Interview: Agency Founder Geneviève Flaven, TEDxPuxi 2017 Speaker

By Josh Parker, October 30, 2017

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In our TEDxPuxi Speakers series, we interview some of the event's headliners. Find them at the half-day of talks on November 3 at the Shanghai Centre Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

After founding a design consulting agency in Nice in 2001, Geneviève Flaven relocated the company to Shanghai 10 years later in order to expand and address the growing needs of the innovation of Chinese lifestyle industries. From there she works with local creative teams by bringing creative ideas and various methodologies to these groups as a way of implementing tangible and profitable product innovations into their companies.

Ahead of her talk at TEDxPuxi, we spoke with Flaven about moving her agency across the globe, her experience in writing publications and this year's event theme, "Yes! And..."

You currently operate a design consulting agency which you founded back in your native France. What was part of the reasoning that lead you to relocate from Nice to Shanghai?
It was a very pragmatic reason. My business partner and I created our design consulting agency in 2001 and had been working for 10 years for global groups in Europe and US, mostly in technology, automotive or fashion industries. 

As the financial crisis hit America and Europe in 2008 and 2009, we decided it was time to shift to more dynamic countries. China at that time was starting its transition from production to design and innovation and so we thought we could bring some added value to Chinese companies.

How has your past working within a European market either aided or hindered your work over here in China, and to what extent, if any, did this affect the acclimatization process of your relocation?
Of course, our past experience is valuable in China. We can share our expertise and increase the professional skills of Chinese design teams. 

But the way we deliver our knowledge and knowhow in China is very different. Back in Europe, our mission was to anticipate market trends and develop cutting edge ideas to support the creativity of companies that were already pretty innovative. In China, we still do that, but our focus is more on teaching and training creative teams so that they work better with trends, innovate more and develop more successful products. 

Our approach in China is more pragmatic, short-term oriented and didactic. We had to adapt our methodology to a different cultural context and this localization was intellectually challenging but very interesting.  

Aside from business, you are a published writer and performed playwright. How have your experiences in cross-cultural living informed your writing?
Before coming to China, I had already written two plays and a bit of poetry but China reinforced my dedication to literature and led me to publication. I actually became a writer in China. The first reason is the cultural shock. From my former “identity," nothing really tangible remained except my great love and long lasting intimacy for the French language. The second reason is that writing is a way (at least for me) to observe and try to understand the world around me. In China, I suppose I had a lot to understand and observe…

To what extent has the phrase "Yes! And..." been present in either your professional or personal life?
I am a big fan of the “YES! And...” philosophy. The reason behind is that I follow my intuitions much more than I make detailed plans and objectives.  I tend to rely on situations to open new routes. “Yes! And...” is an affirmation of my trust in the creativity of life.

In what way to you intend to address the "Yes! And..." theme at TEDxPuxi given your professional background?
I will talk about experience and more precisely my topic is: "What theatre can tell us about the nature of our experience." 

The core idea is that experience is both the ingredient of our existence and the result. You need to try new things and say “Yes” to experiments to gain experience “And” you need as well to have experience to increase your sensibility to engage into newer and richer experiments and renew your vitality. I will illustrate these ideas with true stories from my work with non professional actresses in Shanghai and India.  

See Flaven at TEDxPuxi on November 3 at the Shanghai Centre TheatreCheck out our preview here, and purchase tickets here

Read more interviews in our TEDxPuxi Speaker series here.

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