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Innovation and empathy go hand in hand: featured speaker at TEDxOttawa

Earlier this year Nilufer Erdebil was in Vancouver and came across a shower in her hotel room that lacked something she specializes in – design thinking.

“I was pulling and pushing on whatever was there trying to turn on the shower,” she said at the TEDxOttawa event that took place on Oct. 23. “It was about two minutes in before I realized that they actually had instructions on the shower.”

Erdebil, who is the CEO of Spring2 Innovation, went on to explain the odd instructions which even included a telephone number in case one needed extra help.

“Not only did it have written instructions for a shower but they also had third line support,” she said as laughter resonated through Algonquin Commons Theatre. “Had the shower designers thought about using design thinking, they might have foreseen that people would have had problems after a long flight or early in the morning.”

Her speech focused on two concepts of design thinking: empathy and reframing. While emphasizing means to look at problems from an end user perspective, reframing is re-examining problems at a human level perspective.

“If you are starting out, make sure you are doing something well for a particular audience and know that audience extremely well,” she said. “Bring them through (the process) and get them to help you design it or at least test it out and see what they think about it.”

This is in fact what her company aims to achieve when they train and coach organizations.

“We combine technology and design thinking. So helping other people understand technologies and then helping them understand design thinking so they are actually developing products and services that people are going to end up buying instead of just developing products because they are cool technology,” she explained during a private interview.

According to her bio, she has experience in innovation in various fields such as telecommunications, application development, program management and IT Management. She’s a professional engineer and holds a degree in electrical engineering as well as a MBA.

Although she said she was good in math and sciences, she always knew that she wanted to run her own business. When asked to give advice to students in the STEM field or students aiming to start a company someday, she said: “I think if they are creating their own products, definitely look at who their target audience is and their end user is.”

After her speech, food and beverages were served during the half-hour intermission as people socialized on the main floor of the Student Commons building.

A couple – Lois Brown and Joe Budgell – drove about six hours from Orangeville specifically for the night’s event.

“I enjoyed Kathy Reichs’ because I’ve pretty much read all her books,” said Brown. In regards to Erdebil’s topic, Brown said that it involved a bit more thinking in order to truly grasp the message.

“She’s really worth more than just half an hour,” she praised.

Jennifer Wright also attended the event. She said that she also came for Kathy Reichs as she and her kids are big fans of her show Bones.

“This is the first TEDx event I’ve come to so really, I’ve been enjoying it. It’s been really interesting. I like the diversity of the speakers,” said Wright.

She also thought that it was interesting that Erdebil’s company, Spring2 Innovation trained people to determine a process from an end user’s perspective.

“It’s interesting the way that she posed end user because I didn’t realize it wasn’t intuitive to most businesses,” she added.

Sekou Kaba, a speaker from last year’s TEDxOttawa was invited to this year’s event to see how the other speakers do.

“It was great,” he said in regards to Erdebil’s topic. “It’s quite important for consumers to be taken into account before things go into production. I find if more companies do that, then they could do that much better.”

In the near future, Erdebil wants to incorporate training and consulting in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain to organizations in order to “shift businesses to take into account that there is technology that can do some of the stuff better, faster and more completely.”

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