In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Minneapolis-St Paul Minnesota-based innovation practitioner, Matt Hunt, Founder and President of consultancy Stanford and Griggs. With over 20 years of business and technology experience he has a demonstrated excellence in business strategy, innovation, and leadership development with large companies, small companies and non-profit organizations. I had the good fortune to meet Matt at the Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence Rhode Island this Summer. In this episode we explored the concepts of failure forums and the ways to grow into being comfortable with learning from failure. Good stuff. We also consider the challenge of failure for business leaders and the fine line between avoiding both “sinking the ship” and “missing the boat”.
Certain sections of the Internet worked themselves into a lather this week over the “leaked” internal report on innovation at the New York Times. What followed was a broad cross-section of responses ranging from, “they just don’t get it,” to, “here’s what they need to do to fix it,” and, “here’s what it means as an example to the rest of us”. To call it a provocation would be an understatement.
Regardless of the self-congratulatory tone the report takes at the outset, there are few companies anywhere that would ask the question, “how are we doing in this area?”, let alone would deliver such a comprehensive answer. For this, the Times should be lauded. Especially since they do recognize their own shortcomings almost as swiftly noting that, “…Huffington Post and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times journalism than we do.”
For all the general analysis, and some of it quite specific and valuable (consider the response from Nieman Journalism Lab), there is a lot to learn for all incumbents seeking to innovate in their current markets with their existing business models. However, I think the most value to be gained here is actually on the part of the Times itself. Not only has it done a great job of exacting self-examination, in leaking the report it has also widened the range of possible responses and potential solutions to its concerns.
A more fragile organization might have buried the report, or severely restricted access to it. The Times, being what it is—a news organization, is not going to do that, but what it gains now via leaking the report has paved the way to foster open innovation. Although no specific external partners have been solicited for feedback, the public way in which the report has come to light has fostered some excellent commentary. As a paradigm for using external ideas by building on internal ideas, especially as a firm seeks to advance their technology position, this accidental slide into open innovation is an unexpectedly positive outcome for the paper.
I heard once that Google made a habit of sometimes choosing not to hire every smartest person they could find, instead adding them to a broader network and leaving them where they were in order to foster a more robust technology ecosystem. Mark Zuckerberg also espouses the value of more perspectives, “In terms of doing work and in terms of learning and evolving as a person, you just grow more when you get more people’s perspectives…”. Perhaps this is an opportunity for The Times to recognize the unintended consequences of their report in the public domain might be a whole lot of valuable feedback to help them on their innovation path.
Whether it chooses to recognize the gift of this commentary as feedback remains to be seen. One of the primary rules of feedback is that in order for it to have value a recipient must be ready and willing to listen to it, let alone accept it. As I see it the public response to the leaked report is a gift. Yes, there is certainly a truckload of snark to wade through in order to uncover some observational gems. The challenge will be to see if the Times can take these responses and fold then into their good work.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Prince Edward Island-based, April Ennis, the founder of Pure PEI — a site dedicated to celebrating Canada’s smallest province. We explore fear of personal failure and lessons learned from failure even though they suck. We also explore the philosophy of failure as a learning opportunity and how some leading creatives like director, Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Weiner, series creator of Mad Men, frame failure for themselves.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Seattle-based, Jake Johnson, the Director of Brand Experience at Phinney Bischoff who wrote an amazing blog post at Medium about his son’s response to failure. We explore fear of failure, the failure associated with learning as a child, and the way in which society at large demonizes failure. It was a true pleasure to spend time with him (twice!! thanks to the less-than wonderful wonders of modern technology). We also share that paragon of entrepreneurial spirit, Richard Branson’s perspective on failure, too.
In this episode we explore failure as a learning laboratory. Renee Hopkins spends some time chatting with us about the failure of print journalism (and her super power for escaping it), the challenges of helping innovation thought leaders to innovate (and her work with Innochat), and the lack of room for failure in the “perfect enterprise”. We also have a great conversation about the semantic minefield that is innovation. And a snapshot of a spectacular failure on the part of the UN in Bangladesh in the 1950’s-60’s during which they went from failure to failure.
One of the true pleasures of BIF-9 was seeing the range of experimentation on display. Straight out of the gate we were dazzled by the wise beyond his years, Easton LaChapelle. This young man, with the earnestness of someone out to change the world took us through the development of his robotic prosthetic are and bio-feedback remote-manipulation glove (designed using an old Nintendo PowerGlove no less!). What was most remarkable about LaChapelle’s projects was how quickly he was iterating them, how much knowledge he had to acquire to make them work, and how much he is driving cost out of the equation.
This is someone for whom the pursuit of knowledge is not only valuable act in itself, this is the engine that fuels his ability to innovate.
LaChapelle’s most compelling tale arose out of a time when he was at a science fair and met a girl with a prosthetic whose single servo, single sensor, arm cost $80,000. He responded with a completely 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be produced in a week for $400, is approximately 10 lbs today (planned to be 4-5 lbs), and can be controlled using your brain. The resulting arm shook the hand of the President.
Also demonstrating the power of experimentation was the the delightful Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. She started Geomagic as a result of the work of Chuck Hull who created the world’s largest 3D printing company. Ping Fu is creating a platform for connecting the real world with the virtual world. She demonstrated her enthusiasm for pushing he envelop of 3D printing by dressing in fashion accessories produced by 3D printing, including rocking some fantastic and other-worldly hot pink platform shoes.
She was not the only person to bring props. Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, also brought props—spacesuits, but these were not your father’s spacesuits. As an engineering professor she studies motion on earth and in space. She brought three spacesuit versions to illustrate the evolution of extravehicular space wear and to discuss the experiments conducted to produce them. Building a suit that doesn’t require the astronaut to overcome the pressure of the suit is the chief concern now that environmental considerations are fully understood. Today she and her team are considering electro-spun designer materials. Spraying asymmetry into the functional membranes layer-by-layer gives them more of the multi-directional movement they are seeking
BIF-9 was not only about experimenting in physical space, it also revealed the opportunities for learning through experimentation between physical and mental spaces
Through the work of his performance art collective, Big Nazo, Erminio Pinque demonstrated the power of changing up reality. He presented mask work and street theatre and delved into the chaos that occurs on a controlled level through that ground-level interaction.
