Month: February 2015

Dear Bill and Melinda, It’s About The Fog That I Write To You

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Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank
Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank

Dear Bill and Melinda,

It’s about the fog that I write you you. Not the real fog, mind you, especially now that it is colder in the Northern Hemisphere. I know you are both busy, and need not be bothered by a trifling commentary about the weather.

Knowledge helps to lift the fog which prevents us from seeing clearly. I am particularly interested in knowledge based on the experience of others that will help improve child survival.

I applaud you both for your last two Annual Letters. The commentary and insights you provided about child survival is important. Would you please point us to five good books that might help us to know more about improving child survival?

I asked you for a recommendation of five good books in the video I recorded below in Glasgow on the Clyde River in late December last year just after I completed the eighth leg of an epic quest which I had called the 10 City Bridge Run. This involved running 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?”

This question of child survival will be addressed though a series of Design Forum, held in each of the cities where running took place. They begin today in Osaka, and conclude in Seoul in October. We will be exploring is question about child survival and doing what we can so that as a global community we achieve the bet you have made for the future. But we need your help.

Would you please list the five best books that have helped you both best understand child survival? We would love to read those books and also make sure others can too.

It would be great if you would join our journey by sharing with us your favourite list of five books that might help us understand child survival better. The best way to share these would be by Twitter through my address at @socialalchemy.

Thanks for your help!

Matt Jones, writing from Osaka

Osaka: Start At The Beginning

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imageToday begins a new journey as the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run formerly commences. By way of introduction and explanation, this is a welcome note to many, and also an apology of sorts for possibly failing expectations, as we embark on this epic quest.

The Design Forum follows behind the 10 City Bridge Run, a running stunt that wove a narrative through 10 cities where the discussion will take place.

We have to go back to the beginning to understand where we are now. The 10 City Bridge Run was in response to an alarming rate of child mortality painted by large, institutional aid agencies. In 2010, much publicity was given to highlighting the 2008 daily rate of child survival: an average of 24,000 child deaths per day calculated by UNICEF. Considerable money and attention was given to highlighting this figure. I thought that we should instead be asking what we could do going forwards rather than be too caught up in educating a figure from the past. So the 24K formed a figure which framed a distance I then decided to run in 10 cities as a stunt that would culminate in a central Design Forum.

It was an ambitious journey. Epic. Impossible. Impossible because I made these plans with none of the resources at hand.

Friends and family responded by contributing, crowdfunding an amount to start the journey. The deficit fell on myself which has not been insignificant.

In early January this year, after a prolonged and difficult journey, the 10 City Bridge Run was completed in the cold rain on a dark night in Manhattan.

Many friends have said that media was key. Why didn’t I have more media? Why didn’t I have any media support for that matter? And they are right. Partly, the reason for not pressing ‘send’ on documents to the media is because it was just me doing this journey. Yes, me. For all of my failings. I admit fearing the thought of standing before the media, injured, unfit, lacking resources, with no certainty except for a foolish Quixiotic quest to drive me forward. Understandably, the media would want to know the plan, not just the dream. And there was a plan, but unfunded. I couldn’t say with any certainty what would come next even within days before the event because of a lack of resources.

Along the journey, out of necessity I chose homelessness over accommodation in many cities. To abstain from meals rather than to eat. There was no money for such things. And that made speaking with media all the more difficult. The rawness of the journey, the fraught nature of this quest is what has made it epic, but they are also circumstances that scare people. Their natural response is to tell you to stop.

Even getting to Osaka has been part of that narrative. I could point to a date on a calendar easily enough, but how to organise something without resources? I’m now not so sure if that is difficult, or foolish, or both.

The Design Forum began today because it was a date that ensured I was in Osaka ahead of HackOsaka tomorrow. A gathering of innovators and entrepreneurs to look at applications of the Internet of Things (IoT). When I first met the Director for this gathering after I ran in Osaka last October, it seemed to be a clear and definable line in the sand to start a series of Desig. forum. I used the expression “to convene a ‘Part B’ to HackOsaka” during that conversation, although it wasn’t clear to him what I meant exactly, partly because of language and partly because of lack of resources that I was reluctant to share a plan that was closer to a dream than to reality.

Before we get too far into a conversation talking about child survival, I think it is first important to ask how are we to ‘Design the Design Forum’. The Osaka gathering is in a foreign language to my own, set in a foreign culture, and format (hackathon) that I had a hunch might best be used to discuss the issue of child survival. A hackathon is a preferred format to a traditional conference setting involving a plenary which leans on the panel of experts to frame the conversation. I loved how Bono referred to that type of plenary at Davos in 2012 by saying, in a conversation about child mortality, “we don’t need another talking shop”.

Additionally, today’s date is important because it is the start of a free, seven-week, online course hosted by Acumen Fund and IDEO called an Introduction to Human Centred Design. A free course about Design Thinking. That date for the course was a coincidence, but very welcome, and it is that course along with the Hackathon tomorrow here in Osaka which defines this first Design Forum beginning in Osaka.

