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Into the future with the help of Digital Natives

How can businesses understand the implications of digitalisation and what tomorrow’s customers want? Well, with the aid of young adults of course. RISE was a visitor to IKEA in Västerås, where Future Workshops was working on the department store of the future.

Future Workshop Västerås is a project being implemented in a collaboration between RISE, Västerås Municipality Västerås Science Park, the Swedish Public Employment Service and Automation Region. The project involves young people between the ages of 16-19 working over the summer on innovation and design processes to help businesses develop new concepts. This working model was developed by RISE researcher Anders Wikström eleven years ago and is inspired by Donald Schön’s book The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. In this case, the professionals in question are the young people and their field is digitalisation.

“We bring together young people with companies facing challenges linked to digitalisation. Young adults are digital natives; by the time they reach 15 or 16 years of age, they have accumulated 10,000 hours in the digital world,” says Anders Wikström.

This summer saw a three-day long workshop (sleeping overnight in the store!) at IKEA in Västerås in which 26 young people participated. Day one of the workshop is dedicated to gathering knowledge of the challenge at hand, while day two focuses on framing the situations that are of interest and can be changed, which are then visualised with the aid of storyboards. Only on day three is it time to turn to generating ideas and developing concepts.

“Einstein is reported to have said, ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions’,” says Anders Wikström.

The model is scalable and the timescale can vary anywhere from 90 minutes to six months.

“It sounds like a challenge to come up with anything in 90 minutes; however, as we are able to simulate how professionals think in action, we can very quickly obtain a conceptual development idea from all of the participants,” explains Anders Wikström.

Listening to young people is a recipe for success

Daniella Magnusson is the project manager responsible for Future Workshop. This is what she has to say about companies that choose to collaborate with the customers and employees of tomorrow:

"Their success lies in their choice to actually listen to what young people have to say. That said, it is not simply a case of young people contributing concepts and ideas, they also gain increased self-belief that will help them take the next step in working life. For me, that is the great thing about the process.”

2018 was IKEA’s second year hosting Future Workshop, with last year’s collaboration leading to concrete results such as the installation of an in-store gaming room and an IKEA project to develop their own gaming furniture.

Johan Westling, HR business partner at IKEA Västerås, describes the collaboration as spot on:

“This is exactly where we should be right now; listening to our customers, especially the customers of tomorrow, young people. We need to connect with them, to know how they think and what their needs are.

RISE’s podcast Spinnovation visited Future Workshop in autumn 2018 to hear more about the project.