EPISODE 372
Kevin Bethune
Changing the Future with Good Design (with Kevin Bethune)

Mark speaks with Kevin Bethune, Founder & Chief Creative Officer of dreams • design + life, a "think tank" that delivers design & innovation services using a human-centered approach.

Kevin Bethune
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Show Notes

Today, Commander Divine speaks with Kevin Bethune, Founder & Chief Creative Officer of dreams • design + life, a “think tank” that delivers design & innovation services using a human-centered approach. In this episode, Kevin discusses the power of design and innovation, and how it can help us face the challenges we have today.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to mitigate conflict in diverse teams. We all come from different disciplines with varying thought processes. When leading diverse teams, the very first step is to get everyone to openly talk about where they’re coming from, how they like to work, and what their triggers are.
  • Finding a balance in servant leadership. The leader of any team has to strike a balance between articulating the vision and making sure the team feels like they’ve helped inform the vision. It’s up to the leader to carve up the work that needs to be done to give the team the runway, role clarity, and license to own the pieces of that collective vision.
  • The power of quiet leadership. Leadership isn’t always about carrying forward as a facilitator to constantly serve and unblock a team. Sometimes the team needs to see the leader do the work, too. There are many opportunities to provide quiet leadership while you get your hands dirty alongside your team. These are the moments that build better trust and enable the team to hit the ground running on their own.
  • What does growth look like for your business? Every organization has to think about what growth actually looks like for them – it’s not one-size-fits-all. There might be parts of the business that are maturing or are out of date, and they need to be refreshed, renewed, and rejuvenated. This can lead to a new source of business growth. Ideally, that growth is respectful and considerate of both the environment and the people who are part of the engine.
  • Design is young at the strategy table. Strategy is currently still predominantly biased toward business and technology. When considering building more multidisciplinary teams moving forward, design needs to be prioritized and meshed into problem-solving culture. 
  • We should appreciate where we’ve come from, but be honest about our history.
    It’s no longer enough to only think about innovation through the lens of desirability, viability, and feasibility. We have to think about the broader ecology of what we affect, like our environment, our people, and our ethics. We have to wrestle with notions of power, privilege, and inequitable access. And perhaps, as much as we think about the future and innovation, we also need to be present in the moment and bring historical relevance into the conversation to provide visibility to the threads of systemic inequity. 
  • You don’t have to deconstruct everything. In innovation, you don’t have to throw everything away at once. The key is to come up with strong tactics that will help get you to a new direction and be bolder than you have been over time.

Quotes:

“Whether you’re a designer or a non-designer, you should understand the puzzle of what makes something multidisciplinary.”

“It’s funny, I might get credit for some design work at Nike, but I wasn’t officially ever a designer at Nike.”

“It’s not just the shoe itself. It’s how that shoe sits on a store environment, you know, next to a wall full of shoes, all these gates and dates, all these filters, all these decisions. It’s like 18 to 24 months before.”

“If I’m charged to be a leader of any team, I’ve got to make sure that they trust me first, or that there’s trust established within the team.”

“Design better have a seat at that table, and be sort of meshed into the problem solving culture of what’s happening and what’s prioritized and what’s driven forward at that strategy table. The book is less about talking about design thinking some more and is more about design and strategic positioning at parity with those other disciplines.”

“We’re talking about creatively curious people who are aware that the world is changing, and even the ground might be shifting underneath their feet, and they’re nervous. You know, if anything, I don’t claim that the book is some magic pill. But I think through the unpacking of these personal and professional stories, folks will hopefully get inspired and find some guideposts of inspiration to help them string together how they can use the best of their life personally and professionally, how they can use the best nutrients to guide their their own path forward in a changing world.”

“Perhaps, as much as we think about future and innovation, we also need to be present in the moment. And we also need to bring historical relevance into the conversation and actually provide visibility to the threads of systemic inequity. I think that’s part of any problem solving journey. We should appreciate where we’ve come from, and be honest about that history.”

“Don’t throw everything away. Don’t deconstruct everything, but can we come up with bold tactics over time that will help get us to a new direction and be bolder than we have been? That’s my hope, at least.”

Mark Divine 1:00
Coming up on the Mark Divine Show,

Kevin Bethune 1:02
I think the future is gonna require us to be in more multidisciplinary teams moving forward, like, who at the table really matters? So if we sort of understand that, we should understand the role that at least design plays in the puzzle, whether you’re a designer or a non-designer, like you should understand the puzzle of what makes something multidisciplinary.

