Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Inside the 2016 Future of Wearables Scramble™

By Stephen Douglass M ’12, Managing Director and Founder of Scramble Systems.

At the 2016 Future of Wearables Scramble™ next week (April 21-22) at Babson College’s Schlesinger Innovation Center, students will envision the role that wearable technology can play on college campuses. Attendees will address emerging challenges in student health, happiness, and productivity—areas in critical need of student perspective and ideas. This one-day immersion is presented by The Lewis Institute and Blank Center and powered by Verizon.


Thursday evening’s reception (yes, food!) includes a facilitated idea and teaming sprint. Friday starts bright and early as teams solidify product/service concepts and jump into a wearables/IoT intensive. Experts in wearables and Verizon’s Internet of Things (IoT) then join each team to refine use cases and tech strategies. The program concludes Friday afternoon with final demos and feedback.

As the Scramble™ Director, it is my job to ensure these aspiring student innovators are empowered and have the space to experiment and learn the more nuanced responsibilities of leading new ventures and initiatives into the unknown. At the heart of this specific Scramble™ is a goal to position students to be a part of the conversation as educational institutions explore new ways to unlock the promise of ubiquitous network connectivity..

It’s important to acknowledge that predicting anything is difficult work. I wish I could have attended a Scramble™ back in 2008 after finishing a stint with a private equity firm that specialized in purchasing companies in distress. When I joined the firm, the economy was bleak and showing no signs of recovery. I was deployed to a portfolio company where we planned to lay off almost 50% of our 300-person workforce. Having grown up in Scranton, PA, a similarly tight-knit, hard-working community, I knew that shockwaves would tear through this rural town.

Intuition told me that there must be an alternative, perhaps better, way to approach turning around or “transforming” a troubled company. I entered Babson’s MBA program shortly after to explore this hypothesis. The result was Scramble™ Systems, a business dedicated to developing new methods and processes to train people to “lead in the radically uncertain future.” By graduation in 2012, campuses and companies were using our approach: “scrambling” learning and transformation initiatives.

So what exactly is a Scramble™ on campus? The concept of a Scramble™ is to equip attendees with skills to help them manage uncertainty, and do it as quickly as possible. We deliberately run into/up against constraints, comfort zones, and perceptions. In just 1 to 3 days’ time, we harvest experiential data on performance and perception. We bring together students, professionals, and educators across different disciplines and skills to address emerging themes, problems, and topics. We design and facilitate the program to create a safe, dedicated space to explore new concepts—like the future–with potential for real impact. These are defining factors of the Scramble™ experience, which we call an Immersion. The results have been astounding. Our student alumni have gone on to raise millions of dollars to launch new ventures, discover new entrepreneurial career paths, and repeatedly return to test skills and roles.

Why should students register for the Future of Wearables Scramble™? Because by trying to predict the future, aspiring innovators and founders develop an important mind-muscle. Practicing future-prediction has tangible benefits like exposing hidden biases and assumptions that may influence your present day decisions and actions is imperative. For emerging innovators, there aren’t many models for how to approach this. The visioning process is a rollercoaster experience. Building things on the frontier of a field is a slow climb that is typically followed by sudden loops, stops, turns, precipitous drops and repreats. Scrambles hope to create the space for this kind of unorthodox learning and doing.

As we prepare for the Future of Wearables Scramble™, we’re reminded that the future is a game governed by rules that aren’t written anywhere; and these rules constantly change in unpredictable ways. This program is a humbling call-to-action where students will be challenged to ask difficult questions and do hard work on a quest for promising solutions.