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.


What’s The Plan, Stan?

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Matt with friends in Timor Leste
Matt with friends in Timor Leste

What’s the plan, Stan?” With these words, the familiar, raspy voice of one of my senior soldiers would ask what was happening next.

The radio squawked a low, crackly hum breaking the silence of the bush surrounding an unseen force of camouflaged men crouching patiently nearby. A dispassionate look on his face was challenged only by the steely glare of his eyes.

Rifle in hand, he looked relaxed, waiting for me to work out where the plan we just received was to take us next. Dragging back on a roll-your-own cigarette he held between his fingers, the lit end facing in toward his palm, he watched as I placed a map on a cleared space on the ground at the centre of the our small team that had gathered together.

That was then. An army works on command and control, orders and reports, and when it is at its best is like a finely-tuned machine with a mind of its own, responsive to any stimulus.

But this is now. The 10 City Bridge Run was a ridiculous stunt to frame a conversation that is shortly to follow. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries to gather attention so as to open this conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Unlike the army, there is no authority given for me to do this. I just made it up and did it. Much of the time I was making up the journey not long before taking the next step.

It was only made possible because of the support of a community which had joined in, each with their different reasons to see th quest arrive at its destination which is the Design Forum.

The 10 City Bridge Run is driven by passion, imagination, leadership, vision, inspiration, collaboration and trust. It might have seemed that the journey to date was a one-man journey, but in fact it was a collective effort.

More so, the Design Forum which follows beginning next week is all about collaborations and collective effort. Individuals provide a background to the focus on a community which grows in the centre of this picture. It’s about us.

Shortly, I will post my thoughts about how the Design Forum might unfold. And then together we will navigate the way forwards.

Who is ‘we’ exactly? The ‘we’ is the team that is making this happen. I am part of the team, and you can be too if you want, but I can’t make that decision for you.

This is an invitation for you to join that partnership, this collaboration, our community. Upend the M and me becomes we. But if you do join the team, I want you to know one thing. In as much as you might be looks to me for inspiration for the next steps that follow, I will just as likely be asking you how it should unfold by asking your thoughts to answer the challenge before us: “What’s the plan, Stan?”

Design Forum: what is it, and why does it matter?

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The first step. This is what I saw when I looked down at the start point of the second leg of the 10 City Bridge Run on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 20 and a bit laps later I would complete the 24 km and prepare to move on to Singapore.

I’m on an epic journey. It is a quest. But it is not about me. It is about us. Together.

This is about you, not me.

Only you can say that we are on this journey together. It is your decision, not mine. I’ll write more about what that journey is shortly, but first let me explain why the decision you make is important.

This is a quest.

This is a quest to make a difference. Quests come in all shapes and sizes. This one is to improve the delivery of child survival.

This is about child survival.

So let’s begin there. I have loosely defined child survival as enabling children to flourish past their fifth birthday. Not just live, because I don’t think that is enough, even though we seldom stop to think twice about the opportunities that life brings us. If you are reading this, you really are one of the fortunate on this one earth we all enjoy. You can read which means you have had the privilege of education, and you have access to a computer, which means you have access to electricity. If you have access to education, technology (a computer), and infrastructure (electricity), it probably suggests you enjoy a wide range of other benefits that a majority of the human race can only dream about. Yes really, everyone else is not just like you. You are special.

This is about building bridges.

My good mate Scott O’Brien has an idea he is working on to connect the top billion with the bottom billion on the planet. It is the ultimate bold endeavour in building bridges. There has been a lot of interplay in the ideas he and I share. And I really enjoy the challenge and inspiration that comes from hearing near ideas or having my old ideas questioned. That is how we find new horizons. It is how we make progress collectively, and it is how we grow individually.

This is about philanthropy.

My question to you is what will you do with the privileged status you have inherited. Yes, there may well be every reason to complain: job security, relationship issues, too little money, health is not where it should be, stressed to the max, and maybe even your latte arrived cold. Those are real issues. Even the latte. But compared with others, you are fortunate and special. Philanthropy is described as having a concern for human welfare, and mostly this definition is associated with giving away money. But here I want to challenge that definition. What about if we consider other resources we enjoy that we can draw upon to use to good effect to benefit human welfare? True philanthropy. Using your time, your talents, your networks, your imagination. Connecting with others so as to help address someone else’s problem in the interest of their welfare is a selfless act of generosity. It is also shown to be the best, fastest, and most reliable way to obtain a sustainable state of happiness. That is, happiness comes from working toward the betterment of others. And don’t worry, the way the world work, these things come back you you in spades. To paraphrase Churchill: “it is by giving that we get.”

