Change is a social process

“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.”

From Atul Gawande’s “Slow Ideas

Reading about systems and empathy

In the past few months I’ve moved to a new city and started a new job exploring design for social innovation. Writing has fallen by the wayside. But I recently read three fantastic books that I hope to write more about soon. Check them out!

Note: If you are unfamiliar with systems thinking, I recommend reading them in this order as I did. 

Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future

The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society

Design Thinking at Airbnb

This great video with one of the co-founders of Airbnb provides great insights about how to incorporate design thinking, user research, and an open-minded attitude at a start-up.

One of my favorite concepts from the talk is that of not designing everything to be scalable. Some of the things that made Airbnb most successful were not scalable but allowed them to think about their business more creatively.

What I’ve Learned from Blogging


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just over one year ago, I wrote my first blog post. I was very nervous about it, and wasn’t even sure I’d stay committed to the endeavor. But starting a blog has been one of the most beneficial decisions for me–personally and professionally.

It all started when a few colleagues finally convinced me to join Twitter in Fall 2011. Twitter was an amazing gateway into the online ideas and information market. After learning so many new things through Twitter, I started to find my own voice and opinions about the issues I followed. This realization, coupled with my move to India, encouraged me to start a Tumblr to share interesting articles I was reading and videos I was watching.



“And you can’t ask the customer just once. Customer validation needs to be an iterative process. You have to repeatedly build, gain feedback and improve until customers say that they must have your product. This takes a lot of time and is really hard. But it is the most effective way of building a successful business.”

Vivek Wadhwa 

Actually, People Love Change

Great advice on managing organizational change: 

But most of the time, people will embrace change – they just need to see what’s in it for them.

If you’re trying to change things, here are some tips:

  • Solve a real problem. If you meet a genuine need, you don’t often find resistance to change.  Well, you will, from the competitors who lose out, but that’s different.  This is another kind of change that people love.  When the polio vaccine was developed, people lined up to get it – even though getting a shot is no fun at all.  It solved a real need.
  • Turn up the purpose. Inside an organisation, change is often resisted because it is not clear how the new way of doing things will make things better.  This is especially likely to happen when the organisation does not have a shared purpose.

Here is Nilofer Merchant on the importance of vision:

I see executives regularly saying that they want to “transform the business” or “win the market”, but they can’t point out an end destination. And when I ask, I usually get that, “just leave me alone” look. But here’s the deal. “Transform the business” could mean just about anything, especially to the people who weren’t in the core room where the discussion and debate happened. It leaves too much interpretation up for grabs. It is fuzzy. And fuzzy doesn’t help. Fuzzy means no one can help you do it fully because they need to keep checking in. Fuzzy doesn’t turn on the spark of creativity to generate ideas on how I can help you. Fuzzy creates a dependence, rather than allowing interdependence and action by everyone.

Her solution? Articulate a clear vision.

  • Connect. You can’t meet genuine needs if you don’t understand the people that will be affected by the change.  Your best strategy is to connect with them, and build that understanding.

I’m not trying to oversimplify this.  Innovation is hard – if it weren’t, everyone would do it.  Change is hard – if it weren’t everyone would adapt easily.

But if you’re finding that people are resisting the change that you’re proposing, that’s a very strong sign that you don’t understand what they need, and you haven’t  articulated a clear vision of the future.

Actually, People Love Change

Will Work For


Individuals and communities are asking meaningful questions about whom they will work for, where to spend money and where to spend their time. From artisanal experiments to wild daydreams to viable new business models, passion has come to the foreground of our professional lives.

In venture capital, it used to be enough to see a profitable short-term opportunity and invest, no matter the underlying societal harm in the long term. In business design, talented people would race to manufacture the bestselling good. But things are changing, and people want better.


Will Work For is a design provocation intended to spark a reaction and fuel a conversation. What role does our passion play today in our food, education, and communication? And what if our passion could play an even bigger role in daily life and whole systems of exchange?

We see a chance to remake global institutions as platforms for mentoring, stewardship, and apprenticeship. We see the future in farming and data analytics, in digital prototypes and new energy, in family networks and in education.

We see the future in communities that create and support creation. We see the future in the passions of people just like you. That is how this project came to life — a vision of an alternate present and the inevitable future of work.

Karyn Campbell, Investor

Will Work For

Why Your Customer Service Sucks

I always thought customer service couldn’t get worse than the long hold times and recorded messages of Verizon and Comcast. Then I got stuck with Beam Telecom as my internet service provider in India. I’ve never been more furious in my life at a service provider, and it’s all because they have horrible customer service.

Here’s what they get wrong, and what your organization should avoid. 

