Berlin-Tegel Airport is humming at 5:45AM. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong (visit Marché, should you ever find yourself at Gate D72). The rocket fuel helps me to clarify the last 72 hours, which have taken me from San Francisco to Paris, from Paris to Berlin and now back to Paris.
I have a very good reason to be in Paris. The French-American Foundation has a remarkable Young Leaders program, which makes possible a regular cultural exchange between French and American professionals over the course of two years. I was fortunate enough to be named a Young Leader in 2014, making me eligible to take part in this year’s gathering in Paris and Bordeaux.
I decided, however, that while I was here, I should take care of some other important business: experiencing Berlin after having heard much of its startup energy and its continued emergence nearly 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, I arrived very close to the Nov. 9 anniversary of the fall. While I took some time to reflect on the important and difficult history of the city and visit its key landmarks, I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t there just to look back. Rather, I was there to see glimpses of Berlin’s future and places where design thinking’s seeds had been planted and started to take root.
I stayed in Potsdamer Platz between Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate, but I found the sparks I was looking for at the Telekom Innovation Arena in Winterfeldstraße, specifically I went to visit the Creation Center there. I walked into the bright, open space and immediately felt at home. There were toys, objects the team used to help inspire those new to design thinking to reach new prototype ideas. There were lamps adorned with pink sticky notes, and multi-level seating and wide-open tables. But, most importantly, there was evidence of strong storytelling and methods that I hadn’t yet tried to employ, including flip books and card boxes to help distill process and outcome on a project.
I was given a tour by two members of the Creation Center team: Alexander Lancelot Wordel and Aline Henkys. Both were incredibly generous with their time as they walked me through their organization in terms of both its physical space and concepts employed. They recently created an outline of the Creation Center’s mission and purpose, which they shared with me. I immediately was drawn to the outline of their process, which is somewhat different from our own at the d.school.
I have wanted to take a stab at my own design for the process as I understand it for some time. So, this was a nice reminder of how important it is to remain flexible and open even when it comes to the basics of design thinking. What works for one group may not work for another. Different societal and corporate cultures may necessitate changes in language and references in order to get the general point across.
Eventually, I left to explore the city again on my own and reflect on my experience.
The following day I was a bit selfish and visited three museums — the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Neues Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie. Few places stand to simultaneously inspire and educate like a museum, and there is an entire island of museums in Berlin — five in all on the island alone. The Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie is not on the island, however.
By the time I left the Alte Nationalgalerie my back ached from walking, but my mind was buzzing with inspiration. I went from modern art — a tour of the Neue Nationalgalerie’s main collection from 1968-2000 (the museum’s full permanent collection is too large to be displayed all at once in the space, so it’s featured in phases) and the work of David Chipperfield (“Sticks and Stones, an Intervention”) and Moshe Gershuni (“No Father No Mother”). There was the Golden Hat and the bust of Queen Nefertiti at the Neues Museum and remarkable classics from Rodin to Manet at the Alte Nationalgalerie. It was a feast for the eyes and the mind. If you go, be sure to get the audio tour, which provides a history of the museum as well as the artifacts within.
Before I knew it, I was on my way to the airport, where I began writing this piece. Now, I am in a Paris hotel. Tomorrow: Bordeaux.
Special thanks to Tania Anaissie for helping me get to the Creation Center where she worked as a design researcher in 2013.