Month: January 2015

Playing For Change

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IMG_2458What’s holding us back from taking action? With so much accessibility to each other now through technology, there has never been a better time for opening a conversation that can literally cross borders.

We speak different languages, separated to some degree by cultural differences, live in different time zones, and are distributed in different places often separated by expansive oceans.

Marvin Gaye was right:

“Don’t you know that
There ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you”

We’re starting a conversation through the Design Forum beginning in Osaka. No matter where you are, you are invited. It is free, and so is the Introduction to Design Thinking provided by Acumen Fund/IDEO which we are piggybacking on top of to help frame the conversation ahead. Get involved here.

Watch this video of ‘Playing for Change’ where musicians come together. It is an inspiration for how we can connect despite the seemingly impassible barriers between us.

Child Deaths Will Go Down

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IMG_0294The opening headline in this year’s Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates outlines their reasons for betting there will be greater progress in reducing child deaths (improving child survival) in the next 15 years than was the case in the last 25 years.

It is a well presented argument, and you can read it here.

This is not just going to happen with an extra sprinkle of fairy dust. As I write this, thousands upon thousands of people are working in difficult conditions in unheard-of, remote locations to help make this a reality: to improve the delivery of child survival.

This blog is about a journey called the 10 City Bridge Run which started by asking a question: “what can we practically do to make a difference?” That question matured to become “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The question will be addressed through a conversation unfolding next month involving a series of Design Forum beginning in Osaka.

You can get involved, and it is free! So why not sign up. You don’t need to be in Osaka. There is also a free, online course to provide an introduction to Design Thinking which has been offered by Acumen Fund/IDEO which will help to frame this question. Participation is free, and you can get involved without any qualification. So why don’t you?

It is great as we prepare to engage with this question about child survival to have a document which so readily frames the issue for us. Please take a read of the first few pages of the Gates Annual Letter.

We are really going to have this conversation. And we intend to have impact. The question is, will you join us?

Sign up for the Introduction to Design Thinking here.

Sign up for the Osaka Design Forum here.

Good News For A Change

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Matt with friends in Timor Leste
Catching up with some enthusiastic youth in Los Palos, East Timor, about 10 months before the SIEV14 incident

Did you see what I did there? The heading is a pun! It can be read in two ways.

I would like to take credit for such cleverness, but that is actually the title of a book by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel. The full title is “Good News For A Change: how everyday people are helping the planet.”

It is a good book. I bought it from a bookstore which I found to be oasis in a desert of ideas when I was deployed on a temporary posting assignment to Darwin during my service as an Australian Army Officer. I was engaged in border protection duties, and we successfully repatriated a so-called ‘Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel (SIEV14)’ from Australian waters back into international waters from where it then travelled back to its original port in Indonesia.

It was during a difficult time in my life for other reasons of a personal nature, and while many people might want to point the bone for my role in the government’s machinary of ‘stopping the boats’, I think that chapter of my life just goes to show the messiness of defining clean ethical boundaries inside of which we might like our lives to operate.

Just before I departed on the 10 City Bridge Run in late September last year, I posted a video on Facebook to some of my old army buddies which had been recorded by IS (the so-called Islamic State). The video showed the effect of a recoilless rifle exploding when the projectile detonated in the barrel. A recoilless rifle looks like a large tank barrel, basically because that is what it is. As an artillery officer, weapon effects and projectiles was a daily part of my life when I was in the Army. A premature detonation was an extremely rare event, and so on a professional level I shared the video. The video was pretty graphic, in that it didn’t leave much to the imagination of what might have come from the operator of the weapon.

What I didn’t count on was a friend trolling through the video and determining that from his perspective it was inappropriate content. And he made sure that was well known before defriending, and since then has never been heard from again.

So why go to the trouble of writing this story. Or talking about my role in the downfall of people who had their hopes set on settling in Australia (yes, an oblique reference there to Spike Milligan, staying with the military theme for a minute). How can that be good news? How that that bring about positive change?

Well, they aren’t and they don’t. They just are. The world can be a messy place. A lot of things happen that disgust us. This is not what we signed up for!

My point in this post is that we can decide to only see the good news. It is a pollyanaish approach to not seeing the bad. I think that is less than helpful actually, even though it fuels us with goodness and possibility.

To solve a problem, we really do need good news for a change. We need the good news both to make a change, and as a break from the relentless misery of bad news reported through the unforgiving 24 hour news cycle. But let’s also take a minute to appreciate the bad and how it created an obscene situation that at worst might be described as an abomination. We don’t need to forgive or embrace the bad. We just need to know where the rot started so that we can change for good.

