As it Happened: Disruptive Quality Winter Program

January 31, 2019

As our Disruptive Quality class crossed the places and stories of Italian manufacturing entrepreneurs that every day strive to offer the world the best products in their industries, a quote by Aristotle kept being brought up. Whether in Ferrari’s sparkling wine cellars or at Biasetto’s pastry laboratory, the Italian entrepreneurs pointed out Aristotle’s words, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

For us at Italia Innovation, this echo of Greek philosophy was really captivating as we went about our humanistic exploration. It was not just a beautiful way to express how great Italian creators and entrepreneurs operate, but also an opportunity for us to better understand the value of the program as a moment for deep conversations that lead us to finding where to make shifts in the manufacturing sector to create positive change.

In fact, even though we are a future-facing organization, we do see great value in what we can learn from the past. Looking to the ancient Greeks, we understand the power questions and conversations hold. This is why we developed our programs in a way where discourse is the means to build a meaningful way forward.

In conversation with Angelo Nani, Plant Director at Domori Chocolate

During the Disruptive Quality program, the participants embarked on a collective inquiry into manufacturing quality that is disruptive. Riccardo Illy, revolutionary food entrepreneur and civil servant, began the program by introducing his concept of disruptive quality, a concept he has developed along his entrepreneurial path. Then to bridge theory and practice, he guided the students through visits to companies that embody the principles of disruptive quality. We visited Domori’s factory, a chocolate maker that processes the finest and most rare cocoa varieties enhancing their intrinsic aromatic notes; Ferrari winery, a family-owned and family-run company that creates Italy’s sparkling wine par excellence; Lanificio Calamai, a wool recycling plant that partners with leading brands to promote a circular economy on wool; Marzotto, a textile manufacture that gave life to a whole village by building social institutions around the factory for its community; Biasetto, one of Italy’s master bakers who transforms and enhances raw materials through a unique and superior artisanal processing.
While visiting the companies, participants not only witnessed up-close the value creation, but also had the opportunity to hold conversations with company leaders in order to dig deeper into the past, present, and future of these industries.

Visiting Ferrari Spumanti Winery and Cellars

These visits provided the seeds of the participants’ discussions with John Bruce from Parsons School of Design. Through the various design strategy tools he taught, they unpacked large and complex ideas. Biasetto describing his mother yeast as a baby became an inquiry into the extreme care and time necessary to preserve traditions; Fabrizio Servente, Global Strategy Advisor at the Woolmark Company, bringing up the fact that the average garment is used for only 2.5 days became a discussion about the relationship between clothing and identity; Calamai’s explanation of its process to recycle wool was the way to start talking about the role desire plays in shopping.

To conclude the Disruptive Quality program, we chose to privilege the conversation by having the participants present their discussions at the end of the program and walk through the iterative process they engaged in. Each group started with a questions such as “How might we consider the role of the current state of consumption and potential future version of consumption regarding Panettone?” or “How might we consider or convey a sense of quality through functionality and origin or wool?” Through these discourses, the groups came up with product ideas, but not as the ultimate value propositions or the next big ideas. Instead their products were conversation starters, they were provocations for people to start talking about the very things the students discussed during the program. A DIY panettone kit for the home was an invitation to experience the same embodied learning participants had at Biasetto. A shirt that will last 30 days straight without washing is an artifact to consider our deeper relationship with clothes. All were ways to get the conversations started outside the program and into the world.

Learning about the secrets of Mother Yeast

As a learning organization our goal for the programs is for participants to gain a better understanding of how to create value for the future. After five years of program iterations, we see our role more clearly. We believe innovation is not the work of a single great hero or thinker, but a participatory and collective act. We find areas in Italian industries that we believe have great potential, then bring together great minds to ask questions and have deep discussions on the opportunities. We’ve been exploring areas of wool and Italian bakery for some time, and the winter program proves that the more points of view you bring to discuss a topic, the better understanding we all get. As we look to the summer, we can’t wait to take the collective research further by welcoming new students to continue these dialogues and develop new prototypes that will get people talking about ways to build a more conscious future.