The HackOsaka event won’t be discussing child survival, but will be an opportunity to ask questions about conducting an event. Not just questions of the organisers, but amongst ourselves. I intend to conduct a straw poll of people who are attending about child survival, but only in as much as to find a baseline of where the current ‘person on the street’ conversation is found.

The seven weeks concludes close to the entry date for the 2015 Fuller Challenge, and the culmination of this Design Forum will both be framing a plan for the future as well as making a submission to the Fuller Challenge. The Fuller Challenge is inspired by the life and work of Buckminster Fuller.

In the meantime, I have been wrestling with Google Hangouts which I can’t get the Hang Of so that I might provide an overview of the journey to date. That too is perhaps an auspicious start to the begin of this new epic quest. Auspicious and not ominous. Auspicious because it highlights that there are many things we don’t know. I can’t just dismiss the problem by say “I’ll do it on an Google Hangout”. I have to really know how to do it, which serves as an allegory for our journey to improve child survival.

Why this is relevant is not because it highlights my own failings, but because it is a question I asked a number of people in an open ended way about six-months ago where I indentified that the most immediate challenge to be solved was working on a framework for collaborative exchange. I actually think that Google Hangout is close to the solution to that question, except for the fact that it can’t be accessed in China. By identifying that there was never a response to that earlier question six months ago, it is not blaming the earlier conversation, but addresses the fact that to resolve issues we need to have intentional commitment to a solution. Which brings us back to the Design Forum.

Another reason for the Design Forum, and approaching it methodically through Design Thinking is that it helps to engage unspoken and undiscussible assumptions and opinions about child survival. In a Facebook exchange yesterday, two friends shared informed view of funding about which organisations are best, and also by contrast which are less effective, for improving child survival. It is a welcome contribution, but this conversation is less about funding and more about our most precious and under-utilised resource: each other. Our networks are our most under-utilised resources, especially when it comes to solving problems. Our networks are fuelled by passion and imagination, not money.

There are some less conventional part to this Design Forum. One such example is using our networks to strengthen a petition (both in wording and in numbers) which is addressed to Australia’s Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, requesting her to be the official Champion for the Design Forum (which will point to the culmination of this conversation at the final event in Seoul this October). Another example is a request to Bill and Melinda Gates to suggest a reading list for us to read right now. There is no time for delay. This is not a nice to have.

If you disapprove about anything relating to the Design Forum, that’s fine, but let us know why. This is a conversation. We needn’t agree with everyone on everything all the time. Share your perspective, and as loudly as you would like, but please remember your manners too. We need your voice, and I for one know that I am not always right.

Thank you. Thank you for being part of this journey, even if it is just through the reading of this blog. We really need you to be part of this journey for the Design Forum to ask an important question asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” Bring your imagination, your enthusiasm, your criticism, your passion. But please do join us. This is an important question to address, and I suggest that the point of Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter this year which pointed to a reduction of child mortality over the next 15 years was to inspire action, not just Facebook Likes. Welcome to the conversation.

And with that, I am delighted to announce that this epic series of Design Forum has now commenced!

Some links:

Design Thinking course. Join here or leave a message below. https://novoed.com/hcd-acumen

Petition for Julie Bishop. https://www.change.org/p/the-hon-julie-bishop-mp-champion-the-global-series-of-design-forum-to-improve-child-survival

Question for Bill and Melinda Gates (and yes, you can forward this blog as well). http://youtu.be/tkrUlCm9GFs

Connect ideas, don’t protect them. Build bridges to a better future.

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Earlier this evening, my good mate Campbell reminded me of the centrality of the cafe to collaboration. Many have seen this TED Talk, but worth watching again. This post is interesting both because it sheds some light into the earlier effort that went into establishing the 10 City Bridge Run, but also now that the epic running journey has concluded it points us towards the importance of that informality of conversation found in cafes as we set about designing the Design Forum.
What are your thrust about collaboration?

Building Bridges

Playing cards in a coffeehouse, Damascus. Sour...

This morning at Sydney Coffee Mornings meeting at Single Origin, my mate Gregg was talking about seeing ideas as networks echoing a TED Talk. That this conversation was in a cafe was not a coincidence, but only exemplified what the talk was about. Watch Steve Johnson present this TED Talk here:

Steve talks about metaphor. Coffee houses providing the incubation place for an idea.

He cautions that a lot of ideas have a slow incubation period. The falacy of the ‘Eureka!’ moment. The long hunch, as he describes it. Steve asks:

How do we allow hunches to connect with other hunches?

Another metaphor I am exploring through the 10 City Bridge Run is that of a bridge. How might we design a bridge to incubate the ideas that make a difference to extreme poverty?

Soon I start running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside…

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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!