Blueprint For Change

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imageWhy bother? I mean, can’t we all just sit back and relax now? Isn’t the crisis over?

In their Annual Letter published this year, Bill and Melinda Gates set the scene by betting that there would be greater progress to end extreme poverty than in the previous 15 years. And they are probably right. All indications point toward this as an outcome, and their keen interest over the last 15 years would suggest that this is actually a well-tested assumption rather than an idle wager.

Progress is good, and the message from Bill and Melinda Gates is positive. Are we out of the woods yet? Does that mean the crisis is over?

The 2014 Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter framed the issue of child mortality as one of three key areas where they sought to dispel myths that they rightly claim are held about addressing global poverty. At the beginning of the document, they wrote how they were “disgusted” by child mortality.

Other people have used equally strong language. Tony Lake the Executive Director of UNICEF described child mortality in 2012 as a “moral obscenity” and a “moral abomination”.

What does this mean for the 10 City Bridge Run, a citizen-led initiative to open a conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” Is the war over, and we didn’t hear the news? Isn’t it all over bar the shouting? After all, Bill and Melinda Gates have spoken.

We should see the current situation as the end of a beginning, and the beginning of the end. We are now riding the waves of change. There has never been a more critical time to convene the Design Forum which will unfold this conversation about child survival than now. There is political will, institutional interest, a wealth of information, technology and the ability to communicate is better than ever, and along with increasing developments in medicine and infrastructure.

The Design Forum is not a silver bullet. And in a relative sense, together we are a minnow in an ocean of information and activity. But we are part of a much larger connected effort. And that is why this is important as a conversation. We have a real part to play, and as that conversation takes shape, it will become more obvious where we can best effect change.

The Design Forum which will commence in Osaka on 9 February is a blueprint for change for improving child survival. We are not reinventing the wheel, but drawing upon the experience and networks of others to amplify our intention. And we need your voice to help make that possible.

The Dali Lama has a quote which I like:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, then try sleeping with a mosquito.”

We are about to begin the series of Design Forum. You can join in at any time, but why not begin with us at the beginning. We are starting by asking how might we Design the Design Forum. This will be an event in Osaka to draw upon best practice, and examine how we can organise to be effective in making a difference. The first Design Firum in Osaka convenes concurrently with an Acumen Fund/IDEO free online, seven-week course which provides an introduction to Design Thinking. You can get involved. You will make a difference. So why not sign up? It is all free.

Sign up for the Introduction to Design Thinking here.

Sign up for the Osaka Design Forum here.

Looking forward to seeing you on the journey!

Osaka: Design Forum 1

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IMG_0906The first of a series of Design Forum addressing a question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” will be convened in Osaka on 9-10 February.

You are invited to participate, no matter how far away from Osaka you might live.

It is free to attend. You can register here.

On 9 February, join us in person or online at one of a number of scheduled video conferences where we will frame the Osaka event as “Designing the Design Forum”.

The Osaka forum will examine what is best practice in design and in convening a gathering. How might we best build bridges that matter, how can we involve others, how can we increase collaboration?

Some key initiatives that point the way to what works can be recently observed:

  • Davos, The World Economic Forum
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter
  • The recent ‘Your Turn Challenge’ from Seth Godin and his capable coworker Winnie
  • and there are many other examples, and we want you to help explore this list and determine what we can learn, what we can replicate, and what we can take away.

It will be a humble beginning, wedded to a Acumen Fund/IDEO free, online, seven-week course to introduce the process of Design Thinking. Get involved with the course here.

10 February will be experiential by participating in HackOsaka to examine first-hand a hackathon in a different culture and language from that which most of us speak and know. Many people have been part of a hackathon at some point, but the big question will be how do we extend this to a context which out of necessity builds bridges with the other?

Child survival is the core issue, but this first Design Forum in Osaka will be about process. I hope you can be involved too!

On Becoming A Designer

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imageThe Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run commences with getting equipped with the tools we are going to need for the journey ahead. The tools are about our networks, our creativity, and importantly engaging with those for whom this problem of child survival is a real and present issue. Additionally, one key tool is the process of Design Thinking using a framework of Human Centred Design.

Design Thinking is not new. It has been around for decades, if not centuries, but more recently it has been made more useable through the work of people like IDEO. There has been a revolution in design which focuses on the user, or the person with the problem.