This is about making a difference.

UNICEF calculate that every day more than 16,000 children under the age of five die. That figure is called child mortality. Most of those deaths occur within the first 24 hours of life. Many of these deaths are preventable. So why don’t we just prevent them? Can it be that hard? Bill and Melinda Gates have used their recent Annual Letter as a stunt to bet that this figure will fall below 8,000 in the next 15 years. That is good news and would represent the fastest rate of benefit to humanity in history. But this won’t just happen on its own. Yes, significant progress has been made across the last 10 years especially, but let’s not leave change to chance. Innovation comes about through intervention. We need to act to bring about this difference. Returning to the point about philanthropy, this is about more than just giving money. Some of us don’t have money to give. The most valuable contribution any of us can make is through the collective genius of our shared imaginations. Are you going to hold back on us?

This is about us.

This is getting to the part that I said I would come back to. This is where you need to make a decision. I am no longer on this journey alone. Together, a larger community has formed, and we are now ‘us’. The question is, are you coming with us on this journey. Many reading this post know they are. It is easy to get involved if you haven’t done so already. You just have to make a decision to join us, to make a difference together.

This is about a journey.

This is about the 10 City Bridge Run. An idea hatched by myself in 2010 to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to address an important question asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” It took a while to commence this journey, and it was far from easy. I began running in Port Moresby on 16 September last year and concluded the running late on a dark, wet and cold night in New York on 3 January this year. But the running was merely the device to get us to the beginning of this epic journey. This journey is actually marked by a series of Design Forums that will be held in all of the 10 cities where running took place as a way of addressing this question about improving the delivery of child survival. You can join at any time. You don’t need to come with us every step of the way. That is the advantage of the ‘us’. We share the labour. We call all reach the destination, and no matter the effort you could contribute, we can all say with much satisfaction “we did this together!”

This is about Design.

We are going to use a method called Design Thinking to address this question about improving child survival. Come as you are, you don’t need special qualifications. We will draw upon the wisdom of the crowd for knowledge. We need your imagination to help us in the process of designing a better future for many.

What does this look like? Read the posts which follows (and a link will be added shortly), to talk about what is involved. There is no cost. You don’t need to travel. You can do it within whatever constraints you currently have. But first you need to decide. You can watch and observe, but why not participate?

We need you to bring whatever magic that makes you special to the table. You are more than enough just as you are. Let’s see what alchemy we can create when we literally put our minds together.

Please join us on this epic quest as we prepare to embark on the Design Forum so at the end of the journey we can all look back with satisfaction at what we have achieved and say: “we did this together!”

On Becoming A Designer

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imageThe Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run commences with getting equipped with the tools we are going to need for the journey ahead. The tools are about our networks, our creativity, and importantly engaging with those for whom this problem of child survival is a real and present issue. Additionally, one key tool is the process of Design Thinking using a framework of Human Centred Design.

Design Thinking is not new. It has been around for decades, if not centuries, but more recently it has been made more useable through the work of people like IDEO. There has been a revolution in design which focuses on the user, or the person with the problem.

The commencement of the first Design Forum 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’.

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.

That is a worthwhile achievement for 2015! 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!

I Began Questioning

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imageWhere 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?”

With Cynthia in front of the centrepiece of thought-provoking exhibition about tools and design
With Cynthia in front of the centrepiece of thought-provoking exhibition about tools and design

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?’

imageWe 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.

imageI 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.

Carnegie's garden that flourished with sunshine rather than shade because of the church design
Carnegie’s garden that flourished with sunshine rather than shade because of the church design

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?


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imageCooper Hewitt’s Curatorial Director, Barbara Bloemink, at the New York Museum of Design which is now part of the Smithsonian collection has a great quote:

“Human beings have always used ingenuity to solve problems.”

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it is worth reflecting on for a minute. It is saying that we tap into a genius mind when we solve problems. That is profound.

We take solving problems for granted. We should see every problem that has been solved, resolved or reframed as an achievement worth celebrating. Do you?


