Where are all the women inventors?

I’m sitting in on a Social Impact Analysis course hosted by Acumen. The course is project based and with my project, I’m exploring the question: How might we inspire more women to become inventors?

Some data on the problem here:

http://fortune.com/2016/07/21/patents-women-gender-gap/

 

 

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When to Take Creative Risks

It’s more often than you think.

Now, if you are building a bridge that can hurt people if it fails, take fewer risks. But if you’re given a prompt or an assignment in which you don’t have to actually build the outcome, you should take risks.  And if you are tasked to make an art piece that challenges the status quo, you should do it. Taking creative risks helps you build creative muscle.

However, too often our blanket response to a challenge is risk aversion. We don’t stop to evaluate the situation and ask ourselves: “Is this a good time for me to take creative risks?” Too often, we default to conservative without giving it any thought.

Taking creative risks helps you get over the fear of looking stupid in front of other people. A fear that we all need to get over. A fear that is holding us back.

 

 

4 Ways to Level Up Technology Education

When technology is taught out of context, it can only get us so far. But when we pair it with disciplines that teach effective methods for intentional change, then we can make the world better. Here are a few pairings:

  • Technology + Design. Students learn to empathize with users and to employ design processes to develop solutions that give their users super-powers.
  • Technology + Sustainability. Students learn models for human, biological, and ecological systems and to identify and leverage points in a system for positive change.
  • Technology + Entrepreneurship. Students learn how to create and test business models and use that knowledge to inform their product development process and launch.
  • Technology + Leadership. Students learn how to navigate fear, set goals, build highly functional teams, and develop trusting relationships as they work on technology projects.

What other pairings might we explore?

 

from “Make Better Stuff” to a Focus on People

About 500 years ago I gave a TEDx talk called “Make Better Stuff.” It was set in the context of the rise of digital fabrication. My talk was a plea to seize the opportunity, to push beyond making 3D printed key chains and arduino controlled toy cars and really engage in using this technology to make the world better. The focus was on the stuff that people made and the call to action was to make it better.

But over the years I’ve come to realize that if you want people to make better stuff, you need to have more diverse people making stuff. You need to have more diverse people studying STEM disciplines at university and participating and leading in the STEM workforce.

The problem is, most of our tech programs attract white boys and men. It’s hard to know why. Is it because white boys and men have more confidence and thus enroll in these programs? Or is it because these programs are written with language and filled with signals that tell them “You belong here.”

So what do we do about it? How do we encourage more women and people of color to shape the present and future course of technology, to make better stuff?

The answer is complex. We need to teach women and people of color how to navigate the status quo while at the same time, teach them to identify and leverage the qualities that make them unique. We don’t want and need more diversity in STEM programs for the statistics of it alone. We want more diversity in STEM programs because we want more diversity, more creativity, more creative tension, more skill in working through creative tension. Because if we do it right, on the other side of that tension, we’ll have a diverse group of inventors challenging the status quo and making better stuff.

When to Use Radical Candor

The management book, Radical Candor is often interpreted as, “Be blunt when giving feedback.” But it’s more nuanced than that. One of the most useful tips in the book is, “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.” For example, if someone on your team sends out a group email and there is a mistake in it, let them know in a private message, not in a “reply all.” But if they share good work in a group email, “respond all” and praise away. Common sense, yes?

But what about a workshop or critique situation? If you read this blog, then you know I went to art school. And art school is tough, especially critique.

Critique is a group meeting in which you hang your work on the wall and your professor and peers rip it to shreds. It makes you tough. If managed correctly, the public criticism is all about the work, not about the artist, and it ultimately makes the work better. An artist that is practiced in crit eventually internalizes this kind of feedback and can call it up while they are working to make good decisions.

On the other end of the spectrum from critique is radical empathy, the practice of helping people feel seen and heard.  This is especially important when teaching women and people of color who tend to hang back in group critique settings. First generation college students might have this challenge too. It can take them a while to speak up at all. And when they finally do, is critique the best environment help them build confidence? Do they need to be toughened up or have their lives been tough enough already?

I don’t know the answers here. But it’s good food for thought. Something to hold in my heart and continue to think about.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Radical Candor blog

Is “Grit” Racist?

Creating a team that trusts each other

It’s not that hard to do once you decide to do it

STEP 1. Know Yourself, Especially Your Fears. Know what triggers you. Know what scares you. See how that influences the decisions that you make, the things that you say to other people without thinking, the control that you insist on keeping.

