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.
The range of risk explored, for the sake of self-discovery and innovation was quite extraordinary at BIF-9. It was humbling to see the extent to which people placed themselves, and their sense of self, at risk in the pursuit of revealing new truths.
Combat photographer, Stacy Pearsall opened with a story about joining the military and the elite combat photography troop and through her work received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. The acceptance of death as a possibility was necessary to do her job and led to her project documenting, “America’s unsung heroes.”
Pearsall described her camera as one of the most powerful weapons possible. That said, after her traumatic brain injury, she discovered that there was a gap in what it meant to be a veteran and how veterans are perceived. She began to photograph veterans to be able to help broaden the definition of what it means to be a veteran and what their needs are in society today. The Veterans Portrait Project was created and she is self-funding the effort.
She wants no other veteran to experience what she experienced in her journey to recovery.
Through her Charleston Center for Photography, Pearsall teaches disabled veterans by giving them the tools they need to feel better about themselves. She finds inspiration in others and the ability to help and exhorted us to do something today—and together.
The concept of a bias for action was very much in play over the two days. Scott Heimendinger, started out as a passionate food blogger and fell into the traps of scrambling for SEO and page views, etc. It wasn’t great, but as Scott noted, doing work is good.
Doing work is important, even if you are not sure what you are doing.
In 2009 if you wanted to cook sous vide at home it cost $1200 to buy a lab device. It shouldn’t have cost that much. Make magazine published his slow food DIY project and he unlocked the Maker merit badge as a result. Heimendinger found the “right pond” to swim in through a process of taking more and more small risks on over time.
As someone who is very risk averse, I have come a long way.
Over time he created a molecular gastronomy cooking club and is establishing Culinary Jam Sessions. Jet City Gastro Physics, just filed its first patent on the way to making better French fries. Along the way he took a Modernist Cuisine course and snagged an internship during which he met Nathan Myhrvold former Microsoft CTO and molecular gastronomist, who created a guide. Now, after directly telling Myhrvold that he should hire him, Heimendinger is working there are as Director of Applied Research and recently had an amazing launch on Kickstarter for his $199 sous vide cooker.
For more on this topic listen to my post session interview with Scott.
His efforts were rewarded by taking a series of risks that were manageable over time. All it took was bold passion and being unafraid to be passionate.
That kind of dedication and passion is something that Angela Maiers sought to tap into during her story. For Maiers, the act of contribution changes us. She sees that the moment we realize we have what someone else needs, in that moment our humanity is cemented.
To frame her story she noted that somewhere between preschool and grad school we have learned to hide our genius. And we need to change that. Then she launched into sharing the tale of a great project she conducted with some high school seniors on the last day of school before Summer. Maiers actively asked them to tap into their own genius, to risk a little by committing to something bigger than them selves. What occurred was nothing less than astounding. The students stayed for two days even though school was well and truly out for the year!
Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just changing the world.
The students felt that they were needed and were going to do something about it. Fifteen social enterprises launched and they all believed in themselves and in each other. By taking a risk they became invested in their own genius. And some of the participants joined Angela on stage at BIF-9 to share their own takeaways from the event and share their own stories, “These two days were really important to me…” which was great to see. Another risk taken…
If Angela Maiers exemplified the process of leading others to recognize and take ownership of their own genius, Andrew Mangino illustrated the results of that journey of discovery from the student’s perspective. Arising from his work as a student journalist Mangino shared his path to eventually founding The Future Project,
High schools aren’t living up to what we all know they can be. Too many students drop out. Even more are disengaged daily. And the current thinking–to blame more teachers, impose more rules, and inject more money–just isn’t working.
At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.
Here are the nine lessons he learned on the way:
- When we discover a passion, we discover we can do anything.
- Young people learn most when they are changing the world
- Schools are not really broken. They are working just as they were designed to work. And so they must be re-invented. [The performance system. Duh]
- A nation build on infinite possibility doesn’t feel like it.
- The most unjust gap in modern America is the inspiration gap. (seen as a luxury)
- The most solvable gap in modern America is the inspiration gap.*
*But it is going to take a movement to do it.