What I’m doing is absurd on a number of levels. There was no business plan. Instead I moved forward with intensity and love of transforming spaces and moments.
The delight in seeing the Big Nazo characters next to children become children was contagious in the room. Seeing the world differently in order to shift the context launched us into whole other directions.
Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University, shared his university’s major initiative—College for America that is disaggregating the tertiary education experience. By unbundling college education, College for America is making higher education accessible to a much broader range of student participants.
The USA is behind much of EU and Canada, as LeBlanc clearly identified. He also emphatically made the case that education remains the difference-maker for intergenerational mobility. LeBlanc shared the story of Zac Sherman working making Slim Jims on the midnight shift who earned his Associates Degree for $1250 in 100 days. An exceptional example certainly but one that illustrated the power of will when the economic imbalance is addressed.
Education and a degree changes the trajectory of people’s lives.
In order to recapture that mobility something needs to change: we need to be clear about what needs fixing; we need to consider the power of disaggregation; and, we need to be clearer about how technology can be deployed.
With his pop-up Jazz trio who had not played together before hitting the stage, Carl Störmer, shared the incredibly personal story of his wife’s stroke and the power of giving over to the inspiration of improvisation. He noted that small groups mean solos for everyone – moments to shine, take individual risks—the same can be said in organization life.
Here is a little of the improvised music that Carl shared (forgive the recording, it was captured on a whim and at a distance)
Create a network and share. Being personal without being private. They built a network of people who could provide just-in-time support. By sharing, people know when and how to help you give you the things you really need.
Control is for beginners – Carl Stormer’s wife
Let go of the notion of where we want to go. And be open to what is going on. True of jazz and true of life. Be open to the implicit and opening order of things.
Mary Flanagan added to the mix by exploring the role of games and game play in helping people understand their world and improve it. She is exploring how people might be moved to be come an effective force for change and presented a game she worked on engage people in considering vaccination—POX.
New technology is boundless but our greatest achievements lie not so much in our breakthroughs but in how these breakthroughs are used to better the world around us.
Her card game, Buffalo, was a fantastic low-tech demonstration of how a game might address stereotypes in sciences. It directly tackled, Social Identity Complexity. The purpose of the game was to open receptivity to learning about complex social identities. Flanagan believes we can change, even without the desire to want to change. This game helps people recognize their own prejudices based on availability bias. In recognizing that we can begin to change it.
The most surprising storyteller who revealed the power of experimentation as a learning opportunity was the Chief Marketing Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, David Butler. Butler showed how even the largest of enterprises can learn how to experiment and capitalize on their size as a platform for innovation.
Start-ups know how to start but not how to scale. Big companies know how to scale but not how to start.
Butler illustrated the differences between start-ups and larger enterprises…
Start-ups know how to start:
- Developing assets
- Rapid learning
Enterprises know how to scale:
- Leveraging assets
- Network effects
To demonstrate how serious Coke is about tackling the start-up mindset, Butler shared the wealth of experiments that they have launched or are about to:
Coke is the first non-tech company that has joined the Start-up Weekend events and sponsoring 10 Maker-focused weekends. They are sponsoring the first start-up weekend in Myanmar. They have created a co-working space inside Coke and are hosting a series of in house unconferences. On top of that they are hosting their first failure conference and first Hackathons inside Coke.
If a company like Coke, founded in 1886, has developed this mindful approach to experimentation and learning, there is no excuse for any other large enterprise not to reinvent itself.
Lessons in Innovation (and Life) from BIF-9
On September 18 and 19 I had the great good fortune to be in the room for the Business Innovation Factory’s annual symposium/happening/gabfest/love-in, BIF-9. What transpired over two days was a phenomenally inspiring exploration of the ways we can engage ourselves and others in the creation of breakthroughs to make our world a better place. Yes, I know this sounds hyperbolic. The simple fact is that this event was a shock to the system in unanticipated and exciting ways.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt
As the founder of BIF and the host for BIF-9, Saul Kaplan framed the experience at the outset citing the need for catalysts and recognizing the need to include youth in the co-design of solutions, “they will, after all, be the ones to inherit this world after we depart.” BIF-9 continued to drive home the expectation that this was an occasion for “random collisions of unusual suspects” in service of new and better ways to address the most pressing social, economic and business issues of the day. It did not disappoint.
Over the course of two days there were over sixteen vignettes during which individuals and small groups shared their personal stories, presented their work, held conversations. The storytellers ranged from Easton LaChapelle a prosthetic roboticist and student who is seeking to revolutionize the way in which prosthetics are developed, to Rabbi Irwin Kula who exhorted the audience to seek new ways to engage with the practice of faith and spirituality in that they are being rapidly disintermediated. We also managed to pull off a live Innochat, streamed via Ustream and moderated by Renee Hopkins.
Rather than providing a blow-by-blow account of the presenters (a not-so-subtle incentive for you to sign up for BIF10) here are five of the broad lessons I took away from this experience:
- The value of your network is how well you use it for others
- Everything is an opportunity to experiment, learn and grow
- Problem-finding is more powerful than solution-creating
- Risk is critical for change but the spectrum of acceptable risk is personal
- Create the world you want to live in
Each of the lessons is explored in a separate post (one a day the week following BIF-9). Take a look at some of the surprises shared by the great storytellers and ask yourself, “What story could I share that might inspire another?” We all have a story (or more to share). What’s yours?
Hooray for Failure is dedicated to exploring how to embrace risk-taking, practice resilience and strive for results in the face of setbacks, catastrophe and outright disaster. Hooray for Failure celebrates the effort required to making the startling, the fascinating and the truly innovative. Without failure there would be no breakthrough. Without failure there would be no success. Without failure there would be no stories to tell. Welcome to Hooray for Failure!
Increasingly when we are working with clients the question arises around how to develop a capacity to embrace risk, and overcome the inevitable failures when we attempt something truly new? One of the best ways to learn si through direct experience and short of that learning from the lessons of others. Hooray for Failure is going to share the stories of people who are visibly successful in their fields as they share how they tackle risk-taking, failure, and practice the resilience required to learn and grow towards success.