They Don’t Keep Track of Problems

Our internet has disconnected multiple times in the last few weeks. Each time we call we have to explain the problem again as if its the first time its happened. If Beam used better customer tracking in their database, they would know that we’ve called multiple times a day with the same problem in the last few weeks. They would also know who came to our apartment to fix it and when, and what the solution was. The technology to do this is readily available and with that information, they could expedite service. 

They Don’t Have Set Service Hours

When Beam decides to send a technician, they only say they will come within 24 hours instead of a set time. And even if you say they need to come between certain hours, they don’t follow your request. Comcast and other service providers give you a range of hours so that you can be at home and prepared. Sure, plenty of times the technicians don’t show up at the intended time, but at least they give you a range of hours to work with. Beam says they will call before they show up, but they never do, and then they are surprised when they show up at your home and nobody is there. It’s poor planning and a waste of everyone’s time when it could be easily fixed with a scheduling mechanism for their technicians and customers. 

They Don’t Troubleshoot over the Phone

Other technical companies have great troubleshooting guides and assistance over the phone. Beam won’t give you any advice over the phone about how you could fix your problem on your own. Our problem goes beyond individual troubleshooting though because our server keeps crashing. When my internet stops working in the states, my first question when I call my service provider is if there is an outage in my area. They look up my area and the answer is usually that there is a temporary outage and they are fixing it in the next few hours. When I call Beam, even if there is a server issue and they know there is a server issue that they are working to resolve, they won’t tell me that over the phone. The more information you can provide to ease a customer’s concerns, the better. 

What They Do Right

It can’t be all bad news for Beam. They do one thing right. They send text messages and emails after every call recording the ticket number and issue. This is helpful for keeping track of multiple tickets and repeat calls, and something I haven’t seen Verizon or Comcast do well. 

Many of these issues mentioned could be easily solved if Beam had a better tracking mechanism in their customer relations management system. If you learn from Beam’s mistakes, your organization will run more efficiently and have happier customers.  

Great customer service does exist and should be rewarded. This story of customer service at its best is one of my favorites, as is this one

Testing Assumptions About Women and Technology

Many of the projects I am working on in India are technology related, and also based on or hindered by my many assumptions. This article from was a great reminder that its important to work with the users, test assumptions, and launch projects even if it goes against your assumptions, because your assumptions could be proven wrong.
“A reminder from the field: Always test assumptions.
We revealed new opportunities for LifeSpring by overcoming initial assumptions and biases about populations viewed as low-literacy, and recognizing that they – like the rest of us – are eager to embrace new tools.”

Testing Assumptions About Women and Technology

After the power outage

Great points from Sasha Dichter: 

The core work of Acumen, where I work, is to support companies that provide basic goods and services – healthcare, water, housing, sanitation, education, and, yes, energy – to the half of the world’s population that hasn’t yet benefited from the global wealth creation and economic transformation that started in the 1850s.

The crazy thing to me is the idea that this work would be anything but mainstream.  As a society and a world we have the capacity and the wealth and the know-how to build the underlying infrastructure that unleashes limitless human potential, energy, creativity.  Think of all the people out there not blogging, not sharing, not contributing as they could to the world because every last ounce of energy must go into just getting by.

For just a week, New York and the whole eastern seaboard got to experience how every aspect of our lives are enabled by this infrastructure.  We got to ask ourselves how resilient we would be if we lost this cushion.  A spotlight was shone on all of the invisible things that make our lives possible.

Maybe, just maybe, this experience will help us to understand a bit more all the gifts that we have been given.  Maybe it will help us recognize the mad lottery that we have won that allows us to take these things for granted.  Maybe, once the dust has settled, once we’re warm and safe and dry but before we have fully gotten back into the rhythm of our days, it will push us to create more space for service in our lives.

After the power outage

Getting over ourselves

Thanks for this, Seth Godin!

“In the face of billions of dollars of destruction, of the loss of life, of families distrupted, it’s easy to wonder what we were so hung up on just a few days ago. Many just went face to face with an epic natural disaster, and millions are still recovering. Writer’s block or a delayed shipment or an unreturned phone call seem sort of trivial now.

We’re good at creating drama, at avoiding emotional labor and most of all, at thinking small. Maybe we don’t need another meeting, a longer coffee break or another hour whittling away at our stuckness.

There’s never been a better opportunity to step up and make an impact, while we’ve got the chance. This generation, this decade, right now, there are more opportunities to connect and do art than ever before. Maybe even today.

It’s pretty easy to decide to roll with the punches, to look at the enormity of natural disaster and choose to hunker down and do less. It’s more important than ever, I think, to persist and make a dent in the universe instead.

We’ve all been offered access to so many tools, so many valuable connections, so many committed people. What an opportunity.”

Getting over ourselves