Adam St John Lawrence at Open Change

Guest post by intern Barbara Mertlova

This week at Open Change, we welcome a visitor, coming to inspire us from his home in Germany, Adam StJohn Lawrence. Adam is a co-founder of Work Play Experience, which he and his colleague Markus Edgar Hormeß describe as a “service innovation and customer experience consultancy”. Similarly to Mike and Hazel, the directors of Open Change, Adam and Markus focus on making work better, in a fast, empathetic, high-energy way.

Adam’s background is in psychology and automotive industry, but he spent over 20 years of his life as an actor and comedian. Markus had found his way to Service Design from the scientific sector, and he also is a musician. Together, they initiated the world’s biggest service design event the Global Service JamDundee has participated every year since 2013, run by a shifting team of creative young people and students centred on the DJCAD design school, this year taking place on March 9-11.

Furthermore, Adam is one of the four editors and main authors of the book This is Service Design Doing, which over 300 people contributed to – yet another truly global undertaking.

Today, I had the chance to chat to Adam, about his circuitous path to Service Design, what life is like in Germany, and we even touched upon the philosophical question of where he sees the world headed.

Starting the conversation, I invited Adam to introduce himself a bit further. He shares his professional background, mentioning Bachelor’s degree in Animal Psychology he holds but never continued with, as, in his own words, at that point he was ‘pretty fed up with academia’. Then he goes onto naming a number of fascinating jobs he’s tried in his life. While still in the UK, he worked for Honda’s marketing production, before moving to Germany at the age of 24 and becoming an actor and comedian, still occasionally re-visiting that profession nowadays.

‘I became very interested in theatricality off the stage; how it’s present in business”, Adam reasons as I ask him how he later found himself in Service Design instead. He also admits family background played a role, as both his parents’ professions influenced his striving to help people and to make things better. The next thing he knew, he was making important contacts at the first Service Design conference he went to in Berlin, where he met what he describes as a ‘community of amazing people’.

So how would Adam characterise the work he does now? Quite simply, he helps organisations change the way they work, using design thinking, making their focus more ‘human centric and reality based’, in order to make things better. He highlights challenging leadership, explaining how in his point of view, good work is produced if people are lead in the way they work, rather than directed towards a certain goal.

We speak about the challenges working mostly with larger companies and organizations presents. He often sees the problem in people themselves, rather than in their ideas. ‘People feel challenged by service design’ – it seems to be the strong personalities within companies that tend to be sceptical. If problem-solving and knowledge are the two capacities we consider to be the key to success, design thinking tells you ‘you know nothing, get out and talk to people’, Adam continues, it is understandable why someone might be taken aback.

Curious about the day-to-day challenges, I proceed to ask about whether he has any ambitions with largely international, outwardly well-performing organisations. Adam provides a concrete example about a company whose growth may still be in the upward direction, but the curve is no longer as steep as before. ‘Then they realise they need to focus more on customers, and they turn to service design – representing the intersection between design as a toolset and customer experience.’ He further mentions how ideas are important, but emphasises that it is essential not to become too invested in them, instead of treating them as a prototype, because then ideas can become the problem. However, that requires the leaders of such companies to realise that we are talking about changing the entire workplace culture.

‘Hate your prototypes’, Adam smiles as he quotes the Open Change’s own Hazel White, admitting that it might be the smartest thing anyone has said to him in a long time.

Switching onto the positive side, I invite Adam to name a few of his favourite things about the branch of work he operates in. Starting with the words ‘liberating’ and ‘effective’, he goes on to explain how rewarding he finds that the tools of design thinking empower the quieter people. Another thing he praises is the feedback culture in this field, tying it back to the benefits of collaborative work service designers see. He believes the world in general could use what he calls ‘self-doubt’ – something that, in his opinion, stands out in Service Design.

On the note of collaboration, I ask Adam about the process behind putting together a book. Although there may have been a challenge in getting organised, as it’s a very complex piece of work, he says the gains for him outweigh anything negative. ‘With writing a book, you think you will be pouring your wisdom out to the world. Instead, I have learnt so much.’ And as for his current plans, the company is getting back into project work, the aftermath of the book slowly passing, and he also mentions a personal goal in improving his facilitation skills, for which there is some work in place already.

Lastly, I ask Adam for one piece of advice to anyone new to Service Design.

‘Doing, not talking’, he laughs, adding; ‘Do it first, then talk about it’.