Some of the questions we’ll consider include:
- What is the one failure you remember most? Why?
- How did you overcome that failure? How do you continue to overcome that failure?
- What part does failure have in your current success?
If you know of someone who might have a story to share or a lesson to teach based on their experience, please use the contact link and let us know?
To start the day off I had a great conversation with seat mate and recovering journalist, Helen Walters from Doblin. We covered: Conferences. Curation. Presentation delivery bar being raised. And the Conference Industrial Complex. I love her manner of inquiry.
Saul Kaplan opened the day by reflecting on what the success of the BIF summit means. He noted, “People need to draw their own conclusions because the value is in what you learn as a participant.” Saul also reflected on the fact that innovators, even though they come with deep subject matter expertise, are in constant search for what they are missing. This mindset is something that informs how Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto thinks about innovation and to whom Saul nodded.
Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business, lead the Day 2 presentations by delivering his session live from Pakistan. We talked yesterday about transforming education and healthcare. Haque is focused on transforming the mother of all systems, capitalism.
Haque opened with the fact that Pakistan has ground to a halt due to an outbreak of Denge Fever.
What the religious fundamentalists haven’t been able to achieve in two decades, the mosquitoes have accomplished in two months in Lahore. – Umair Haque
He stated that Pakistan is a functional economy against which he compared the aspirational economy of India. By way of framing his approach to capitalism, Haque quoted from Joseph Shcumpeter’s work, “Can Capitalism Survive?” Schumpeter’s assessment was that no, capitalism cannot survive because the range of needs of human beings is endless and that it will collapse under its own weight. Haque’s additional framing is to offer the concept of the opulent economy and its attendant ills: dumbification, inequity, social unrest, abject poverty. The quest for more, bigger, faster, cheaper, now is going to fade.
In the place of opulence, Haque offers up a model of capitalism based on fitter, smarter, tougher, closer, and wiser. The term he uses is eudaimonia which is founded in “human flourishing.” This transition will take years, if not a decade according to Haque. However the range of change required is transformational
The artist, screenwriter, and author behind “The Polar Express” and many other books, Chris Van Allsburg came to the stage next. He shared a story about Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. [It should be mentioned I have a relative who self-selected from the gene pull by swimming the river that feeds these Falls, Captain Webb who was a British dare devil.] Van Allsburg’s book is called, “Queen of the Falls”
In sharing his journey to creating this book, Van Allsburg talked about the narrative choices he made in conjunction with the illustrative choices, such as superimposing a building into the Falls to illustrate their size. He also discussed how he fleshed out her life’s story and how he captured her journey to the moment she decided to go over the Falls in a barrel. She had no experience in barrel-making or dare-devilry and yet, like most innovators, she had a persistent belief in her own vision and the will to drive it to successful completion.
This presentation offered a glimpse into both the subject of Van Allsburg’s heroine as well as the author artist’s role in capturing her journey in a meaningful and accessible manner. To see and hear how he pulled together the elements of his book into a cohesive whole was intriguing. It was a wonderful and revealing view of the care required to construct meaning.
Alexander Osterwalder was a pinch-hitter due to the schedule shift on Day 1 with Erin Mote being called away by Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to go to the West Bank. Alex is the lead author/editor of the book, “Business Model Generation” which was essentially co-created with a large number of practitioners.
This book arose from Alex’s doctoral thesis which contained the word ontology, which Alex noted is the word that enables you to earn a Ph.D! The first time the book was able to be held by Alex was actually at BIF5 two years ago. And with book in hand Alex found that he struggled to define himself when asked by people – author?, entrepreneur?, public speaker?, academic? None of which seemed to fit. Instead he says he is,
I’m somebody who likes to *break* the rules and make stuff.
Alex provided some statistics to create context for the environment into which his book might be delivered. 1,000,000 books published in English in a year. 11,000 of those are business books. Cumulatively there are 250,000 business books competing for shelf-space. Business books sell 250 copies on average. A highly challenging environment in which to launch a new book.
He identified some of the challenges of business books which sounded like an offshoot of the Goldilocks tale: too heavy, too light, to wordy, to impractical. To break this paradigm Alex and the wider team looked at a very broad range of works for inspiration and sought to cerate a book that they would love to buy. The first step was to hire a designer and assemble a broader team to create and build the ecosystem around the development of the book. The end result is a highly visual book with white space and different ways of laying out the book to engage and attract to ensure the book had a high degree of utility.
The book became the co-created work of 470 people around the world. They also charged for participation and raised the price of the book time and time again from $24 to $81. The last chance payment was $250 in order to have your name in the book before publication. What was the reason for the attractiveness of the value proposition? Being first. Being a part of something bigger. An opportunity to learn from each other.
Instead of a marketing budget, the book project had a built in community of people who were proud advocates for the book in the marketplace. The backbone for bringing the book to light was the internet. There was a freemium offer of a third of the book. Then came the challenge of managing the logistics of dealing with shipping all over the way. The initial approach with a Dutch company was an abject failure and then they went back to Amazon for fulfillment. The initial success attracted a large publisher, Wiley.
The book is available around the world and it has been scheduled to be translated into 22 other languages. The ideas are available around the world and are tearing down the barriers to business everywhere.
This was a great example of building a community to launch a book to the heights of success.
The Co-Founder of Futurlogic, Jon Cropper next came up to talk about seduction a distillation of 15 years of his life into 15 minutes. And he survived being tortured by P-Diddy running his company for a year. He shared nine elements that drive seduction:
Self awareness – know yourself
Environmental – the conditions and context of performance
Design – aesthetics matter (the fusion of a simple exterior with a complex interior – “simplexity”)
Understanding – listening and compassion
Communication – the power of great storytelling
Trust – in others and delivering on your promise
Inspiration – create an educational, inspirational operating philosophy
Open – generosity feeds the soul
New – rejuvenation, repetition and constant renewal
Cropper offered a series of personal anecdotes and observations that revealed those things that resonate most deeply with him about the power of seduction within innovation.
