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Trio of MMM Alumni Share Experience Working at IA Collaborative

Jenn Beske (MMM '15), Cam Scovil (MMM '17), and Juan Luciano (MMM '19) talk about their work at the design and innovation consultancy and the lessons they learned at Northwestern.

IA Collaborative is a global design and innovation consultancy, where team members work with organizational leaders to find new growth, create new offerings, and empower cultures of innovation. On its website, the consulting company states it is at the “forefront of design for business value.”

IA Collaborative is also the home of three alumni from Northwestern Engineering's MMM program. Jenn Beske (MMM '15), Cam Scovil (MMM '17), and Juan Luciano (MMM '19) recently took time to talk about their respective roles with the company and their shared appreciation for the MMM program. 


How do you each like to describe your role and responsibilities at IA Collaborative? 

JENN BESKE: As an associate director of business strategy, half of my time is spent leading strategy projects and the other half is spent on team growth, whether through professional development, defining how we position the business strategy group within the marketplace, or cultivating new project opportunities for our team. 

CAM SCOVIL: As a senior business strategist, I spend most of my time on client-facing work, owning specific business strategy workstreams or deliverables and contributing to the broader narrative being developed for a given project. As a member of the business strategy team, my involvement stretches from the very beginning of a project — where we tend to focus on market analysis, competitive landscape, opportunity sizing, and industry overview — to the later stages of a project, focusing on concept prioritization, capability auditing, financial modeling, and roadmap development.

JUAN LUCIANO: As a business strategist, I spend most of my time working on multidisciplinary teams alongside researchers and designers to solve some of our clients' most pressing business challenges. I craft business strategies that leverage the intersection of human need, market dynamics, and organizational feasibility to create measurable impact for our clients. Business strategists are involved across the entire project, from defining the problem all the way through research and refining and implementing the solution. 

When did you each start working at IA Collaborative? 

BESKE: I interned at IA Collaborative during MMM and then returned full time after graduation in 2015. I was first introduced to IA Collaborative in Greg Holderfield’s Design Thinking class (now Research-Design-Build) when the founders guest lectured! 

SCOVIL: I received an offer from IA Collaborative in December 2018 and started working in February 2019. I had visited the IA Collaborative office during my first week in MMM way back in 2015 but followed a different path post graduation, so it took me a couple years to find my way back. 

LUCIANO: I interned at IA Collaborative during MMM and then returned full time after graduation last year. I was first introduced to IA Collaborative when my class visited the office on our first day of classes, so my MMM journey actually started and ended at IA.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

BESKE: The people! It sounds cliche, but we have the most incredible group of individuals working at IA, and I am always learning from my colleagues, whether they are one day or one decade into their careers. 

SCOVIL: I really enjoy being able to cross-train in different disciplines, specifically with the research and design strategy team. I've always been the type of person who gets bored easily and likes to get exposure to a bit of everything, so it's nice to have an opportunity to wear a lot of different hats at IA. It also gives me a sense of ownership over my career trajectory — I'm able to speak up about what I want to be involved in and what roles I want to play. 

LUCIANO: I really enjoy the creativity of the job. Business strategy is truly a creative discipline at IA. We are not just number-crunchers or nay-sayers, but truly creative problem solvers. Every project is a unique challenge that forces me to apply my business skills in new and interesting ways, which keeps me learning and growing. 

What is the biggest challenge you face? 

BESKE: Clients often come to us with a desire to incorporate design thinking into their business processes but have no prior experience with the tools and methods. At times, it can be challenging to guide them through the process with the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with it. That said, there is nothing more rewarding than when the process works as planned and you hear your clients advocating user-driven design to their colleagues. 

SCOVIL: In design consulting, you tend to move fast. It’s all about quickly getting things to a point where you can get a reaction from someone — an internal stakeholder, a research participant, a team member — so you know whether you’re moving in the right direction. That pace can be daunting to newcomers, but it makes you more creative in your approach. I’m continually inspired by how much our teams can get done in a short period of time.

LUCIANO: One of the biggest challenges I faced as a new business strategist was transitioning to client services work for the first time in my career. Business strategists are highly trusted client partners, helping them to navigate the uncertain waters of the design process. I wanted to be that strong partner, but there were so many nuances to client interaction and relationship management that were so foreign to me, and I was afraid of making a mistake or disappointing a client. I shared this trepidation with my career manager, who helped identify opportunities to get exposure to clients early on and give me opportunities to build this new skill. Thankfully, because of the diversity of our team at IA, there are many people on and outside of the business strategy team who have made this transition before me, and I was able to lean on their guidance. 

