design

Design thinking will make your team more democratic

Originally posted on Medium 

1-xs-6ptduzu7zvpqs2zvvlg

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…)

So, you want to be a design thinker…

Originally posted on Medium

1-lsr0uo3qjqmzkoa0hqm5ng

Everyone can be a designer, but not everyone is a Designer. What’s the difference, and why should you care?

Design thinking is everywhere. Corporations are tripping over each other trying to adopt it; consulting firms are in a race to acquire design shops;universities are adding it to coursework; and the Facebook group I moderate that started as a few people interested in social innovation design floods my notifications with activity and join requests.

On one end of the design spectrum are the students, innovators, and entrepreneurs reading about this design race, and attending online courses, in-person bootcamps, and design sprints. They’re trying to figure out how to apply design thinking to their work, or how to get a job in it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the trained Designers. They’ve dedicated long careers to visual, experience, industrial, product, and other forms of design. They have MFAs and BAs in a Design discipline. The thing everyone else is scrambling to learn more about and do, they live and breathe every day, and they don’t add “thinking” or “human-centered” to it to make it real. And no, their job is not just about making things look good. (more…)

The Design Resources You Need

design photo

Photo by Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash.com. It’s on the resource list!

“Design thinking,” “human-centered design,” or just “design” is becoming so popular we can’t keep up. A few years ago, I had to explain why design is important; now, there’s non-stop questions about how to learn more. There’s so many great courses, toolkits, readings, and online tools for design that we decided to mobilize the collaborative power of the Internet to consolidate them into one master list. Whether you’ve just heard about this whole design thing, or you’re a design master looking for some new exercises or visual tools, this Google doc is a great place to start. And it’s open, so please add your favorite resources!

What Jury Dury Taught Me About Government Innovation

article-glitch-1106

Photo of long voting line via NY Daily News

Originally posted on Medium. 

I left my California beach town vacation early to return to frozen New York for the democratic tradition and right of jury duty. For two days, I sat in a stale room with intermittent wifi with over 100 citizens from across socio-economic backgrounds. Unfortunately, what should’ve been a privileged and proud citizen experience turned out to be a futile, inefficient, and outdated process. I say this not to diminish the importance of diverse citizen juries, but to acknowledge the frustration I saw and heard from my fellow citizens in the room, and experienced myself. At the end of the second day, my peers and I cheered and sighed in relief as we heard that we are free from serving on a jury for the next several years. I was at once thrilled that I was done with what was a dreaded and annoying process, and saddened that most citizens would leave the court house with even less confidence or interest in their government.

“As a country, we haven’t invested in or changed the ways we engage with democracy; we’re interacting with 20th century institutions in the 21st century.”

A graduate student in public policy, I’ve been involved with government since high school. What struck me as I sat in the jury room is that while I’ve interacted with the government in many ways as an employee, student, and engaged citizen, for many in the room, this is one of the only times they’ll interact with the government this year, and they were left sorely disappointed in how it functions. (more…)

We Can Design the Future of Wearables for Social Good

“The best way to predict the future is to design it.” – Buckminster Fuller

Image: keoni101/Flickr

There is a future for wearable technology beyond the Apple Watch, and it can be for social good. On March 31, 2015, nearly 40 participants came together for Technology Salon New York City where we discussed the future of wearables in international development.

Here are my two summaries of the thought-provoking discussion: 

We Can Design the Future of Wearables for Social Good, Huffington Post

Development, data, and ethical design for our wearable futures, Wait…What? [co-author with Linda Raftree]

As we wrote, “The rapid evolution of technology urges us to think about how technology affects our relationships with our body, family, community, and society. What do we want those relationships to look like in the future? We have an opportunity, as consumers, makers and planners of wearables for the international context to view ourselves as stakeholders in building the future opportunities of this space. Wearables today are where the Internet was during its first five mainstream years. Now is the perfect time to put our stake in the ground and create the future we wish to exist in.”

Journal Publication on Empathy in International Security

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 3.41.32 PM

The latest issue of The Journal of Culture, Language and International Security includes an article by me on Cultivating Empathy and Internal Awareness for International Security Actors. As Robert Jervis said, “The ability to see the world and oneself as others do is never easy and failures of empathy explain a number of foreign policy disasters.”

