Month: February 2015

10 o’clock Club

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10 o’clock on the Queensboro Bridge heading back to Manhattan on the last leg of the 10 City Bridge Run. It was a very dark, wet and cold rainy night!

Much of my background in the Australian Army was serving in my capacity as an artillery officer. The old School of Artillery is still located up in North Fort at North Head in Manly, although the gates have long since closed after the school was moved down to Puckapunyal around 1996.

The last thing I did at the old school while it was still a military establishment was play tennis with Rob Rowe on the grass tennis court which sat on the harbour side behind the Officers’ Mess. From memory, we played barefoot, but I’m not so sure why. It probably had something to do with the bar the operated inside the Mess.

Brian the Barman had become an institution as inseparable from the identity which the Officers’ Mess had forged. He had been working behind the bar when I arrived as a young subaltern fresh out of the Royal Military College for longer than I had been alive, and knew the good, the bad and the ugly pasts of all the current generals who were also like myself young subbies when they first approached the bar and asked Brian for a beer.

Not much had changed over the 30 or 40 years that he worked at the School I suspect. Including the 10 o’clock Club. That almost never changed.

The 10 o’clock Club. Every evening at 10 pm when a course was in at the School, they would stop studying and assemble in The Blue Room of the Officers’ Mess. Some lighthearted banter would follow, and that was pretty much it. Well, maybe there was a little more to the proceedings, but that is enough for this post.

I’m bring the 10 o’clock Club back as we embark on the journey of the Design Forum, and I invite you to join in. Every (or any) evening at 10 pm, take a photo of where you are/what you are doing/who you are with and post it to Twitter with the Design Forum #hashtag which is #10cbr. Extra points for creativity and imagination.

I can’t promise to be in attendance every night, but I hope to see you there on the interwebs.

Don’t forget the #hashtag for the Design Forum! #10cbr

Let’s Collaborate!

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IMG_1733We are going to experiment with different process, platforms, and formats.

Platforms for collaborative exchange. There are many and this is just the start. So let’s begin with Google Hangout. There will almost certainly be some platforms that have better features, and some are suited to other tasks better than others. Part of the conversation will be working out what tools work best, and also how to coordinate the involvement of people together so that collaboration can occur optimally. This is not a simple question, and will involve trail, testing and error.

Process for problem solving and engagement. We will adopt a variation of Design Thinking known as Human Centred Design. We can play around with that as there are many variations, and it can develop and become modified according to our need. But neither should this become doctrinaire or a distraction from the task at hand. The process, much like the platform, is a tool, not a silver bullet.

The format for the Design Forum to be adopted is a little more involved. Roughly speaking, a framework of a hackathon is what I have thought might be best to adopt, but there are many different ways of executing a hackathon. We can look at other initiatives and model the best they offer. Creativity and invention that we also bring to the table are important to combine with what we like best in the work of others we model. Some start points could be among the following, where ‘the best of’ is combined for optimal value:

  • Super Challenge Hackathon in Seoul this past week
  • The HackOsaka Hackathon
  • Davos, the World Economic Forum
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter
  • Playing For Change
  • The Your Turn Challenge
  • Skoll World Forum
  • Humans of New York

This list is far from exhaustive. The aspiration ought to be that the final Design Forum in Seoul brings together the best of what we have created together to generate meaningful impact as the next steps to make a difference in improving the delivery of child survival.

The 2015 Fuller Challenge gives us a guiding framework as to how to ‘measure impact’ for both the Design Forum and the outcomes of what flows from the next nine months activity. The culmination of the Introduction to Human Centred Design course which examines the process of Design Thinking will be close enough near completion when the Fuller Challenge is due, and this will both give us some clarity of how coherent our plan for the following nine Design Forums is towards meeting an objective, as well as a credible timeframe to gather together a team who are share a similar passion towards pursuing a question about child survival.

Here is a little bit about the inspiration behind the Fuller Challenge:

Buckminster Fuller led a prolific life of research, invention and social engagement, a practice he called comprehensive anticipatory design science. He established a set of rigorous design principles and ecological aesthetics. Fuller’s intention was to design new systems in which all of humanity could live lives characterized by freedom, comfort and dignity without negatively impacting the earth’s ecosystems or regenerative ability. He emphasized that the technology and knowhow exist to successfully surmount global challenges and advocated the creation of strategies that “do more with less” by increasing the overall performance of the resources invested in a system.

In all of this, when the size of the beginning might seem small compared to the juggernaught of institutional activity which typically defines this space, we would do well to remember the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

What does it take to build a bridge?