STEP 2. Be Vulnerable. Be transparent about your fears. Not all of the time. But when they get in the driver’s seat and mess things up, it’s ok to say to your peers, “Hey. This could have been smoother. I was driven by X. Next time I might try Y.” Be honest with your team in a way that invites them to be honest with you and with each other.

STEP 3. To Change Habits, Use the Pause Button. Recognize patterns of behavior that show other people that you don’t trust them. Then commit to changing those patterns. You don’t have to know what the new pattern will be right away. You just have to teach yourself to press the pause button. Instead of reacting when you are triggered, press pause. Give yourself time to think about the best way forward. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you will eff it up sometimes. You’re human. The important part is that you recommit and that you keep trying.

STEP 4. See and Hear the People Around You. Know what their priorities are. Know what fears they have. Don’t assume that you know them or can read them without really talking to them. And don’t assume that you know them through gossip. (Btw — don’t engage in gossip. Shut that sh*t down)

To get to know people’s priorities and fears, you might ask, “What’s on your mind?” and follow that with, “And What Else?” These questions* help people dig deep and they help people feel seen and heard.

STEP 5. Value Your Team’s Diversity. Acknowledge Tension. You have a diverse team because you value multiple points of view. But the cost of that diversity is that it sometimes creates tension. Don’t avoid the tension. Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Lean into it. It may very well be a sign that your team is about to make a breakthrough or solve an important problem.

STEP 6. Don’t Rush to Solutions. Each problem has multiple solutions. Before you make a decision, articulate the problem you are trying to solve, and if you have a solution in mind, share it along with the rationale behind it. From there your team has the information they need to offer you alternative solutions. Spending a little time in this process creates buy-in, gains trust, helps people be seen, makes them feel included. It seems like a lot of work, but taking the time to build trust is worth it. A trusting team works better than a team that is distracted by fear.

STEP 7. Give Feedback. As a rule, criticism in private, praise in public. When you give criticism, be sure to share your rationale and your high-level thinking. This will make the criticism less personal and more inclusive. As for giving praise, be sure that it’s more than, ”Great job!” Let people know that you see their process and that process is something you value. “I like how you did X. I can tell you really thought about Y,” is useful and meaningful feedback.

A trusting team is free to redirect the energy that they used to spend on protecting themselves to helping make your organization great. Because they believe in it. Because they have buy-in. Because they feel seen and heard and trusted.

When Women Lead in Technology

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 6.26.33 AM

When women lead in technology, they scale amazing things. But there are a lot of obstacles for women in tech. It’s not easy for them to find, let alone stay on, that path.

If you google the phrase “famous inventors” one of the first images you’ll get back is an image of “The Famous Inventors Jigsaw Puzzle.” This is a large format puzzle that pictures the faces of over 50 inventors. Each face is white and each face is male.

We’ve all seen the numbers about women in tech.

  • Only 5 percent of startups are owned by women
  • In 2016 only  2.4% of 59 billion VC dollars was invested in women-led companies
  • The quit rate for women in high tech is double the quit rate of men

Quite a puzzle, indeed.

So WHY does this matter? It matters because technology scales really well. And when it’s in the hands of more women, it can scale amazing things.

When women lead in technology:

  • We get inventions like Supa, a smart system that enables your athletic wear to monitor your health, invented by Sabine Seymour 

  • We get people like Elisa Miller-Out who sold her first tech company and turned around to start Chloe Capital, an angel fund for female founders

  • And we get Danielle Applestone, the CEO of Bantam Tools who is using her position to help manufacturers hire and train women for new tech jobs 


There is no doubt. When women lead in technology, they lift people up. When women lead, they make the world better.

This lack of women in tech is a systemic problem. What’s puzzling is that 75% of young girls express an interest in STEM. But when you look at the low numbers in industry, it’s clear that something breaks down along the way.

Growing up, I loved lego as a kid and I excelled at shop class and mechanical drawing in high school. But I didn’t see anyone who looked liked me doing this stuff. Every image I had of an engineer or inventor looked like the faces on the inventors puzzle.

Since I liked making stuff with my hands, I studied art in college. It took me ten years after I graduated to find industrial design and to finally discover who I was meant to be.

So what can we do to help girls and women find a technology path and stay on it?

