design

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…)

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Is Experience the New Graduate Degree? (Huffington Post)

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post

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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