Mark Divine 1:26
Hi, I’m Mark Divine and this is the Mark Divine Show. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate and resilient leaders. My guests include notable folks from all walks of life, martial arts grandmasters, military leaders, high powered CEOs, and survivors, all sorts of folks. In each episode, I distill the remarkable experience of the guests into actionable insights that help you create your most compassionate and courageous life ever.

Today, I’m going to be talking about the power of design and innovation, and how it can help us face the challenges that we have today. And my guest is Kevin Bethune, designer, entrepreneur, author of Reimagining Design, and the founder and chief creative officer of dreams • design + life. Formerly with Nike in the global footwear product area, he was working on Air Jordan as one of the design team members. Later at Boston Consulting Group running the BCG digital ventures and Innovation Lab, which then he spun out into his own work at dreams • design + life. Here’s Kevin.

Kevin, thanks so much for joining me this afternoon on a Friday afternoon. So stoked to meet you.

Kevin Bethune 2:40
Thank you, Mark. Appreciate you having me.

Mark Divine 2:42
Yeah, no, it’s my pleasure. I loved reading about your background. And we’ve got a ton to talk about. I mean, top designer over at Nike, I mean, geez, we did some work with Nike, a very few number of their executives came and went through our SEAL Fit training a few years ago. And then Nike had organized some work with high school football teams, and we did something with them out in Green Bay Packers stadium a few years ago, it was like eight or 10 years ago, it was great fun. And I remember being up on the Nike campus and, and getting like 1000 or $2,000 credit in your Nike store up there. And I came home like loaded to the gills with all this great stuff. Anyway, so the show isn’t about Nike, but I do want to get into kind of that experience in design you had there. And literally what shaped you to get into thinking about reimagining design, but give us a sense for, like what shaped you as a human being, you know, where did you grow up? What were your parents like? What were some of the influences that kind of shaped the clay of your mind and heart and spirit to be who you are today?

Kevin Bethune 3:40
I was born technically in Newburgh, New York, but I spent the majority of my childhood in the Detroit metropolitan area, right in the heart of American auto. Most of the neighbors, as I remember it, were technicians working in factories, or engineers or business folks working for the American automotive brands.

Mark Divine 3:57
Was your father in the industry? Or how did you end up there?

Kevin Bethune 4:00
Actually, no. So my father worked in retail. So he’s a master merchandiser for large department stores, brands like JC Penney, and my mom had worked in banking, baking retail, but also had experience starting her own business, and was just a great mom to the family, to the household. My parents originated from the south, both sides, descendants from previous generations of slavery and you know, definitely the stories of some of the egregious assaults on their humanity. In the book I talked about my mom, like before, she was even two like, she was one of 10 kids on her side. And when they arrived home on Sunday morning from church, they met their home, literally burning embers, their home and had been burned to the ground, from supremacist aggression, and also institutional stuff in terms of like, the forces that be wanting to put a highway through the neighborhood. And so the intimidation of those who owned land, especially within those black neighborhoods, that was sort of the product of like, what my parents came from and what they came out of, and they migrated north, and that’s when they had us kids.

Mark Divine 5:08
Wow. Okay, that’s fascinating. And it’s really interesting how that epigenetically as well as through the stories and the behaviors shaped you as a human, right. And what do you think some of the positive aspects of that or maybe even the not so positive, how did that affect you in your formative years and how you grew up, your view of reality and the stories that you told yourself?

Kevin Bethune 5:31
Yeah, definitely had an influence. I can say, you know, again, I feel privileged that I grew up in a home with a, you know, hard working mother and father and held the family unit tight. I was one of three kids, and they created an atmosphere of creativity also leading into who we were as people, just having us kids believe that anything was possible for our lives. Despite the obstacles, despite perhaps the resistance, that society may sort of throw our way, that life is not always fair and that you know, you’re going to encounter people that may not like you for a wide variety of reasons. But you still got to be who you are, you still got to know where you come from, you got to be proud of that, have some pride and dignity in who you are, and lean forward in life, follow those curiosities, and work hard, be consistent, be disciplined, and anything can happen for you. And just just know that.

