Leadership

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…)

Why Millennials and Governments Must Prepare for the Industries of the Future Today (Forbes)

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A few years ago, as a member of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, I had the opportunity to meet Alec Ross, a senior advisor on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A few days ago, he came out with a new book on the industries that will shape and drive the next economy. I interviewed Ross about the book, the challenges and opportunities individuals will face in gaining jobs in these new industries, and how governments can help us prepare for the future. You can read the interview and review of the book over on Forbes. 

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…)

We are the problem, and we create the change

What follows are very incomplete thoughts and reflections on some recent readings. I would love to hear your ideas and feedback. 

The world is a system made of systems, all inherently living–what Donella Meadows defines as “a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.”

As I’ve come to better understand systems thinking and social change at a cursory level, I’m realizing that change starts within each of us. As we are part of systems, we are part of the problem, and therefore we are also part of the change. That change begins when each of us realize that we create both sides of the equation.  (more…)

Inspired by letting go

We’re so often “inspired” by the latest social enterprise start-up, flashy idea, and rising stars, but I’m inspired by my friend and StartingBloc Fellow Jessica. Yesterday, I received a touching letter from Jessica letting me know that she is closing her non-profit of four years, Cheti. I’ve known about Jessica’s recent struggles with running Cheti and her incredibly difficult decision to close and let go of something she is so deeply passionate about.

Even more courageous than starting a venture like Cheti, it’s a brave and egoless decision to move on when it’s no longer having the intended impact or sustainability. And it’s thoughtful and important to share the difficult decision, successes, and failures, as Jessica has done with Cheti, and as others have for the Celebrating Failure series in SocialStory.

Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Failure is painful. Letting go is brave. 

Jessica allowed me to share her beautiful note about saying goodbye to Cheti below:

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Why We Need to Fund and Build Leadership Capacity for Start-up Social Entrepreneurs (Huffington Post)

An article I wrote for the Huffington Post. Be sure to check out and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign for UnLtd USA

After spending a year voluntarily living in transitional housing for homeless and day laborers in Charleston, South Carolina, Derek Snook had an idea that could guide the homeless in his community towards self-sufficiency by creating a better model of a temporary employment agency. The only problem was that he didn’t have the resources or network to help him launch his idea. Working with a friend, they weren’t sure where to start. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We literally Googled how to start a non-profit temporary employment agency and nothing came up,” Derek explained. “We were two 23-year-old guys with an idea and a dream, and it was about not giving up.”

The challenges of social entrepreneurship were not lost on Derek, who started working on IES Labor Services in 2009. Four years later, he’s raised money, employed staff, hired over 50 workers daily, and added more than $100,000 to workers’ wages through the IES Hope Fund. While Derek was able to successfully build his non-profit, many aspiring social entrepreneurs fail to move beyond the critical initial idea phase.

Until recently, there has been a noticeable lack of support for start-up social entrepreneurs at the earliest stages. Now, several new initiatives, including Social Good Startup and UnLtd USA, are aiming to fill this gap by providing funding and mentorship while building leadership and business skills for aspiring social entrepreneurs.

(more…)