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IMG_3480There were many times since first conceiving this endeavour I have called the 10 City Bridge Run that I realised that what I had proposed was a little too close to the impossible, and that perhaps it might just be out of my reach.

Even since beginning this journey in Port Moresby back in September, I took the first steps with much apprehension as the way forwards was far from clear. It has been a tough journey.

And I am reminded of a great passage from a great general in his classic book, Defeat Into Victory, written by Field Marshall Sir William Slim. The passage speaks for itself:

“The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted…The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he has done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory, for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. ‘Here, he will think, ‘I went wrong; here I took council of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.’ He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into attack that failed and who did not come back. He will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. ‘I have failed them,’ he will say to himself, ‘and failed my country!’ He will see himself for what he is, a defeated general. In a dark hour, he will turn in upon himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.

And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets, and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and self confidence. He must beat off these attacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat, they are than from victory.”

The lessons from the 10 City Bridge Run have been many, and I am in the process of documenting them the best I can now to share more widely. I learnt most from when it was toughest, when there was no obvious way through the many barriers that lay across my path. It wasn’t only my capacity for preserving that brought me through, but it was because of the support of people like you that it was made possible.

Now I am turning my attention to the Design Forum, and it is taking shape. It is not at all what I expected it might be, but better, and I would hope will be more inspiring than what you might have considered as well. This process of the Design Forum is the real epic quest of this journey, and a journey that we must take together. The next steps forward are a team effort.

There has been plenty of failure to get us to this point, but that has been embraced by me. It was an essential part of the journey. The good think is it has given rise to success which we can all enjoy, but not without some hard work.

Thank You

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IMG_3496A quick note to everyone who has been part of this journey to date: thank you.

On Saturday 3 January 2015, I completed the final leg of an epic quest by running the 10th leg of 24 km in New York on a cold, wet and dark night.

To recap: back in August 2010, I announced my intention to commence a journey called the 10 City Bridge Run. Four years later than anticipated, I concluded the first leg of this journey which involved a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. The stunt was designed to open a conversation asking an important question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

IMG_3595In those four years, it has not been an easy journey, even though for the most part it might have seen from an outsiders perspective that there seemed to be little happening until September 2014. Suffice to say that starting anything takes effort and involves accepting risk. It has been difficult, but it has also been worthwhile.

Literally only a few people, less than a handful, are actually aware of how hard that journey has been. Maybe I ought to have shared more about those difficulties, but I think I was right not to because the journey is not actually about me. It is about us.

I couldn’t have done this without you. Please read that last sentence again for emphasis. Actually, that last sentence “I couldn’t have done this without you” needs some clarification. I knew I would need help to make this journey possible, but was unaware of how reliant I would be for support in ways I never expected from you. I needed the help you gave to get to this point, and perhaps just as importantly if not of more significance, this is a journey ‘we’ are on together, and so I couldn’t have become the ‘us’ without your involvement.

IMG_3582The contribution from some might seem to them insignificant. “I did nothing!” you might protest. I just want you to kn ow that encouragement even through a simple comment or liking a post from time to time carries with it greater influence than you might ever know. So thank you. And especially to the many supporters, this journey is as much as your achievement as it is of mine, regardless of when you joined the journey. We are in this together.

While we are now some distance down the road from the idea where this journey began, this quest is only just beginning now. This is an epic journal rich with metaphor. People have told me about their reflections about what I am doing and the metaphor they identify in the journey, and more often than not I am surprised how they see it from a perspective I never considered. And there is plenty of more meaning to come that all of us have yet to identify or explore.

IMG_3528While the journey has only begun, this is not an exercise is the abstract exploration of a literary device. This journey has meaning. The running stunt of this journey allowed us to arrive at the start point of what we are really here to do, rather than a destination.

Yes, the real journey is about to begin. That journey essentially comes in two parts:

  1. Co-creation of a book called Life Bridge which will feature 100 photos of human bridges to illustrate the importance of connection to meet a grand challenge, in this case our quest to improve the delivery of child survival. Everyone who has supported the journey to date will receive a copy as has been my obligation to you from the beginning of this journey.
  2. A series of Design Forum to be held in the cities where running took place to address the central challenge to the 10 City Bridge Run which asks: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

IMG_3480I certainly have many ideas about what these two aspects of the journey ought to look like, but this is where there is some definite transition from a very difficult pursuit that I was undertaking largely as the central actor and at considerable personal risk to myself, to one where we will together be responsible for driving the outcome and where the risk is essentially to try ideas on for size and see what works and what doesn’t. The journey ahead is the sum of our collective dreams, our collective imaginations, and reaching out to many experts with the specialist knowledge that we need to guide the conversation. We can afford to be bold, but we also need to make sure it is well planned and well executed. Don’t worry – I’m not going anywhere, and will continue to serve by leading. I might be tired from the running, but I am totally invigorated to work together as we embark on the next chapter of this epic quest.

