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FEI: Front End of Innovation

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June 10-12, 2024
Omni Boston Hotel at the SeaportBoston
June 10-12, 2024
Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport,

20th Anniversary Interview Series

Leading Innovation With Design

Seth Adler w/Harsh Wardhan

"It’s not only the scientists and technologists that are propelling the innovation industry in the age of AI - it’s the consumer. So says one of Google’s top design execs. Harsh Wardhan is the innovation program lead at Google, but he’s worked in multiple industries carrying his passion for ‘design-thinking’ innovation into each new role. Pushing the boundaries even in his former design position in the automotive industry, Wardhan is on a mission to ‘evangelize’ the path of lead innovator. He’s anticipating the 20th Anniversary of Front End of Innovation (FEI) in May to do just that. 


Wardhan talked to Seth Adler about getting the word out on leading innovation with design and says one of the biggest shifts in recent years is the emphasis on customer or user centricity in the corporate world. “From a consumer lens today, you can use generative AI to make images, you can use it to write emails for you. You can use it to write papers and whatnot. Were we able to do that a few years ago? Not so much,” he says.Lead innovators then take the lessons learned from this ‘user centricity’ to advance their specified technology. Wardhan says this is a change from the secretive way the innovation process was done in the past. The entire operation is now more open. “The jargony term would be open innovation; innovation coming from all around.”

The ‘scientist’ theory behind innovation and technology has also evolved, according to Wardhan. He says the traditional concept of white coats working in R&D labs - tight-lipped on any new ideas - is a thing of the past. Research and development is still important. But today, the process is much more open and collaborative, Wardhan says. Knowledge and learning are shared across industries. “I'm not saying research and development is not relevant. I'm saying the way that it was done [is not relevant].” 

See Harsh at FEI. Register Now.

Also, linked with this shift is the transition to less ‘linear’ approaches to design-led innovation. Wardhan says widely-used models which suggest a specific starting and ending point are fading out. He says the reality is that the process is now extremely flexible and adaptable. Iterations and improvements can and do happen at any stage. Sometimes, certain stages are skipped altogether. There are many examples of companies using these new dynamic innovation models. Wardhan sees Tesla as one of the biggest innovative legends of our time. That perspective is not based on the accomplishments of one man, but on a team bringing various ideas together. 

“Innovation is really application or evolution of what else already exists and applying it for the betterment, or in a different domain. An innovation legend in today's times…it is not a person, it can't be. We are way ahead of the cowboy culture that we used to have. It's…an organization or a team that does exactly that,” he says.  Tesla is, perhaps, a case study of the new ‘design-thinking.’ Wardhan says the company has changed the way consumers think about cars. Electric cars have existed for years, but Tesla has managed to commercialize the industry while transforming the landscape of the automotive industry. 

See Harsh at FEI. Register Now.