It’s been a while.
How many times have I begun a post like this here? Many. Too many? Hard to say, except one thing I do know is that progress matters, no matter how slow.
There is a case for speed, and not going too slow. The problem being addressed through this project is time sensitive, in as much as delays result in opportunities lost. The stake that is on the line is the wellbeing and lives of many people who live life unseen in poverty.
And that is the balance. Too hasty, and there will be an outcome, but maybe without impact. Too slow, and it results in a perfect solution, although too late. Paraphrasing General Patton:
A good plan now is better than a perfect plan hatched from within the walls of a prisoner of war camp.
This project is about an idea hatched in 2010. It led to the completion of an epic quest at the beginning of 2015. What remains is the publication of a book to help frame a ‘Design Forum’ to discuss this issue about child survival with the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Most of those delays have been my responsibility, and largely related to my ability to extend myself because of resources at hand. Some might say, including myself, that it indicates a failure of imagination not to proceed, but there is also a need for pragmatism and balanced risk. Things don’t always work out. Sometimes we need to constrain ourselves waiting for a better day.
The important thing is that progress is being made. As if within a cocoon, most of that progress is unseen by others. That metaphor is useful, and I really need to turn the inside out in order to make a difference.
Here is what I have to report on as of now:
The book which was to underpin the journey already completed through pre-sales is in the process of being written. The book, Life Bridge, is a photo essay and will feature 24 artists each with a contribution on the theme human bridge. I expect that these artists will all come from Korea, for no other reason than there is a particular aesthetic towards the collective and design which is interesting from Korea. Seeing a broad range of contributions will also be easier to compare and contrast if generated from a similar background. From the perspective of addressing poverty Korea is also an interesting case study. It is a country which has overcome the wreckage of war, and while now by no means perfect, does give some clues to how best to proceed with progress.
The Design Forum will take place in May 2018. Before that can be organised, there is some preliminary work that is required. More on that soon.
Today is the anniversary of the Armistice signed in 1953 which brought to a temporary cessation hostilities on the Korean peninsula. That too was progress, but also unfinished business.
In the meantime, I’ll begin to blog more frequently on a daily basis and get this back on track.
For all those who have supported this effort to date, thank you.
Inge inadvertently enabled something worthy out of utterly tragic circumstances.
There are many people who have impact in our lives. Inge was one of these people in my life.
Her influence was modest, and she was only ever a friendly face in the crowd, but someone who would always take the time to make sure I felt welcomed.
It is worth us all reflecting that in moments of hopelessness, that our impact extends far beyond what we might ever know.
She protected me from a ferocious social setting, and the nastiness of convention. An unparalleled kindness, and a trait that was celebrated too often after the fact.
Let’s be mindful of the support others bring in our lives while we can express it directly to them.
A great Australian once exhorted a group assembled in Kalgoorlie of which I was also a part to “never, ever give up” in our pursuit of realising the justices that are warranted across society. By his own example, he has demonstrated this fact, and his words have echoed as inspiration through the lives of many more since then.
Inge almost certainly would have known this Australian who spoke at this conference at Kalgoorlie, and it is likely that he too benefitted from the reassuring counsel that she would deliver to all those in her orbit as an expression of encouragement to maintain a sense of resolve with a cheerful smile in spite of difficulties.
This journey described in this book could never have been mapped in advance, and was mostly an exercise in misadventure. Even so, but for the kindness of Inge this might never had been possible.
She was always here for us, and it is a shame we could have done more in her time of need.
Her death was a trigger that set me off on this journey, and her legacy remains something I wish to uphold through my dedication of this book (which I am presently writing).
Amos 5:21-24 taken from The Message:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice – oceans of it.
I want fairness – rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
The next series of posts are essentially draft entries in the soon to be published book “All Backswing” which I am aiming for launch at the end of June 2016.
All Backswing will feature 100 chapters to talk about a manifesto for change by examining the motivation for what eventually became the 10 City Bridge Run, commentary about the journey itself, and importantly lessons learnt as it relates to undertaking epic endeavours that seek to make a difference.
Your feedback counts. Please edit, share, comment, or illustrate in any way you know best.
The book is being written for you. If you like something, please let me know. If you have questions, please ask me. If you think I am off the path, tell me. Your feedback is like oxygen to me. Thank you in advance.
The Next Step
It’s been a while, in fact too long.
I’m not sure I posted since December around the time I completed an art work that was on display at the local art gallery. The work titled “All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm” was part of an exhibition themed “Turning Point”.
This art work featured my interpretation of the naval signal flag for “I require assistance (non-distress)”. This flag is identified by a red diagonal cross over a white background. The point of the work was that through the painting and exhibition of this canvas, I was signalling my acceptance that I could not do this journey on my own. It was an admission that I need help.
I need help. Three words that are easy to write, but difficult for me to express. As a statement, it is fine. As a request, it is as though I even need help to ask for help. I think that qualifies me for the category of lost causes and basket cases…
More on that painting later. Not in this post, but later. Here, I want to talk about what I have been doing in this past few months, and update you about this project: the 10 City Bridge Run.