Mark Divine 6:21
I love that story. I love hearing that coming from a successful individual like you, because you know, the narrative can be so disjointed, you know, in the media and the news and, you know, this big kind of war of critical race theory, and it’s really kind of a mess. And unfortunately, people get really contracted in trying to have a conversation about it. I’m exposed to that a little bit more now. I finally reengaged to finish a doctorate program at Pepperdine, and most of the people in my class are persons of color intersectionality. You know, I’m learning all these terms that I never really knew about is a white guy. And it’s fascinating. And it’s really developed a lot of sensitivity to the experience you’re talking about, you know, that I didn’t share, you know what I mean? And so it’s like, really interesting to me. I’m curious, since we’re on the subject, like how was your experience in the professional world, and maybe even to this day, that could be different than mine, just help people understand, like how, how you had to show up as a professional, as a black professional versus like if I was in the same role, how I would have to show up.

Kevin Bethune 7:19
It started probably in college, as well, as you know, that first job out of college, where, again, like, there may have been some initial resistance because I did feel like, by identity, by sheer identity, I’m, I’m feeling like the other in the room, by background, by language by…

Mark Divine
By the number of people.

Kevin Bethune
Number of people, like I’m definitely one of a few here, you know, and in terms of like, how maybe I was either understood or misunderstood. I felt some winds of resistance, but I also felt fair winds of encouragement, like, there were people of all races, creeds, belief systems, coming out to support, you know, I appreciate those advocates as mentors, as encouragers. But you know, you always had, you know, some resistors and you just sometimes wondered, like, why, why the resistance, just trying to learn the work, trying to do the work just like everybody. Where’s that coming from? And I think it was just always being aware of the thought process of okay, now I’m being forced to question this person’s behavior. Where’s that coming from? If it’s about honest like deficiencies in what I’m doing in the work, we can have a conversation all day and constructive critique. I’ll welcome that all day. But when you’re forcing me to go to this, like, what is it, passive aggressiveness? Is it subjective? I’m not your favorite, is it because of my identity? Is it bias? Is it racism, like having to constantly question that, based on what’s happening around me or making sure that I’m spending energy in hindsight being 2020 is almost like unproductive energy, making others feel comfortable with my presence.

Mark Divine 7:50
Right, you’re working overtime, like you have like a 20% tax or so on your time and your mental energy to just try to make sure that you’re not the cause of that, I guess you could say. That’s fascinating.

Kevin Bethune
Exactly.

Mark Divine
So let’s talk about just your interest in design. It’s not something that I really have any familiarity with, like how a mind like yours thinks that can design something completely new. That didn’t exist before. Where did that come from? And how did you kind of foster that?

Kevin Bethune 9:18
You mentioned earlier, sort of the prestige at Nike and having worked in design, but it’s funny, my career didn’t start in design, I can say that I drew as any child would like for hobby.

Mark Divine
You just loved drawing?

Kevin Bethune
I loved it, I drew everything. That was the way that I broke down the world, what I was observing, my parents encouraged it. But any notion of design, it felt under the abstraction of art, and with as much sacrifice as my parents were putting into sending us kids

Mark Divine 9:44
Yeah, you weren’t going to go into art, right. That’s fascinating. That’s a bias too, right?

Kevin Bethune 9:50
It now is, I could say, it now is, I’m guilty of that same bias, right. I, I had this preconceived notion of what could get you a good job. And because I liked engineering and all that I started there, and had a great first chapter of career. But fast forward when, you know, I pursued an MBA to add the business layer to my tech background. And then I ended up at Nike of all places. I started at Nike in a business planning capacity. But the product person within was like, Okay, where’s the product folks at Nike, how can I meet them? And then the collegial culture that Nike is, and you’ve seen the campus like, a coffee chat is no problem there, and someone will kick you to two more people to have coffee with. And sure enough, I met some product folks that eventually said, You know what, why don’t you try your hand at a side hustle stretch assignment? Just show what you can do. And show us and, and we’ll see.

Mark Divine 10:35
Oh, that’s cool. So you actually had a side hustle assignment. They said, Okay, go design this thing. Was it a shoe or what was that first project?

