Community-Centered Design

What Cherokee innovators can teach us about Design Thinking


Cherokee Innovators focus on the community first and the individual second

Human-Centered Design systems such as Design Thinking have swept the global business world and helped many companies improve their ability to design products and services.  Yet the way Design Thinking is often implemented focuses narrowly on individual needs and desires and can underestimate the powerful influence that our communities have on our behavior.

In this talk David Robertson and Wahde Galisgewi will profile four Cherokee innovators to show how members of a communal and egalitarian culture like the Cherokees design new products and services for the communities they’re serving.  The unique and powerful role that the community plays in Cherokee culture led them all to use a broader lens as they pursued their innovations – developing empathy for communities instead of individuals.  The talk has lessons for anyone interested in strengthening communities through innovation.



About the authors - Wahde Galisgewi

Wahde Galisgewi is Manager of Adult Immersion Programs for the Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach Department.  Wahde is fluent in Cherokee, and is a recognized storyteller for the Cherokee Nation.  He is also the author of “Cherokee Cultural Values.”

David Robertson

David Robertson is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches Innovation and Product Management. Over the course of his career, David has been a consultant at McKinsey, a startup advisor, a senior executive at small and large technology companies, a research fellow at MIT’s AI lab, and a radio show host.

From 2002 through 2009 David was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development (IMD).  While at IMD, David was given inside access to The LEGO Group, and wrote his award-winning book Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry (2013). David’s latest book The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation (2017, Harvard Business Review Press). From 2010 through 2017, David was a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania where he taught Innovation and Product Design.

David currently runs MIT’s largest executive program, the Executive Program in General Management. He teaches in MIT’s MBA and executive programs, consults with global Fortune 1000 companies on Innovation and Product Management issues, and is a frequent speaker at corporate events and industry trade shows. David holds an SM and PhD from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois.  David and his two children are members of the Cherokee Nation.

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