So firstly, what have I been doing? I have been taking stock of a few things, as if I needed to allow the momentum of the previous journey to reach its culmination and come to a halt along that trajectory before riding the fresh movement towards the the next steps. That sounds like complete claptrap, and if that is what you are thinking then you are probably mostly right. Those who know me best would sense my idiosyncratic avoidance.
So why avoidance? Why didn’t I hoist the painting on this blog? What was holding me back?
All good questions, and to be honest I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I do know, deep down. There has been some make and mend needed. But epic questions are epic because they are inherently hard. If there was no struggle, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. Hiding from difficulty is I think a fairly common experience among humans. I’m guessing that you might have done this too at some point in time. If that is the case, then maybe you can relate to what it is I am trying to describe here.
The painting is still here. It is sitting in my living room, and as I promised I will write about that soon, but not right now.
I want to tell you what else I have been doing in relation to this journey.
If you have been following this blog in the past, you might remember that I was going to describe this past journey with 100 photographs. It became an overwhelming aspiration, and clearly that has not yet happened. In fact, that tapestry of 100 photographs ended up becoming the simply expression of the artwork featuring the naval signal flag for “I require assistance” which I mentioned above.
And so what happened to the 100 photographs? Well, those have taken the form of a book I am writing that reflects on what I have learnt from this journey to date. I am probably about half-way through, and I am keen to finish the book before the end of May, which is possible to do. The book features 100 chapters that outline the motivation for what became the 10 City Bridge Run, a commentary of the journey itself, and a third part which examines some of the lessons I have learnt about seeking to do something in order to make a difference.
I was going to wait until it was complete before I started sharing this writing, but I now realise that in the spirit of the collaborative process, that it is much better to put some of what I have written out there here for you to read as I set about this task. I welcome you to read, comment, correct, share, add to, and even help illustrate with you own examples or art.
My aim in sharing this book here is to write with more gusto, knowing that some people are reading. I am writing it for you, not essentially for me. I would like to have this book finalised and published, ready for launch at the end of June. I think that is ambitious, but achievable.
And secondly, what has become of the 10 City Bridge Run? Let me again first express my thanks to everyone who has supported this journey. None of this was possible without your help. Thank you.
At the beginning of 2015, I completed the running journey for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have yet to publish the book “Life Bridge” which I owe all of the supporters. And I am less than satisfied that I have been successful in convening the conversation to address the question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?” That conversation was the point of the whole endeavour. I see the journey as still a work in progress, even if that means it is long overdue.
So what comes next? This book I am writing turns out to be necessary for me to complete in order to allow the other things to happen. It is a big undertaking, and I believe it is worthwhile. Thanks for giving me this space to explore this territory.
Without linking this to a timeline, the book “Life Bridge” will be completed this year and distributed to all the supporters. I also see a renewed effort taking place to pick up this conversation about child survival, again using running as a stunt to draw attention to what needs to unfold. At this point in time, that is all I want to say about what is ahead. The only other point is to say that the journey continues, and that it could not have been possible without your help.
I need your help. That is both a statement and a request.
Thank you. Let’s get to work.
Connect ideas, don’t protect them. Build bridges to a better future.
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?
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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We 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.”
Let’s Begin: Osaka
Starting 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!
Designing The Design Forum
The 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?”
The design for the Design Forum is for us to decide. Us, not me.
I have plenty of ideas and thoughts, and will continue to lead by defining and shaping these events with a credible structure that can then be influenced and improved by the interventions of us who are together on this journey. Making decisions, and working out how to collaborate are two key tasks that are all part of this mix. Sharing ideas is simple, but will also present challenges. This post is not going to dwell on the difficulty of how we organise this effort, but more outline a structure which provides a start point for this journey ahead. It might be that is structure is sound, and it is more in the execution as to how we design the Design Forum needs the most attention.
Design Forum 1 – Osaka: “Designing the Design Forum”
This will be a likely humble start to a larger conversatio which will grow over the next nine months.
An overview describing the entire nine months journey ahead follows in the next post!
Resolve: The Sound of One Foot Slapping or The Dance of the Dominoes
Back in 2011 I did a couple of writing courses with a friend at the WEA (adult education provider) in Newcastle in an attempt to get myself writing. It worked a charm for a while and I must have been doing morning pages (I mean actually getting up early in the morning and writing whatever came to mind for 20 minutes) as I’ve found this note from July of that year:
“Today’s morning pages…aka What’s fallen out of my brain while I’ve had a pen in my hand for two minutes
There are bits of me all over the place, in various work books, on a receipt in my glasses case and spilling out behind me – I’m not sure if that’s like Hansel and Gretel’s crumbs and I’ll be able to scoop myself back together, or whether in fact it’s more of a pied piper feat and I’m…
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I Began Questioning
Where 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?”
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?’
We 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.
I 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.
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?