- We don’t have to wait for permission to start.
- Nothing happens without a great team.
- It’s time for a new kind of leader in America—someone who stands for you.
The Future Project asked, what if there were dream directors? Now they have 16 dream directors across 4 cities in schools. Standing up for the infinite possibility of young people exemplified by Marielle, a student who stood up and began to transform her own school,
I have been a dreamer on stand-by for a long time. And that ends today.
Another way of looking at risk was presented by JoAnn Stonier, Chief Privacy Officer with MasterCard Worldwide. For Stonier, risk is not an immovable concept—it is highly fluid. One of the great challenges she sees for us as we innovate in an age of big data is that the risks to our privacy are not fully known and are not being considered widely enough to influence public policy and private behavior.
“The right to be let alone” arising out of the Gilded Age, is the early precursor to the right to privacy and at the time it was needed to create a retreat from the world due to the encroachments of the Industrial Age. That right to holding private some aspects of our identity and the data that is the manifestation of it is even more important now. Last year Stonier had spent the Summer months addressing the encroachment into private data by the NSA.
We are having these conversations because of the nature of the changes in our society today. Law lags innovation—they are never the solution.
If we look to law we are going to be waiting a very long time for a corresponding support. We need to be wrestling with what is at risk now. Privacy matters and it needs to be a part of the conversation for all who are innovating so that we can ensure that our own risk tolerance can be managed.
Perhaps Steve Blank captured the reframing of business risk best. As the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank has been uncovering the ways in which those who take risks to begin new enterprises go about their work. He noted that Joseph Campbell identified the hero myth in multiple cultures as essentially the same story. Campbell recognized the pattern in the data.
Blank did 8 start-ups in 21 years. At no time was he looking for patterns, as he had his head down the entire time. Yet he did identify patterns.
After retirement Blankbegan sitting on boards and had one a series of private investments over the course of time he began to write his memoirs. While writing he identified a pattern emerging that no-one else had ever called out.
For the last century everyone had been striving for success is by treating start-ups as smaller versions of larger enterprises.
He offered a countervailing view. He noted that no business plan survives first contact with customers and that the only people who use 5 year plans are VC’s (venture capitalists) and Soviet-era countries.
The best start-ups went from failure to failure learning as rapidly as they could. Blank observed the “pivot”—times during which companies changed strategy by changing the people (firing the VP of Sales) and recognized that there needed to be a different way of handling the failure as a result of risk taking.
What we should have been doing instead of firing the person we should have been changing the plan.
On their first day, Blank said, every start-up is a faith-based enterprise based on guesses and no processes to test those guesses. There is no way you are smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers, so experiment with them. Make the risk to the enterprise manageable by learning as fast as you possibly can.
One of the skills that rose to the fore over the course of BIF-9 was the concept of problem-finding. In an age of relentless performance improvement and waster mitigation, solution creation has been the default position of most enterprises and their employee members. At BIF-9 we learned that solution creating is all well and good but if you are solving the wrong problem, or if you haven’t framed the problem appropriately, you will waste a whole lot of time, energy and resources—possibly evening compounding the very thing you were trying to improve.
I am not often moved when people share deeply personal experiences in public forums. When Whitney Johnson took the stage and revealed a deeply personal and tragic story from her life I had misgivings primarily driven from my own discomfort with bearing witness to her grief. The story she shared wove beautifully into her exploration of the notion of “showing up,” — being present and fully in the moment rather than paying casual attention to participation.
Do I dare disturb the universe? – T.S. Elliott
Johnson noted that you can not give up without dreaming but you cannot show up unless you dream. The key is that you have to show up to make the kind of difference that you want to make in the world. When we show up we open ourselves up to disappointment and failure. Being a victim is a pretty seductive plotline.
Dreaming is at the heart of disruption. In order to make the leap from one learning curve to the next you have to show up.