Kevin Bethune 10:42
It’s funny, I, again, coming from business planning, there was an innovation group that said, you know, help us out, help us with some of the numbers. We don’t have a numbers guy here, can help us out with that? And I started peering in and offering that support. And then eventually, I was afforded a chance to interview for an operational job within global footwear, so they got me closer to product. And that was the first time that I saw real professional designers in the first time in my career. And I leaned into them, meeting friends, creative friends, and, and because of my engineering volition, and I had some comfort with 3d stuff. I was like, Oh, let me let me latch on. And some of my newfound creative friends actually gave me opportunities to stretch myself. So that’s how I started finding design in the Nike environment was getting just some runway to try some things. And the Jordan brand was the first category, man by the name of Dwayne Edwards, who was the footwear design director at the time, had too many briefs, not enough designers. He said you meet me in the morning at six, we’ll commiserate on this project, I’ll mentor you through it, you got to do the work. And then we would go do our day jobs. And then I would work on his stuff at night.

Mark Divine
Oh, wow. That’s great.

Mark Divine
So we did that for a better part of a year, working double duty. And, you know, Jordan Brand mentored me through getting two different models to market, they invited me into their entire process, those shoes did really well that year, and led to other open doors. But it’s funny, I might get credit for some design work at Nike, but I wasn’t officially ever a designer at Nike.

Mark Divine 12:06
Interesting. That’s cool. I imagine it’s just an intense collaboration of teamwork, right? So like, what does the teamwork look like to get a new Jordan shoe from concept out to the market?

Kevin Bethune 12:17
Yeah, there’s sort of this sort of implicit triad model that’s wired throughout the product engine of Nike, or any competitive brand, for that matter, to where a designer will come to the table, a product marketer or manager will come to the table to speak on behalf of the market landscape, the business, the distribution merchandising channels, and then you have the footwear developer or engineer that knows what it’s like to commiserate, collaborate with the factory downstream, and can kind of anticipate what the factory has to deal with in terms of materials and methods of making. And so those three voices have to be at the table, and they’ve got to nurse the idea. And it might be just a sketch, to like, eventually we’ll get some samples from the factory. And eventually there might be, you know, a real live thing that you want to actually mass produce. But it’s got to survive gates and dates through a long process, because it’s not just the shoe itself. It’s how that shoe sits on a store environment, you know, next to a wall full of shoes, all these gates and dates, all these filters, all these decisions. It’s like 18 to 24 months before.

Mark Divine 13:18
Was Michael Jordan involved at all? Did he have veto power over the designs? Or what was his relationship? Was it just strictly financial?

Kevin Bethune 13:25
I don’t know the nature of that relationship now. But when I was an employee, he was officially a president by title and he was part of the business.

Mark Divine
Oh, really?

Kevin Bethune
He had a special title. And he had veto rights in terms of how the brand was used. That’s what I remember when I was working there.

Mark Divine 13:41
Interesting. Well, it makes sense is his name after all, indeed. Okay. So what’s your proudest accomplishment in the you know, or the project that you feel like you had the biggest influence on?

Kevin Bethune 13:52
it was more like first a career gamble that led to… like what I’m really known for, from a design angle. And as the first was, as I mentioned, I never earned the title officially of designer even though I got design work through the hopper. I encountered a fork in the road where one I could have continued to decline scratch another 10 to 15 years on side hustles before Nike would pedigree me as a rockstar footwear designer, or meanwhile, the world is like changing all around outside of Nike, like you know, designs being celebrated on the cover of business magazines, we’re seeing the advent of digital and physical ecologies like Apple coming to life, the iPod, the iTunes, all the, all these ecologies of experience. And I saw a little bit of myself in that convergence.

A few shoe projects weren’t going to answer the creative leg of my three legged stool at that point. So I decided to quit my Nike job and go back to school. I went back to grad school for a second time. It really solidified my creative foundation properly, while not leaving behind my tech and business backgrounds. It was a move to really stand for the intersection of these converging disciplines coming together. And then I would stand for innovation from the rest of my career, and work on innovation projects, the way I wanted to. I hitched my wagon to some business partners that thought the same and had the same belief system about where the future was going. And ended up standing up some runways. And the last step, which was creating this incubator that was acquired by the Boston Consulting Group, and they really supercharged it where the big BCG animal is a consulting engine, but inside of them, there’s actually a venture creation engine incubator that spins up companies, that creates and spins out companies. And I got to lead the design leg of that three legged stool for that incubator, which was such an honor to be a part of that.

Mark Divine 15:42
That sounds like a blast. Any notable projects come out of there in terms of companies?

