Dr. Natalie Nixon: Accelerating Innovation with Rigor and Wonder

Businesses that thrive long-term continue to innovate, even when they are at the top of their game. If the Kodaks of the world don’t disrupt themselves, someone else certainly will. So, the question becomes, how does an organization continue to drive growth and generate new ideas—even if there is no one in the rearview mirror? Dr. Natalie Nixon contends that the key to accelerating innovation lies in the ebb and flow between rigor and wonder.

Dr. Nixon is the Founder and Principal at Figure 8 Thinking, a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations accelerate innovation by connecting the dots between creativity and strategy. A design strategist and hybrid thinker, she leverages her background in service design, anthropology and fashion to support clients in cultural transformation, leadership development, and team collaboration. Nixon is also a Fellow at the Paris d.School and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, and she created the Strategic Design MBA program at Philadelphia University. Nixon is a frequent contributor to Inc. magazine, and she has been a featured speaker at the Business Innovation Factory, 360 Possibilities and The Copenhagen Institute for Interactive Design.

Today, Nixon shares the connection between her background in anthropology and fashion, explaining how she sees the world from a ‘worm’s eye view.’ She discusses how her business, Figure 8 Thinking, evolved from a talk on improvising at work she delivered at TEDx Philadelphia in 2014. Nixon describes how companies can accelerate innovation by driving growth based on consumer needs, hiring from a non-traditional wheelhouse, and benchmarking progress against a wide variety of sectors. Listen in for Nixon’s insight around kinesthetic learning and the balance between wonder and rigor.


Key Interview Takeaways

Drive the growth of your business based on the needs of the consumer. Nixon contends that if you focus on the end-user, profitability, efficiency and productivity will follow.

Ensure thought diversity by hiring from a variety of sectors. More diverse inputs result in more innovative outputs, so companies willing to hire anthropologists, psychologists and artists will naturally accelerate innovation.

Benchmark your team against other sectors. Rather than simply making comparisons with others in your industry, Nixon suggests casting a wider net to determine what ‘best in class’ really means.

A superiority complex can be fatal. Nixon argues that companies like Kodak fail when they lose their curiosity. A false sense of security and resistance to change leaves a company ripe for disruption.

Physical activity helps balance the mind. Nixon’s recent return to the dance studio is fueling her creativity and outlook in a positive way.

Rigor cannot be sustained without wonder. Corporate culture emphasizes structure and processes, but problem-solving only happens when we balance that rigor with the time to daydream—to pause and suppose.

Connect with Dr. Natalie Nixon

Figure 8 Thinking

Dr. Nixon on BigSpeak


Dr. Nixon at TEDx Philadelphia

Strategic Design Thinking: Innovation in Products, Services, Experiences and Beyond edited by Natalie Nixon

Dr. Nixon’s Column in Inc.

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