Beneath the surface are seeds of possibility

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"The" Sir Ken Robinson
“The” Sir Ken Robinson (Photo credit: TimWilson)

Another inspiring talk from Sir Ken Robinson through TED, again calling for a revolution in education delivery.

At first glance, education might seem to have little to do with child survival, and in the context of this talk that is largely true. However, towards the end of the talk, he speaks about the role of culture and leadership for creating change. Inspiring stuff, and lessons we can use in other areas and not only in changing education. Great presentation technique. I don’t think he took one step in all 19 minutes of speaking. No powerpoint. Just the appeal of personality and persuasion through reasoned argument.

Here is the first thing that struck me, talking about the role of culture to influence opportunity:

(Paraphrased) The culture is absolutely essential…Right near the surface are seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions come about in order to spring to life…. Not ‘Command and Control’, but the real role of leadership is ‘Climate Control’. Creating a climate of possibility.

The second point to note was about leadership:

Benjamin Franklin said there are three sorts of people in the world: there are people who are unmovable…, people who are movable…, and there are people who move.

This is what we need for a revolution. Move leaders who move.


Can design change the world?

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Project H Design
Emily Pilloton: Founder of Project H Design

Emily Pilloton from Project H argues that used correctly, design process can let appropriate solutions emerge from within in this TED Talk. Having design in your toolkit brings a fresh perspective.

But what does that actually mean? It is much easier to just throw these terms around than give them meaning. Pilloton refers to ‘design as learning’, and working locally to create a catalyst for a more connected global community.

In my own reflections this week of what I am trying to achieve through the 10 City Bridge Run I have found this helpful and challenging. I am carrying a small injury from overtraining, I have already delayed the start six times across the last two months, I am not convinced that I have fully developed the idea or conversation that this initiative is about. Should I just start in the hope that a solution magically emerges?

If I consider these ‘false-starts’ as prototypes and game-play to understand new perspectives, and every conversation as an opportunity to build partnerships and concepts that might work how might that strengthen this as a project?

Pilloton argues that design is process of constant education, where we need to reinvent ourselves, to re-educate ourselves around the things that matter. “Working outside of our comfort zones more” for me might mean to let go of a schedule and perceived control to imagine a new future co-created for a better learning landscape.

Just buzz words? I think Pilloton is right when she speaks about the power of the small story.

A step in the right direction.

Soft Power: Good news for the ‘war on poverty’?

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Unconventional warfare (United States Departme...
Getting what you want.

People often refer to a ‘war on poverty’. I thought it would be interesting to see what expert historian and diplomat Joseph Nye would have to say about this perspective. I used this TED Talk as a reference.

One of the big ideas Nye has been writing about is a concept of ‘soft power’. This is relevant to the purpose of the 10 City Bridge Run- “to raise awareness of an individual’s capacity to act to influence extreme poverty.”

Nye argues that the stage is crowded- the State is no longer at the centre of the action. Non-government actors now have great influence. Often, this argument is used referring to terrorism and asymmetrical warfare, or maybe more appropriately the power of the media. Why shouldn’t it also refer to citizen-led movements, that is the collective action of individuals collectively acting for the same purpose?

Power, Nye argues, is the ability to influence others in order to get what you want. ‘Soft Power‘ is an expression he has coined to describe getting other people to want what you want so that there is no need for coercion or payment.

Nye argues that we need a new narrative. It is now a situation of whose story wins is what matters. Working together and in cooperation is the key to exercising soft power.

Power need not describe a zero-sum game, but can lead to a positive gain for everyone. We have to move to an ‘assurance game’ over the ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’. This is what a citizen-led movement should strive to achieve. In fact, for a peaceful outcome it is the only real sustainable alternative. It is a question of a Power Shift- we must work with other non-government actors and those who exercise hard power. It is a journey we can’t take on our own.

