In an educational environment like the College of William and Mary, it is natural to assume that students will have their horizons broadened as they accumulate vast quantities of knowledge. What is perhaps most impressive about higher education is its ability to enable students to discover sides of themselves they never knew they had. For Zach Ferry ’20, college has done just that; his time studying at the College is responsible for unlocking his passion for innovation.
Ferry’s mother went to the College, so he has always felt the influence of the school on his life. However, it wasn’t until Day for Admitted Students that he took notice of the energy and community of the school, which led to his decision to choose the College.
The liberal arts agenda at the College has proven itself to be an excellent fit for Ferry, whose thirst for knowledge has driven him to regularly attend classes in which he is not enrolled. Many of his classes have been geared toward his major in government; however, he considers his time studying in Dublin for his global business minor to be far more defining than any other aspect of his education.
“I do believe the global business minor was probably the biggest pivot in my life,” Ferry said. “I fell in love with the process of design thinking. I thought it was structured, yet imaginative. That combination is very hard to find.”
Since discovering his passion, Ferry has garnered a reputation around campus for being quite the entrepreneur. In addition to being the president and co-founder of Tribe Innovation, Ferry is the inventor of The College Cloud — a colorfully lit cloud designed to reduce stress and anxiety among college students — and even helped to develop the new interdisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship minor.
Ferry says he is inspired to engage in these inventive efforts by a general want to do good.
“I think that I’m a little bit more aware of the good happening in the world than other people,” Ferry said. “I think that focus inspires me to do my own good.”
Ferry believes the overwhelming focus on negativity in news media smothers creativity. He is an avid reader of The Optimist Daily, a news source that exclusively reports on positive solutions people have come up with in an effort to help solve some of the world’s problems. Ferry believes constant exposure to this type of encouraging information is what keeps him passionate about innovation.
For Ferry, the best part of innovation is the process.
“There’s falling in love with the problem,” Ferry said. “There’s falling in love with the solution. But falling in love with the process? That’s me.”
Ferry says his process is driven by a desire to make things better. He is constantly keeping an eye out for problems of all types. Upon identifying the potential for a problem, Ferry seeks to learn from and empathize with the people who are affected by the issue. From there, it’s a matter of narrowing down all that he has gathered into one distinct problem.
Ferry believes that in attempting to find a solution to a problem, it is important to always keep in mind the people most impacted.
“The person is the thing that matters most,” Ferry said. “That’s a humancentric mindset. Not all organizations use that.”
Sticking to the theme of focusing on people, Ferry’s next step in his process of innovation is to brainstorm with as many people as possible from a wide range of skills and expertise. He believes it is critical to work with a high number of diverse people so that the team as whole can come up with many distinct approaches to solving a problem.
“Quantity over quality,” Ferry said. “Come up with those wild ideas, then you pick a few of those ideas to converge upon.”
When the time finally arrives to create a prototype, Ferry will continue to focus on people.
“Get a physical, tangible model in your hands and give it to the consumer,” Ferry said. “Be open to feedback. Keep iterating on that process and further develop the product.”
Of course, his process is dependent upon coming up with ideas. To help him do that, Ferry is always on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow. He believes that having an inquisitive mind is critical for innovation. He feels that having a wide range of knowledge has helped to breed his ideas, and he tries to consume as much information as possible to use as a basis for future ideas.
“I’m at a college; it’s a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of so many resources to just learn,” Ferry said. “I’m currently going to biology courses that I’m not signed up for just because I’m interested in a certain problem-solving method called biomimicry, which is taking nature’s processes and innovating them to adapt a human life. That is a beautiful thing, but you can’t come up with ideas on how to implement biomimicry without knowing biology and chemistry.”
The College has enabled Ferry to grow his knowledge of an array of topics, including himself. He says that his time at the College has helped him to better understand the type of person he is and what he should do with his life.
Looking ahead, it should come as no surprise that Ferry plans to continue engaging in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“The goal is to start my own business one day,” Ferry said. “The road there is to experience a lot of different industries doing user experience research and design.”