“Design Thinking can be applied to everything”

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Marianne Aerni is a Swiss Startup coach, innovation and development consultant and a facilitator with focus on collaboration, team and personal development. She has lived in Bern, Zurich, Berlin, Stockholm and New York. Most recently, Marianne was the co-director of Google’s 30 Weeks Program, an incubator that teaches entrepreneurship to designers. She has a background in Sociology and has previously worked with PR and Public Affairs in Switzerland.

A week ago, our team had the pleasure to participate in a workshop facilitated by Marianne. She introduced us to methodologies and tools for team and self-development. During a work break over coffee on our roof top terrace, Marianne shared her experience as a Swiss living and working abroad in the entrepreneurial field.


“As someone from the outside, you always bring a new set of eyes, new questions and reflections”


You have come several times to Brazil. What brings you here?

Rio is one of the places that feel like home to me – no other city has a light and energy as magical. My dad planted the love for Brazil in me. He brought me here when I was eight – we visited friends in the interior of Rio. Over the past 10 years I’ve been coming back for work and to spend time with one of my best friends. A Swiss, who moved here shortly after High School and has built her own fashion brand.

You are a Swiss, living in New York, currently in Brazil to teach a series of workshops. How does your multicultural background help your role as a facilitator and coach?

I think living in different countries speaking several languages helps in building empathy and compassion for others. You build curiosity for the people and things that are different, and lose prejudice. As a facilitator, my role is to challenge people to be their best. I do that by asking lots of questions and helping them get clarity. It’s an explorative but determined way of working.

What’s the unique viewpoint or set of skills you bring to companies/organizations that you work with?

I think every viewpoint is unique and as someone from the outside, you always bring a new set of eyes, new questions and reflections. I believe in fostering innovation by being a good listener, by building frameworks and exercises in which people and teams can explore the way they are working and develop new strategies and behaviors.

The international media currently portrays Brazil as a country of tremendous crisis: economic, political and health. As a professional working with startups and creatives, what are your personal observations of Brazil?

The crisis is omnipresent, it dominates conversations and I see that people are frustrated. The financial hurdles due to a weak currency are obviously challenging. Nevertheless I see people with ideas, who believe in change and are making it happen every day.

You worked with swissnex Brazil. In three words, what are your impressions of the organization, the team and the spirit?

Vision – enthusiasm – get things done.

One of your areas of expertise is Design Thinking. In your experience, is there any special application of this methodology here in Brazil, as the country fights adversity? 

Design Thinking is nothing else than moving away from jumping from a problem right into a solution. It’s about really spending time examining and exploring the problem and tackling it, in a way that creates real value for real people. Design Thinking can be applied to everything. As someone who is not from here and hasn’t lived her for any significant period of time, I cannot comment on a larger scale. But on a community level, I’ve seen people do exactly that. For example the Casa Leve – which is gathering a community under the umbrella of sustainable energy, addressing all kinds of topics, from how to collaborate, be mindful and apply design thinking. I think those initiatives take time but are very sustainable and will change the way things work. I hope we can become more comfortable with the problem, spending time investigating and building long-term solutions. Not merely patches that will break again soon just to give way to new gaps.

Sneak peek into the interview