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Learning by doing and embracing complexity

Abby Litchfield and Justin Li

Over the last three weeks, we’ve watched a variety of researchers, students and executives take time away from their day-to-day duties to think bigger at the Ivey Innovation Learning Lab.

Each session started with a goosebump-worthy presentation by Terry Irwin about Transition Design – the focus of the workshop.

Through Irwin’s gripping illustration of COVID in the US, we learned that wicked problems can’t be solved with silver bullets. Instead, they require systems-level solutions, where stakeholders from every discipline and sector come together to understand the complex interconnections and clusters the problems create.  

The beauty of the lab, though, was that participants didn’t just learn about the importance of this practice, they learned how to do it through a set of Transitions Design tools provided by Irwin

Key Solutions Outcomes

What we found particularly fascinating were the common themes among the participating executives about a future world. Some of these ideas included the following.

Early Education about Systems Thinking

Children would learn throughout their education about the interconnections between humans and nature, between deforestation and pandemics, and between different disciplines is essential to solving systems problems. Complexity would be embraced, rather than ignored.

Knowledge Sharing

Open-source information was consistently mentioned as a potential solution to problems including lagging innovation, declining trust in institutions, and the general need to better collaborate to solve problems.

The Future of Work

Despite limitless uncertainty, there was a general sense of excitement about what the future of work could mean. Particularly, people discussed deepening roots in communities – emphasizing relationships with neighbours, homes, and small businesses.

Building a Community

The obvious outcome of these sessions for executives is the deeper understanding of Canada’s most complex problems, and how their company fits into them. But, by the third session, it was clear that another benefit had manifested: a supportive community of others striving for similar goals. 

For students just entering this community, the opportunity to see it begin to unfold in front of us sent an encouraging message about what’s to come.