  • If you’re a teacher or a parent, encourage and support girls in STEM. Help them find role models.
  • If you run a tech company, ask the women who you work with what they need to succeed and don’t shut down if their answers make you feel uncomfortable.
  • If you are an investor, invest in women. They won’t let you down.
  • If you are a woman yourself who likes tech but feels too afraid to get into it, do it anyway. Find people to support you either in your company or outside of it. Become the role model that young women need to see.

We get to decide who invents the future by who we choose to see and support and lift up. Let’s solve “The Famous Inventors Puzzle” together.

 

The stats in this post are pulled from http://observer.com/2017/06/women-in-tech-statistics/

 

 

Teachers are the ultimate leverage points

I care deeply about who goes into technology as a profession and what they decide to do with it. Why do I care about that? Because technology is a powerful lever. It has an enormous impact on society and the world. When it’s in the hands of thoughtful people, it can scale amazing things. But in the hands of less thoughtful people, it scales mediocrity and distraction, and even worse, destruction. And since we need more truly amazing things and less mediocrity and distraction and destruction, we need to nurture thoughtful technologists who will design and launch amazing things.

How is it that some people go into tech and others decide not to? There are a few factors. Role models and cultural signals are huge influencers. Growing up, I didn’t have tech role models or see any signs from the people around me that tech was a path. So while I loved lego as a kid and I excelled at shop class and mechanical drawing in high school, I didn’t find my way to engineering. I didn’t know it was an option. I pursued art.

Ten years after art school, I discovered Industrial Design and finally found where I was supposed to be. A rich mix of art and design and engineering and systems. I was home.

But I didn’t become an industrial designer. Instead I put my energy into teaching, into trying to fix this problem I had in my youth. I wanted to help young people discover their inner techie earlier than I did. I still want to help them do that.

But I’m burnt out on teaching. Ten years of it and I’ve only reached a few students a year. Yes, I’ve helped set those students on a path to making and launching deep technology. But that’s not enough impact. It’s too small and it’s too slow. I need to level up or quit.

Recently I’ve been thinking that I want to quit teaching and try something new. Maybe even go back to being an artist. But the world keeps telling me that my teaching is my art. I need to lean into that. And I need to find a way to leverage it.

I think I’ll turn my focus from educating students to educating teachers. Teachers are the ultimate leverage points. If you can empower a teacher to teach technology in a thoughtful way, a way that inspires their students to become world changers and inventors, then you can reach, let’s say, 50 students over that teacher’s career — students who discover the path to designing and shipping meaningful technology. And if you can empower hundreds of teachers to teach technology in a thoughtful way, you can reach tens of thousands of students. And if you can teach a few of your peers to teach teachers, then you can reach millions of students. Leverage.

To inspire people to move forward, we have to meet them where they are

I’m a futurist. I write and think a lot about the evolving relationship between people and technology. In all of my work, I try to engage people in a discussion about this. Whether I’m teaching an intro class to undergrads or sitting on a board for k-12 or coaching early stage startups or facilitating workshops with STEM Women.

In this work, I meet two kinds of people: people who are already engaged in deep thought and conversations about the relationship between people & technology and people who aren’t….yet.

It is my goal to encourage more people to engage in these conversations. Why? Because technology is a force. It scales really well. And active citizens are positioned to shape what it’s scaling in a way that passive citizens are not. So we need to be active and not let the future be shaped by an elite few.

As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff proclaims in one of his book titles, we must program or be programmed. Just look at the average person’s use of facebook and the confusion around the companies’ ethics violations to see how passive engagement with technology plays out. We end up getting tricked into blindly working for facebook, generating content for free that they then turn around and capitalize on.

So how do you encourage passive users of technology to become more active? The answer is surprising — you need to be empathic and you need to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to plop a gee whiz technology kit in front of an inactive user and say, “Just explore — be part of the future!” No, you really need to stand in that person’s shoes and understand why they have a passive relationship with technology but even further than that, why they think you are wrong to be promoting an active one. Empathy and vulnerability.

Most of us were brought up in an environment that taught us to not challenge authority and to let an expert few invent, manufacture, and disseminate new technologies. And while we feel comfortable expressing little acts of rebellion here and there — a tattoo, eating weird food, whatever — we are hesitant to stand up and be an active change agent. Managing our own lives is hard enough and there are so many distractions.

Please don’t tell me that on top of all that, I have to be a hacker to be a responsible citizen of the world. Because that stresses me out. But if you can show me how to be a change agent in a way that acknowledges and helps me push through fear and stress and anxiety, well then, I’m all ears.