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The commitment I made at the conclusion to the Introduction to Human Centered Design (Design Thinking) course last year. We are taking it forwards, and I hope you might join us along this epic journey!
The commitment I made at the conclusion to the Introduction to Human Centered Design (Design Thinking) course last year. We are taking it forwards, and I hope you might join us along this epic journey!

The Design Forum is an extended conversation across nine months, knitting together a series of 10 key events occurring in each of the cities where the 10 City Bridge Run wove a path. It begins with the first of these Design Forum in Osaka commencing on 9 February 2015. The Design Forum, much like any conversation, draws upon the alchemy between people to build a bridge.

We are beginning at the beginning. We will begin with a conversation. And that conversation will be both online and with people who are present in the same location. Rather than the formality of a conference, we will start with the familiarity of a conversation.

Like any conversation, there is certain etiquette but no actual rules. People can come and go as they would in real life (because this is actually real life!) Online or in person, it doesn’t so much matter. Still very much part of the conversation.

The theme of the first Design Forum is “Designing the Design Forum.” The Osaka Design Forum will be a discrete event in Osaka, and won’t conclude until a free, seven-week, online course which provides an Introduction to Design Thinking concludes.

imageSome people might want to know how they can participate when their lives are busy and can’t afford seven weeks. That is completely understandable. I will be posting my notes from the Design Thinking course online in a weekly post, and so people can feel engaged even if this is only vicariously. Everyone’s contribution and questions would be very welcome at any time no matter how much time you can spare.

Seven weeks is a long time! Yes, the Design Forum in Osaka can more properly be seen as taking place over two days: 9-10 February. Because the Introduction to Design Thinking course is so integral to the theme of ‘Designing the Design Forum’, it defines the duration of the first Design Forum.

Moreso, the dates align with the opportunity to submit an entry in this year’s Buckminster Fuller Institute 2015 Fuller Challenge:

The Buckminster Fuller Institute announces the dates of the 2015 Fuller Challenge. Each year, BFI awards a $100,000 prize to support the development and implementation of an integrated design solution to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. BFI invites the world’s scientists, designers, architects, engineers, planners, artists, students and entrepreneurs to enter their strategies that simultaneously solve for the systemic context underlying the problem while dynamically transforming current conditions.

We will be designing the Design Forum that will continue through Port Moresby, Glasgow, Toronto, New York, Sydney, New Delhi, Singapore, China (city TBA, but I am hoping we could return to Shanhaigaun), and concluding in Seoul. Not only designing the journey that this epic conversation will take, but making a contribution that Buckminster Fuller himself would be satisfied with.

This is not about winning prizes. If we are good, any trophies we deserve will follow. But I contend that we should be more satisfied with making a difference. We have an important question to address: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

You can sign up for the Design Forum here, and register for the Introduction to Design Thinking here.

You are invited and you can invite anyone you want. Make new friends. Open the circle. Build a bridge.

Keep Going!

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IMG_3582We lack more than we have in some regards. But that doesn’t matter so much. We have what we need, and that is enough.

How many times along this journey have I held myself back because of the embryonic state of an idea or because of the absence of resources which were needed at that time or in the future? The whole journey has been like that, and getting to Osaka and back to Sydney is no different.

Planning for something in the future without the required resources in hand makes committing to action difficult. It is moving out onto a path where there is none. Hoping the ground appears before your feet. It is a pressure and a vulnerability that is not easily shared.

Do you know that feeling? Have you had that experience? It’s easy to feel a little sheepish when you are going without. When you are beginning. When everything is fragile and vulnerable.

But that is how it all begins. Yes, we were once just fragile, vulnerable embryos. Little and tiny. And we survived.

If you ever feel defeated or trumped, go back to the beginning and give thanks for a day you don’t remember. It’s brought you this far, no matter what the situation you find yourself in now. Keep going! Now is not the time to stop!


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Look inside...
Look inside…

Embryonic. It is defined as “of a system, idea, or organization) in a rudimentary stage with potential for development.”

The idea has been conceived. We have life, as it were. An embryo of thought, birthed of action and imagination.

This embryo now needs to be nurtured, fed, protected, strengthened.

Of course, it is not really an embryo. But it might as well be. If nothing else, it is a good metaphor through which to see the beginning of the Design Forum. It really is embryonic. That might be difficult to believe after tooling around with this idea since 2010, and spending the last three months of 2014 on the epic quest of the 10 City Bridge Run.

But yes, we have arrived at our destination: the Design Forum! And it is at the beginning! I especially think it is important to let this conversation develop organically. It is a real conversation, not a formal conference.