If showing up is the first step in appropriate problem-finding then moving from symptoms to root causes is the next. People mostly spend their lives managing the symptoms of problems but very rarely address the causes, said Roseanne Haggerty. While working with homeless youth in Times Square in New York City Haggerty discovered that without a home to go back to the issues of homeless could not be addressed by interim housing solutions. A permanent home solution was required.
To highlight the importance of the right question, Haggerty shared a powerful story of her own experience providing support to homeless people in Time Square. A woman on staff called from Bellevue Hospital, she said that a service-resistant person, Sarah, had informed her that Haggerty was her next of kin. When they finally connected in person, Haggerty asked why Sarah had been service-resistant, she found it was because the right questions had not been asked. “You didn’t ask me if I wanted a home,” stated Sarah.
This lead to the realization that we needed a solution that we hadn’t recognized before.
They created a new project using an ex-military intelligence officer who mapped the homeless in Times Square and through the application of data mapping and management they developed appropriate individualized solutions to the needs of the homeless. 100,000 Homes Campaign came out of this effort. This resulted in communities becoming energized by providing long term solutions based on the right processes, learning tools, and collaborations. From the housing efforts you can move towards long term systemic solutions that address the problem at heart.
Solutions can arise out of the most remarkable realizations.
A human rights lawyer who is the CEO of a luxury fashion brand, Paul van Zyl grew up in apartheid South Africa. His parents said they lived in an evil society and it was their moral obligation to change it. He became a lawyer to change a system that demanded to be changed. There were few business leaders who were admirable role models; lawyers offered a more viable role model alternative.
With partners, van Zyl created a luxury brand, Maiyet (after the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Harmony) that is found on social justice and economic empowerment. At BIF-9 he shared a story about the Varanasi silk weavers in India, and noted that Varanasi is a seed bed of cross cultural and religious collaboration. The hand woven silk is some of the most beautiful in the world, and was in danger of being wiped out by low-cost Chinese manufacturers across the border. Maiyet seeks rare skills from unique and unexpected places in the world and have partnered with NEST to be able to bring products to market in a sustainable way. Working with David Adjaye to design and build a custom facility in Varanasi to ensure that this culture and these skills don’t die off.
You need to combine design with training and support and also access to markets, said van Zyl. Then you create real value:
- Value for artisans – they are paid what they are worth
- Value for brands – access to things of extraordinary and unique beauty
- Value for consumers – ownership of things that would otherwise be unavailable.
While Pauk van Zyl offered solutions for ensuring cultural longevity, Carmen Medina tackled the need to transform the culture of one of our own lasting artifacts, the corporation. Along with her partner in crime Lois Kelly, Medina presented the case for Rebels at Work, a movement dedicated to unlocking the potential of those who question the status quo inside the corporate sphere (also, see the way in which David Butler, at Coke, is sowing the seeds to capitalize on this concept.)
There is a worldwide conspiracy for the preservation of meritocracy. Not all are conspirators but many of us are unwitting co-conspirators.
Medina noted that most of the people talking at BIF are independent agents. They are usually trying to change systems from the outside. They are building alternative models and creating places for people to go. Those who are heretics at work need to learn to be uncomfortable so that they can do similar work insider their companies and organizations. The world needs rebels at work now more than ever, because we cannot tear down everything and replace it with something new. We don’t have that kind of time. We must change what we have and unlock the value already resident in our organizations.
As we shift the dialogue about our organizations and our roles in them, we can begin to reframe so many of the things that we take at face value. The challenges of managing our health and how we age were two additional areas that were presented for reframing.
The CEO of VisualMD, Alexander Tsiaris, showed us the power of visual information in changing the choices we make about managing our health. VisualMD is the NIH meets Pixar. It is a home for visualization artists, fine artists, researchers, high-level programmers all working in concert with a collection of huge amounts of data – they produce 150TB for every project they do. His company tells stories based on the data —it is story that gives the soul to the data.
The beauty of visualization is that it speaks to everyone.
Tsiaris believes we have to change the paradigm, using storytelling at the beginning of the spectrum to help people tell stories about what is going on inside their body. VisualMD created an ecosystem that helps people build a story about themselves which can be a part of an holistic educational system about personal health. If all your personal health records can be supplemented by a whole range of relevant sources and resources they can help you contextualize your health state.
