A few years back I was judging a pitch competition at a prestigious university. As was often the case, I was the token woman on the judging panel.
About ten teams pitched in the competition. Two of the teams pitched a similar idea. One idea was pitched by a tall, traditionally handsome young man and the other was pitched by a short young woman who was average looking. Both of their ideas were good but hers was backed by more scientific evidence than his, so I rated her pitch slightly higher.
However, I was shocked to see that my male colleagues on the judging panel had rated the guy’s pitch at the top of the ten competitors and the woman’s pitch at the very bottom. I knew that what was happening here was not a one-up instance of unconscious bias. See journal article:
So during our deliberations, I fought for her. And I won. And she won. Had I not been there, she may have been derailed from the path she was destined to be on. And deserved to be on. Since then, I have seen her pitch and win competitions, prestigious grants, and more. It’s a joy to witness.
Brené Brown’s hour-long special premiered on netflix this past weekend. I appreciate Brown’s work on mental health. I read her book Rising Strong when I was going through a really hard time in my life and it helped me a lot. So I watched her special this past weekend. Some of the stories I had heard before but it was good to hear them again. But what was really helpful for me was to hear Brown in conversation with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast yesterday. Maron can be cynical and snarky and so can I. So it was helpful to hear someone with those personality traits work through some of the research and concepts that Dr. Brown puts forth. Helpful because as inspiring as Brown’s research is, it’s hard to put it into practice. She admits this several times in the interview, that putting this research into practice is hard, even for her.
Here are some points from the interview that stood out for me:
BE VULNERABLE WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE. One of Brown’s main messages is that vulnerability and courage are tied. I agree. I once had a mentor who said, “You can’t be brave if there’s nothing to be afraid of” and I love it that he said that. However, Brown and Maron point out that it’s possible to be vulnerable with the wrong people. And that’s not brave. It’s just a bad habit. And we do it over and over because we know that they will reject us. And we do it so that we can confirm the painful yet familiar story that we don’t belong or that we are unlovable.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES. We all do it. We tell ourselves horrible stories about ourselves. How everyone hates us, how we suck at this or that. Our brains are wired to do this. The work then is to be conscious of that storytelling. To say out loud, “The story I’m telling myself is ___.” To be aware that the story isn’t true even though it’s how we feel. Even though it’s something we go to for an odd comfort.
THIS WORK STARTS IN MIDLIFE. In Brown’s observation, midlife is when most folks start to work at taking off their armor. Armor is the cynicism we hold or the things we do to protect ourselves from our own pain and from other people. At midlife, people start to say to themselves, “This armor is freaking killing me. I get it that it used to keep me safe, but I can’t f*cking breathe. It is no longer serving me.” So they start on a path to chip away at it. It’s not easy. We spent years building it up. But taking it down is possible and it’s worth striving for.
SELF WORTH IS A GIFT TO OTHERS. Self Worth is hard for a lot of us. But to strive for it isn’t only good for yourself, but for the people around you. Because when you show up with self-worth, you’re a better person to be around. Plus, other folks don’t have to carry the weight of your self-hate or have to defend themselves if that hate manifests in you lashing out. It’s hard work to gain self-worth. But it’s work worth doing. For more reasons than I had realized. Pro-tip: Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Check out the interview at the link below. It starts about 10 minutes in
I’m reading Mariana Mazzucato’s book The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. In the book, MM asks a complex question: Is it fair that investors and execs get such extreme rewards from successful companies when those companies were built on public investment in innovation? She answers the question, too, with a resounding NO. To be clear, Mazzucato’s not against these folks getting paid, it’s just that she thinks the gov’t should get some of that money too since so often it is the government kickstarting these innovations through their grant programs.
I won’t pretend I’m smart enough to understand all of the complexities here. But these sure are interesting questions.
Link to Mazzucato’s book here
And who can forget this little gem:
If you pay attention to trends in new tech adoption, then the tension between convenience vs quality is on your radar. Time and time again, consumers give up some amount of quality for convenience. Think about mobile phones, even before smartphones. Mobiles don’t sound nearly as good as a landline nor is the connection as robust. But the convenience of mobility eventually won. You can think about this tradeoff with other products: Netflix, online news, digital photos. The list goes on.