The commencement of the first Design Forum aligns with a free, online, seven-week course run by the Acumen Fund and IDEO which I am inviting you to participate in to help frame the series of Design Forum. The course can be done through examining any design challenge, but I am proposing that people join to help address the question framing the 10 City Bridge Run: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Here’s how to get involved. It’s simple, and you can do it without needing any special qualifications:

  1. Register here, or drop me a note saying you want to participate.
  2. Join or form a small group of between 2-6 people where you live, or work with me and others online for the conduct of the course. If you are forming a small group, you could meet in a coffee shop once a week. And if you are joining me online, I’ll make a schedule when we can connect by video-conference or Skype, or some other way to collaborate.
  3. Follow the course across the seven weeks exploring this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” as together we work to ‘Design the Design Forum’.

At the end of the course in early April, not only will we have framed how these Design Forum might play out culminating in Seoul in October, but you will also receive a certificate to prove to the world that you have in fact become a Designer.

That is a worthwhile achievement for 2015! Please accept the invitation, and join us to frame the Design Forum.

There is no limitation on attendance. Please forward this link to others, and please especially ask them to join with us as we look at this question of improving child survival. Thanks in advance!

An Entry Somewhere Else

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The Highline in New York. Exit or entry?

The Wharf Theatre on Sydney’s Hickson Road has a quote from Tom Stoppard writ large facing the audience as you exit the building via the front steps:

Every exit is an entry somewhere else.

The quote can be read as a message of optimism and hope. But it also shows the unrelenting cycle of beginnings and endings that make up our lives.

Some of these beginnings and endings are profound. Most are just ordinary. Profound or ordinary, they all matter.

I have been feeling a little overwhelmed at the task ahead of the Design Forum to follow. Not so much overwhelmed by the task, because this has been on my mind for some time now, and so I am very much looking forward to getting amongst it. So why overwhelmed?

Overwhelmed because of the impossible task that once again stands before us. Impossible because from where I am now looking into the future, the Design Forum is an impossible proposition because it requires a level of funding I don’t yet have, impossible because the scale of impact is vastly beyond my own capacity or reach, and impossible because the culmination of the series of the Design Forum will be a significantly stronger force than its humble beginnings in Osaka early in February.

Have you been there before? Asking ‘who am I really to be doing something like this?’ I am well aware of my own limitations, maybe more so after the 10 City Bridge Run where I ran a running stunt involving 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as an epic quest to open a conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Let’s reframe that question: given that I have the ability to do this through having conceived the idea no matter the difficulties that will be found ahead, who am I not to embark on the next leg of the journey?

Them words is fighting words.

But neither is this quest one of the heroic leader as a lone actor, an agent for the voice of the many. This is a quest for a collective. It is the heroes journey which calls on the agency of many heroes. And it is an invitation to everyone who wants to take the next steps together with me, with us.

I served in the Australian Army for many years. One experience which remains indelibly imprinted in my mind and psyche from my service was that of deploying together, either on operations or on exercise, as a unified force. The invitation is there to you now: will you fight along side me? Not everyone involved in a combat force carries a rifle and bayonet. The force is capable, diverse, and tight-knit.

What is your part in this quest of the Design Forum? Do you have a part? Maybe you don’t. But maybe you do, and if you do will you rise to the challenge of taking part in even a small way in the series of Design Forum that follows so that together we can make an impact on child survival?

The heroes journey is not for everyone. Many will turn away and stay in the comfort of The Ordinary World. I can’t make the decision for you. I can only extend the invitation.

Ahead, is a exit from The Ordinary World. An entry somewhere else. And you are invited.

Cometh the hour, Cometh the man.

Betting On The Future

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imageBill and Melinda Gates just released their annual letter for 2015. It is framed around looking at the likelihood of massive progress across the next 15 years. The preamble to the letter begins:

“Fifteen years ago, Bill and Melinda made a similar bet. They started their foundation in 2000 with the idea that by backing innovative work in health and education, they could help dramatically reduce inequity. Progress so far has been very exciting—so exciting that they are doubling down on the bet made 15 years ago, and picking ambitious goals for what’s possible 15 years from now.”

I have yet to read through the full document, and here is a link so you can review it yourself.

While I was in Glasgow, I made a short video for Bill and Melinda Gates asking for their advice of five books that might be instructive to framing the issue about child survival. I have yet to hear back from them, and it remains a possibility that I won’t hear from them. They must get a zillion requests from everyone who wants something, and consequently have a fierce protection through some pretty robust gatekeepers.