Complexity and Simplicity: Avoiding the ‘Too Simple’

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Alan C. Kay
Image via Wikipedia

The problem with ‘poverty porn’ is not that it is actually ‘porn’. If that were the case it would be the most appalling failure of care meaning that aid agencies would be distributing inappropriate pictures of the vulnerable in order to pull heart-strings to make money.

So what is the problem with ‘poverty porn’? I think Alan Kay, with his brilliant scientific mind, presents this idea clearly in this TED Talk A Powerful Idea About Teaching Ideas. He is not talking about poverty, he is talking about how we might better educate young minds.

When we reduce the complex to an over-simplified explanation it is just as unhelpful as making it unnecessarily over-complex. Much of the discourse of reduction of extreme poverty has been reduced to sound bites that make a good pitch for fund raising events. Einstein said:

Things should be a simple as possible, but not simpler.

Thinking like a child is an important skill that Kay presents as benefitting understanding. Creating a pictorial petition through the 10 City Bridge Run of 24,000 images using the human bridges people themselves capture on photograph is an attempt to present our ability to intervene into poverty into a pragmatic and meaningful form. Please join us on this journey.

Children are the future we send to the future… Children need mentors.

Think Big!

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Tim Brown from IDEO presents a new approach to design thinking in this TED Talk. He argues that through design, we can and should now be addressing new kinds of problems, not just ‘things’.

Brown suggests that we are moving away from a primary objective of consumption, and toward participation. The design of a participatory system is at the heart of the 10 City Bridge Run. Difficult in some ways because it is more an emergent and self-selecting involvement. How might we use this opportunity, this short space of time, to model what is needed to address extreme poverty? Of course, already there is a lot of great activity out there- Buckminster Fuller and Acumen are two examples that readily spring to mind.

Brown says there are a couple of characteristics which ought to shape how we view design thinking, and these also why ‘human bridges’ are an important device in shaping how the 10 City Bridge Run is defined:

  • Design is human centred.
  • It requires an understanding of culture and context.
  • Prototypes are important. We should build in order to think.
  • We need to take a divergent approach leading to new choices.

Since commencing this project, the start of the run has been delayed six times for different reasons. At first, I was a little embarrassed because of the delays, and still would have preferred to have started earlier, but when I look at them less as failures and more as prototypes it strengthens what the 10 City Bridge Run is about.

The big characteristic which Brown suggests is important is asking what is the question we want to address. This might appear self-evident, but is actually an important reason to pause and reflect.

Design: Connecting to People

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Image representing Ze Frank as depicted in Cru...
Ze Frank

Ze Frank illustrates his sense of play and how he uses the “interwebs” to connect to people in this TED Talk. At its core, I think this is a design challenge. The ideas might appear spontaneous, but I think there is some craft or thought which is behind it all.

It takes people to connect to people. Watch the audiences enjoyment of watching the performance from Ze Frank. The art Ze Frank produces is first online with people connecting with people. It is wonderful that he can then connect this directly with people through this presentation.

What I really like is that is goes from the seemingly without function (dressing up vacuum cleaners) to addressing real human needs (reconciliation, love, support). Genius.

There are circumstances that must shatter you

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Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank

My friend Cori passed on this quote from Leon Wieseltier about a year ago. I liked it and keep in close by in a journal:

There are circumstances that must shatter you; and if you are not shattered, then you have not understood your circumstances. In such circumstances, it is a failure for your heart not to break. And it is pointless to put up a fight, for a fight will blind you to the opportunity that has been presented by your misfortune. Do you wish to persevere pridefully in the old life? Of course you do: the old life was a good life. But it is no longer available to you. It has been carried away, irreversibly. So there is only one thing to be done. Transformation must be met with transformation. Where there was the old life, let there be new life. Do not persevere. Dignify the shock. Sink, so as to rise.

It is blunt, and maybe not the message we want to hear. Sometimes there is no hiding from the roller-coaster that life invites us to ride.