We are literally waiting to hear from you. I have my own thoughts about which way the conversation will be fashioned, but the wisdom of the crowd is far smarter than any one of us. It will be a journey that is as deliberate as it is serendipitous.

We do know what happens when an embryo grows. Granted, there is not a lot of room for serendipity there. But that is why the metaphor of an embryo is powerful.

Apparently when a butterfly transforms from a caterpillar inside its cocoon, it has what are called imaginal cells that transmutate and allow it to shape-shift. This strange alchemy of the imaginal cells is something which could also transform the Design Forum. Who amongst us can unlock the imaginal cells to morph into a spectacular butterfly-like recreation?

How radical will we let our ideas become? It could just be you we are waiting for. Let’s begin.

Sign up for the Design Forum here, and enrol in the free introduction to Human Centered Design made available through Acumen Fund/IDEO here.

Happenstance: Then There Were Ten

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With Ellie at Oxford in 2013
With Ellie at Oxford in 2013

It was when I was in Osaka last October after completing the fourth leg of the 10 City Bridge Run that I realised the plan had to change.

Up until that time, a singular Design Forum was scheduled for the end of the journey in Seoul. The fourth leg I referred to above was part of an epic quest running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 counties as a stunt to open a conversation asking “how might we use our networks to influence the delivery of child survival?”

It was a journey fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Getting it started was hard enough, but at that point in Osaka, now that I had began, I found that my capacity to engage effectively on the issue while running was limited. And I knew the conversation was huge. Enormous. Not impossible, but tremendously big.

imageI thought back to some of the earlier difficulties since I committed to the task in 2010. A crowdfunding effort commenced and fell slightly short of the sum required to pay for the round-the-world plane fare to undertake this epic quest which had been called the 10 City Bridge Run. Departure was delayed until sufficient funds were gathered, injuries followed, more delays, another crowdfunding attempt in 2012 which was successful but then thwarted with a badly torn calf muscle. Even though bad, those things were happenstance.

During this time, life continued on, winding and wending its way, day by hour by week by month by year. Time marches on and waits for no man, so says the idiom.

Many supporters remained a source of amazing encouragement. A “how’s it going?” here, a “have you been training much?” there. We underestimate the significant of the quiet word of encouragement like this. Those small things in effect became the resin I needed to stick to the task.

Then in 2013, happenstance brought a chance to recommit publicly while on a leadership forum focused on the Commonwealth. Not only an opportunity to renew this commitment, but a realisation of the importance the Commonwealth brings to this discussion. You can see my good friend Ellie encouraging me to put it out there in the photo above.

Look inside...
Look inside…

Happenstance. The insight which this blog refers to came one morning in Osaka in October 2014 while trying to once again figure out my schedule. I realised that time was a resource we needed to draw upon for this conversation. Not necessarily more time, but to take more time ourselves. It would take more than one meeting in Seoul. The afternoon of that insight, I was visiting the Osaka Innovation Hub. I had searched some places I wanted to meet with on the Internet, and other than that had little idea of who I was meeting.

Happenstance is the collision of preparedness with opportunity. Meeting with key staff in Osaka, I learnt of their HackOsaka being held on 10 February 2015. Right then, I knew that would be the start point for the Design Forum, and that there would need to be not one but ten conversations.

It will be a surreal feeling when the Design Forum in Osaka comes around next week. You are welcome to join us too. Go on, partner with us in this conversation. Create your own happenstance by turning up.

Question Everything, Even The Experts

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Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for sharing this provocative photo of inspiration!

2010 was the year an idea about challenging the action that was being taken to address child survival was conceived. The idea was bold, and from the beginning sought participation from others.

It was grounded in a plan to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

The reason for running 24 km was in response to the emphasis made by many organisations in 2010 promoting the 2008 figures of child death per day which had been released by UNICEF. The figure was 24,000 children dying on average daily. A wholly unacceptable figure, which has since been reduced by a third, and progress for the future shows signs of being promising.

I wasn’t an expert in the field, and it struck me that few were. Canvassing my friends about the importance of the issue showed the effectiveness of marketing campaigns from institutional aid agencies, but apart from that little more knowledge. I thought that in a networked age where communications and health infrastructure was better than ever, was there not more we could do to crowdsource and then implement some form of solution or positive intervention?

This was the point of the running stunt. I would run in 10 cities, simply to highlight the year 2010, and conclude with what I had loosely defined as a ‘Design Forum’ at the end to address the issue. There was no budget, no institutional backers. Just a mad Australian with a little bit of passion, who had been given legs by many friends each contributing a small amount through a makeshift crowdfunding campaign.

