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 of Hooray for Failure we explore the power of fear and how it drives our behavior away from failure with the delightful Ishita Gupta. Ishita is founder of Fear.less Magazine and Ishita Gupta Media. Fear.less has been called “Fast Company meets Oprah” by its 15,000+ readers, and is the leading digital magazine featuring best-known names in business on how to live without fear. Ishita worked with America’s #1 Marketer, Seth Godin to build her own business helping entrepreneurs thrive, build confidence and make more sales. We also share the story of Jia Jiang, who decided to find 100 ways to create moments of failure as a way of learning.
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.
When one is compassionate it has profound affect on the severity, occurrence and length of disease. Dr. James Doty, the CEO and Founder of CCare shared that this has been identified scientifically to be true.
He asked, how can a privileged, white, male have a leg to stand on in the face of the ridiculousness of the lawmakers in Washington DC who have little understanding of physiology expounding on women’s reproductive health? By declaring where they stand. Doty declared: “I am a feminist and a humanist.”
Every person has a right to dignity, to flourish and to thrive.
Doty made it very clear that everyone will suffer in their lives. He said, as others have before him, that it is our lot to suffer but it is also within our nature to care and intervene to alleviate the suffering of others. Human gestation and the need for care developed the depth and the range of nurturing required for humans to survive.
These social bonds also resulted in the development of culture, society and religion, and this paradigm has worked for the last several hundred years. But it is not a sustainable model. Change happens over generations and we are experiencing a tumult of change. When people are authentic and connect with others based on who they are, they derive the maximum benefit from those interactions. When we are compassionate our immunes system is boosted. These behavior traits will ensure our continuity.
Observing another being compassionate results in you being more compassionate.
Doty left us with a recitation of the following poem by Nancy R. Smith, “For Every Woman”
For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of “knowing everything.”
For every woman who is tired of being called “an emotional female,” there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.
For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.
For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.
For every woman who feels “tied down” by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.
For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.
For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.
For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.
Evan Ratliff shared three powerful lessons:
- Sometimes you have to create the world you want to live in
- You have to appeal to or assume the better nature of your audience
- You have to go all-in
He, and his partners have created a new publishing site called The Atavist—and to do that they found that they needed to create a new platform to be able to tell those stories which is call Creatavist.
Ratliff shared more of his motivations in an interview after sharing his story here:
There came about a movement for long-form storytelling online across both old and new media which Ratliff recognized. More and more people are looking to tell these kinds of stories. The people who care about what you have to say will give you their attention and loyalty.
Bruce Nussbaum is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City, is a former Managing Editor at BusinessWeek and blogs for Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. He taught third grade science in the Peace Corps in the Philippines and studied anthropology, sociology and political science in grad school at the University of Michigan. At BIF-9 he shared the power of transforming the world around us through our intention. His new book is Creative Intelligence.
When we think about what is meaningful to people, big data can give us information but without cultural context it can be misleading.
There is a huge difference in generations. And what is meaningful to each of them. The fastest way to change an organization is to change generations, at the very least you need multi-generation teams. You also need to pay attention to the translation and transition between the two. You are inattentive at your own peril.
Xiao Xiao took the bench at the piano and then simply plays, along with herself! She developed a new piano media enhancement as part of her work on her PhD with the Tangible Media Group at MIT, the result is the Mirrorfugue.
For Xiao, she sees the utility of mapping analogies for music – classical = score, jazz = more sparse but based on theme. Both of which can describe landscapes and terrains like cities. The projection of yourself onto the city occurs in the same way that projection onto music creates layers of meaning leading to unique interpretations. And is so doing transporting your audience to new realms.
The way we understand things is fundamentally shaped by the way we capture our experiences. With the proliferation of recordings it precipitated a shift in the art of classical performance from interpretation to correctness, taking the energy out of the music. You more easily recognize wrong notes rather than the energy of the interpretation.
The approach to classical music that is thematic is the order of the day, but it is in the variations that the true meaning lies. Themes and short form interpretations lack the physical, emotional and intellectual engagement of variations.
Two prove her point Xiao played with two others across the Mirrorfugue! Brilliant! Bach Two Part Inventions.
Peter Hirshberg of Re:Imagine asked, how do we turn our cities and into platforms for innovation? By way of an answer he shared the notion of the World’s Fair as an immersive form. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York was perhaps the worlds greatest World’s Fair. A canvas like no other. The vision was a very controlled and structured one—certainly as offered by GM.
The notion of turning the city into a lab was also shared by Walt Disney – see EPCOT at Walt Disney World as a classic 20th Century example of that. A community of tomorrow that will never be completed. The future was to be given to us by American enterprise and not something that could be co-created. The present day version of the city of tomorrow should be something like Burning Man. It’s 60,000 people to a desert. You have to participate (no bystanders) and you have to reframe the world.
Make ideas worth stealing.
Art becomes a tool to fundamentally reframe how we see the world. The next World’s Fair is the one we create ourselves.
Saul Kaplan moderated a discussion between Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos & Bill Taylor (Founder of FastCompany magazine). Taylor has come to BIF 7 out of 9 times. A writer and an editor who loves to meet people who are not in the headlines every day. This is an important part of his year. Hsieh has been to BIF 3 times and has shared his story, too.
October 2013 is the 20th Anniversary of the FastCompany business plan. To celebrate they are hosting a mini BIF. The theme is “What are you working on?” Best-selling novelists, TV network directors, investors (Tom Peters), gadflies (Seth Godin) will be participating. Taylor sees himself as being a skunk at the garden party, “It is hard and difficult to make deep-seated, long-lasting change,” but you have to talk about that so that you can be ready for the hard and challenging work involved.
Hsieh shared the challenge of transforming downtown Las Vegas and the serendipity of meeting someone who was leaving town because she didn’t want to work in casinos any more. They funded her lunch spot. He also shared the promotion for the Downtown Las Vegas, Life is Beautiful Festival – a multiple focus festival. He spoke to the action of making change a reality.
The last storyteller who shook up the room was Rabbi Irwin Kula founder of Clal, who said of his honorific: “It’s like any title, it is being rapidly deconstructed today.” Much in the same way he said, we need to innovate in religion. As secular spaces become sacred. And the most religious are the least.
Religious leadership has nothing to offer because we are reinventing religion. Through that reinvention how the hardware of humanity gets used will be very dependent on the software of humanity.
Cognitive and physical enhancement also demands moral enhancement.
We have to be disruptive moral innovators. As with most religious leaders Rabbi Kula left as with more questions than answers…
What do symbols mean? What do practices mean? Do they work or do you become a bastard. What would it mean to be incented by acceptable behavior?
How do we disaggregate wisdom and practices that designed to help us become wiser, kinder and gentler? How do we move people from the cathedral to the bazaar? Real religion is happening in our lives all the time. How do designs reflect the products that shape consciousness and awareness? We need metrics on what practices work.
When the fastest growing religion is “none” – how do we engage our complete selves in ways that are meaningful to us and to those around us? Which regardless of religion is what BIF-9 was all about—engagement to make shared meaning.
My recommendation: come and be a part of the story to unfold in 2014. You won’t be disappointed.
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?
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.