Kevin Bethune 15:47
I mean, one of my favorite ventures was Bosch engineering coming to our Berlin Innovation Center. And we again, we worked the inverse, we weren’t on an airplane flying like consultants do. We had innovation centers, and they lived in residence with us. So we got to ring fence designers, technologists, strategists. And the Bosch folks lived in residence at that Berlin studio. And they trusted our process and went on an innovation journey. And they incubated an E scooter ride sharing platform where they deployed 1000s of scooters across these mega cities in Europe, people could just kind of check them out with their phones, you didn’t need anything more than a driver’s license to ride them. It was almost like early before the advent of all the scooters that we saw a few years ago. This was an early venture that really sparked and made traction in Europe in a good way. And that was Bosch coming to us with just a question around mobility, help us with mobility. So these businesses were real, this went well beyond the PowerPoint deck, if you will.

Mark Divine 16:47
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show, to hear a short message from one of our partners.

Now back to the show.

Mark Divine
I’m passionate about leadership, and I’m getting my doctorate in global leadership and change. What were some of the big insights you had around what successful leadership look like at an entrepreneurial level to you know, for these, especially for a company that is a big, stable, secure company, trying to be entrepreneurial, like we’re talking about with Bosch, or somebody who would come to an innovation lab, are some of the leadership principles that help them be successful?

Kevin Bethune 17:38
You know, I honestly think it took some initial pilots to bring disparate disciplines and different representatives from those disciplines, into the same war room together. We’ve come to find pretty quickly that even though folks are familiar with the Venn diagrams and how disciplines can come together and collaborate, in reality, it’s still the exception, not the rule. And I found in those initial convenings of teams, people were tripping all over each other, or they were getting hung up on someone else, perhaps in the room had a bias toward hypothesis driven problem solving. And they wanted to ram an answer down the throat of the team and the process until proven otherwise, until you can convince me that this answer is wrong, I’m gonna keep driving it. So you had that kind of personality, you had others in the room coming from different disciplines that might have had a more abductive, or inductive sort of thought process. And maybe they were feeling marginalized or not listened to. And at the same time, they had to develop the confidence and courage to speak up, maybe when maybe they haven’t had to in previous patterns of collaboration. So we were forcing everyone’s hand to do things differently. And it’s funny, I think, from a leadership perspective, just the first act of getting the teams to just openly talk about it, like, where are you coming from? Where are you coming from? How do you like to work? How do I like to work? You know, what stresses me out? What are my triggers? What are your triggers?

Mark Divine 19:00
Right, to talk about the process instead of the actual doing the work all the time. So working on themselves, working on the idea of being a collaborative team, while you also have to keep the project moving forward.

Kevin Bethune
That’s right, exactly.

Mark Divine
Were you embedded? Or were you a facilitator in those environments?

Kevin Bethune 19:16
You know, through our first few ventures, where we were just sort of proving the model, proving how we could build these businesses and the solutions within them, I was embedded, you know, definitely a co founder of the initial ventures that was a part of my charter, was to represent design. But as we started to scale the platform, I had to move into more of a, what I call a servant leadership functional role to ensure that if we’re replicating designers, like the volition I was providing, we have to find more designers that are going to come into these ventures and have the courage to contribute as well and hopefully do it better than I was doing in the initial outset. But my charter was to then serve that cohort of designers, as they receded into each of the ventures as the whole platform was scaling.

Mark Divine 19:58
I love that you mentioned servant leadership, you know, that’s a very popular kind of leadership model or theory. One of the criticisms is that often, you know, with someone who adopts servant leadership as kind of a leadership mindset is that they end up giving all of their time, energy, all of themselves in service to their team, and then they end up getting burned out. How did you deal with that? And how did you avoid burnout? Or did you… What was your experience like?

Kevin Bethune 20:25
I think to your point, like I definitely didn’t coin the term servant leadership. And in the book, I talk about this other extreme of gatekeeping, but I at least had the wherewithal to know like, okay, there’s a gradient here and I want to try to bias my time toward the servant end, the service end. And, you know, I think I tried to tactically break it down and unpack like the key lessons learned that I learned through my previous career experiences. You know, if I’m charged to be a leader of any team, I got to make sure that they trust me first, or that there’s trust established within the team. Just picking an inventory of the ingredients, where we can be in service to each other. If there’s a vision that I need to articulate as that team’s leader, I need to ensure that that team feels bought in that they’ve helped inform the vision, even though I might have to articulate it and provide a oomph of clarity to that vision. But I do want to like carve up the work that needs to be done and give people the runway, the role clarity, the license to own the pieces of that collective vision. But I also think that it wasn’t about me just carrying forward as a facilitator to constantly serve and unblock the team. Sometimes the team needed to see me do the work too. There are many moments where there was just an ability to provide quiet leadership to come into some gnarly situation that the team was uncomfortable with, get my hands dirty with them, show them perhaps, like how I would attack it, those moments sort of broker better trust where, you know, the need to unblock, or the need to do things for them sort of lessen when they were off and running at that point.

