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As it Happened: Artisanship at Scale

July 22, 2018

The conflict of man versus machine is a provocative one, especially today as artificial intelligence, robotics and data science are redefining what machines can do and can be. This movement forward can seem threatening, particularly for Italy, a country whose manufacturing edge on functional aesthetics and meticulous care of details stems from the strong tradition of artisans. So how can Italy go beyond by transforming its craftsmanship heritage into a mindset and boost new business on a global scale?

For three weeks (June 4-22), Italia Innovation hosted 18 students from leading Universities around the world to explore this question in the Artisanship at Scale program. During the program the participants visited Loison, Luxardo, Levoni and Gucci then talked to entrepreneurs and managers within the companies in order to understand the topic at stake. They also visited Ducati and Ferrari as examples of best practices.

Roy Green, former Dean of the UTS Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, was the program’s academic director who kicked off by introducing the students to innovation strategy. He also defined scale as not just increasing in size but also greater efficiency or global reach, which became very important as the participants visited the production of and explored the case studies for Loison, Luxardo, Levoni and Gucci.

As the participants began to meet the Italian entrepreneurs, it became confusing to hear the them say they did not want to grow. For most, the business model of growth is learned. However, Marina Puricelli from Bocconi University raised the question whether these companies need to follow this standard business trajectory. As an expert on Italian small-to-medium enterprises, she described to the students the idiosyncrasies that make a successful Italian business. Her ten rules to make a strong company became one way for students to see opportunity areas.

Then, John Bruce, Director of Parsons Strategic Design and Management Program, led the students through “prototyping” activities to practice creative intervention in a company. Scott Hartley, Venture Capitalist, explained how bringing together the two seemingly contrasting humanistic and technological approaches inspires amazing innovations, an area he explores in his book The Fuzzy and the Techie. He also introduced the students to blockchain, which can play a big role in making artisan production more transparent. Then Elizabeth Segran, Fast Company writer, shared the stories of upstarts she has met that pursue artisanship at scale to give a bigger picture of the topic.

Finally, Jake Knapp, former Design Partner at Google Ventures, led the students through the Sprint Week. With his former colleagues at GV, he developed this five-day process for answering crucial questions through prototyping. The Sprint includes deciding on a long-term goal then mapping, sketching, storyboarding, and prototyping to get answers from real users that are needed solve a problem.

The Loison team identified their goal as making a year-round business. Their prototype was a redesigned website more user friendly and more focused on the products rather than the packaging in order to drive awareness among Loison’s customers of its other products. Creating an internal innovation team with external insights was the Luxardo team’s long term goal. They then prototyped an event where bartenders share ideas and eventually develop innovations with Luxardo. The Levoni team looked at how the brand could have more visibility in the market, since it is commonly used by chefs who don’t advertise the brand, and prototyped a Levoni experience. The Gucci team set their goal to increase efficiency, transparency, and traceability across the supply chain and designed a plan to explore and integrate blockchain into their complex supply chain. After discussing the prototypes with the companies, students tested them for user feedback.

While each project was different, the common theme was bringing artisanship into the future by expanding the presence and not the output. As is the nature of prototypes, projects need decisions and investments in order to enter the real world. However, they leave these artisanal companies with opportunity spaces to expand their work and push it forward.