Six designers are positioned at huge boards with Sharpies in hand around the outskirts of a hotel ballroom. Grouped behind them are dozens of the world’s foremost experts on agriculture, food supply chains, and nutrition.
As this group of policymakers, executives, and researchers engage each other in discussion, the designers listen and rapidly transcribe into sketches their ideas about industry challenges: consumer mistrust of nutrition labels; meaningful sustainability metrics; the reduction of food waste.
This was the scene at February’s BASF Creator Space™ Jam on the Future of Food in Washington, DC.
To celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary, BASF is connecting people and ideas in Creator Space™, a co-creation program established to share, collaborate, and innovate toward tangible solutions for key economic, environmental, and societal challenges.
The challenge of how we will feed the world’s population by 2050 is one that impacts all three of these areas and a worthy topic of the world’s leading chemical corporation. But to even define the parameters of that problem is a challenge in itself.
To work toward that definition, the team used a quote popularly attributed to Albert Einstein to guide the way: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.”
Not Your Mama's Brainstorm
To help take on an issue with such an enormous scope, BASF enlisted TEAMS Chicago President Paul Hatch to facilitate a jam. Unlike a traditional brainstorm, this unique format doesn’t begin with a predetermined goal in mind; “the journey it takes is defined according to the input,” said Hatch. Participants are able to offer ideas and insights, riffing and building upon other ideas that spark their interest without the pressure of a needed outcome.
“Because we don’t start with a desired result, it’s a great format to bring together people with radically different perspectives and backgrounds.” No one is alienated by a goal that doesn’t align with their viewpoint, and the range of contributors make for a richer discussion.
The magic happens when this diverse group is given the freedom to explore. “When musicians jam, one gets spontaneously inspired by another, and the end result is greater than anything either could have planned alone.”
Jamming on the Problem
When you sit down executives of global corporations with food safety experts, deans at research universities with presidents of agricultural unions, things get lively.
The group touched on everything from new protein sources, environmental impact of farming and livestock, eating habits and cultural aspects of food, nutrition science vs. emotions, technology access, and food waste. While some issues unified the group – like blogs that popularize pseudoscience – others elicited a variety of nuanced perspectives.
Throughout this animated conversation, the ideas were captured in the moment by a contingent of designers from TEAMS’ Chicago and Esslingen studios. While the discussion was free to wander, Hatch’s sketch ninjas filtered and grouped them with other ideas that touched on similar topics – from food affordability and access, to personal nutrition – ultimately creating oversized infographics on each of the event’s major topics of conversation.
With a range of problems now defined, BASF is ready to continue the discussion. In June, a series of different food-related, BASF Creator Space™ events will take place in Chicago, bringing together employees, industry experts, scientists and stakeholders from across the food value chain to discuss and co-create around the future of food.