"Now is the time for crazy ideas"

Meet Pamela Bell

“When you snowboard off-trail in the trees you have to focus on the gaps.  Otherwise, you’ll ride straight into those trees.”

Innovation consultant, author, entrepreneur and Olympic athlete Pamela Bell says that this ‘spotting the gaps’ approach is the thread which ties together her varied and rich career. “It’s all about exploring something that hasn’t been there before.  Setting up something new and then letting industry come in and run / operate it.”

Pamela’s career began with a roundabout approach to her architectural studies when she left for a gap year that eventually turned into seven.  “I noticed that the people who were really thriving were the ones who had self-confidence presenting in a ‘critique’ – they had been away and done things in the world and then come back; so after two years of my degree, I left do a sporting experiment in snowboarding.”  

Snowboarding was at the start of a steep growth curve and she was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The team she trained with was named the Canadian national team, which led to the World Cup and then the inaugural Olympic snowboarding event in 1998 at Nagano, Japan.  “My family had all followed really traditional university and career paths and, for years, when I was snowboarding, I found that really hard.  In the back of my head, I was still thinking I needed a university degree; I needed to cap this snowboarding thing off somehow.  And the Olympics seemed like an appropriate way to finish.”

“They’re inextricably linked.  Architecture plus business equals start-ups and creative ideas,” she explains.

After eventually returning to finish her architectural studies, Pamela spent a few years in professional practice but soon realised that her interests were most focussed on where architecture and design meet business.  “They’re inextricably linked.  Architecture plus business equals start-ups and creative ideas,” she explains.  This understanding led her to found the industry association for innovative construction, PrefabNZ. There she spent a decade working to communicate about prefabrication or offsite manufacture (OSM) in design and construction, and other emerging technologies.

A quintessential entrepreneur, Pamela acknowledges that the establishment of new initiatives is where she thrives.  So, when PrefabNZ reached two of her personal key goals last year – government adoption of the platform, and the establishment of a prefab factory by Fletcher Construction, she knew prefab had mainstreamed and it was time to hand over the reins.  Through her new innovation consultancy, Pamela now brings a lens of marketing and communications, stakeholder engagement, user experience, design-thinking and problem-solving to a range of projects locally and offshore, in corporate, government and start-up environments.

“I’m almost exclusively attracted to challenges and areas that are new to me,” she says.  “I don’t want to be the next, bigger, shinier, cheaper iteration of some existing widget.  I’m more interested in being on the edge and in hybrids.  If it was a Venn diagram, it would be about what’s happening in that little overlap in the middle between two circles or contects, that connecting piece between sectors and ideas.”

This is exactly what Pamela is doing now, exploring the space where architecture and design meet business in the education sector.  She is currently collaborating with Teulo and Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) to develop a virtual educational content which joins up these concepts for university students and industry professionals alike.  

“It is about the business in design and the design in business.  We’re exploring business-focussed learning for architecture and design students and we’re also bringing design-thinking to other industries and contexts... We might not have pure architectural or pure design jobs now for all our graduates.  We need to be realistic about that.  We really need to equip them to open up and prepare to look for more opportunities.  If they do this course it may be that they can talk about business comfortably in an architectural practice or a design studio; it might also be that there’s non-traditional roles where they can apply those design-thinking skills, say, in government or corporates where there is a more secure job stream.”

Pamela says she was drawn to a collaboration with Teulo because of its versatility and professionalism.  As an independent platform, it can be rolled out to a range of different users in different ways.  “Different users have different doorways in and can get different value back.  A student that goes through the Victoria University of Wellington door will access the Teulo content and gain learning outcomes through the University in the usual way.  Industry, going in through a different door, will join Teulo as a member and be able to access Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accreditation points.”  And Teulos not just a digital platform, she says.  “It’s a relationship-maker with the industry so it has fantastic brand credibility.”  

With Teulo founder Janelle Fenwick, Pamela is taking a lean start-up approach to developing the course content.  They are currently working with VUW graduates and entrepreneurs to workshop and define the structure of their offering.  It will have an initial run of 6 weeks in early 2021 which Pamela hopes may one day become part of a larger university programme of micro-credentials, allowing students to design their own degrees.

“There’s a unique opportunity here for universities to embrace working with independent platforms like Teulo.  But remember this whole course is a prototype.  It could iterate and grow, or it could fail.  And we’re open to that.  When my grandchildren ask: ‘So what did you do during Covid?’ I need to have a response.  Covid is a major disruption and if you can’t launch a new idea in a disruption, when can you do it?  Now is the time for crazy ideas.”  

To register for Design Thinking Business course at the Victoria University of Wellington, click a link below!

Third-year SARC 384 info here

Fourth-year SARC 484 info here

Bex De Prospo
Bex De Prospo