Little stories from big data that explain little things going on inside your body so that you can understand the implications and be un-intimidated by the process.
As Tsiaris showed us the power of information in reframing how we see ourselves, Alan Webber, co-founder of FastCompany magazine and author, shared the value of reframing the public and private discourse we have about aging. The conversation is not about aging. It’s the wrong label. The categories are wrong for the way we live today. It’s about living and how we choose to live our lives. It applies not just only retirees, it is everyone no matter where they are in life’s journey.
This is not about career. It’s about making all the transitions over the course of a life and is explored in Webber’s book (co-authored with Richard J. Leider), Life Re-imagined. The conversation needs to be about how to cope with pain and possibility—answering the question, “What’s Next?”
To that end Webber offered “What’s Next” words to live by:
Everyone’s life is an experiment of one – no one can tell you how to do it.
No one should do it alone – everyone needs someone to help them with their experiment.
A good question beats a good answer. How are you seeking out the right questions so you can focus on the right problem? And who are you asking to help you on the way?
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.
Innovation Illusions: It’s not the idea it’s the action – innovation only exists when value is created in the market
Creativity. Invention. These are core elements in the process of innovation. They are not innovation itself. Mistakenly identifying them as innovation creates confusion and dissatisfaction. An idea, fully formed, but not realized in any tangible manner, creates little value. It might spur other invention or other creativity, but unless it is directly applied to meeting a particular need or providing a solution to a defined challenge, it cannot be labeled innovation.
What can this piece of paper do; Imagine?
– Alamgir Hashmi
Mistakenly regarding something shiny and new as an innovation is commonplace. Innovations are concrete and make a meaningful difference to a user. That doesn’t mean all innovations are serious or universally appealing. I give you exhibit A: the Slap Chop. (Note: I’m not linking to the official Slap Chop site as the number of pop-up ads is a nightmare. Think: “innovation as annoyance.”) This device, one in a long line of “As Seen on TV” kitchen gadgets, is designed to save one from the drudgery of using a knife to actually, well, cut things. As an innovation it’s not a big stretch, but somebody somewhere must consider it of value: it’s one of the biggest-selling gadgets in recent years. Its popularity has also given rise to fantastic remixes of its commercials, such as DJ Steve Porter’s YouTube hit.
Infomercial lunacy aside, the Slap Chop demonstrates what has to happen to an idea before it can be considered an innovation: it must make it into users’ hands.
Ideas as a false focus
It is our illusions that create the world.
– Didier Cauwelaert
For many intent on fostering innovation in their organization, the front end (i.e., ideation) is most likely their primary target. The reasons for this are many: it’s easier to engage with the generation of ideas than the work of implementing them; the notion of producing ideas gives a false sense of accomplishment (“Look, I filled up the whole whiteboard/easel sheet/napkin. I rock”); and it’s simpler to pitch idea creation as a sign of innovation success to senior leaders and peers, especially when looking for a quick victory.
The ongoing pursuit of idea generation means that we neglect to build the infrastructure necessary to support their systematic and repeatable production for customers (be they paying customers in the marketplace or internal customers). Ideas are valuable only in relation to the problem they solve for a particular constituency. If there is no human target for your ideas, what’s the point? Action is required, the kind of action that breathes life into an idea, that makes it useful and of value, that requires more than the appearance of effort. Usually that effort is provided by more than one person.
Many hands make faster, lighter, easier work
The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.
– Daniel J. Boorstin
Often we think we know more than we actually do. A while ago, we posted on the topic of fundamental attribution error. In that post we described how easy it is to delude yourself into behaving as though you have all the answers. If you are only concerned with the generation of ideas, the notion that you should be concerned with their utility in the market would be quite foreign to you. Many people and organizations fall into the trap of doing the same thing that worked before over and over again, even when the circumstances are no longer appropriate.