Generosity and appreciation create the optimal output performance of your heart.
And we’re back from our first morning session and ready for our pre-lunch immersion. The first speaker up is Andy van Dam. He earned the second computer science degree in the world and is the Thomas J. Watson, Jr., University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science at Brown University. He is interested in exploring the intersection between art and computer science. His focus in this session was using the computer to access traditional artwork that would be otherwise inaccessible.
He examined the special problems of especially large artworks. With a graduate student driving he explored several large scale pieces of art including: a fresco of Egyptian art (an essential form of storytelling), the Bayeux Tapestry, and the Garibaldi Panorama (which was digitized by Brown University.) The scroll was the popular form of entertainment in its day. Measuring 4½ feet high and 273 feet long, the Garibaldi Panorama is one of the longest paintings in the world. The work depicts the life story of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played a major role in the unification of Italy. The late Dr. James Walter Smith donated the relic to Brown in 2005.
In summer 2007, special funding enabled library staff and technicians from Boston Photo, a leading museum reprographics company, to fashion a makeshift photo studio in the central gallery of the Annmary Brown Memorial. They slowly and surely unrolled the panorama — six feet at a time — in order to take 91 digital photographs. The photographs will now be melded into a continuous image online. The genius of this digitization was the arrival of the Microsoft Surface operating system which had a deep zoom technology allowing an incredible level of accessibility and little instruction required to be able to view and explore the artwork.
There are two modes of access – the walk-up or the viewer mode. The walk-up mode provdes image-only view where the viewer mode introduces additional contextual information, including Ken Burns’-style image inclusion of external data and embedded video. The legibility of the artwork and the additional materials is supported by high definition capture. Additional Photoshop-like tools enable elemental image color manipulation.
The end goal is to create a platform that can be used by museums and galleries to quickly produce similar art work tours. The Tour Authoring Tool itself is like a basic asynchronous editing suite for video, which enables the addition of multiple digital assets. The tool itself is produced by the Brown Center for Digital Initiatives. They are working with the Forbidden City in Beijing on the Ching Ming Festival Scroll as well as other institutes around the world.
Display technology is going to be replaced by organic light-emitting diodes which means all surfaces around us will be interactive for display and immersion purposes. The only question is, “What won’t we be able to do?!”
Byron Reeves is a Professor at Stanford University; a Behavioral Scientist, Author, and proponent of Interactive Gaming & Virtual Worlds in the Workplace. He came to share his thoughts about gamification and the social implications of the impact of gaming in everyday life and social system change. Reeves is an expert on the psychological processing of media in the areas of attention, emotions, learning, and physiological responses, and has published over 100 scientific papers about media and psychology.
He noted that most people who study TV as academics profess a disdain for the medium. He, however, professed his love for it. (My wife, Jo, and Professor Reeves have this in common!) To illustrate the impact of captivation and engagement he shared a picture of himself in front of a TV and then showed the complete transformation of immersion via the game experience – in World of Warcraft. This captivation triggered the question about what else you could use this kind of captivation for?
In supporting his children at their swim meets he had a fortuitous encounter with J. Leighton Read. And Read asked, “Byron, what’s cool in your lab right now?” Which he did. He described the impact of captivation as represented by gaming. When Reeves asked Read the same question, Read described his exploration of the world of work and the chaos of not knowing how to measure what success looked like until the quarterly (or annual) review. Based on this conversation they decided to collaborate.
How might we wire-up the world of work so that it more closely represented a community-based, collaborative game environment with an epic narrative?
First they needed to address the stereotyping that pervades the conversation around games. The generation that is growing up in the world of games have integrated them into their lives. The addition of narratives and participation within the context of gaming and their integration with work have the potential to transform the business world.
The work that gaming prepares you for is complex. Learning through games, arbitrary information, becomes everyday food for thought and becomes a part of its own reward. Engagement at work is a huge issue and Reeves notes that people will make mistakes. But the amount of work in games is only going to increase. Cisco sales reps play a “Closer” game. IBM teams meeting as avatars on projects. The range of examples Reeves shared was incredibly broad and rich and all of them were supported by huge amounts of information technology.
Reeves noted the danger associated with this effort. The impact of over-engagement and OSHA implications as people develop repetitive strain injuries. Or tax laws given the location of work.
Reeves left us with the question, “What would it be like if work and play were a little more alike?”
Mari Kurashi is the co-founder and president of Global Giving which connects individual and institutional donors directly to social, economic development, and environmental projects around the world. Mari is doing work on the social entrepreneur front to bring problems into alignment with the available range of solutions.
The questions that Mari is asked are usually framed as “Did you know…?” And her response is that she didn’t have a clue that she would have this kind of impact on the world. To help us understand her journey she recounted her childhood and high school attendance in West Germany and a day trip to see the Berlin Wall. The biggest impact was the way in which the East Germans on the other side of the Wall didn’t turn to look at the people who were looking at them. She was intrigued by this and wanted to understand how a social system could create behavior that was so counter to biological drive.
She became focused on studying and learning about the Soviet Union (primarily to avoid becoming an “O.L.” and Office Lady in Japan as her visa was in doubt.) In the middle of her Ph.D. studies the Soviet Union began to fall apart and she was dismayed by the fact that political science couldn’t predict this outcome. She went to work at the World Bank (a job that she got “on a fluke”) without any idea what the institution did and what economic development entailed. She was one of three people out of one hundred who could actually speak Russian. She was in the right place at the right time.
Her passion for wanting to reverse the regime of communism in the Soviet Union was something that Mari was focused on but her time at the World Bank came to an end – in a last chance innovation program. They created a marketplace inside the World Bank in 2000 which essentially used elements of crowdsourcing. The success of this program was hampered by the inability of the World Bank to focus o this. In this realization Mari decided to leave the World Bank to pursue this concept for addressing global poverty.
The compelling thread that runs through Mari’s narrative is the notion of personal risk. Time and time again she made huge life shifts with little understanding of what she knew or didn’t know. And by approaching her life’s work with beginner’s mind (and what she sees as incredible luck) she made her way in the world.