Of course, there are instances in which we really do want quality. Medical solutions come to mind. Also, perhaps, in the B2B space. I’ve been watching online supply chain startups like Fictiv and Maker’s Row. These aren’t consumer-facing companies but rather, business facing ones. And I wonder how their business-customers navigate the convenience vs quality trade-off. It seems it might be a tough sell in the B2B space. But only time will tell.
TAKE IT FURTHER
The Lit Review of Technology Adoption Models, JISTEM 2017
The Quest for Convenience, The Nielsen Co 2018
Supply Chain Trends to Watch, Forbes 2019
If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.
If you do a lot of teamwork, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting a few people on the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. A great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.
I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps for legibility. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from conventional & easy ideas to unconventional & challenging ones.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work in FastCo
Check out these living sculptures from London-based architectural and urban design firm, ecoLogicStudio.
ecoLogicStudio takes a multi-perspective approach to their work, seeking to integrate the slow process of natural systems with the speedy processes of technological ones.
I love it when a design firm posts a manifesto on their about page. Here’s a taste:
We are not satisfied with the current level of engagement of the discipline of architecture towards the global ecological crisis: we believe that a critical as well as active role for architecture is necessary in order for the discipline to have an impact; we believe this role can be achieved by refusing to hide into the production of fictional scenarios, and by engaging with the organisation of matter, energy and information across scales and regimes.
Multiscalarity is critical to this new systemic comprehension of architecture and the “city”; we can experiment with new regional planning protocols by for instance re-framing the growth or farming of micro-algal organism across natural habitats, inhibiting or stimulating their proliferation in the landscape or in custom designed artificial systems, while incubating the emergence of related business ecologies [see the Regional Algae Farm project presented later].
TAKE IT FURTHER
Inside Smart Geometry
Slow Design on wikipedia
Check out this interview with investor and author Roger McNamee. McNamee’s written and recently published, Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe in which he articulates his thoughts on the negative impacts that facebook has on our economy, media, public health, and our brains. He argues that the gov’t needs to respond to these impacts as they responded to industrial pollution in the late 1970s – they created a system to hold companies accountable for cleaning up the mess.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Delete your facebook account or, at least, don’t use it as your primary news source
- Curate your own news feed with an RSS reader like feedly
- Subscribe to and support quality journalism like WNYC’s On the Media
- Tell your reps that they need to address these issues at a policy level. (And if they need help getting up to speed, encourage them to reach out to you or someone you know who is tech savvy and a clear communicator)
Iconic architect, furniture designer, and co-founder of Knoll Associates, Florence Knoll, passed away last week at the age of 101. She developed her classic modernist style for corporate interiors in the mid 20th century and it still rings true today.
Knoll studied architecture at the renowned Cranbrook school with masters like Mies van de Rohe and Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero. She went on to co-found Knoll Associates and was the driving design force at the firm. She designed spaces for corporate giants like IBM, GM, Heinz, and CBS, and she commissioned innovative pieces from Bertoia’s wire chair to Saarinen’s fiberglass tulip series (which she had to convince a New Jersey boat maker to fabricate) to van de Roe’s Barcelona chair. The work is timeless.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Remembering Florence Knoll (Fast Company)
The designer’s skill set is seen as a generalist skill set. This might be because designers are trained in two complementary areas: artistic practice and social science. They learn artistic practice so they can master a creative process (sketching, modeling, building, testing, iterating). Designers train in social science so that have tools that help them to understand and collaborate with end users of what they design.
It’s a valuable skill set. But it’s also broad. It can be applied to just about anything. It can be applied to scaling a product like facebook so that the company can get billions of users addicted to using the platform. Or it can be applied to a non-profit so that they can engage their community in positive change.
These examples are two extremes and of course, there are lots of applications between them. But I want to pause here for a moment and ask the people who are interested in design to ask this question: Design — what is it good for? Why is it important to learn this skill set? Do we learn it so that we can help the 1% get richer which, at the end of the day, is what the facebook application is about? Or do we learn this skill set to genuinely make the world better?
This is so beautiful. Enjoy. Hug your people.