Constant Curiosity: Innovation Lessons from the Design World

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Constant Curiosity: Innovation Lessons from the Design World

What drives innovation? 

That’s a question massive organizations struggle with every day. 

Companies like Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon have consistently sunk millions (and sometimes billions) into their innovation departments, only to be routinely outpaced by smaller operations. 

While those market giants have enough resources to acquire or outmaneuver their competition, not everyone will.

In my recent conversation with Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, I got a look behind the curtain at one of the most innovative minds in business. 

He recently released The Human Side of Innovation, a new book that outlines his approach to focusing on people-first, design-led strategies.

The Return of Design Thinking

This isn’t something new. IDEO, the company that built Apple’s first mouse, among other things, is sometimes credited as where the term “design thinking” originated. Even they admit that the philosophy goes back much further, and it was just something they embraced from day one. 

Over the last decade, the term has made a comeback, with companies (like PepsiCo) buying into this human-centered practice of experimentation and empathy. Support and nurture the people, and the ideas will be their fruit. 

What Makes a Good Designer?

As Mauro put it, the difference between design and art is “designers create products that are producible in scale.” They create customer experiences, build visual identity, and direct marketing efforts. 

But what makes a good designer? Is it just artistic skill? An eye for consumer trends? There are three key characteristics that Mauro looks for. 


Above all else, design thinking is based on an innate, unstoppable desire to learn. People curious about the world, its inhabitants, and themselves are compelled to discover how forces interact with and affect the market. 

Steve Jobs famously said:

“Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”

There can be no innovation without it, as only those looking for a solution will find one. 

Ability to Dream

But, designers must also be able to see what is not yet apparent. I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot; I even wrote about some wise words from Keenan Beasley, who talks about an entrepreneur’s fundamental ability to “see a world that doesn’t exist”

At its core, innovation is about pushing the boundaries of what was once considered possible. If you can’t dream, there is little chance you will be able to create something that changes the market or industrial landscape. 

A Thirst to Tell Stories

Storytelling isn’t just about advertising. Steve Clayton, Microsoft's “Chief Storyteller,” calls himself a translator. He started his career as a “technical pre-sales guy” that could explain the company’s vision to people that didn’t understand the jargon. 

Sure, his work also touches the marketing side of the company, just as Mauro helps Pepsi. But design is about the entire customer journey, not just the top of the sales funnel. 

Maslow’s Pyramid

If you ever took an intro to psychology course, you’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those of us who may have slept through that lecture, here’s a brief overview:

  • Physiological Needs: These are the essential requirements for survival, like air, water, food, and shelter. These needs must be met before anything else.

  • Safety Needs: Once physiological needs are satisfied, one seeks safety and security, including personal health, employment, and emotional stability.

  • Love and Belongingness: Next, individuals crave love, companionship, and a sense of belonging with friends and family members.

  • Esteem Needs: These needs encompass self-esteem, self-confidence, respect, and recognition from others.

  • Self-Actualization: At the top of the hierarchy is the need for self-fulfillment, personal growth, and reaching one's full potential.

By fulfilling each level, a person inches closer to attaining overall happiness. 

Designers are crucial in shaping our world, from practical everyday items to complex technologies. By understanding Maslow, they can effectively create products, services, and environments that cater to these essential requirements, thus handing out fragments of happiness. 

The Three Pillars of Design Innovation

For it to truly innovate, three things must be considered in any product, campaign, culture shift, or organizational structure.


Desirability encompasses the human aspect of design innovation—the capacity for a product, service, or experience to truly resonate with its target audience. 

This involves understanding the unique needs, preferences, and emotions of users and crafting solutions that fulfill their requirements and evoke the desired emotional response.


Visibility refers to the ability of a product, service, or experience to stand out in the increasingly crowded and noisy market landscape. Fostering visibility entails crafting distinct, memorable, impactful visuals, narratives, and brand communications that capture attention and remain top-of-mind for consumers.


Everything needs to have a business case, especially at massive companies like PepsiCo. Even if it checks the desirable and visible boxes, innovation must make sense financially before it can ever take hold. 

Viability considers cost-effectiveness, manufacturability, scalability, alignment with business goals, market demands, and sustainability principles.

How Optimism Drives Innovation

More than anything, true innovation is only possible if you stay optimistic. Fostering and embracing this mindset can be a game-changer, enabling individuals and organizations to navigate setbacks, find creative solutions, and ultimately bring groundbreaking ideas to life.

Push Through the Resistance

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

The famous Thomas Edison quote scrawled across startup incubators and inventor garages is taken for granted sometimes. True optimism allows someone to break through their failures, dispel the negativity, and keep trying until something sticks. 

There are going to be terrible ideas, terrible execution, and unforeseen collapses. None of them can stop innovation indefinitely. 

Combine the Dream and Execution

Innovation begins with a dream—an exceptional vision for a revolutionary product, service, or experience that has the potential to transform our lives for the better. However, without effective execution, even the most awe-inspiring ideas may become fantasies in a realm of unfulfilled potential. That's where optimism becomes a catalyst, fusing dreams with action and unlocking unparalleled innovation.

It fuels the fire within innovators to not only dream big but also believe in the feasibility of their ambitious ideas. Moreover, optimism breathes life into collaborative efforts, fostering a positive work environment and inspiring teams to unite and work towards a shared vision.

Design Thinking is a Paintbrush, Not a Painter

Importantly, as Mauro warned before we ended our discussion, design thinking is not a perfect fix; it is merely a tool. Like any tool, its effectiveness depends on the people wielding it—the true driving force behind breakthrough innovation.

He likened it to a paintbrush. It offers a range of techniques that enable artists to translate their vision onto the canvas. Similarly, design thinking provides a structured, user-centered approach that empowers businesses to tackle complex issues with empathy, creativity, and iterative experimentation.

But the painters that wield it are who are credits with the masterpieces. These people are armed with the three characteristics above. Curiosity, the ability to dream, and a thirst to tell stories. 

Remember that as you try to shift your company's innovation mindset. Without an artist to pick it up, the paintbrush lies still.

Final Thoughts

Spending an hour with Mauro is like getting a masterclass in humanity. His focus on happiness, kindness, and empathy is remarkable. To watch the full interview, visit the Success Story YouTube page. 

Otherwise, start thinking of how you can add some optimism to your own business ideas and start dreaming a little bigger. 

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Write me at or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone!


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