Creative confidence, design thinking, and synergies with IDEO: meet Trium’s new partner, Owen Rogers
New Trium Partner, Owen Rogers, talks about his decision to join the firm and his signature style, in an interview with Trium’s Head of Community and Growth, Talia Deer.
Barely 10 minutes into our first conversation, Owen Rogers leans forward, completely at ease, and shares a raw truth.
“After spending 25 years at IDEO, I realized I wanted to devote the next chapter of my career to the transformation of the C-suite executives who are driving innovation within their organizations. Innovation without personal transformation simply doesn’t work.
“I didn’t know that at the time,” says Owen, “But the reason I took a coaching course was not to learn to coach. It was to work on my own creative confidence so that I could then start to offer that to others in support of the questions they were being asked. That opened up the space around the question, how do you activate and support individuals and teams to take on the change they seek?”
Owen sees a synergy between IDEO and Trium. Typically, IDEO’s relationship with a client begins when market dynamics demand the reimagining of the client’s products or services from a human perspective. IDEO will design an iconic new offer and the structural and organizational changes to support its delivery. He sees Trium engaging with organizations at the same moment of market challenge—but answering the need for the activation of its leadership to achieve that transformation.
“What I have seen is IDEO creating, building, and standing up practices that enabled creativity to happen, to enable new stuff to appear in the world. Those practices have since been co-opted by other people. But at IDEO we built a culture that allowed that to happen. I committed the last 25 years to IDEO and was very successful. But what has been itching me for the last five to eight years is that it’s really, really hard to do. When creative people and innovators are trying to do that for organizations, the more dramatic the shift, the harder it is to assimilate into the business, make it make sense, and have the impact that’s been designed. For me, that thought opened up a huge amount of opportunities within design. The one that interested me most was to work with the individuals who commission that disruptive work and the systems they sit within.”
Working in service of others as they navigate the magnitude and complexity of change is a recurrent theme of Owen’s account of his career story. It’s never about creatives working in service of their own ideas; it’s always in service of the client and their objectives. He tells of getting feedback from a client, “an amazing” Chief Technology Officer: “Of all of the crazy people she’s ever worked with, she said I make creative endeavors make business sense—that actually move the business forward.”
On the “creative edge”
“The edge” is another recurrent theme of our conversation: trying not to do what he was expected to do, nor doing the thing that the “system” thought he should do next. This search for the edge of creative practice took him first from the Royal College of Art to IDEO’s London studio and then to San Francisco to set up the first interdisciplinary design studio in 2003.
“I wanted to work for IDEO because there were a couple of people I knew who were pushing the edges and I felt like I could be hired to be on an edge. I was very focused on the idea of what became interdisciplinary; it was one of the things that IDEO became very famous for and others followed. There was a guy at IDEO who was a trained mechanical engineer and he and I, a trained industrial designer, were asked to build the first interdisciplinary studio and to start to sell problem-solving using collaboration and interdisciplinary design. Bringing those two things together was like bringing together the left brain and the right brain. It was the beginning of a design process that would get you further quicker… That led us to design thinking. It’s about being cross-disciplinary, not just about the execution. Those things have always been the things that have sat on the edge.”
Owen describes his decision to join Trium as the latest discovery of the edge of his practice as a creative leader. We’re back to that itch to be of service (and resistance to the idea of being called to be a coach):
“Did I feel a calling to become a coach? Calling is a lovely word, but it’s a bit highfalutin. I’ve learned that what people want is advice and support from a trusted companion—someone who is in it for them, rather than themselves. I was looking for where I could be of service. That was the evolution. Right now, I feel super lucky to have found Trium. The selfishness of why I’m here is because of Trium’s wicked smart team who I can learn from as I explore this edge. That’s the honest truth. That’s why I’m here.”
Signatures of Owen’s Style
What should clients expect working with Owen? He calls out feedback from “people he’s dug in deep with” as the best evidence of his signature style. First, there’s personality. Fun. Reassuring. A personable trusted advisor. “I prefer to get to know people and people to get to know me. It’s not extraneous to what I’m trying to do, it is part and parcel of the learning process,” says Owen. Second, there’s creative excellence. “I know what good looks like and I will push for it and I will take accountability to make it happen,” he says. Within the first and second signature features of Owen’s style, lies the third: relationships. They matter—really matter. “The third thing is the minute I get involved in it, I won’t let go of the relationship as it relates to what we’re doing. I find my network and my relationships really time-consuming because they are time-consuming. I give a shit.” There’s one project in Owen’s storied career—Toronto Airport, which went from the bottom quartile for passenger experience to the best performing in North America—that captures what he has tried to accomplish and what he still wants to do. He explains:
“The hardest part of the act of coaching, especially how I do it, is staying present in the moment on a very real-time level – listening to the person without putting your own beliefs in front of what you believe they need in real-time. Watch a great coach, and they do that. But it’s really hard and that’s what I strive to do. After we wrapped up our work on Toronto’s Pearson Airport, we did a video with the client, who said:
‘What I want to tell other C-suite people is this is probably the hardest yet most rewarding work you will ever do in your life. And you will have fun.’
“That’s it,” says Owen. “That’s it right there. That’s what I want. That’s what I want to be known for: bringing both fun and the creative confidence that others can lean into on their journey.”
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