Mari brought her presentation back to eudaimonia and the notion of how a virtuous, life well lived fits together. She said, you must decide and practice and choose how best to fit these virtues together. Eudaimonia is a deliberate practice for integration of new options that make sense to you over time.
A long-time BIF attendee and presenter Dennis Littky, Co-founder and Director of The Big Picture Company, began with the words, “Highschools suck.” Littky talked about how the current state of our schools and colleges impacts the least prepared the most. The poor, the disenfranchised, the economically disenfranchised suffer the most from education systems that are inflexible and immovable.
Dennis had one of the students who had participated in The Big Picture Company talked about her personal journey and the power of hands-on learning. She described her education journey interviewing people at BIF and her world travels too. A remarkable perspective on what education might become, if only we have the vision to realize that the tools we need are already at hand. Our minds must change to accommodate new ways of seeing and creating the world.
Littky shared a sobering statistic – every 12 seconds a child drops out of schools. In our time at BIF7 that was 9600 children. A criminal failure of the highest order.
Littky shared his work and his focus on fighting to transform the urban school experience as a way of combating this appalling drop-out rate. His work focuses on connecting with kids, finding out about the, finding their passions, and helping them design education experiences that meet their learning needs. Drop-outs lowered to single digits (from 46% in the Providence, RI school district0 and 100% of students who stayed went onto college. As a result the Gates Foundation sponsored a massive expansion of the program worldwide.
His recent focus was the drop-out rate at the college level. 89% of first generation college attendees drop out. His work is now focused on creating a college that uses the same model of community-based learning and engagement that has been deployed in the secondary schools program. The end result is that the first class of students is graduating this year.
Next up Littky is going to focus on adult education. What a dynamo he is.
He is looking for adult mentors; consider connecting with Dennis via Twitter if you think you have something to offer.
This ended my sojourn at BIF7.
The Business Innovation Factory 7 event in Providence, Rhode island is off and running. For the next two days I’ll be live-blogging from the center of the audience. I’m surrounded by many of the regular people who participate in and drive #innochat (certainly in North America) and I’m looking forward to learning a lot from a wonderful array of storytellers who are scheduled to share.
John Werner, Chief Mobilization Officer & Managing Director of Citizen Schools is sharing his story first off. The power of citizen involvement in large-scale engagement transformation.
Since 1970 the USA has doubled the amount spent on education. The USA still has the largest economy in the world but we have a dropping college graduation rate and far less focus on the value of education. The education debate in the USA is like a field of sqwaking birds while other nations are taking flight and flying out of view in “V” formation.
Citizen Schools is expanding the learning day and adding about 1000 hours to the school year. Rather than increasing the number of hours that teachers work they are reaching out to the community to have citizens teach in middle school classrooms. IN one case a citizen teacher with his graduate school students is teaching how to program in scratch, the language for Lego mindstorms. The Mayor of Boston also participates in the Citizen School program with students providing input on city planning as apprentices. There are currently 1000 apprentices and the drive is to reach 2000 apprentices in the next 2 years.
A strong focus in Citizen Schools is on STEM – (Science Technology Energy Math) which are a foundation for many of the careers of the future. Seeds of innovation. This program focus lends itself to self-directed learning.
Shawn, one of the students that was a part of the Citizen School program took the stage to share a very personal story about his inability to act on behalf of another in distress and implored us, “If you see something, say something”; do something more than what we think we could or should do.
Graham Milner is next up on the BIF7 stage, a man who bleeds WD-40. Graham is the Executive Vice President, Global Development and Chief Branding Officer of the WD-40 company. He shared the story of the creation of water displacement formula #1 and #2 and so on. It only took forty tries to make, yes, WD-40 . The company is a $350M company that is 50 years old and offers only a single product. The product was created for General Dynamics out of a need to address product moisture issues.
The brand is built on the back of thieves (General Dynamics employees were stealing WD-40 in their lunch pails) and natural disasters (through a massive company response to a hurricane.)
You ought not have the people in charge of tomorrow in charge of today because the urgent will always beat out the important. – Graham Milner (vai Walmart CEO)
Graham shared the story of the genesis of the “smart straw” which was born from a need to create a better way to spray WD-40. Born from pain and effort and the response was, “It’s about time.”
Professional photographer Eva Timothy, said, the magic is not in the black box, the magic is the way we see the world. She grew up in Soviet Bulgaria and talked about the inspiration of her grandfather refusing to write for the propagandists who died for his beliefs and his freedom to choose. Her father painted a Beatles mural on the family’s kitchen wall for which he (and they) could have gone to jail.
Timothy showed one of her photos of the US Capitol Building shot from the Library of Congress and says this represented the notion of looking ahead, emblematic of her journey to the USA. Her photo of a mosaic tile reading, “Knowledge is Power,” was seen as a reflection of the need to learn. In her own life she passionately learned English. “There is a moment in life when you are learning and you can’t stop.” English opened up so many opportunities for her.
She arrived in the USA in 1994 – the same year Old Navy was founded – how’s that for a touchstone!? But such a remarkable tribute to her tenacity and spirited pursuit of her dream to come to America.
In her work today Timothy sees history as a window to the future. Her photography focuses on the age of discovery using lenses to reframe the historical perspective in ways that are revealing. Columbus, Da Vinci, Newton and Galileo all offer perspectives for our future. She cited Galileo Galilee as opening the universe to us by his question, “What else might I see?” Her photo captures this inquiry by showing Galileo juxtaposed with his own sketch of the Moon. See her show at www.lostinlearning.
We have so much opportunity to learn today and to take the stories of those who came before to inspire us.
And the last speaker of the early morning session is Jim Mellado, President of The Willow Creek Association which is dedicated to providing leadership staff and volunteers to local church organizations. He talked about his pursuit of becoming an Olympic athlete but found that the church kept calling him. He journeyed to South Korea to witness the world’s largest church with 500,000 congregants. On Sunday this church holds seven back-to-back services from sun up to sun down. The church is considered one of the fundamental contributors to South Korea’s economic and social success.