Inventors invent. Because people are more likely to take the actions indicated by the thinking foremost in their minds, coming up with “wild and crazy ideas,” this means that people whose perception has been affected by intense subjectivity are more likely to think of and take actions that underestimate the effects of relationships and interactions. They have an illusion of progress without all that horrible effort. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)
Neglecting relationships and interactions also reinforces the “ivory tower” syndrome, the idea that only a single great mind can come up with the truly world-changing idea. Thomas Edison, the great American innovator renowned for his amazing ability to produce inventions, was no lone player. While he took sole credit for many inventions, people fail to realize the wealth of additional resources he had at hand to produce his ideas. His Menlo Park laboratory was a hive of industrious activity with men (mostly men) producing prototypes of his ideas and experiments to test his theories. Edison knew the value in an idea was the ability to deliver it to market. And he was tenacious about delivering.
That perspective runs completely counter to the creative genius of Nikola Tesla, an Edison rival, who died alone, in debt, in a New York hotel room. Tesla decried the scale of Edison’s efforts in producing his innovations, he saw it as wasteful, yet history bears out the greater impact of the more productive man.
A culture of creativity tied to a culture of execution
A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Sharing the creative process with others in a collaborative manner can unlock ideas and bring them to market faster and with greater impact. It requires an organizational mindset that binds idea generation tightly to their execution and delivery to meet users’ needs. This requires a resilience and flexibility that accommodates different perspectives, synthesizes them, and integrates them into a common purpose. Rather than being focused on the declaration of impossibility, for innovation to succeed it must take a leaf out of the improviser’s playbook and adopt the art of the possible.
In improv, the phrase “Yes, and…” is used to begin responses to an idea that’s been offered by other actors, driving creative outcomes. The original idea is merely the starting point, a place for departure— it is not the destination. To treat the idea as the hardest part (or the most valuable part) of an innovation is to be led into a false sense of security. It offers the illusion of success. Those with more experience as innovators know the truth.
With an idea in hand, they recognize that the hard work is about to begin.
What are you doing to capture feedback on your innovations that have no tangible manifestation?
How do you determine the value and impact of those experiences that are designed (or not) for your customers when they purchase your services? How do you know that they have had an optimal experience? Satisfaction surveys only go so far. There are other ways to capture the level of service design and experience innovation success.
As far as I can see there is little inherent in the design process that protects design thinkers from these same failures if we choose to tackle abstract, intangible questions such as services, systems and networks. Instead we might imagine how to apply the same rigor and discipline to the design process that has emerged from hundreds of years of practice in the tangible world.
We might concentrate on how to make the process of the design of the intangible as transparent and open to observation as the design of the tangible. We might develop prototyping environments that allow us to learn through failure without catastrophic implications. We might accept that we need better mechanisms for criticism and feedback so that we begin to establish a body of knowledge about what works, and what does not, in the design of these things that don’t go ‘thud’ when we drop them.
– Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (http://designthinking.ideo.com/)
In a post on a similar theme recently, Seth Godin extolled the virtues of having the designers of services “sign” their work. The rigor and discipline being applied to product development and its attendant innovation should be applied everywhere.
Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.
A catchphrase employed by a client also comes to mind. He is fond of saying, “You touch it, you own it.” In that sense all innovation should be owned. In that light if the original need is not being appropriately addressed, or the problem being adequately resolved, the recipient of the service (or new business process, etc.) can go to the design source to provide feedback and insight into what was missed. The journey to a richly rewarding innovated experience is paved with the feedback of customers and users. Neglect them at your peril.
The keys to learning lessons from physical product design are to make the intangible concrete; designers and innovators should:
- Own the design. All designers must take responsibility for their work. The decisions made should be documented and reference-able, regardless of the point of origin. No hiding.
- Experience the design. All designers should experience their own design. They should prototype it, move through it and live with it. And they should be the first to experience it, “live.”
- Create a feedback loop in and around the design. Make it perpetual and make responses to that feedback a part of the ongoing evaluation process, too.
No innovator is omniscient. If experience design is not tied to results accountability for performance is an afterthought but less fleeting than the negativity associated with a bad experience.