Check out the issue here (PDF) and learn more about the Journal and Institute for the Study of Culture and Language here.

Why I Chose an MPA Program

afterlight (1)

Columbia University

“The path is made by walking,” writes poet Antonio Machado. My path has certainly been a winding one–leading from Capitol Hill to a military analysis think tank, from ed-tech in India to a design school in New York. Two weeks ago, I began my newest endeavor–graduate school. A Master in Public Administration degree wasn’t always part of the plan, but after accounting for my experiences and interests over the years, it now seems like it was inevitable.

I’ve been interested in public service and international affairs since childhood, but as I made a shift towards the world of social entrepreneurship after college (which I explained in this essay two years ago) I became determined to pursue an MBA. Business school has become the graduate school of choice for those working in social enterprise. The good and bad (and expensive) reasons to attend any graduate school aside, the thinking goes that a strong understanding of business will enable better business models and management for social change initiatives. As you’ll see on this blog and others, there is a lot of truth to that notion, and many smart, impactful social entrepreneurs with an MBA.

But while working with social businesses in India and New York, I was continually struck by my own lack of knowledge about socioeconomics, despite a BA in Political Science. And I saw how business and its tools–without a dedication to iterating on theories of social change and understanding socioeconomic dynamics–cannot alone solve the complex problems we face. As I explain in this Huffington Post article, “a social entrepreneur can run the most transparent, well-managed, profitable social enterprise in the world, and still not be solving the social problem their business is founded upon.” Furthermore, after seeing social enterprises in action, I realized that policy and social justice, and integration of social initiatives with policy change, is more important than ever. (more…)

Cultivating Empathy and Internal Awareness for Social Change

Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

“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…)

Is Experience the New Graduate Degree? (Huffington Post)

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post

2014-05-15-ScreenShot20140515at7.40.33PM.png

With news that the graduate Stafford loan rates will increase next year, and New York Times headlines like “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk,” you don’t need to look far to see that the higher education experience is broken. While MOOCs and other initiatives attempt to mend a failing system, some organizations like Watson UniversityEnstitute, and Experience Institute are hoping to create an entirely new educational system through experiential learning and personal development.

recent Pew study backs up the notion that more experience in education is desired. According to an Atlantic article about the report:

It found that, yes, a third of college graduates who majored in social science, liberal arts or education regretted their decision… But overall, when asked what they wish they’d done differently in college, ‘choosing a different major’ wasn’t the top answer. The most popular answer, given by half of all respondents, was “gaining more work experience.’ Choosing a different major was the fourth most popular response, after ‘studying harder’ and ‘looking for work sooner.’

Not everyone learns best in a traditional classroom. Experience Institute (Ei), which welcomed its first cohort last year, encourages its students to establish their own classrooms by undertaking three apprenticeships or independent projects while also completing five modules of curriculum designed specifically for the program. Ei’s curriculum is taught in the form of meet ups that take place in Chicago in-between apprenticeships and cover community building, self-awareness, storytelling, operations, and design thinking. The yearlong program offers the graduate school experience at a much cheaper than the norm price tag of $13,000. (more…)

Why Design for Social Innovation Matters

Have you heard the hype about design? It was popularized by IDEO and is well-known as design thinking or human-centered design. It now seems to be appearing everywhere, given the popularity of Acumen and IDEO.org’s now second-installment of their online Human-Centered Design course; examples like the Nike Foundation, which several years ago instituted a design division to better utilize design to develop their Girl Effect programs in Africa; groups like the Design Gym; and increased interest in design graduate programs (like where I work at MFA Design for Social Innovation); among other anecdotal evidence. After learning about design two years ago from the team at ThinkImpact, using the HCD process in India, and working with designers for the past nine months at MFA DSI, here are some thoughts on why design matters. 

I just call it design–design of everything, from micro-interactions, to products, services, and strategies, to systems. There are similar processes that overlap with the design ethos and tools in many ways–lean startup, Agile SCRUM, ethnography, participatory development, community organizing, among others. In fact, as this article explores, what we call design thinking is as ancient as Homer’s tale of the Iliad: “For what bigger co-creation of the solution to a public service problem could there be than stopping the Olympian gods spreading disease? Surely inventing the Trojan Horse was the world’s most famous episode of the techniques of prototyping, experimenting and testing that we will be hearing more about over the next few days.”