With his passion, Mellado sees that churches should be a vast source of contribution to society. Not detractors. His vision has been fed by multiple sources, including his reading of a Drucker article on what business can learn from the non-profit sector. The article highlighted the Willow Creek Association and the models and distinctive practices that differentiated it. He became the President of the leadership development program. Early on the Willow Creek Association represented over 50 different denominations, not wanting to change and give up their faith but wanting to learn from each other. Mellado became a student of innovation and a student of the members of his association. From that learning he determined how he could grow the adoption rate of his leadership model. Today there are over 90 denominations who are early adopters of the WCA models. Their theme is always, “Leaed Where You Are.”
The key learning was convincing early adopter churches not to leave their denominational systems because their actions were considered disruptive. WCA said, “don’t leave, we’ll feed you to ensure your success.” And overtime the WCA leadership events grew over time. Today they are simulcast in 280 cities all around the world to reach places that would never see some of these key note speakers, like Gary Hamel, Bill Clinton, Bono, etc.
He spoke passionately about helping others see the power they have themselves to connect, inspire and transform. A fitting way to kick us into the first break of the day.
Second session and we’re back with Alex Jadad a “dynamo in the health care space,” according to Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst of BIF.
Dr. Alex Jadad, Chief Innovator and Founder, Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, shared the life of his favorite superhero as he was growing up in Colombia, his grandfather Ricardo, who was a surgeon. He described his father being air-dropped into remote villages to provide care to women giving birth. His grandfather’s inspiration was to admonish his grandson to be better than him. And in searching for that he ‘discovered’ Dr. “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek fame – “the first to demonstrate to me a wireless network.”
Upon qualifying for medical school his grandfather shared with him some wisdom passed down from professor to professor, “Remember, remember, remember: your mission is to cure sometimes, alleviate often and console always.” And when he graduated he realized that his grandfather could no longer operate as a surgeon as his shoulder was frozen and he had high blood pressure, shortly thereafter his grandfather recognized a tremor, which was the arrival of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Jadad, for all his searching, could not cure his grandfather’s illness and in doing so forgot to offer consolation. His research on knowledge systems and the use of technology to create diagnostic systems could not deliver what he so much wanted to.
“When you reach 60 if you’re not feeling well, if you’re suffering, shoot yourself!,” were Ricardo’s last spoken words before he received a tracheotomy so that he could eat and breath. And this left Alex if a whole universe of “if only?” questions which led him to end of life care.
If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.
– Mercedes Lackey
He then shared with us his work in with The Maimonides Project which is dedicated to imagining and creating new and better approaches to health and wellness, together, worldwide. In 2008 Dr. Jadad urged the British Medical Journal to seek a new definition for health from around the world. This kicked off a search for a new meaning for health, one that focuses on suffering, its eradication, mitigation, and use (when it cannot be removed) for meaning-making. And they arrived at the following questions:
What makes you happiest? What is your verb? How could you spend as much time doing it, with no regrets? How could your ensure that everyone else can do the same?
Could we build a Noosphere? Piere Teilhard de Chardin.
The delightful Angela Blanchard, President & CEO, Neighborhood Centers, Inc., a Texan and a Cajun shared her passion about creating thriving neighborhoods and communities. She recounted her family’s approach to combating poverty, working hard and giving it all away.
She asked, “What comes to mind when you think of a poor neighborhood?” We give poor neighborhoods new names every now and then, like “blight.” Ms. Blanchard notes that poor neighborhoods are defined by their: lacks, gaps, needs, wants, broken stuff…We catalog the problems only. We seek what is not working. It doesn’t work because you can’t build on broken. The change begins with the first new question.
In recounting a neighborhood in Houston, the new Ellis Island in that it drew populations from all over the world, she described people packing themselves to the USA bringing with them their aspirations, hopes and dreams. All anyone else saw was what was broken and not working. She started with:
- What’s working?
- What strong?
- What’s right?
All of which led to what was working and right and the source of community strength. And with Neighborhood Centers, Blanchard began to rigorously capture what was working with the same focus that others had cataloged the things that were not working. She found that her new story about this community was falling on deaf ears. The first person that she reached wanted help and said that, “I’ve been waiting for you.” And then Hurricane Katrina happened.
Katrina meant 125,000 people flooded into Houston from New Orleans and the Mayor of Houston said, “Just do what you do.’ So they did. They listened to stories of enormous loss who carried with them the few possessions that they could rescue. And then they asked questions about what people had. “Tell us about your strengths. Tell us about your connections. Tell us about what you can do.” This reframing of questions meant that people could now think about a path forward. Blanchard notes that this is not a Pollyanna approach, it meets the needs of communities in distress everywhere. It should be noted that the work of David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University on Appreciative Inquiry is reflected in Neighborhood Centers approach.
We are the only species in the world that creates the future out of our own imagination. Blanchard invited us to be a part of a new story.
The President of Babson College, Len Schlesinger, who came to present the collaborated on the research project between BIF and Babson focused on the new definitions of entrepreneurship. Babson is a leader in the entrepreneurship space (leading the undergraduate domain for 15 years and the graduate domain for 8 years.)
Via Hugh Macleod, but originally Jerry Garcia, “Don’t try to be the best you do, be the only.” And this drives Babson with its 2000 undergraduates on campus each year, and it’s ever-growing network and encouragement of entrepreneurship around the world. They desire to have a profound impact on the world by redefining the meaning of entrepreneurship. They do this by…
Articulating, Diffusing, and Proving the method of Entrepreneurship.
Babson is in the business of creating a deeper understanding of the experience of entrepreneurship so that they can spread it as far as possible. Schlesinger highlighted the impacted the leaders of organization development theory and behavior like Henry Mintzberg. The gap between current practice of management and entrepreneurship has been assessed by studying 250 entrepreneurs and their patterns of behavior. The work with BIF was designed to start new conversations and to create programs to support innovation and entrepreneurship everywhere. The range of programs being defined and support is quite remarkable.
Failure is intentional iteration and easier to sell when framed in that manner.
Entrepreneurship is a life skill which needs to be learned by more and more.
Online communities are places for profound connection.