Mark Divine 21:53
We deployed that in the SEALs as officers, because we had to go through our, we went through our basic underwater demolition SEAL training side by side with all the, you know, all the enlisted troops, and you know, it’s a small community, 2000 strong, maybe 300 or 400 officers, and so we didn’t have an us versus them, or an I’m above you attitude, because we trained side by side, and we had to know and be able to do everything reasonably well. Whereas we also knew that these guys are going to be drilling into becoming experts at, you know, certain things and so you could never, you know, you don’t want to, you could be good, but you’re probably never going to be the best at any one thing. The leadership was really nuanced like that. And so you had to do a lot of show and tell, you know, you had to prove that you could do something, lead by example, walk the talk, that kind of thing. But then for an equal amount of time, you had to get out of the way and not be the boss, let them flourish, you know, both so they could learn, but also because they were the experts. You know, ultimately. One of our mottos was ready to lead, ready to follow, never quit, right? And so that meant, you know, you might be leading one moment, but guess what, the next moment you might be following and serving and you know. And so we’re always switching roles and it sounds like you kind of experienced that in that innovative environment.

Kevin Bethune 23:03
Yeah, for those multidisciplinary teams to thrive, we had to orchestrate that, just as you’re describing it. That resonates as you describe it, it resonates in terms of how I saw teaming work within teams, at least that were successful or found success.

Mark Divine 23:15
The title of your book is reimagining design. And it sounds like really, it’s about innovation. So what can you tell us about innovation that maybe would be a unique perspective?

Kevin Bethune 23:26
I think, like every organization, arguably wants to be innovative.

Mark Divine 23:30
Right It’s a critical skill nowadays, because you have to reinvent yourself constantly, the world’s moving so fast, you know, this exponential age that we’re in and all.

Kevin Bethune 23:38
Totally, I think every organization has to think about, like, what does growth mean for them, to your point, like, there might be parts of the business that are maturing or are sort of out of date, and they need to be refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. So we’re going to find that new source of business growth. And hopefully, we hope it’s respectful growth that’s considerate of the environment, considerate of the people that are part of the engine, all these things.

Mark Divine 24:01
Well, that’s also been kind of required by all the stakeholders, right? Isn’t it nowadays, both boards, you know, ESG movements, SEC, if it’s an American company, or whoever the European equivalent is, and also employees. And so I think it’s just the days of footnote work that’s going to be harmful for the environment, or not good for the global commons is over.

Kevin Bethune 24:21
Totally. But if we look at like, who’s at the strategy table and forming these opportunities, arguably, from a discipline perspective, it still may be predominantly biased toward the sort of the business line of thinking or, and maybe if you look at Silicon Valley, technologists have asserted their voice through computer science, the rise of software. So you could argue they’re another dominant voice at the strategy table. Design is young at that table. To your point like around the greater ecological ramifications of any business or design decision, design better have a seat at that table, and be sort of meshed into the problem solving culture of what’s happening and what’s prioritized and what’s driven forward at that strategy table. The book is less about talking about design thinking some more and is more about design and strategic positioning at parity with those other disciplines.

Mark Divine 25:11
Yeah, no, I get that. That’s cool, which is a whole new level. And I imagine, you know, like, companies like Apple, which really lead with kind of saying, okay, design isn’t just something that’s happening in this backroom over here, it is the brand, right? And so it’s got a table, you know, front seat equal, right. And so that’s probably now the norm, since I invoked the book, like what was some of the key messaging that you have in the book that you know, you’d like to share to the listeners right now?

Kevin Bethune 25:39
I think the first thing is, someone might look at the cover and say, like, is this just about design? But honestly, I think it’s applicable to designers and non designers and that I think the future is going to require us to be in more multidisciplinary teams moving forward, like, who’s at the table really matters. So we sort of understand that, we should understand the role that at least design plays in the puzzle, whether you’re a designer or non designer, like you should understand the puzzle of what makes something multidisciplinary. And then secondly, this is not just another book that asks the design thinking canon, or minds, the intersection of design and business. It’s just really trying to articulate how can we collectively problem solve, and I, and I want to bring my person into the book, and just tell you like, here’s a series of lived experiences that I’ve had, I can showcase how design has absolutely changed my life as an individual. And then through that, I’ve also been privileged to be a part of organizations where I watch design change the organization for the better. And the perspectives I share are lightweight enough where individuals as well as organizations can pick them up, customize for their own realities, and move them forward.

