Past IDer: Zachary Jean Paradis

by New Idiom


Please quickly introduce yourself in a sentence or two.

I was born and raised on the East coast in Maine, travelled to the Midwest in 1991 to attend University of Chicago to study anthropology and psychology and, although I’ve lived in various other places since, I’ve never really “left” Chicago. I graduated from the ID last May, 2007 and since then have been with Sapient as a user experience and business strategist.

Married? No
Children? Not that I know of.
Politics? I’m a Leftist Independent and support Obama for President.
Religion? My faith is in the power of humans to solve their problems although I am a bit “buddh-ish”.

In which ways and dimensions do you think ID changed your career?

ID was perfect for me because it connected the many activities and fields I had experience with previously. I was sort of built for ID because I had experience in the social sciences, business, and design but had never been really good at integrating these different points of view. ID allowed me to do my own synthesis of these disciplines while providing a few general frameworks (Balanced Breakthroughs, 10 Types, the Innovation Toolkit, etc.) to use as a starting point.

Also, I can’t underscore enough the importance of the ID social network. I never really had a role model or felt like I had a meaningful cohort group before the ID. It’s really transformed my personal and professional identity in some fundamental ways.

What are the skills learned at ID that you use the most in your current practice?

In my role as a strategist, the framework tools and analysis skills can’t be be beat. Both taking and then acting as a teaching assistant in Vijay’s Analysis and Synthesis classes has really given me a lot of very tangible ways I can make sense of the world for my clients. One of the things I learned at ID that wasn’t necessarily taught to me was how to empower teammates. I’m sure a few teammates early in my ID career would question this but I feel the experience really transformed my ability to get the most out of colleagues in terms of ideas and effort. I’m less forceful but more effective.

What hard times did you have at ID while a student, and what got you through them?

The hardest times I had at the ID related to my belief that I wasn’t well “placed” having to do the Foundation program which is funny given the fact that I now think ID is too liberal with their placement practices. When I returned for my final year I really didn’t know what I was going to do. That’s obviously not to say I had nothing to learn but that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be motivated to push myself further. You see, I really believe that graduate level education should be more about students pushing the environment and not necessarily just digesting what is taught. I think too many students at the ID have a point of view that they are there to learn “the way to innovate” while, in reality, there is no one way.

I stayed in school and focused in my final year by actively taking control of my education through a workshop sponsored by SAP that I helped to set up and run in the Fall and then by co-authoring Naked Innovation with David McGaw in the Spring. Students at the ID have to be “makers” and create situations for them to continue to grow and be successful.

If you could have changed one thing about your time at ID, what would it have been?

I’m someone who doesn’t feel a lot of regret so this is a hard question. I don’t think I would change anything. It’s all grist for the mill.

What other advice do you have for current and/or future ID students?

I have two pieces of advice. First, read as much as possible. It’s the only thing guaranteed to make you smarter over time. Second, I would ask them to fall out of love with their own ideas. What you or I think isn’t really valuable or important in general—it’s the best idea that matters.

This space is for anything else you’d like to share.

I would like to thank people for the great support I’ve received related to Naked Innovation. It will most definitely be published when I get around to dealing with some of its key flaws. I’m also working on a couple of other books in addition to irregularly blogging at my website,