Design Forum

Update on Design Forum

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imageThe principle reason for conducting the 10 City Bridge Run was to shape a conversation to improve the delivery of child survival with a locus at a Design Forum, or series of Design Forums.

In many respects, this is an absurd goal. What part of arrogance, hubris or just plain stupidity leads me to think that an initiative began from an idea about running could actually make a difference?

From an alternate perspective, is it also worth asking whether we are content to live inconsequential lives obscured by the dull light of mediocrity? There is nothing wrong with ordinary, after all it is the canvas upon which the extraordinary is painted.

I believe that it is worth going for game changing goals that show some glimmer of making a significant difference for good, even if how that might be achieved is not readily apparent.

Perhaps my biggest mistake to date has been trying to rush things. I should have been more patient with what I seeking to achieve, and to be more focused on a single objective rather than trying to boil the ocean in a single afternoon. While I might receive extra points for effort, the results have been unimpressive.

It was good to visit the Dongdaemun Design Plaza before I left Seoul, and confirm that I would be able to conduct a gathering on 24 October to launch the book Beyond The Backswing and point to the execution of the Design Forum that are yet to occur. On 24 October, the event will be informal, and best to include people who are already in Seoul. I wouldn’t advise people to fly in to Seoul for the event, but it will be possible to open participation through online streaming somehow.

It would be an informal gathering to look ahead to a time in 2017 when a more deliberately planned Design Forum might be held in Seoul and possibly other locations as well.

The advantage of turning my attention to the needs of improved mental health among veterans is that it helps to frame what works with an issue that I am familiar with, before tackling with more vigour a large and more complex issue of child survival. The other point to note is that this needs to be approached with a view to achieving collective action which is more about the group than the individual.

There is a date to prepare for, and in the meantime the book Life Bridge can begin to be assembled. It is slow movement forward, but a necessary pace. As always, I’m looking for good ideas and guidance as to how to do this better. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.

Checking In

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IMG_4100It’s been a while. It’s been a while since I last posted. I didn’t check, but maybe it was back in February when I last posted. That’s a while between then and now. But since then, I have been thinking a lot about you, our supporters, and also our mission here which is to ask a question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?”

And it’s also been a while since I first put this idea out there on this website back in 2010. I remember that day well. It was in August, and my friend Kelley was visiting from the US. She patiently sat and listened while I explained my doubts, and after I had finished talking she told me bluntly in her best Bostonian-New York style to just do it already.

Many of you will know how the journey has progressed. I commenced a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries last September in Port Moresby and then finished the running in New York in early January this year on a cold, dark and wet night. That stunt frames the question we are going to be asking in order to help improve child survival through a series of Design Forum.

There are still a lot of uncertainties as to how the future will play out, but we are forming a good foundation to engage on this question. The hard work comes now: it is ahead of us, and I want you to be part of that journey. How that will play itself out, as well as an explanation for my recent delay, will follow in the coming days and weeks, but for now I have posted a video to check in with our supporters and let you know we are still well and truly in the game.

The video was in Luoyang, Henan Province in China. I refreshed while away, and am coming back stronger. Thanks for being part of the team. Let’s get to work.

ReThinking The Design Forum

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IMG_3803In 2010 I had an idea to do something that would both address child survival, and at the same time show the capacity we have together for collaboration, even if the beginning of our efforts is an individual act of decision.

The plan was to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, and at the end convene a Design Forum to somehow find ways to impact the issue.

Four years passed until I was able to commence in 2014, during which time there was frustration to be found in spades, hopes dashed, thwarting by circumstances such as injury and access to resources.

Then in mid-September 2014 I commenced the journey. It was prudent not to have commenced before then, despite the misgivings this might have created in the minds of other people. I didn’t have the resources to complete the journey, and if I had began it would have been a disaster for me personally.

Long story short, I completed the running journey late on a cold, dark and wet night in early January in New York. The running was always a stunt to frame the Design Forum. In the meantime, what I learnt was that I still needed more time to prepare for this conversation.

The running at took place at the end of last year informed the conduct of the Design Forum. Doors were opened, I saw many places, experiences shaped my thinking. It was a personal journey that was extremely instructive. And now it is time to turn attention to the Design Forum.

The Design Forum have actually commenced already. It is a series of 10 events that will occur in each of e cities where running took place to open a conversation, and this conversation will be extended into other places through the participation of others. The first Design Forum was in Osaka, and that is being extended presently by a number of teams of great people with whom I am engaged in a process of examine Human Centred Design through an introductory course from IDEO/Acumen Fund.

Until last night, I had a plan to commence the remaining Design Forums as early as next month in Port Moresby, with others following in May. If I learnt anything from my running it was that action is important now, but that good preparation beforehand will ensure that action has impact. I have been ReThinking the Design Forum as I plan out my year ahead, and now recognise that there is some personal maintenance issues I need to attend to called ‘working to earn some money’ before I can suitably commit my time and energy more fully to convening the Design Forum. Besides which, to conduct them right now would be a financial stretch. It doesn’t mean not possible, but perhaps in the immediate sense, not prudent right now.

