Soccer team in a huddle

Interview at the AppHaus: German Minister Theresia Bauer

August 13, 2015 by Franziska Reich 1

Theresia Bauer, Minister of Science, Research and the Arts for the State of Baden-Württemberg, visited AppHaus Heidelberg on July 29, 2015, together with several representatives of her ministry, the Ministry of State, the City of Heidelberg, and members of her Greens party.

It was important for her to find out more about working at AppHaus Heidelberg and the projects of the co-located SAP Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC). A tour through the AppHaus premises, followed by a presentation of several of the projects that have been completed, provided insights into the unusual working methods used at AppHaus Heidelberg. Customer projects are executed here based on the Design Thinking method and the focus on the end-users that it entails.

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In an interview, I learned what Bauer thought about her visit to the AppHaus in Heidelberg, the inspiration she gained from the Design Thinking method and how this process could also be adopted to foster innovation in science, research, and politics.

Ms. Bauer, what was your first impression of AppHaus Heidelberg?

I’m delighted by the atmosphere here, which opens our minds and opens our perspectives per se and arouses curiosity. It’s very pleasant to be here, because your presence invites you to depart from the beaten path.

Can you remember the first time you heard about Design Thinking?

In particular, I can remember exactly when I first found out about AppHaus. I paid a spontaneous visit to the Landfried (office) complex, didn’t know that the AppHaus was here, and was totally astounded. Astounded because I simply found it fascinating my first time – the interior design, among other things. Several workshops were taking place at the time and there was a remarkable atmosphere among all the workshop participants. Of course, the interior design is also a factor here, because it encourages you to be spontaneous and get involved.

To venture off the beaten path, Germany needs innovation. With your responsibilities for scientific, research, and arts facilities, you are Baden-Württemberg’s representative for policy areas that are of primary importance to societal development. Which factors do you believe are the basis for innovation?

The primary question is: Where do we have to start to promote innovation? It’s important to find out whether we should wait to provide support until findings have been produced or whether we should start at the beginning of the innovation process. I guess we have to encourage people from the start, embolden and empower them to think, “Am I asking the right questions? Do I have a good idea that can be built upon?” We have to start reinforcing courage, desire, and confidence in the schools and at university, to encourage people to approach things actively.

We in Germany have a reputation for being very thorough and possessing a lot of technical expertise. But when the question is “Do I dare to see things in a totally different way?” or “Do I dare to approach things in a different way then normal?”, then there are often very large hurdles to overcome. The iterative approach of Design Thinking is a very good fit with the concept of allowing mistakes and failure. Through feedback, we can revise our mistakes and end up with an even better result. People should be taught as early as possible how to approach complex issues in a problem-centric way and should be encouraged to actually follow up on the ideas they develop.

How can we achieve this lengthy transition from a thorough, “German” way of doing things to a creative economy?

It’s important for both universities and companies to always convey the impression that our world isn’t finished yet. Young people, in particular, have to learn and experience that they can still make a difference, and should make a difference; that there are still a great many things we have to change and improve. Because many of these tasks are not finished yet, we need people who can tackle them.

In my opinion, explorative learning should also be reinforced at the university level. Instead of simply teaching facts and asking the students to repeat them, the universities should aim to let people experience just how much we don’t know yet. That’s a starting point for promoting innovation.

Can you imagine applying the Design Thinking method at this point, to promote innovation and solve problems?

I am impressed by the concept of not immediately thinking in terms of solutions, but instead taking time to develop the right questions and to fully understand the problems. And the second concept that I find very exciting is starting from the end – that is, the consumer, the customer – and not always approaching things from your own perspective. Accepting that the person at the end of the process can have entirely different needs and interests is something that we have to consider from the start, if we want to develop an effective solution. I believe this exercise is very useful in a globalized world, because our environment is becoming increasingly complex. We have to think about people who have entirely different cultural, religious, and even economic backgrounds. That’s why I think Design Thinking is an effective way to promote innovation in a variety of junctures.

Where do you see potential for creative work processes that could provide results for university education, research, and the arts? Do you have any specific institutions in mind?

I think we could apply Design Thinking quite broadly. I would be very keen on making sure that this problem-centric, explorative learning and interaction is practiced and supported at our universities much more systematically and much earlier than is currently the case. As I see it, we have considerable scope for improvement. I also see the potential to incorporate initial approaches at the school level. The concept, the thought that the room itself is a learning aid, something that provides inspiration – that’s a great idea for our schools! And even though some things have changed, our schools are often still structured too stiffly and, as I see it, restrictively. The willingness to design spaces actively, according to their own imaginations, holds so much potential and inspiration for schools. That concept impresses me.

And things aren’t any different in my ministry. Ministries and administrative buildings are hierarchical organizations per se, intended to invoke uniform actions. Yet these hierarchical structures are also constrictive and block a lot of creative thinking. I’m certain that we have a lot of good ideas, skills, and expertise at my ministry, which these structures prevent us from accessing and utilizing. It would also be exciting for my own ministry to enable creative interior designs like this, that help hierarchies fade into the background. I’m sure that it would improve communication if we eliminated the hierarchies of different offices, departments, and authorities through space concepts and shared offices.

You’re very busy and often on the road. Does the design of a room and your surroundings influence how you think?

Of course! There are rooms that are just tiring – think of the drabness of conventional meeting rooms: they give you a headache as soon as you enter one. Then there are rooms that exude nothing but hierarchy and frigidity. In my field, there are lots of these rooms, rooms that tell you who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom. And then, of course there are rooms that are simply boring. I think we could do a lot of things a lot better in that regard.

Aside from the architecture and the interior design, human collaboration also plays an important role in Design Thinking, of course. Like in politics, work at AppHaus Heidelberg is only possible through teamwork. What characterizes teamwork for you?

I am convinced that if we want to solve the world’s problems, we have to work together. The times when science and businesses assumed that researchers create their inventions in isolation are long gone. Often, a variety of perspectives and different impressions are essential to creating common value. To solve problems in a team, it is important to teach these skills. It’s still important to develop your own expertise, but you also have to have the ability to integrate and combine your expertise with others to create true benefits for everyone.

Through my many contacts with companies and businesspeople, I get regular feedback that tells me this teamwork is what we need. You have to learn to work together and learn to see things from other people’s perspectives; to incorporate your own expertise in a constantly changing, complex social environment. You don’t learn that from reading – you have to do it, repeatedly, in practice.

What have your experiences with working in interdisciplinary teams been like? After all, in addition to teamwork, interdisciplinary collaboration is also a concept from which Design Thinking and AppHaus Heidelberg both benefit.

That’s an ongoing topic of conversation at the Science Ministry, in the interaction between science and academia. We know that we have to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, but at the same time, there’s an opposing, internal logic that has taken root through years of tradition. The disciplines have moved ever farther apart over the centuries. And we still can’t do without people who specialize in specific fields, but at the same time, we have to work on enabling them to overcome their specializations. We’ve had repeated debates about whether different disciplines should be learning together from the start or whether we should work on the specialization first and then get together. It’s likely that we’ll have to try both methods.

Thank you for visiting AppHaus Heidelberg and for the interview. I hope to see you here again.

Definitely – I’d like to come back! I have an idea in my mind and would like to try it out in an interdisciplinary team with Design Thinking. It’s new, but I’d like to elaborate on it. I can also envision coming to AppHaus Heidelberg with my own leadership team, to experience working in this creating environment and benefit from the atmosphere here. I think it would be fascinating to observe the impact that the design of the workshop area could have on our team.

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