Collaboration

Design thinking will make your team more democratic

Originally posted on Medium 

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We often talk about design thinking in terms of generating creative and user-centered insights and solutions. Less often do we talk about design thinking as a way to align and empower teams and individual contributors. Despite best intentions, teams can revert to hierarchies and groupthink, instead of enabling equal participation and representation of people and ideas around the table. Avoiding these traps is possible through thoughtful facilitation and setting of expectations.

Here’s three ways you can use design thinking to make your team more democratic. (more…)

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Why the Human Factor Matters for Technology and Development

 

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In April, I was invited to speak on a panel for the Digital Technologies and Development event at Columbia SIPA. Below is an edited version of my remarks. 

Since this panel is on “making digital technologies work for people and businesses,” I want to briefly discuss why we need to keep the human factor in mind when we think about making digital technologies work for everyone. To do this, I’ll share three examples focused on human-centered design in technology and civic innovation. (more…)

Innovation is not Sexy

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Innovation is hard work–much harder than the headlines will admit, and much more complicated than the colored post-its let on. While researching government innovation, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several leaders of innovation teams in cities across the country–and the conclusion from all their stories is clear: innovation is not sexy work. 

Innovation is at its best when it’s supported by data, research, and lots of outputs. It doesn’t happen overnight–it takes patience. While many exciting new start-ups disappoint, the companies and cities doing real innovation that leave us pleased as consumers and citizens are putting in the time and effort to build lasting innovations, sometimes in unnoticeable incremental changes. Sometimes the output is a great new app; other times, it’s changes to a boring process that makes a big difference.   

That’s not to say that innovation is not also exhilarating. But I’d argue that the best innovation isn’t sexy–it’s not a fun and quick creative brainstorming session followed by a perfect product that solves a problem. (more…)

Cultivating Empathy and Internal Awareness for Social Change

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“Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia—em (into) and pathos (feeling)—a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?…Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard—it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination.”

— Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

In what David Brooks deemed an “empathy craze” of the past decade, several bestsellers exalted the values of empathy, followed by a series of widely circulated opinion pieces questioning the limits of empathy. Schools and social entrepreneurs preach the value of teaching empathy. The core of trendy human-centered design is empathetic listening and design. I too, caught on to the hype—seeking to better understand empathy as it relates to my own work in social enterprise and social design. Here is what I’ve begun to understand.

Empathy has a critical role to play in creating positive social change; it will enable us to become more collaborative and respond more thoughtfully to social issues. We can cultivate and teach empathy—with intentionality, or willed effort, not diminishing its power—and we can encourage empathy without requiring action or agreement. But before empathy can achieve it’s full impact in our lives and in positive social change, we must cultivate internal awareness to understand our own context in the world.

Through my exploration of empathy, I remain with more questions than answers, and know that my opinion will evolve and change over time. I offer my thoughts here because this subject is important to the public discourse on social change and personal development, and I hope that others wiser than me will offer their own ideas and feedback in response. (more…)

Question of the Day: Sustainability of Partnerships

I love building partnerships. But I’m also constantly concerned about the sustainability of partnerships and how to create partnerships to last from the beginning. This has less to do with legalities of a partnership existing and partners meeting certain requirements, and more with long-term shared value in the partnership.

My question of the day is: How do we build sustainable partnerships? What steps do we need to take to ensure that partner visions and expectations align? Of course, partner organization circumstances and priorities inevitability change overtime, but how do you build around and account for those potential changes so that partnerships can continue to exist in the long-term?

What is a question of the day and how do I participate?

Weight Watchers and Cross-Sector Collaboration

This article—which is really more of the author’s personal history with weight loss and Weight Watchers—does not cover the usual topics of this blog. But the author brings up an excellent point about the weight loss industry and obesity politics today. Her argument doesn’t just apply to the weight loss industry; it applies to any social change issue. Weight Watchers and similar organizations will never do enough on their own to create change. Holistic and collaborative approaches from the private and public sectors, in addition to individual accountability, are needed to address the “eating like garbage” problem. Likewise, social change initiatives won’t be successful through organizations and individuals alone, and must include changes in policy and private sector practices. 

Weight Watchers, and programs like it, focus on fat people, but ignore the issue that, as a country, we’re eating like garbage. That’s all people, not just the fatties. We now want to push our citizens into programs like these — programs with very high failure rates that quantify success with a number on a scale — but we don’t want to, you know, stop subsidizing shitty crops and serving up crap school lunches. Programs that focus on weight loss above all else make it easy to shift the conversation away from the things that matter — food justice, government subsidies, pesticides, hormones — to extremely difficult individual accountability in the face of a system that pushes everyone, not just fatties, to consume garbage.

If we really wanted to make a difference in national health — from WW to fat kids — we’d be focusing on health. Weight would not be a factor. Programs like “Weight Watchers” would be “Health Watchers” (or, er, something catchier?) and we’d focus on eating fruits and veggies, moving our bodies, and loving ourselves at whatever weight. We’d also be encouraged to be more active in food justice for all and diets that are exciting and delicious, as opposed to scary and fraught with hysteria.

Weight Watchers and Cross-Sector Collaboration

“Our education system is a key reason for our lack of skills in collaborating effectively. This is now out of sync with today’s world of work. We do not emphasize collaborative skills and teamwork much in education, from K-12 to high school to college. It is an afterthought, it seems. Learning how to work well with others should be as important as learning math or accounting.”

Morten Hansen in this great article on cheating at Harvard