Solution Designer Renee Piazza grew up in New Jersey (with “the hair to prove it,” as she says). She stayed in the tri-state area to attend Rutgers undergrad and Pratt for grad school. Today she lives in Boston with her husband and two daughters, with whom she is currently many rounds into a fierce battle of Uno. She is also a self-confessed podcast junkie, regularly devouring episodes of the Hidden Brain and On Being. Recently she especially enjoyed hearing TED’s Chris Anderson speak about “the lessons of listening” on The Ezra Klein Show.
How did you get into this work?
I started out in advertising, doing research that informed campaigns for brands like Pepsi and Gillette. This was before the internet, so you couldn’t Google questions like “do mice throw up?” or “image of Cindy Crawford in the jungle smiling” (yes, these were real information requests I fielded!) In order to be an effective search ninja, my company, BBDO, paid for me to get my Master of Library Science. A few years later my boss took me with her to Time Inc., where I expanded my skills in market research and storytelling. After a decade in NYC I was hungry for a change and so I moved to Boston to work for the customer research start-up that became C Space. I loved connecting the dots between research, insights, and action, which led me into the world of designing and facilitating workshops. The experience of getting everyone in the same room and innovating together was what I loved best. When I learned about Collective Next, I realized there was an opportunity to take this collaborative work to the next level.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love that no two creative interventions are the same. This might scare some people since it means you are constantly going back to the drawing board, but I love the challenge of pulling on past knowledge and experience to invent anew for each client. It takes dedication and a lot of energy, but it allows us to deliver on the individual needs and objectives of each client, which is rewarding.
I also enjoy working with a team, whether internally with CN colleagues or on sessions with our clients. I value the creativity and collaboration that is generated when a group of people get together and pour their energy into solving something.
What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?
I recently partnered with a large financial services company in need of a scalable and effective method for engaging 3000+ employees in their new brand story. We needed to turn every associate into a brand ambassador who could communicate the company’s story effectively to the marketplace. Our creative intervention centered on developing and rolling out a set of interactive learning tools or “Collaborative Learning Maps (CLMs)”—visually engaging, content rich, tabletop exercises that foster learning through small group discussions. I like to think of them as games for grown-ups.
We worked with senior leadership to create “brand kits”, which included key content, storytelling techniques, and sample scenarios. We shipped over 550 kits to their offices around the world, using a scalable train-the-trainer approach to deliver the sessions. To date, about 2,500 employees have been through the process! The approach has been incredibly engaging and cost-effective for our client.
Another powerful creative intervention involved pairing a speaker presentation with a series of facilitated exercises aimed at putting insight into action. Organizations often pay speakers large sums of money to present to their teams, but then fail to provide the opportunity for employees to pause and process the new information with their peers or brainstorm how to apply the insights to their organization. We worked with speaker Haydn Shaughnessy to reshape the speaker experience for Fujifilm by providing a structured ideation session in conjunction with his presentation. The results were powerful. The group generated over 80 new product ideas, each of which had a direct relationship to a new customer segment. The process also uncovered a bench of near-ready, new technologies that Fuji could adapt to the new realm of digital images.
What is something that inspires you outside of work?
My family inspires me the most: my daughters and my amazingly supportive husband. I’m also inspired by another group of people I work with on an ongoing basis: adults who want to overcome their fear of the water. About three years ago I began teaching a program specially designed for the 45 percent of adults who are afraid of water over their heads. I’ve taught everyone from doctors and surgeons to judges and teachers. Like all of us, you can be really accomplished in one area of your life and face challenges in another. It is powerful to see someone, whose aquaphobia has prevented them from even putting their face in the water in the shower, being able to swim across the deep end of a pool by the end of class. I have also found that teaching swimming has made me a better facilitator. Because I am responsible for the safety of my students, I have learned to be really present and connected. I don’t teach my students how to swim; I help them listen to their bodies and I try to give them permission to be themselves. As in my day-to-day facilitation, my role isn’t to do things for people but to be present and to setup conditions that allow them to do it for themselves.