Mark Divine 26:48
You know, what’s going through my mind right now is look, it’s probably initially oriented toward like, larger organizational leaders. But it sounds like anybody who is interested in how to, you know, improve, just their thinking about collaboration and innovation in their own lives, right, because we’re moving toward, like solopreneurship, people having, you know, being an independent, multiple independent teams as ICs, sometimes in and out of employment roles at large organizations. So how is it going to help someone who may be in that kind of vein, more of an independent operator?

Kevin Bethune 27:21
Yeah, no, I think it was any of those examples you mentioned, we’re talking about creatively curious people who are aware that the world is changing, and even the ground might be shifting underneath their feet, and they’re nervous, you know. If anything, I don’t claim that the book is some magic pill. But I think through the unpacking of these personal and professional stories, folks will hopefully get inspired and find some like guideposts of inspiration to help them string together how they can use the best of their life personally and professionally, how they can use the best nutrients to guide their their own path forward in a changing world.

Mark Divine 27:56
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show, to hear a short message from one of our partners.

And now, back to the show.

Mark Divine
We talked briefly before we started about kind of your vision for the future, beyond, you know, design, just as a human being and your experience. My experience has been like, so rich with positive things, right, great success and lots of challenge along the way, right. But you know, we’ve cultivated this attitude that it’s beneficial to be positive and not negative, it’s helpful to be a compassionate person. And then you recognize that, wow, these are universal principles that everybody should at least stumble upon and try to adopt, but then you look outside and you read the news, and you’re like, wow, what a shit show. Like, why is that from your perspective?

Kevin Bethune 28:56
Yeah, you know, honestly, I think, when it comes to problem solving, I’m a big believer in the butterfly effect. Like, this book is not going to answer the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mark Divine
Right, neither is this podcast, right?

Kevin Bethune
But, you know, unfortunately, I think we do live in a world that has been, it’s funny, we say it often, like we live in a world that’s been informed by design, the enterprises that we work for, the ways we digitally navigate are the way they are by design. So no longer is it enough to just even think about innovation through the lens of like, desirability, viability, feasibility, these kinds of things that we talk about innovation, that’s no longer enough. We have to think about the broader ecology of what we affect, it can be environment, it can be our people, could be ethics, but that’s no longer enough, because the world has been informed by design, we do have to wrestle with notions of power, privilege, inequitable access, you know, all these things. And perhaps, as much as we think about future and innovation, we also need to like be present in the moment. And we also need to bring historical relevance into the conversation and actually provide visibility to the threads of systemic inequity. I think that’s part of any problem solving journey. We should appreciate where we’ve come from, and be honest about that history.

Mark Divine 30:17
With that last point, because we did address this kind of early on to address systemic inequity. Do you believe, like some of the deconstructionists, that we kind of have to deconstruct what’s been built, you know, that’s kind of trapped the inequity, or can we, through more intelligent design, evolve institutions and culture to be more inclusive? That’s a radically different approach to kind of more chaos.

Kevin Bethune 30:43
You know, throwing the baby out the bathwater, it’s probably not always right. Unfortunately, with a lot of these conversations as it relates to, you know, what we see in the media, politics, government, even enterprises and institutions… I can also say that some of the the maneuvers haven’t been bold enough to really like offset the precedent of inequity.

Mark Divine 31:04
Right, which has got a lot of momentum and a lot of rigidity, right? The structures are pretty rigid. And sometimes they’re hidden from view.

Kevin Bethune 31:11
Yeah. And unfortunately, you know, in the summer of George Floyd like, and again, these stories were not new to the black community, speaking as a black man in America, unfortunately, it takes black bodies falling victim to police brutality, for companies to wake up and start. But still, the behaviors are very performative, very surface level.

Mark Divine 31:30
Yeah, they’re PR tricks.

Kevin Bethune 31:31
You know, so to your question, I think a strategy, don’t throw everything away. Don’t deconstruct everything, but like, can we come up with bold tactics over time, that will help get us to a new direction and be bolder than we have been? That’s my hope, at least.

