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Featured Ideator: Ashley Elmblad

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Born and raised in Colorado, Ashley Elmblad has spent much of her professional life consulting for hospitals across the US. She currently works for Chipotle where she supports their human-centered philosophy and enjoys being on the opposite side of the healthcare spectrum from hospitals to food. Her Casual Friday Gets Active concept was a winner on our recent Workplace Wellness Challenge. She’s in the middle of what she calls her ‘quarter life pivot’ in which she is pursuing a career using design thinking to make significant impacts in the realm of health and wellness.
What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
After a number of years as a consultant for hospitals, I recently resigned in hopes of finding an industry where I could still create change but on a much larger scale, with a more dedicated impact-focus and hopefully by engaging my creative side. Over coffee, a friend of mine introduced me to the world of design thinking (my first thought: “how have I not known of this my whole life!?”) – and I immediately began investigating design as a method to create impact. Of course IDEO and OpenIDEO were a part of those discussions.
This use of design was curiously intriguing to me. I’d always been a highly creative kid but I thought that to be creative as an adult meant you had to be an artist. Yet, here comes OpenIDEO where I can harness creativity towards a social good. What a beautiful intersection of collaboration, creativity and impact… I’m in!
And how's the ride been so far?
Immediately after hearing the concept of using design for social impact, I was impatiently eager to get my hands dirty. OpenIDEO has provided just that opportunity,. Not only have I been able to see design thinking in practice but I’m able to actually participate and contribute to real design challenges! Unlike my experiences before, OpenIDEO has been a breeding ground for wild, divergent, impact-focused creativity. It’s fun. It’s compelling. It’s playful. It’s significant. It’s down right awesome.
The Workplace Wellness Challenge challenge was particularly well-timed as I had been thinking about my health quite seriously for several reasons. Having left consulting, I was in the throws of trying to get private health insurance and I had just started working in the typical nine-to-five in a corporate office. As such, I was thinking about what minor changes to my daily routine could have significant health impacts in the long run. A couple thoughts converged to bring about the idea of Casual Friday Gets Active. Firstly, I realised that although Chipotle has a gym in the building, I was finding it hard to make time to work out during the day simply because it took so much time to go to the locker room to change into and out of my workout clothes. Secondly, a fellow OpenIDEATOR posted an inspiration about offices embracing Friday as a day to focus on health. Poof! Out comes an idea to build off of the existing Causal Friday ritual to imbue health into office culture.
Your work revolves around supporting others. Can you tell us a little more?
Many people know about Chipotle’s dedication to food with integrity and the impact they’re having on local, responsibly raised products in the fast food industry. What’s less salient is Chipotle’s inspiring People Philosophy – eg. their Restaurateur program for General Managers who build excellent restaurants, rewards employees based on how well they develop happy, engaged, empowered teams. My role, alongside my teammates on the Compensation team, is the challenging yet fun task of translating this people philosophy into paychecks – salaries, bonuses, merits – you name it. Chipotle understands that money alone is not sufficient for creating empowered, effective, happy employees so our compensation philosophy is built to support all the restaurant leaders in their mission to create awesome teams who create awesome food.
Your professional role is about enabling others. How might your experience on OpenIDEO shape that going forward?
OpenIDEO has taught me the importance of actively seeking inspiration before crafting solutions to an issue. This lesson is particularly vital to my role at Chipotle: my purpose is to support and enable our restaurants – but here I am sitting in an office all day. What do I truly know about the needs of our restaurants? Nothing, really. Without truly knowing what our restaurants need, how can I expect to support those needs? So building on my experience on OpenIDEO, I’ve begun listening to and seeking inspiration directly from our restaurants to design better solutions within my role.
I’ve recently begun leading an important initiative around our People Philosophy in which I am consciously taking a design approach to the project. First inspiration, then ideating and concepting, followed by testing and iterating and then finally implementation.
What are your future plans around design + social impact?
After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with degrees in psychology and philosophy, where I’d learned to think really well – my time as a consultant for hospitals taught me to get things done. Consulting was my Masters degree in How-To-Do-Stuff. I learned how to observe complex systems, identify an issue, design a solution, implement that solution and measure the impact. These years of consulting brought me to an intimate, ground-up understanding of how broken the American healthcare system is – and how desperately innovation is needed to ensure everyone can afford, access and live a life of health and happiness. Through my experience I’m convinced that profit-driven, incremental changes to healthcare are not what will bring the industry forward; the innovative, creative and analytical nature of design has a better chance. I’m deeply passionate about learning how to leverage my experience and creativity to design solutions that focus on the patient experience, align the motives of insurance companies, providers and physicians, plus dramatically reduce costs in the space of health and wellness.
Cheers Ashley. We hope to enjoy more of your collaborative action in future!
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First BRAVO to you and IDEO !!!! I have been a friend of IDEO(in the design biz) and worked on a project with IDEO in SF, and lived in Boulder and like Chipotle so i'm tribal. Most of all we are a community and your inspiration and OpenIDEO's collaborative brillance will serve as a model for an initiative on Integrated Health and Hospice care as a works in progress in Asheville. I Will keep in touch !!!!