Sally Dominguez

If you need to restore your faith in the human mind as an amazing problem-solving machine, then Australian-born inventor and educator Sally Dominguez is the right person to speak to.

Dominguez joined The Fifth Estate managing editor Tina Perinotto on our podcast How to Build a Better World last week and, as always, blew our minds.

Sheltering in her home outside of San Francisco during the coronavirus, Dominguez discussed her unique way of looking at the world that’s earned her awards for products she invented such as the Nest high chair (a one-legged children’s high chair on a round base that’s easy to clean and aesthetically pleasing) and the Rainwater HOG water tank (Lego-like rain tanks that are  designed to fit into different configurations).

Her way of thinking attracted enough attention for the NSW Board of Studies to ask her to teach students about innovative design thinking – prompting her to analyse her own thinking process, as well as other inventers, to come up with the “adventurous thinking” model.

This boils down to a handful of different “lenses” to apply during the thinking process, including the “backwards” lens that’s effectively sustainability.

Although she thinks anyone developing a new product or solution should consider the life span and end date, they typically don’t. She used a milk carton as an example of this disconnect: “The milk only lasts a week but the carton lasts years.”

She also discussed the outside-the-box-thinking getting her excited, such as the dozen startups looking at turning carbon dioxide into fuels.

“People said it would never really happen, and it’s happening.”

Dominguez also has a good feeling about hydrogen. “I’ve always felt like the future is hydrogen.”

She suspects it will play a key role in ensuring people can keep travelling sustainably, something she thinks people (herself included) are naturally compelled to do.

Mobility is another area of interest for Dominguez. She loves a well-designed car, for instance, despite admitting that most of them are a waste of metal.

She hopes that public transport will come out the other side of coronavirus as a way to forge community and connection (safely, of course) rather than retreating into our own personal transport pods. But for this to happen, she thinks public transport will have to start working harder.

“Why aren’t there beds on the top level? Or cafés, meeting rooms, exercise bikes, or libraries?

“Public transport could be so much more than A-to-B. They should be a place where can we can also hang out and build community.”

Mobility is another area of interest for Dominguez. She loves a well-designed car, for instance, despite admitting that most of them are a waste of metal.

Projecting IKEA’s future

Dominguez’s bread and butter is innovation strategy. She’s worked for the likes of NASA and IKEA to go deeper than a Google search to plan for the future.

For IKEA, Dominguez came up with 12 building blocks – two of which people weren’t 100 per cent sure of. These were resilience and trust.

Weather conditions will become so uncomfortable in some places that businesses like IKEA will need to connect buildings climate controlled tunnels and bridges.

“Trust is this huge thing because you are going to give organisations crazy amounts of information, and they are supposed to give you what they think you need.”

Core to resilience is adapting to climate change. Dominguez says that weather conditions will become so uncomfortable in some places that businesses like IKEA will need to connect buildings climate controlled tunnels and bridges.

Where the human mind and technology come together

Dominguez also does innovation work for Singularity University, which was founded as the home for “exponential technology” that “explodes into our lives and is shared at an incredible rate through digital sharing”.

While the university is home to the best minds in robotics, energy and more, Dominguez was brought on to share the mindset that there’s a “human equivalent to this exponential technology.”

“Humans are amazing. We’ve been dumbed down by Google and the Internet, with everything being fed to us.

“We just need to be reactive to that, and the more people I can hit with that, the happier I will be.”

If you want to know more about the incredible mind of Sally Dominguez – including how she came to think the way she does – listen to the How to Build a Better World episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to hear more conversations with the movers and shakers making our world a fairer, more sustainable place.