Speaker Feature: Chris Ferguson

Chris Ferguson is a service and experience design strategist. He leads multidisciplinary teams in strategy and design projects with some of the largest and most innovative organizations in Canada, the US, and Europe. Chris specializes in leading projects that connect human insight with value generating experience, and his practical knowledge of delivering projects within multi-national organizations grounds innovation in the realities of implementation. Chris is the founder and CEO of Bridgeable, a leading service design firm based in Toronto and the founder of the Canadian chapter of the Service Design Network.

When/where do you get to be the most creative?

I’m most creative when I am “making to think”. In our design consulting practice, we’re constantly visualizing ideas and making rough concepts to think through problems. By visualizing a problem on paper or working through a prototype on a computer, we can reach great heights in creativity and bring new understanding to a challenge.

How do you think technology influences creativity?

Technology is great for rapidly creating and testing new services and experiences. We often run multi-day workshops where our designers will generate prototypes at night in-between the sessions. When people arrive the next day, they’re blown away by the new prototype of an app, or physical mock-up of an in-store experience, or communication that we built directly from their insights. Combining rapid prototyping technology with the skills of talented craftspeople brings new experiences to life at an unprecedented speed.

The other way technology is influencing creativity is by automating routine cognitive tasks. In the 20th century, technology led to a lot of physical tasks getting automated, such as assembly lines or resource extraction. In the 21st century we are seeing a lot of routine cognitive tasks, like purchase recommendations or investment tips being automated, which renders some services obsolete and opens up possibilities for new services.

What advice would you give someone who thinks they are not creative?

You can become more creative through practice. Activities like lateral thinking exercises (ideating based on an analog or a random word) help to rewire your brain to make unusual connections.

Also, remember that you are only as creative as the obscurity of your sources. To be creative you need to seek out new and different ideas by traveling far and wide, attending unusual conferences and events, or simply taking a new route home from work.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time/what are your hobbies?

I take a day or two a week to spend time with my family and friends and to fully unplug from any thoughts of work. I also really love to listen to and to play music and find Toronto is great for live shows. I enjoy spending time in nature and regularly hike, paddle, or bike outdoors.

How would your friends describe you in 3 words or less?

A tall guy

What is your favourite TED/TEDx talk and why?

I like Reggie Watts’s Beats that defy boxes, because it’s musical, humorous and a sort of anti-TED talk.

What is something you can’t live without? Why?

My family – they really ground me and remind me to keep it real.

What are you most proud of? Why?

I’m most proud of my resiliency and optimism. As an entrepreneur and a creative professional, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years but have always persevered and stayed connected to the greater purpose of the work. Whether it was losing a proposal that I put my heart and soul into, conflict on a team, or a project going off the rails, I always try and refocus on making an impact. The reality is that design is a really great toolkit for creating a better future, and every interaction, project, and organizational engagement is a chance to move the needle.

What is the role that conversation plays in your life?

Sometimes I think of our team as “design diplomats” – negotiating diverse stakeholders in order to create better service experiences for customers. The kind of complex end-to-end experiences we work on require a lot of engagement and enrolment from different departments who don’t normally get in the room together. Conversation is critical to bridge the gap between stakeholders who have different KPIs, terminology, and mental models.

What is your personal philosophy?

Insights without action are useless. So much time is spent gathering research, developing strategies, and discussing powerpoint slides. We need to get better at rapidly translating insights into real-world impact. Only through actual improvements at an experience or service level do we address larger organizational and systemic barriers.

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