Entrepreneurship is not a word that should be reserved for business owners – a shocking devaluation of the word.
A mentor to Saul Kaplan, Richard Saul Wurman is coming to talk about his new conference – WWW.WWW
Richard Saul Wurman rearranged the set to by illustrated fashion arrive at our need to tell the truth. “We ‘Uh-Hah’ each other to death.” Agreeing where we don’t have a clue. (With a side detour into the nature of human ears.)
“I’m unemployable as I don’t have skill sets. Which means I’m both terrified and confident at the same time.” The desire for comfort brings you down. Don’t try to live comfortably.
Wurman has published about 80 books and he did this by publishing things on subjects that he doesn’t understand. This intellectual curiosity feeds his productivity. This was the genesis of TED and the landmark conferences he created.
His new conference is a gathering without presentations nor a schedule nor PowerPoint nor tickets. He has invited the 100 most extraordinary people he knows and pair them up to have conversations with each other. Without introductions he will pose a premise and they will then talk to each other. When the conversation gets boring, he’ll pull them off stage. It is, intellectual jazz. Throughout which there will be a musical thread directed by YoYo Ma and Herbie Hancock.
This conference is dedicated to pattern recognition. The range of space Wurman talks of creating for conversation is wonderful – it affords room for truth, to capture and share a moment of truth about ourselves with each other. Wurman recommended that we seek out Geoffrey West, the former head of the Santa Fe Institute, to indicate the caliber of the people who are participating.
He also highlighted his next conference will be on prophecy. 25 people will be invited to share a prophecy which they believe and may be able to substantiate. Wurman continues to push and shake the status quo. Witty, profane and intriguing all at once.
Angus Davis has been an entrepreneur for years (since he was 18) He currently working on Swipely.
The relationship with the fear of failure is what differentiates entrepreneurs. Davis went from wanting a Stepford life to one modeled after Ferris Bueler. His after school job was building websites and this was the stabilizing force in his life. It was all he really cared about. Through this he was drawn to Netscape who offered him a Summer internship. Which was unusual, until that time they had only had Engineering and MBA internships. He sought out Mike McHugh, the VP of Technology, who asked why are you going to college, “come and work for us.” So he did.
When he started TellMe Networks with McHugh that was when he truly found out what it meant to be an entrepreneur. He found he had to manage his fear of failure. A perceived cost of failure increases over time. And…we have our first unicorn sighting! Complete with rainbow. No product, no business model, no problem.
Staggering from failure to failure. “We laid people off. We failed at that and had to have another round of lay-offs. We failed at failure.”
Great mention of the NYTimes magazine cover story on failure. “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” All entrepreneurs are married to success but have ongoing affairs with failure. He cited a TED Talk by the author of “Eat Pray Love”,
It is exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Davis left us with the following: Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow – good advice for all.
Rebecca Onie, co-founded and his the Chief Executive Officer of Health Leads (formerly Project HEALTH) with Dr. Barry Zuckerman, Chair of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. Her work is focused on transforming healthcare opportunities by deploying a trained and mobilized corps of 660 college volunteers serving nearly 6,000 low-income patients and their families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, Providence, and Washington, D.C.
The profound health concerns of these low income people are rooted in the absences of basic rights of life, such as access to food and shelter, and many healthcare providers were practicing a, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell,” policy in response. They simply didn’t know what to do. Health Leads model of intervention is based on a similar model espoused by a doctor in the Mississippi Delta in the 1960’s, Jack Geiger.
Rebecca noted that so many factors need to be aligned. She boiled them down to three areas of focus for Health Leads:
- Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics. – General Omar M. Bradley
- Health Leads connects social resources with mostly healthy patients, which falls completely outside the current healthcare model. Does this mean that they fall outside the conversation?
- Don’t become the problem we are trying to transform.
Every victory between here and there is so much more significant when the stakes are so high – the transformation of healthcare. Health Leads success is to transform healthcare delivery, how do we innovate and make sure that actually happens.
A social research scientist and Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo!, Duncan Watts shared his research. Starting out as a Physicist, he switched to Engineering and Math before becoming a Sociologist and finally went to work at Yahoo!
Watts highlighted a book written by a social scientist and reviewed by physicist in which the physicist disparaged the domain of social science essentially saying that physicists could solve all these problems “in a trice.” Obviously, the complexity of the systems at play were beyond the reviewer. As Watts explained, social systems are incredibly complex but don’t appear to be complex. He highlighted how crazy it was for former Senator Bill Frist to say, “It’s not rocket science,” when discussing fixing healthcare.
The challenge is to reflect on what we think is obvious – the concept of obviousness is a deep problem because it distracts us from seeing the data right in front of us. Common sense is more of an impediment to innovation and creativity than you would think. Our problem is when we miss-apply common sense to problems that are not concrete, everyday situations. Complex systems are not fit places for common sense to be applied.
Stories are powerful, but that power helps us generalize about the past to make predictions about the future which often leads us into trouble. This works for repeatable situations. But for complex system, history never repeats itself, it is always rife with unintended consequences.
To address this:
- Augment common sense with experimentation
- Policy, strategy and marketing could benefit from a more systematic approach
- Social sciences data constraints which meant problems were intractable can be addressed through data mining available on multiple social media platforms like – Twitter, Mechanical Turk at Amazon.
Watts is the author of Everything is Obvious* (*Once you know the answer)
Complex systems are not fit places for common sense to be applied. – Duncan Watts
Sebastian Ruth, the violinist shared music that inspires him and the ways in which music can reach into people to challenge them to reveal meaningful and personal truths. He asked:
- Can music make us feel something truly new?
- Can that feeling grow in such a way that it changes us?
Ruth explored his influences, people who inspire him, and then had two of his students perform a duet for us, Heather and Alanna, who are a part of the Community Music Works program. They played Summer Solstice Song by Bela Bartok.
Author, Co-chairman, Deloitte Center for The Edge, John Hagel took the lead after the last break of Day 1. He worked with John Seely Brown and is often featured at the HBR Online blog site. He decided to explore some of the distinctions between stories.