The good news is that this gives more time for preparation. And the second (next Design Forum) is likely to be held in early August in Port Moresby. That might seem like a long time away, but there is a lot to organise before then and the time will pass quickly. Following Port Moresby, the remaining eight Design Forum will occur to conclude in Seoul towards the end of October. It will be a pretty intense period, but will also frame a particular window of activity inside of which many people can engage to help us address this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

We are making progress, maybe not immediately like some people might expect, but we are getting there. Come August, I would expect a few other things to have been addressed to:

  • Engaging with media
  • Making it clear how people can get involved in the Design Forum
  • Building a robust team to help with the conduct of the Design Forum
  • More fully engaging with an inspiring community of practitioners who are already involved to help improve child survival
  • Building support for a petition to go to Australia’s Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP asking her to be the Official Champion for the final Design Forum to be held in Seoul
  • Completing the book Life Bridge which people’s earlier contributions have helped fund as a way to enable to conduct of this epic journey. I anticipate the book might be completed and handed over to the designers/publishers in late June, aiming to have it ready for distribution after publishing by early August. That is an ambitious timeline, but also achievable.

There is always merit in ReThinking your position, not to change your mind every five minutes, but through a process of iteration to come up with a better and more workable solution.

With your help, together we can engage in these series of Design Forum and work to improve the delivery of child survival.

Details about how you can engage coming soon!

On Becoming An Artist, Part 2

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“Order To Disorder” by Matthew Courtney

“All it takes to become an artist is to start doing art.” 

With these understated and at the same time profound words, my friend Dr Ellen Langer began her 2005 book ‘On Becoming An Artist”. It is an instructive and inspiring book I have read through cover to cover about four or five times now. Dog-eared and underscored, this book provides a reflective conversation that lives up to its subtitle: “Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity.”

I first met Ellen in Toronto back in 2007 when attending a conference at Rotman Business School. Roger Martin who I knew from attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship had invited me to participate in a conference he was convening about thinking. I knew there were great thinkers in Toronto before I arrived for that conference, but it was when I was attending I saw how alive that city is with fresh thinking, design and creativity. It was for that reason I decided to run there during the 10 City Bridge Run, and especially why it will be included as part of the Design Forums that will follow later this year.

Ellen is a big thinker, but not your usual academic or thought leader. She is an elegant woman who would seem to be more at home at Largerfield’s next Chanel showing in Paris, but she is just at home with big ideas and the opportunity to ask you to stretch your mind more. I was fortunate to spend time with her again in Melbourne in 2011 at the Australian Davos Connection ‘Future Summit’ which I am alumnus to.

She is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and is qualified to speak on matters concerning the mind. The book is a case study of her own experience from picking up paint brushes through Untaught Art and becoming an artist. She uses the writing to paint metaphorically a discussion beyond her earlier writing about how rampant and costly living a life mindlessly can be, to address how mindful creativity enriches and enhances your life.

Re-reading the book now, I find at this is our intention as we set about the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We will together tap into a process of engagement that will enrich our own lives, and through doing so we will be helping to literally save the lives of millions of people over the coming decades as part of a broader collective effort.

The photo is from a friend in New York, Matthew Courtney. He too is an artist with a colourful past I know little about. He lives in Brooklyn, and travels into SoHo to sell painting and drawings he has made. Most people are too busy to stop and look or to talk. Much like existing conversations that sometimes overlook dysfunction in making change happen in child survival, Matthew experiences a phenomenon that Ellen writes about observing people and critics flocking to “official art” with excessive emphasis on evaluation. Ellen writes:

“People don’t give up their current preferences or ideas easily.”

These are big ideas Ellen is playing with. It is not suggesting you throw away your bible, figuratively or literally, and I for one would encourage you to hold onto your values and beliefs. But importantly, learn to look anew, see with fresh eyes, and think again. This is the process we will embrace during the Design Forum. Please join us on this journey!

Human Junk

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imageReturning to Osaka, it was like coming back to visit an old friend. That’s the effect of running around a city. Long distance runners will know the feeling. The city opens up its secrets. Back streets and observations of life that pass the ordinary visitor. Osaka is a lovely city, with lovely people, a proud history and natural beauty.

It was with this in mind that I wondered what to make of the small community of people who I gathered with on Sunday morning after arriving on Saturday evening. Inside an austere hall, they greeted me warmly as I arrived. I hadn’t met them before, and someone might have been excused for thinking that there was nothing at all special about their very-ordinariness at first glance. How might they be described by others? Lonely misfits, trash, human junk, cripples. Not world beaters.

But within a few minutes, I saw a different side to them all. Warm, friendly, generous, talented. Not trash. Not junk. Gifted.

And while I had experienced the friendliness of the city on my previous visit when I ran in Osaka last October, this community showed me a hospitality I previously hadn’t recognised here.