This Core77 article does a good job of explaining how the design process was used to explore the problem of over-fishing. It discusses not only using the design process for evaluating the problem and understanding the users, but also using it to design human interactions, and prototype a solution, whether that be a conversation or a new product, service, or system entirely.

Three main factors characterize why I believe design has great potential for creating solutions for social impact: identity, context, and making. (more…)

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.

Forget Poverty – Let’s Talk About Business

This profile on Paul Polak by Cheryl Heller has some excellent advice. I highly recommend the whole article but I think this tip is especially important. 

“5. Think huge, and don’t be a victim of your emotions

Paul’s rule is that a business has to have the potential to reach 100 million people and generate at least $10 billion in sales in order to be worthwhile. Seeing that potential will make it real.

While passion and empathy draw people to help others they are anything but the secret to success. Hard-headed business strategy will go much further to change lives. Caring deeply about helping people should spur pragmatism, not romanticism.

There are practical lessons here for all involved: Don’t fall in love with your altruism when you don’t have a sustainable solution to poverty, and don’t fall in love with your new business idea unless it can really impact the world.”

Forget Poverty – Let’s Talk About Business

StartingBloc

Over Memorial Day weekend I attended the five day StartingBloc Institute in Social Innovation at Babson College in Boston. The other future fellows-around 100 in total-were passionate, diverse, and genuine.

The main focus was on relationship-building and creating what has become a tight-knit community of young leaders who want to make the world a better place through social enterprise, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship. Never before have I found a community where everyone was so open about their goals and fears, and where enthusiastic support for individual goals and opinions came so naturally.

The relationship-building activities were supplemented by a case competition for ReWork, lectures, and interactive skill-building sessions.

Here are some takeaways from some of the featured speakers: 

Mitchell Wade, of StartingBloc’s Board, is the founder of Institute3, a think tank for practitioners obsessed with sustainable growth, one of the topics he spoke about. 

  • We are all passionate about change, changing the way things are done and the way issues are viewed. But the only change that matters is the change that happens when you are gone and the change that happens with other people. 
  • Institutions create space for community.

Ted Gonder, of MoneyThink and fellow University of Chicago alum and StartingBloc Fellow, gave an invigorating final session on “smashing fear.” 

  • You have to realize the assumptions going into any situation, and detach emotions from expectations.
  • If I’m not at least a little scared to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.
  • There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that others will feel comfortable around you.
  • Fear is forget everything and run, or face everything and rejoice.
  • Release the FOMO (fear of missing out) because you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. So enjoy what you have now.

Cheryl Heller, a designer and brand strategist, ran an interactive session on collaboration and designing for change. 

  • Communication can be designed to get the results that you want.
  • What’s more important than your idea? Relationships.

Cheryl Kiser of Babson, Anne Kelly of Ceres, and Michael Levett of Citizens Democracy Corps, led a discussion on CSR.

  • When do you change systems and when do you work within a system to affect change?
  • You don’t just want to work for a company that has social impact. You want to work for a company with POSITIVE social impact.
  • Companies should be pre-competitive, and be proactive about the impact they have in communities.
  • You can’t have corporate social responsibility without individual social responsibility.

Here are some of my main takeaways from the StartingBloc experience: 

  • I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several communities of aspiring leaders, most notably Junior Statesmen of America and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. StartingBloc, out of any community, understands true relationship-building. It began with a transformative session with Scott Sherman, and continues with an entire community of fellows worldwide that will support any other StartingBloc fellow, whether or not they have met. StartingBloc has also created incredible brand loyalty. 
  • There are a lot of young people who don’t care about making money or climbing the corporate ladder, but truly care about using their skills to help other people and make the world a more sustainable and better place. If they do want to make money or work for a corporation, they want to do it through social enterprise, or working for a company with a positive social impact. But because many young people are not taking traditional career tracks, I wonder what that means for the skills-gap for when/if these same individuals do try to apply for more traditional jobs. 
  • While I am still skeptical of entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship, most of the budding entrepreneurs at StartingBloc were thoughtful with game-changing ideas. In addition, I think many fellows were motivated by the concepts of intrapreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking.