The following is an excerpt from Creative Intelligence by Bruce Nussbaum (HarperBusiness), out March 5th.
It took several hours, but Harry West and his team eventually reached a conclusion about their current challenge: Drinking was weird.
West, the CEO of the Boston-based consultancy Continuum, had brought together a diverse group of his top people--collectively, they had degrees in packaging, design, business, engineering, human factors, and technology policy--to help redesign one of the greatest innovations in Swedish commercial history: the tetrahedron-shaped Tetra Paks now so common in Europe, Asia, and much of the world. Dr. Ruben Rausing is usually credited with the idea for the coated flat cardboard package--picture a pourable pyramid--which haven’t changed much since the first Tetra Paks came out in the fifties. They were designed for the way people drank--sitting down. But at a certain point, it became clear to Tetra’s leadership that people weren’t drinking that way anymore. They were mobile, on the go, and wanted their liquid refreshment as they moved about.
After years of trying to fix the problem on their own, Tetra Pak’s executives contacted West for help. Continuum then launched a major ethnography research project and collected tons of information about cultural drinking habits in Shanghai and Hangzhou in China, Milan and Modena in Italy, and Boston, the consultancy’s home base. The data was rich, but data alone couldn’t tell them what kind of product to design.
So West gathered together a team that had worked together before and trusted one another to be, well, a little nutty. They met in the firm’s project room and started . . . drinking. “We were handing around bottles and packages, drinking from them, talking about how we felt about them, and we began to reflect on what we were doing, to think about it more carefully,” West says. “It is a kind of an intimate experience handing a package back and forth with someone you work with, taking a sip and talking about how you feel. This is the sort of thing you normally only do with your spouse or lover.”
As West and his team observed each other, they began to evolve a language for the differences in drinking habits--and the weirdness of it all. “We talked to each other about our preferred way to drink and expressed amazement and disdain for how other people on the team were doing it.” And that’s when, West says, “It became fun.” Read the complete Fast Company artilce.