Da Vinci @ Work: Meet our Alumnus – Dr Dana Gampel

Answers are easy, says Dana; the questions make up the ‘art’

Twelve years ago, Dana Gampel became the first Da Vinci Institute student to graduate with a PhD. Today, she is still closely affiliated to The Institute because, like its namesake Leonardo, it continues to be relevant.

“Da Vinci is one of my superheroes. He made art to better understand the world and to inspire the world to engage its elements more creatively. He participated in autopsies to understand how the body worked and designed the Vitruvian Man to teach artists and architects about perspective,” says Dana. “Applied knowledge was the crux of Leonardo’s thinking and applied knowledge is what sets The Da Vinci Institute apart.”

Dana, head of Eskom’s Strategic Intelligence and Analysis unit and CEO of her own company, Atum Strategy Consulting, says The Da Vinci Institute is one of only a few higher education institutions who are actively working with the application of knowledge.

“We don’t need new ways to do algebra and geometry. We need to apply algebra and geometry,” she says. “I want students of Da Vinci to come out and apply knowledge for innovation. That’s what they are taught here, that’s why we are relevant and that’s why I am very proud to be affiliated with The Institute.”

Conventions make for lazy thinking

Dana says anyone hoping to receive a template from Da Vinci on how to apply knowledge is likely to be disappointed. “Conventional practice in business today increasingly relies on templates and ’best practice’. I think these conventions make us lazy and lower the bar.  You’ve got to think creatively. That’s hard and it’s uncomfortable … and from that difficult space, innovation and insight usually emerge.”

When quizzed on how The Institute advocates the TIPS™ framework and whether this is not a template for thinking, Dana quickly retorts that this is “far from being a template. TIPS™ is a meta-framework for responding to challenges and it has to be applied in a creative way,” she says. “To do that, you have to understand the art of asking questions. Finding the answers is relatively easy – the problem is we shy away from, and often don’t know how to, ask the questions. Asking the questions is the start of applied thinking, and the essence of most creative thinking processes.”

Ahead of her time

Dana defended her PhD thesis in 2006, examining the interrelationship between leadership, power and radical transformation. She innovatively developed several tools for managing this interrelationship in order to sustain a competitive advantage.  These tools remain relevant today – and continue to be successfully applied for small and large organizations, government and NGO players and even for individuals, suggesting that she may have been ahead of her time, given how much has changed since then.

“Of course I’m ahead of my time. I’m South African,” she says. “Creative thinking is everywhere in South Africa. We have it in spades. You see it when you go into an impoverished rural area; the inner city … and even in suburbia. It’s remarkable how much innovation and creative application is underway right here. Sadly, as a nation, we have not yet succeeded in harnessing this creative thinking for everyone and making it available for others to improve on. But we will. We’re South African.”