In this TED Talk, Stacey Kramer gives her own experience about an encounter with unwelcome news. It is a short talk at 3:18. Stop and take time to watch this and think about your month ahead.

The next time you are faced with something that is unexpected, unwanted and uncertain, consider that it might just be a gift.

In my next post I will introduce my nephew Xander. A sobering reflection on taking a romantic view about the difficulties we face.

We are so incredibly lucky to be able to reflect about these thoughts from our comfortable surroundings of the West. Might someone in extreme poverty just think that this is all self-indulgent clap-trap?

Design for Generosity

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Cover of "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity a...

Clay Shirky returns to the blog with another inspiring TED Talk titled: How cognitive surplus will change the world.

It is a good talk to use as a practical extension of Suzuki’s talk at the Sydney Opera House last night. The perfect mash-up: Shirky v Suzuki!

Shirky unfolds his argument like this:

  • Institutions are inherently exclusionary.
  • We corporately as humans have trillions of hours of spare time each year.
  • He calls this our “cognitive surplus”.
  • We live in a connected age with technology that allows this to be harnessed.
  • How might this be used to design for generosity with communal benefit?
  • Can this add to civic value and by doing so create a better society?

I think it can. This is how the 10 City Bridge Run is designed- a methodology around crowdsourcing to influence extreme poverty.

Please help us to build bridges to a better future. What would that look like for you?

How do groups get anything done?

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Clay Shirky
Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky outlines a framework for crowdsourcing in this TED Talk. This is explaining the how we can think differently about addressing the problems that come from coordinating work.

During the time I am running in the 10 City Bridge Run (10 runs of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside of one month) the real work is the collection of 24,000 photographs of human bridges. 24,000 is reflective of the number of children under the age of five who die daily.

This is a coordination problem with no institution to frame the work. Here are some of the challenges. How can we design or engineer this to work:

  • It needs to be free.
  • It needs to be at no cost.
  • Anyone can contribute from any country, any culture, any language.
  • People need to understand what defines a ‘human bridge’ (…I hear you ask: ok, so what is a ‘human bridge’ exactly?!)
  • The photographs need to have integrity as a group for use as a pictorial petition to present to the leaders of all G20 members once they have been collected and curated.
  • The photographs will subsequently be collated into a book with a working title of “Above the Line” as a educational tool of what might be possible for us as individual’s collectively to do to influence extreme poverty.

At first, it sounds simple enough to just dismiss this problem as “Use Flickr”. I think that Flickr will be the best platform, but how is that best achieved with the right tagging so that these photographs are not confused with others (with similar matching works in their tag).

This is not just some abstract musings. It is a real problem. And I am asking for your help. Help me to design or engineer this so that together we can make a difference.

The democratisation of philanthropy

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Peggy Bacon in mid-air backflip, Bondi Beach, ...
A new way of seeing

Katherine Fulton speaks from the heart in this inspiring TED Talk about re-perceiving philanthropy. I heard Katherine speak in San Francisco in 2008 and she was just as inspiring.

Is there “a wrong side of philanthropy?” Is it time to reinvent as the global philanthropy industry emerges?

Philanthropy is not just about money. It is also about time and talent. The democratisation of philanthropy is about what all of us will contribute to the future of philanthropy. We are all capable of making a contribution- how much money we have is immaterial. This is why I find the term “High Net Worth Individual” which is used by many large ‘philanthropic’ organisations so offensive.

Aggregated giving and mass collaboration will shape the future in philanthropy. What assumptions do we make presently that inhibits our ability for innovation?

This is not thinking our way into a new way of acting. Rather, it is acting our way into a new way of thinking.

Last night at the Sydney Opera House I was fortunate to hear David Suzuki speak about his recent work “Legacy” which was evidence of an emergence of a new moral hunger.

We stand at a new frontier to make a difference through our contributions. To reinvent what we understand of ‘philanthropy’ and ‘charity’ we need a new generation of citizen leaders to make this change. It is a question about hope.

What is the story that will be your legacy?