What does it say about MMM to have three alumni working at IA Collaborative? 

BESKE: I believe the common denominator is that both MMM and IA attract individuals who are best-in-class at what they do but show great humility and are always looking to learn from others. Plenty of what we do can be taught, but only if someone is driven by a desire for excellence and the understanding that in a cross-disciplinary team, nobody is ever the smartest person in the room. This is a big reason why so many MMMs have found success at IA, and why we continue to look to MMM when hiring new team members. 

SCOVIL: I think the common thread between MMM and IA is the respect for both degrees — MBA and MS in Design Innovation. There is a ton of value to be gained from each degree, but with a lot of other post-graduation career paths MMMs may follow, one skillset may be emphasized over the other. On the business strategy team at IA, there's a real need for fluency in both business strategy and design thinking. To borrow a phrase from a recent client, I'm able to "operate at the top of my license" at IA, utilizing nearly every skill I picked up in MMM. 

LUCIANO: IA is a truly unique place in that people love not only the work that they do, but the people they work with. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of our work, working at IA means being an engaging and enthusiastic collaborator. Over the years, our way of working helps people at IA form strong personal bonds with their coworkers in a way that reminds me of the bonds I had — and still have — with my MMM family.

What were the most important lessons you learned during your time in the program? 

BESKE: First, the ambiguity of design thinking is really challenging — you have to trust the process and lead with confidence. Second, stop and think about the moments when a team member appears to have a crazy idea — it's usually a sign they are looking at things from a very different perspective than yours, and more often than not, it's worthwhile to take the time and see things from that new vantage point. 

SCOVIL: When it comes to design thinking, nothing is precious. You have to be willing to write your ideas down — or draw them — on Post-It notes, move them around, cross things out, layer things on top, combine them with other ideas, and even crumple them up and throw them away, all in the service of finding the right path forward. You need to go through a lot of bad ideas to get to the good ones! 

LUCIANO: One of my favorite things about the MMM program was getting the opportunity to meet and work with people from an incredible variety of backgrounds and life experiences. As someone who came from engineering, where most of my coworkers had similar educations and backgrounds, this was very different. I quickly found that having this diverse set of perspectives was a huge asset when solving complex problems and developed a strong appreciation for other ways of thinking that complement my own. Nowadays, I love working on and building diverse teams, and I always like to encourage others to bring their unique experiences to bear on the problem at hand. 

How are you able to incorporate those lessons learned into your daily life at IA Collaborative? 

BESKE: I often find myself referencing "Bricks and Balloons" when discussing team dynamics. Balloons generate the wild ideas that soar in the absence of constraints, and Bricks are the people that pull them — and their ideas — back down to Earth. At IA, our work calls on strategists who can be either a Brick or a Balloon depending on the context, and fortunately the MMM program teaches you how to use the business toolkit in a creative, generative way at the start of concept ideation while grounding those ideas in business viability as they get closer to implementation. 

SCOVIL: “Make it Now” is one of our 10 Maxims at IA Collaborative, and it permeates all of the work we do. MMM gave me the skills to put the phrase into action. Design consulting is nothing if not dynamic. It’s critically important to mock things up quickly, get rough ideas down on paper or screen, iterate, and keep moving forward. Momentum is key. I picked up all those fundamentals in MMM.

LUCIANO: One of my favorite classes from the MMM curriculum was Whole-Brain Communication. As someone with a strong quantitative background making their way into the design and business worlds, learning about how to most effectively communicate information and tell stories with data was so critical for translating my existing skills into this new context I was entering. 

What advice would you give to a prospective MMM student? 

BESKE: Own your superpower. Rather than try to look like a "typical" candidate, highlight the unique value or perspective that you can bring to any team you are a part of. 

SCOVIL: Find a way to demonstrate your familiarity with not only the tools and processes of design thinking but also the mindset. Design thinking is a different way of thinking about problem-solving, and being successful in this field isn’t as simple as following the steps of a process — it requires understanding how to look at problems from a different vantage point. 

LUCIANO: At the end of the day, design is a field that really favors “doers.” Design thinking can at times be an ambiguous, non-linear process, especially for beginners. If you’re a perfectionist who is afraid of making mistakes, like I was, you’ll never get started. I found that the best way to learn the design thinking process is to dive in head-first. The MMM program offers many opportunities to get your hands dirty, so if you’re serious about building this skillset, say yes to as many as you can. Each “rep” will make you a stronger designer, even if it feels uncertain at the time. Come graduation, you’ll be amazed at how far your design skills have progressed in a few short years. 

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