Remember though that this pursuit of a series of Design Forum is neither hanging on whether we hear back from the Gates’. Of course, it would be great if that were the case to hear from them, and it remains my intent to keep pursuing their engagement on some level.

But just for a moment, let’s assume that for whatever reason we don’t get any response from Bill and Melinda. What should we do then? Well, we will have to find the answers we want through our own networks which is the point of this conversation.

Remaining hopeful of their advice about a handful of books to read, but being pragmatic of the likelihood of this, here is what I suggest: we take the framing of the Annual Letter for 2015 as guidance to help frame the Design Forum. What might be possible to achieve in the next 15 years. It is a 2030 vision.

I Began Questioning

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imageWhere does your journey begin for making a difference that matters? We all have the same amount of time, and each are gifted in some ways, some more gifted than others. I’m interested in this question of when and why people chose to make a difference, rather than how much of a difference they might have made which is a very subjective measure of contribution.

I was delighted to meet up with an old friend Cynthia Smith in New York the previous week at the conclusion of my epic running stunt where I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. Many of you know already that the running was a stunt to thread a common narrative through 10 cities where an important question will be explored through a nine month period this year in a series of Design Forums asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

With Cynthia in front of the centrepiece of thought-provoking exhibition about tools and design
With Cynthia in front of the centrepiece of thought-provoking exhibition about tools and design

Cynthia is a curator of design at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in what was once Andrew Carnegie’s home.

Cynthia Smith is a remarkable lady who has led a movement examining ‘design for the other 90%’. The idea is that most design is made for that 10% of the global population that can afford to live in homes, drive cars, enjoy discretionary entertainment, and then still have money left over for fashion, holidays, pets, and everything else that we seldom stop to think twice about.

There is a quote in a book she curated which I read once and carry with me as an inspiration. The quote talks about a decision to make a difference, rather than worrying about how ready we are to make that difference. She wrote:

As a result, I began questioning: ‘In what ways could I, as a designer, make a difference?’

imageWe met for breakfast, and afterwards spent some time at the collection at the Cooper Hewitt. After saying farewell, I spent some time wandering around the collection myself. What impressed me most was the idea of accessibility of being a designer. One exhibition was about Human Centred Design, and was essentially a call to action for everyone who walked into the exhibition in the old library of Andrew Carnegie to become a designer.

So what does this mean for you and I? Are we any different to Cynthia? After all, she is a ‘capital D’ Designer. You know, a real one.

imageI think what it means is that you need to read her quote above and own it for yourself. Take ownership of becoming a designer. And start by asking ‘will you decide to make a difference?’

If is not a new thought to you already, then there is one thing I want you to do for me. Share this post with someone who is ‘just ordinary’, but let them know they are far from ordinary. We need them as designers to make a difference. Maybe not in a big way, but with some sense of conviction that they can actually make a difference.

The centrepiece exhibition was about tools, and was thought-provoking. It took the ordinary and showed how everything has in some way been designed.

I like this thought because it comes back to the Design Forums I spoke about earlier in this post. In every city, we will have a particular focus. When we arrive in New York which I believe will be in May, I would like to pick up this theme of tools as it relates to child survival. It is a conversation I want to pick up with Cynthia, and in some ways I am opening up that thought with this post.

Carnegie's garden that flourished with sunshine rather than shade because of the church design
Carnegie’s garden that flourished with sunshine rather than shade because of the church design

In a stroke of serendipity when we were walking to the Cooper Hewitt, we passed the church that is adjacent to the museum. Apparently, Carnegie’s wife gifted the land to the church knowing that the highrises of the city were starting to be build closer and closer to her house. It was an ingenious was to create a buffer to allow her garden to receive sunlight. That the church doesn’t have steeples confirms this story.

I visited the church the Sunday after we met as was totally inspired by the vision of the Minister who had created a real culture of questioning in what ways could the church make a difference to the local community. So my intention is to speak both with Cynthia and the membership at the church to ask, together in what ways could we make a difference?

But the person who I most want to engage in this conversation is you. In what ways as a designer could you make a difference?

Ingenuity

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imageCooper Hewitt’s Curatorial Director, Barbara Bloemink, at the New York Museum of Design which is now part of the Smithsonian collection has a great quote:

“Human beings have always used ingenuity to solve problems.”

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it is worth reflecting on for a minute. It is saying that we tap into a genius mind when we solve problems. That is profound.

We take solving problems for granted. We should see every problem that has been solved, resolved or reframed as an achievement worth celebrating. Do you?