Acting into the Unknown

Pradeep Sharma

How do external partners benefit from collaboration with RISD? And what has RISD learned in the process of such collaboration? Pradeep Sharma, Dean of Architecture and Design, describes how improvisation, process, guessing, uncertainty, practice, and failure all play into the meaningful development of creativity and innovation. In the end, RISD partnerships, while committed to sharing special skills, expertise, and strategies, are largely about cultivating the opportunity and freedom to enter the unknown.


I remember as a consultant being asked to help a company with innovation. Their opening salvo: “We tried design once. It didn’t work.” This was many years ago, and since then plenty has been written about the role of design in business. Today, of course, design is everywhere. We all recognize that design plays a significant role not just in products and services but also in brand positioning, loyalty, productivity, and organizational structures. Yet all this attention hardly clarifies what we mean when we speak of design. The broad definitions end up being too general to pin it down, while the specific ones exclude too much. Today’s trendiest books and articles teach us about design management or design methods or design thinking. Yet designing is as old as civilization; we’ve been doing it ever since we purposefully set out to make something.

Given all this loose talk, the design community would do well to take a page from the quality ...

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