44
I don’t have any other questions for you, Robert. It’s been so much fun talking and getting to know you.

Erin Gregor 43:50
Yes. Thank you so much again, for doing this. I’m like I told you. I’m a huge believer in this. I’m honestly surprised. To be clear. I started doing this 20 years ago. And it was hard to sell user design thinking or user user user centered design. Many years ago, I had hoped we’d be at a place 20 years. that hard. And it’s a little disappointing to hear that companies still are struggling with jumping onto this. You know, they jumped on, like you said Lean Startup like or, you know, in the entrepreneur world. It’s lean startup. They’re jumping on the lean to make it easier, but they’re missing this such valuable piece that I it’s crazy to me that it’s still such a thing. Companies are struggling with that at this point. So many years later.

Bob Niemiec

“Innovation is an outcome.”

Bob Niemiec 44:35
Yeah, that’s that’s just again, back to the dominance of comfort that comes from left brain linear versus right brain creative and imaginative. And the key thing that even we’ve learned in our run as we we though we innovate here. We create intellectual property and we do a lot of hard work solving hard problems. We really have been focused more on growth, through the skill of Human Centered Design is a process and digital transformation. And innovation is an outcome. If you ask that group of 400, I referenced earlier, they would all have given their own different definition of what is innovation. And innovation can is only an outcome. It’s the skills of imagination and creativity that need to be deployed to get to that, that outcome. And so often in most organizations, there, there, there’s a not an appreciation for those great skills.

Syya Yasotornrat 45:43
no, I mean, you see it, like Erin keeps saying, you better innovate or you will die. Just seeing that if you’ve ever seen that, like slide where that show like the top brands over the last, like 20 years, it’s it’s all technology based companies, because, and the ones that are not tech based, but they’re like have other products, services, etc. They’ve been able to innovate accordingly. And that should be a wake up call for all business leaders to see how they can see and remain relevant in this day and age. So I mean, oh my god, I feel like we can keep talking over and over. Robert, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. I hope we definitely Let’s stay in contact. You guys. Everyone head on out to Twisthink there’s a few couple of folks that we’ve talked to that I could really use your services. But anyway, I think that wraps up for another episode of Innovation Calling again, Robert, thank you so much for your time.

Bob Niemiec 46:34
Thank you. Happy New Year.


A monthly newsletter focusing on the intersection of global macro-trends, strategy, and technology.


Digital transformation,
with a twist.

Create unprecedented impact with Twisthink.
Join us at Twisthink on Thursday, June 20 from 3-5pm for an exciting cross-industry event! As we reflect on a year of tech innovation, 7 GR company leaders will share key insights, offering valuable perspectives on the progress of technology.