He illustrated his views based on three personal stories. He setup the internet practice at McKinsey in the early 1990’s and when he asked other partners if he could speak to their clients about the internet they said, politely, “No.” So instead of pushing his way into clients he wrote a book instead called, Net Gain, which had an interesting effect in that it was widely shared and the McKinsey phones started to ring and clients pulled partners into a dialog about the internet. From a dead start the internet practice became a $500M practice in 5 years.
Hagel’s second story related his childhood obsession with dragging his family out to large construction sites to sit on the huge equipment and imagine what he might build. And then twenty years ago he had the same kind of “builder’s fascination” with the potential for what might be accomplished with the internet. He became increasingly excited by what people could do with the platforms that the internet provided. With the internet Hagel found he could overcome his childhood shyness by developing relationships and community online that evolved into real life community.
The third story Hagel shared was about the United States. He spoke of the risks that people faced and experienced in order to come to the USA to create a new life. He noted how exciting it was that the USA attracts this whole group of people who are predisposed to creating, innovating, exploring, and learning the new. All of which drives the USA today.
Each story Hagel shared represents the difference between a story and a narrative. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Narratives have no end, they are continuously unfolding. The McKinsey story is a true story. The second story was a personal narrative about what excites Hagel to contribute. The third story is a national narrative and they are powerful for inviting participation.
In uncertain times we have more degrees of freedom to change our future and that is exactly when we become most risk averse.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats have gone to a threat-based narrative. Both of which ask us to focus on risk and threat aversion. Hagel proposes a more opportunity-focused narrative (back to Coopperrider’s work – see above.)
Dale Stephens created Uncollege and earned won Theil Fellowships, offering $100,000 to entrepreneurs to drop out of college and pursue their dreams. Essentially he is applying the spirit and practice of homeschooling to higher education. Self-directed, low-cost, participatory, collaborative, and steeped in design thinking.
We’re mortgaging away our freedom to innovate to college debt.
Stehpens noted, “I’m passionate about education but I dropped out of college because the opportunity cost was too high.”
He hacked his education, worked on campaigns, went to France, built businesses all of which he fashioned into his own education experience. He never doubted he would go to college, but found that the idealism he sought was lacking or miss-applied to partying. He found a like minded peer who, also homeschooled, helped him realize that their inability to fit within the college framework was not their problem but lay in a profoundly broken system.
What happens in class stays in class – every day in higher education is like a trip to Vegas.
College is not preparing its graduates for success. Professors are researching. Students are partying. The Development Office is soliciting funds. The Administration is building new facilities to attract more money. – The whole system is broken and is struggling under the weight of misaligned expectations.
Stephens notes that college should be about finding work that you love, that is meaningful to you. The struggle is that college is not aligned to that expectation at all. He quoted Mark Twain: “I never let me schooling interfere with my education.”
Life is a field trip and we don’t need a permission slip.
How much of what you know and what you use came from university, versus from experience. And how many of those experiences did you forgo in pursuit of a degree.
Next up was Fred Mandell, a life change artist. He began with a story of August Renoir who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Who painted every day into late 80’s assisted by his family. He died after spending the day painting. As he finished he said to his son, “I think I’m beginning to understand something about it.” Mandell asked, do we know what “it” is? This quest shapes our life to our last day and it shaped and formed by a set of poor skills with which we struggle to understand our “it.”
Having been a refugee from the financial services sector, he had discovered how to become a “corporate athlete”, what design firm IDEO would essentially call a “T-shaped person” who was tasked with being an intrapreneur. In his early 50’s Mandell was experiencing a roiling sensation inside him. So, he decided to enroll in a sculpture workshop. Over time he became a sculptor, including holding a one person show. In 2001 he moved away from the corporate role to pursue his art more seriously.
From here he, “entered a period of strange discomfort.” He didn’t know how to explain himself in terms of what he did and persisted in explaining himself in terms of what he was. This triggered a search for what energized him. He discovered his personal mantra: “create, integrate, and make a difference.” This is what he says, “torches my soul.”
When he creates he is both lost and found. He believes he is at his highest and best self when he his making a difference in the lives of others. Mandell also searches for what makes geniuses great. With a co-author, Kathy Jordan, he found those elements that help artists create for extended period of time. This research yielded an interesting view into the narrative arch of artists.
Life change is a fundamentally create process. The core creative skills are, in fact, life skills. Without them people struggle to navigate change in their lives.
The parallels between creating an organization and creating a body of work were remarkable. This became the genesis of a program called the “Innovation Studio.”
Picasso said, “We begin with an idea and it becomes something else.” A mindset that we can apply to our lives.
Matthew Moniz is one of the youngest alpinists. He has been climbing since he can remember. He shared the story of his best friend with pulmonary hyper-tension (PH), Iain Hess, and how he found out learned more about his friend’s disease. He said that climbing gives him a way to experience that kind of feeling.
He shared his affinity for learning about the Himalayas through the porters who loved their lives in the mountains. During this time he met a Korean reporter who gave Matt the idea that he could use his age and his passion as a way to inspire others to work in the field of PH. Matt noted that he chooses to do high-altitude mountaineering while his friend Iain experiences the equivalent feelings 24×7; which gives him a better understanding of what his friend is going through.
Matt gave us a travelogue of his mountain adventures. He seems to have lived more in his short life than many in world. His spirit and youthful passion for his sport are an inspirational.
But wait there’s more! Matt then decided to do 14 14’s (14,000 foot mountains) in 14 days as a way of honoring Iain’s struggle. And in doing this people with PH found a way that they could explain their disease to others. In doing so they raised $25,000 for the Iain Hess Breath Easy Fund.
And yet another decision was to do the 50 highest peaks in each of the 50 states in 50 days. With so many different environments the terrain was wildly divergent. As a result he was names one of the adventurers of the year by National Geographic in 2010. Matt Moniz is an inspiration…and a machine.
See more of Matt’s journeys here.
What a day! A huge round of applause goes out to the storytellers and the great folks at the Business Innovation Factory for their phenomenal effort. Looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow. Below is the Shepard Fairy OBEY mural in downtown Providence, RI. A great piece of art in a great town.