Mark Divine 31:47
It seems to me that probably one of the best ways… I mean, this is all human beings, right? Human beings create structures, create organizations, and then we tend to think it’s the organization that’s the problem. No, it’s the human beings still, you know, long after the original people constructed that organization, right, that system. And to me, like, it seems so simple, like learning how to communicate again, as peers, kind of like what you’re doing with these entrepreneurs, or these people coming from different departments, you need, we need people from different walks of life, who have joined a common mission, and in communities to just come together and start communicating and sharing in going beyond, you know, like, I love Ken Wilber and integral theories, is post liberal post conservative conversations or integrated conversations, where everyone’s voice is included and heard and, and difficult conversations are addressed. And it takes probably facilitation and expertise. But even that person, whoever those people are, have to be very, very post rigid, kind of left, right, this, that. We can get there. But the story can’t happen by one side pointing fingers at the other or vice versa. You know what I mean? Let’s get together. We’re humans first, right? And now let’s look at our differences, celebrate them.

Kevin Bethune 33:00
And I agree, there’s a buried assumption around like, it’s going to be a zero sum game. Well, no. If we do what you’re describing, like we actually can flourish and create more opportunities for everyone.

Mark Divine 33:11
It’s like the idea of abundance versus scarcity, you know, everyone trying to claw for the last pie. No, let’s open up the borders of the pie, make it limitless. Where can people learn more about you and your book, and like, where’s the great place for them to kind of come if they’re sitting in the car and driving and they want to remember, hey, I want to go check this out?

Kevin Bethune 33:30
I’m pretty easy to find just at Kevin Bethune on all the major social media platforms. My author site is just my name, Kevin Bethune hyphen, reimagining design.com. And there’s all kinds of doorways in terms of like ways to engage the book, or ways to get over to the business side of what defines my, my experience, renderings design in life. That’s another website people can go to just to understand a little bit more.

Mark Divine 33:54
Kevin, thanks so much for joining me today, it was a really very fascinating conversation. And I appreciate you for doing your work and also for standing up for what’s right in the world in terms of where we need to go as leaders.

Kevin Bethune 34:06
Thank you Mark, honored by your story and all the incredible things that you’ve done, and it’s been an honor to be in conversation with you. Honestly.

Mark Divine 34:13
Ditto, I’ll see you on Nike campus when we go visit and go get some freebies.

Kevin Bethune
Sounds good.

Mark Divine
All right, brother. Thank you so much. All right. Take care.

Kevin Bethune
You too.

Mark Divine
That was a fascinating interview. I haven’t talked to a business leader like that who is really into design and innovation and creativity and collaboration. We had a fascinating talk about servant leadership and gatekeeping leadership and how design has become as important as strategic planning and finance and everything else when it comes to launching a business. These principles can be applied to your life if you’re a solopreneur, or an independent contractor. It’s a really very interesting conversation.

Show notes and transcripts are up on the site at Markdivine.com. You can find the video at YouTube on our YouTube channel. You can find me at Twitter at Mark Divine and on Instagram and Facebook at real Mark Divine, you can hit me up on LinkedIn.

Send me questions for our q&a podcast if you’d like. Also, if you’re not on my newsletter email list, you might be interested in our new newsletter called Divine Inspiration, where I disseminate my most top of mind inspirational habits, people, products, things that I’m thinking about. All that will help you lead a life of compassion and courage. Go to Markdivine.com to subscribe if you’re not part of that.

Special shout out to my amazing team, AmyJurkowitz, Geoff Haskell, Jason Sanderson, Jeff Torres, and Melinda Hershey, who help produce this amazing show every week and bring guests like Kevin to us. Also it’s very helpful if you review the show. It helps other people find it and gives us credibility. My goal is to get over 5000 5 star reviews this year, we have well over 1000. If you liked the show, then maybe take a moment to go rate it and review it at iTunes or wherever you listen

As we talked about in this episode and all of my episodes, the world is changing, we’re getting exponentially disrupted. We have to develop the mindset of the exponential mind to be more innovative, more creative, hold on to our human skills, while everything else gets outsourced and disrupted. And we’re gonna have to do that through training, training the mind, training the body, training the spirit, becoming whole and more inclusive. So thank you for being part of our journey, and for doing your part in that mission. Until next time, this is Mark Divine, the host of the Mark Divine Show, hoo-yah.

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