MSLOC at 15: Sami (Nerenberg) Packard: Design Thinking in Action

MSLOC at 15: Sami (Nerenberg) Packard: Design Thinking in Action

Sami PackardSami (Nerenberg) Packard (MS15) trusts in the power of design thinking. It has, after all, helped her do everything from help grow a national network of college students using design for local and social good to reduce packaging waste in Nepal.

Today, Packard is an internal experience design consultant with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, where she strives to make things better through organizational change and innovation. As part of our 15 years of Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) program celebration, we talked to Packard about design thinking in action, the key to saving $1 million and what she has done since graduation.

What draws you to the intersection of design, business, and innovation?

I’ve always sought to understand how the world works in order to make it better. Early in my career, I focused on using industrial design to improve our built world. My desire to apply design thinking more broadly led me to Northwestern’s MSLOC program, where I deepened my understanding of how to use design principles to influence human behavior in business.

So how does design thinking work?

I was once brought in to help a client improve collaboration between two departments. Typically, consultants look at process and governance to help solve this problem. Rather than jumping to a solution, I interviewed people from both departments to uncover their emotions and attitudes, not just their process. I then aggregated responses into a fairy tale type story to describe their current state and how we got there.

Next, I brought interviewees together to give feedback on the story. Abstracting their situation to a fairy tale gave people a safe space to speak honestly about their feelings. Together, we uncovered that the root cause of tension was a lack of shared purpose. Equipping senior leaders with the problem’s true source empowered them to produce more rapid, effective change.

What’s one design thinking tenet that would help everyone?

Prototype; don’t pilot. Often in large corporations, a leader with a bright idea will designate a team to roll-out a year-long, $1 million pilot of something, only to find out the idea was flawed or addressed the wrong problem. By the time of discovery though, it’s too late. The escalated commitment requires time and money be spent on a fix that could have been avoided with a one-week, $10 test and a clickable slide deck.

How can design thinking be used for organizational change?  

Design thinking workshops with a target audience and key sponsors are a fabulous way of not only generating useful ideas but also garnering buy-in to increase chances for adoption later on. Here at Kaiser, I facilitate a design thinking workshop nearly every week, and I run a training session for 100 employees every February. The approach is that valuable.

How has your education fostered career advancement?

Northwestern prepared me for my current role of helping companies unlock the full potential of this generational workforce. The MSLOC program provides me with credibility. When I tell people I have a master’s degree in organizational change, they get excited and immediately ask me for help.

What was your role at Design for America?

While completing my master’s degree, I served on the leadership team, growing the program from 40 college students at one university to 1,000 students at 29 universities throughout the United States.

When not saving companies time and money, what are you doing?

Since graduating, I’ve gotten married and had a baby! My daughter, Tallulah, is 11 months old and a ton of fun. Having her has made me passionate about parental equality so that if there are two parents, both can share the load equally and be productive humans in the world.

Read more MSLOC 15th Anniversary stories.



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