I took the idea to several institutional aid agencies and charities who had a vested interest in the idea. Would they partner, or was there somehow I could support their efforts? I wasn’t asking for money, and it just have been evident that perhaps lacked some experience in that sector. Their response, especially in hindsight having now completed that journey after much tribulation, was astounding. I was met with the same response, and that surprised me: “sorry, that is not consistent with our messaging”, “we can’t quite see how it ties in with our fundraising efforts”, and other such words that effectively closed their door to my invitation.

I was at a loss as how to respond to this response from the aid agencies that so effectively had appropriated the issue of child mortality. Was I mistaken, and maybe my ideas were ill-conceived and ridiculous?

Reflecting on their response, I remembered back to Boxing Day 2004 when a catastrophic tsunami would smash against Aceh and many other towns in the Asia Pacific. It was an unprecedented event. At the time, I was still serving as an Australian Army Officer and then had a responsibility for planning emerging operations across the region. From the moment the first phone call was received on Boxing Day afternoon and being probably the first person in Australia to hear about the incident, we spared no effort for the following weeks with literally no rest or respite so as to respond with critical support to assist the logistical, recovery and humanitarian needs which were many.

Aid agencies of every manner were part of what I describe as a third wave of tsunami after a second wave of tsunami crashed around the world as the general public awoke to the horror of what had happened. Many aid agencies were quick to adjust their messaging to receiving funding from an empathetic public.

A short while later, reports in Aceh were of degraded roads and bottle-necks from the inundation of traffic of aid agencies wanting to be the first organisation to be seen to arrive and distribute food and blankets. This hampered getting water and other critical supplies to remote areas. It would have made more sense for the aid agencies to coordinate their efforts in Kuala Lumpur and deploy as a collaborative effort without concern for which person from what organisation arrived first.

Now, a decade on, we look back on Aceh. There are questions about where some aid money ended up. Such questions are worth examining, but not too pointedly perhaps. The generosity that allowed the aid in the first place does deserve accountability, and that is a separate issue from that which is being raised in this post.

Child survival is an issue which has been strongly advocated for, from politicians such as Hilary Clinton to actors the like of Ben Aflick. All have spoken with the same staunch plea, demanding urgent attention, mirroring the words of Tony Lake the Executive Director of UNICEF who in 2012 rightly described child mortality as a “moral obscenity” and a “moral abomination”.

Earlier this year, we saw a very positive report from Bill and Melinda Gates in their Annual Letter which has taken a different approach to the ‘alarmist’ view of an appalling situation that has underpinned the messaging of institutional aid agencies to date. We have turned a corner. He future looks bright.

There is no better time to conduct the Design Forum for an issue like child survival. Just because the future is painted as a bright place to visit, it doesn’t mean the road is downhill from here. There is still a lot of work today, but through collaborating with those interventions that we know work and learning from interventions that have been less successful.

The Design Forum is a conversation that will last nine months and beyond. Is picks up a conversation which has started many decades prior. And everyone is welcome. I expect many people will watch to see how it unfolds, and then get involved once it takes shape closer to May. In the meantime, there is a lot of information out there, there are many people with first-rate experience to draw upon, there is a lot of data.

There is no ownership in this conversation. It is a collaboration. Part of that involves challenging and questioning that which has been said in the past. Even Bill and Melinda Gates’ aspiration should be challenged in order to understand it better. Theirs is a bet. I don’t propose we refute it, but we definitely should examine and scrutinise it rather than just accept everything because it is already on the interwebs. What better form of respect can we give reasoned thought than to challenge it with our own intellect, rather than just accept it blithely?

We are breaking new ground in a conversation that is long established. We give ourselves permission to question everything, even the experts.

Free Introduction To Human Centered Design!

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IMG_0454The commencement of the first Design Forum in Osaka 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’.
  4. 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.

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!

Let’s Begin: Osaka

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IMG_1864Starting 9 February 2015 is the first of 10 Design Forum. The reason we are doing this is to improve child survival.

It’s free, and you can join, no matter where you live. Here is the link.

More details will be written shortly. Sign up now to stay connected!

Anatomy of the Design Forum

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I have been wrestling with how to write about the Design Forum. The problem being that there is a lot to write about. Rather than post a 2000+ word blog which few might have the time or inclination to read, I will post as separate chapters, and then make a consolidated document once it is all down. After I post all of the information that I have to share about the Design Forum now, I will return here and add the links below this post to bookend the consolidated list should anyone go searching.

As always, I welcome your ideas.