But as I get my thoughts together after finishing this first part of the journey to open the conversation that follows, I wanted to first say thank you.

This is also an opportunity to open up the conversation to ask (how) would you like to be involved in the conversation going forward? Spectators are welcome too! And if you have just stumbled across this for the first time, welcome aboard!

In the meantime, I have a lot to share that I want to post here. Many photos and videos from the trip, many thoughts, and especially many small conversation starters to orientate the focus better towards child survival.

This is a big undertaking and we are just getting started.

A Worthy Resolution for 2015

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IMG_26392015 is the year that a series of long-awaited Design Forum convened to open a conversation where a central question will be addressed: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

This is the culmination of a running stunt called the 10 City Bridge Run which involved me running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. Right now as I type this post, I am standing on the verge of the ninth leg here in Toronto. The weather is cold with some snow flurries, and at -9 degrees celsius, there is every possibility it could snow while I am out running. I will be running between the cusp of two years: setting off when the new year turns in Sydney, and ahead of the new year here in Toronto. Bridging the years.

The resolution is to improve child survival.

One way you can help now is by signing this petition to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, who is Australia’s Foreign Minister, where together we will be asking her to be the official champion for this series of Design Forum.

I made two videos along this journey which give a little more information below. Happy New Year!

Everyone Was Doing Their Best

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IMG_1461A good friend of mine has a pearl of wisdom she wheels out frequently when it is appropriate, and it often is. “Everyone was doing their best at the time” she says. It is a very forgiving statement. Part cautionary, and part empathetic. Everyone was doing their best.

What she means is that even though people might have been capable of doing better (and we all are), because of the situation people found themselves in at the time and their own personal limitations, their actions represented ‘their best’ at that moment.

Her statement is pretty radical. It means that people who even do bad things are acting at that moment at the best they could at the time. Just read any newspaper and see the stories of unethical behaviour, or cast you mind back to the week just gone to think of examples where other people fell short of our expectations.

Some won’t agree with her philosophy. I know I didn’t agree with it when I first heard it from her.

But there is some power in her words. It moves from blaming to acceptance. In writing this post, I am just putting this idea out there. I am not suggesting that it is a perfect philosophy. But it does have it’s merits, and we only have to look to some of our own personal failings to see that it offers a kindness that might not always be deserved.

The 10 City Bridge Run is based on some pretty big ideas. Yes, at the core is child survival, but the big ideas revolve around building bridges and opening conversations. And building bridges and opening conversations first need us to establish some willingness to listen or to find common ground that is worth connecting with.

It would be easier to convene a simple conversation about child survival, and paint the problem in a generic sense with some specific case studies. That might be easier, but it may also fail to acknowledge the context we are dealing with. We are talking about real people in situations different to our own. It is not a simple matter of assigning a better flow of infrastructure, or ways of appropriating medicine and nutrition. There are circumstances that have caused bad situations to emerge, and they must also be acknowledged even if they are beyond our ability to address them. What does ‘everyone was doing their best’ mean for regimes that hold people in poverty because of corruption?

Returning to a personal reflection, I think of the context that my friend once again gave me this advice in response to a question I had asked. Her response was good. Very helpful.

And now as I prepare to leave Glasgow for Toronto for the next leg of the 10 City Bridge Run, the second last leg, I think back to what I have done and not done since 2010 when this idea was first conceived. More often than not, my performance has been imperfect. There were plenty of ways I fell short of my potential. Even reflecting on my time here in Glasgow I think of ways things could have been better. But there is also some comfort in reflecting that at the time, I was doing the best I could based on my own personal limitations.

What is more important now than looking behind is looking to the future as we set our minds to the Design Forum that will unfold in 2015 and ask how this can be meaningful to bring about change that matters. We will learn from the past, and it will stand us in good stead if we suspend our own tendency from being our own best critics.