WIN Spotlight: Lauren Furgason
We're excited to introduce "WIN Spotlight", a monthly series that celebrates an inspirational woman in our community. Each interview features a Women in Innovation member who is championing innovation at her organization. We dig into the diverse perspectives, influencers, missions, drivers, and dreams of these leaders, and of course share practical tips.
We couldn't be more delighted to kick this series off with Lauren Furgason, Lead Inventor at ?What If! Innovation, and long-time supporter of Women in Innovation. We caught up over coffee at Irving Farm Coffee Roasters (hot tip: great place to catch up with WIN friends) on a rainy winter day.
Who are you and what do you do?
Hi, I’m Lauren and I’m a Lead Inventor at ?What If! Innovation. You wouldn’t be the first to ask what being an ‘Inventor’ means – my role is to help companies grow their business by helping create new brands, products, and services. My typical day consists of anything from running consumer immersions to unearth new insights, testing prototype ideas for early feedback and iterations, or exploring how future technologies might push the solution of a particular challenge. I love that it’s different every day, and I love how the changing face of innovation – greater in-house innovation capabilities, an exponentially increasing pace of change – gives us a chance to evolve our approach, too.
What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?
I found my way into the world of innovation through design strategy.
If I think back along my childhood, there were a lot of clues that lead me to where I’ve landed today. Even as a 7-year-old I loved people-watching around my neighborhood and taking notes on my neighbors’ routines and habits (Harriet the Spy style). As I grew older it was a passion for design, and understanding what informs creative decisions, that made me explore a path at this intersection. Could there be a career where you can address both visionary thinking and also how that manifests in the real world for people like you and me? For me, that’s the sweet spot of innovation – it’s harnessing a future-forward ambition seeking new possibilities, to land the expression of how that actually comes to life in a meaningful way.
If you had to choose one, who is the woman who most inspires you? Why? (Go beyond the obvious heroes!)
Tough question! Taking a step back from some of the activists, icons, and lady bosses that come to mind, I’m going to say my great-grandmother. She was the only one of 8 siblings to leave her small town in northern Italy to journey across the U.S. solo and settle in Seattle. She didn’t speak a word of English, and only got to travel back to see her family after 50 years! Given how easy it is for me to jump on a plane or Skype and text with my friends and family today, I can’t imagine how hard that would have been, and I have a lot of respect for the many bold women that persevered in creating a new life in an unfamiliar place.
What is the best advice someone has given you?
‘Whatever you water will grow’ – I love this because it speaks to so many levels, whether it’s your day-to-day outlook or your path in life. It’s something you can take into a tough meeting to fuel your confidence, instead of nerves, or know that you’re making the right big decision, no matter what direction you choose to take.
What is your creative ritual?
In the most practical sense, I’m a bit of a neat freak so it does help if I take a moment to ‘zen’ the area around me. I love a sharp sharpie and a big pad of paper to capture all my thoughts – you can often find me surrounded by the giant 11x17 pads at work that are my best friend during brainstorming.
But taking a step back, it’s about balancing alone time to think and immerse in content, with coming together as a group to kick around ideas. As hard as it can be to fit a brainstorm into your schedule sometimes, it’s ALWAYS worth it.
What do you never leave the house without and why?
My Citibike fob, which I use every day, every season – it’s my favorite way to get around the city!
What is the last book you read and why?
I’m just wrapping up Boys in the Boat. It’s the story of the University of Washington crew team that went to the Berlin Olympics right before WWII. Since I’m from Seattle, went to UW, and also used to row, it offers such an amazing perspective into a much different era of growing up in Seattle during the depression, through the lens of a team experience I can connect to.
Up next is Shantaram, which was noted as a ‘must read’ at a recent dinner conversation on the best books of all time. 936 pages… let’s do it!
What is your favorite app and why?
I admit I really do love Instagram, but not because I’m hoping for record likes and followers. I love using it as a tool to discover – whether it’s finding little-known places or events via a geotag or experiencing the culture of someone halfway around the world through their eyes. I’ve used it for everything from understanding target consumers for project work, to finding some of my favorite travel gems while browsing tagged places or local people.
What is your favorite podcast and why?
I love starting off new projects with a search through the podcast library to see what comes up – it’s a nice way to get some instant perspective on an industry.
My most listened to podcasts are tied between:
Stuff You Should Know – which is quite literally a series that digs deep into different topics that you should know; I’ve learned about everything from the U.S. regulations on cosmetics (made me fully rethink my makeup routine) to how jackhammers work… though can’t say that made me appreciate NYC street noise more. I’ve always found some little tidbit informs something in my life, no matter how unrelated it seems at the time, plus the guys are hilarious.
My other go-to is Tara Brach’s Guided Meditations – it helps to balance out the stimulation of this city with some zen time to clear my head for fresh thinking! And a resolution for 2018 is to continue to work on being present, so meditation is another step toward that!
What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation? Why?
Product packaging. I think the unboxing of a new purchase can be an amazing experience that elevates what’s inside, but most times the amount of excessive materials that our products come in can be painful. This is only being magnified by the increase in e-commerce, so we need to explore new solutions for how we’re delivering goods in a way that respects our future planet.
What makes a great innovation?
When a solution solves a pain point that you didn’t know you had or in a way you didn’t expect, and raises the status quo for what’s next.
What is your favorite quotation?
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Photos & interview done by Katie Burwick