To write anyone off as junk is more than unkind. Similarly, to think that to solve important social problems is only for those with a certain talent or income is equally as wrong. Bill and Melinda Gates have become poster idols for making change happen, but they are not unlike you or I. We are all human, and we all have the same capacity to care. Money has little to do with the equation. It is a question of commitment.

Who is invited to the Design Forum? Only the beautiful people? Just innovators, thought leaders, and forget the rest? No, there is no qualifying credentials required. Everyone is welcome.

The Design Forum is an ambitious journey of its own. It is the destination of the 10 City Bridge Run, and defines a conversation asking an important question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Drop in at anytime. Please bring your manners. And your imagination.

The conversation is about child survival. That is keeping children alive and flourishing past their fifth birthday. UNICEF calculates there are over 16,000 children under the age of five every day, and a high percentage those deaths occur within the first 48 hours. And we really have to ask ourselves: do these deaths really matter? Can we really be concerned? Or are these babies are just human junk and trash?

Do we care enough to act? I’m not talking about a donation to UNICEF or any other aid agency. Can we really take action to make a difference? Can you? Will you?

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.

Map Check: preamble to the Design Forum

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IMG_1461The 10 City Bridge Run Design Forum is a series of 10 events that will be convened in the 10 cities where running took place during the 10 City Bridge Run. The entire focus of the Design Forum is to address the central question to the 10 City Bridge Run which asks: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Making decisions, and working out how to collaborate are two key tasks which we will need to work out how to do together. There are some obvious difficulties with that: we are in different time zones, we are not in the same location, not all of us speak the same language, access and ability to use technology is not evenly distributed. But we all share one trump card that can help us overcome any challenge: our imagination is the freely available resource that will make this possible.

Success will really come down to imagination. Imagination will drive the solutions to challenges of communication, collaboration, decision making. Resource issues, access to people, gaining information and knowledge are practical challenges and very real, but will also be overcome through imagination.

How to communicate and collaborate, and the platforms we might adopt to best enable this, remains the biggest immediate question to answer.

It is not simple, but it is possible.

At the conception of this idea back in 2010, it was an impossibility at that time. Now we are closer to making it happen. And if we can come this far, how much more can we achieve that we don’t know is possible from where we stand now?

This post provides some preliminary thoughts to a framework for the Design Forum which follows in the next post. This post is like a map which we can refer to. But what is important is that we don’t confuse the map for the territory. The plan will be amended and change. Ideas will emerge that are more expansive than we know now.

There will be 10 Design Forums. Well, there may in fact be more should people take the initiative to organise their own in a location other than the 10 key locations which this post relates to. The structure and conduct of each Design Forum can be, and possibly should be, distinct from those which precede it. The length of time (in days and hours) for each Design Forum is almost unimportant. We will need ‘enough time’ to do what we need to do, and this will depend on having clarity on a desired outcome at each step of the way.

The Design Forum are a conversation. Anyone can join, at anytime. We all have busy schedules, and so it is completely expected that people might drop in and out of the conversation. It is across a duration of nine months, and many personal events will take place in that time, some good and some less so. As a community, it is reasonable to expect that we can celebrate and if needed to commiserate  in the news of others. The focus is child survival, but it is also a very human experience, and we should acknowledge that too.

During the Design Forum, we will look elsewhere to learn and to model what has worked and what hasn’t worked. While the subject is ‘child survival’, examining what happens in other disciplines will also be important. Inspiration might be found in unexpected places.

Before describing the framework for the Design Forum, I want to note two unfinished or unanswered items of business to date:

  • A petition has been made for submission to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, the Australian Foreign Minister, to act as the official Champion for the Design Forum. That petition stands and will be accompany the conduct of the Design Forum, and be reframed to request her to be the official Champion for the final Design Forum in Seoul towards the end of October. Regardless of events that may or not unfold in the coming weeks in Australia, she will remain the person who the petition is addressed. You can read (and share and sign!) the petition in its current draft here.
  • A video request has been submitted to Bill and Melinda Gates asking them to recommend a reading list of five books that might help to frame the issue of child survival. Even with the release of their recent Annual Letter, this has merit as Bill and Melinda Gates are two individuals who through their advocacy on this issue have developed a good degree of knowledge that deserves to be more widely shared through a reading list. As far as I know at the moment, this remains an unanswered request. I do think that more could have been done to make sure the video reaches them personally, and shortly I will write directly to them with a letter asking for their consideration. You can see the video here.

The biggest failing in my performance to date is my inability to engage media. There are many reasons for that and some of them relating to computer access or the serviceability of equipment, but it is worth noting that this is something I haven’t done very well. Based on that observation, it is a fair expectation that it will remain an area which I am not well suited to managing as we move forward.

I hope you might see from reading this post that this is a big task. Even before we get to talking about the Design Forum as a series of individual events, we can identify discrete tasks that perhaps can be better shared and managed across our team. How we organise ourselves for that is a task in itself, and let’s start to leverage our collective strength by each taking up a small piece of the strain so the effort is less for all as we put our shoulders to the wheel.