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When we went looking for creative, innovative and extraordinary people to lead discussions and think outside the box with us at Harvest Summit, Ivy Ross was a name that quickly surfaced. From Fortune 500 boardrooms to museums around the world, her insight is sought after and her work is creative and innovative.
Ivy’s passion is human potential and relationships. She believes in the combination of art and science to make magic happen and bring great ideas and brands to life. Music to our ears.
She is currently Vice President, Head of Design /User Experience for all Hardware Products at Google. Last year Ivy was invited to be one of 40 people on the Vatican’s art and technology council created by Pope Francis.
Previously, she has held executive positions ranging from Head of Product Design and Development to CMO and Presidencies with several companies, including Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel, Old Navy and Gap and Art.com.
We sat down with Ivy to chat about her unconventional career, how she approaches innovation and the lessons she has learned along the way.
You recently gave the commencement speech at The Fashion Institute of Technology and we loved the human perspective you shared:
“Don’t let your ego determine your journey, keep it in check so that your heart could be the operating system of your life. There is no blue print for what you should be doing; Create your life as you live it. Keep asking questions that will shape the choices you make in your life. The questions you ask create the frame into which the answers will fall. No matter what you do, keep playing; because the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”
“If you fall in love with the process of not knowing and can enjoy the wonderment and the curiosity of it all, then you will fall in love with the process of your entire life. Do what you do for living, not for work, and never, never stop playing.”
What does play mean to you?
Play to me , means doing something that breaks my routine without an expected outcome. Through Play you can explore possibilities giving yourself permission to play in your personal life and insisting that your team at work does so is critical to innovation.
What role has curiosity played in your career and is there an example where it led to a breakthrough?
One of the most obvious ways it has played out is by asking the ” What If ” question . So for example, after being surrounded for a few years at Mattel toys with Barbie’s face I asked the designers to explore what if a doll had no face? What would be the advantage to that? What could the play pattern be that might emerge out of that situation. The result was a doll called “What’s Her Face” that came with stencils and markers that allowed the girl to create different moods and expressions erase them and create another face. It was a great way for the girls to create a companion for themselves that reflected their moods and feelings.
Do you view yourself as a creative innovator? How do you stimulate your creativity?
Creativity and innovation is in part, connecting the dots of a variety of things you have taken in that are being held in your unconscious and making what your conscious mind might think to be unlikely connections between them, resulting in new ideas. So for me I consistently pay attention to what gets my attention as I know that much of what I take in will someday inform future ideas or thoughts. If something gets my attention and I am curious about it, I usually dive in and learn more about it. At the moment I am studying Biogeometry. I believe that we do not expect output from a computer until we have given it input and the same is true of creativity. You must be taking in inspiring new things (input) if you expect innovative output .
We were fascinated to find out about your jewelry talent. Your most innovative pieces — namely the ones that blended titanium and niobium to great visual effect — wound up in collections at the Smithsonian and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Do you still create?
I do not create jewelry with my own hands anymore. What I do now is to create magic with groups of people. I see myself as more of an orchestra conductor holding the vision and knowing the right people to call in at various times to allow the right music to be made. I know someday I will go back to building things myself. I am grateful for the work I did do as a craftsperson as it gave me the gift of experiencing how you take an idea and manifest it yourself. This experience been as asset, as I evolved to leading large teams to create.
Much of your career has centered around Design and Design thinking. Do you agree with the textbook definition of “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success?”
Design thinking is a process for problem solving with empathy at the center. Observing users, engaging them or just watching and listening to your end users will help inform the design process. I think ” design thinking ” is now over used anytime someone is talking about making sure that the designs are suited for the market.
VR, AR and AI are set to transform our human experiences. What matters most to you as these technologies advance?
What matters most to me is that we create things that amplify the human experience without taking us out of it.
You’ve held executive positions and led projects at Art.com, Gap, The Disney Store, Swatch, Old Navy, Mattel, Calvin Klein, Coach and Bausch & Lomb and now Google. Has there been a common thread or connective tissue?
At my core I am a builder and that can be a builder of brands, products, teams or ideas. Building is the common thread throughout my career. I also like throwing myself in the unknown as I always must be learning something new. How I build is as important as what I build and of course, it all starts with great people that have established trust and have a shared vision of what to build .
Do you see transformative shifts in the retail experience? Where do you shop?
I think the future is not either online or offline but both. What this is going to take is a remixing of brand experience, leveraging those things that make sense in a physical space, and offering an experience that amplifies the brand. I believe some of these in store experiences will include new technologies that will bring a bit of entertainment to shopping. I also think that the virtual world will be yet another channel to manage. I shop both online and offline, a lot of my offline shopping is in neighborhood stores where I feel a connection to the owner or staff. The big brands I buy are usually on line, as the experience of going to the store really does not appeal to me.