Living with the network: @dconstruct-ed

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DConstruct is always my day for sitting back, listening and absorbing. Here are a few things I noted down/remember from the day:

Warren Ellis’ talk was hard work to listen to but it was beautifully written and a great history lesson; I noted down his phrase ‘too weird and woo-woo for these unironic normcore times’!

Georgina Voss on ‘reproductive vapourware‘ – crazy gynaecological apparatus from back in the day.

Clare Reddington: ‘A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time’ – Patrick Geddes, 1904. 2.8 Hours Later looks both crazy and fun. 2014’s Playable City winner, Shadowing, launches 11th September in Bristol – share your chalkifications on the Guardian Witness app. A quote on how the designers of the project wanted Shadowing to be ‘more like a chalkboard than a game’, which I thought was nice. Also, I completely missed the NYC Subway Signs experiment last year, that was neat!

Aaron Straup Cope on how the internet gives us a memory: ‘The ability to see into the future and into the past has not been available to most people’, and therefore how the power to recall something, to revisit it at a time and place of one’s own choosing (blogs, for example) significantly shifts the power dynamic. It is also really useful ‘in order to understand one’s own interests’. (This is why I blog even if it is sporadic!). Another thing he said that made so much sense to me: how today people are involved in ‘creating things with the intention to remember’ – I’m looking at you, Facebook – they aren’t always in the moment. Also very memorable: ‘think about what you think, know and do not just in terms of what you do but how it lasts over time.’

Brian Suda: The new digital rules – NPR on when to wish someone a happy birthday. The internet of things – ‘things imply stuff, a very first world problem’. Developing countries might not have ‘things’ and often don’t have the internet so it’s an unfair proposition at the moment – that was interesting.

Mandy Brown gave a passionate talk on how the web is unequal, a reflection of society – hence harassment etc.

Tom Scott’s talk on our future in 2030 is here.

Sadly I missed the talks by Tom Scott, Anab Jain on the Valley of the Meatpuppets and Cory Doctorow but I hear they were great – I’ll catch up on those when the videos are released.

It’s going to take some time to assimilate thoughts from DConstruct – food for the mind, difficult to digest in parts but important to consume.

Brainstorming, etc.

Thought I’d share a few of the videos I got to watch during the Coursera course I did recently that specifically focussed on that most coveted creative process, brainstorming.

First, want to know what a brainstorm to create the perfect printer looks like? Look no further:

(That reminded me of this Oatmeal take on printers that I have next to my desk, so read and guffaw if you haven’t seen it yet!).

Then, more brainstorming fun from Bud Light – their 2009 Superbowl commercial which I hadn’t seen before:

Frivolity aside, let’s look at the situations that precede some brainstorms that can make us approach them very differently. Two Apollo 13 clips:

In the end, my friends, failure is NOT AN OPTION.

Making innovation work in organisations (based on @daveowens’ Coursera material)

Innovation Constraints, by Professor David Owens

Innovation Constraints, by Professor David Owens

Over the summer, I did an 8-week course on Coursera through Vanderbilt University, titled ‘Leading strategic innovation in organizations‘. Taught by Professor David Owens, it walked us through the material from his book Creative People Must Be Stoppedand gave me some interesting food for thought regarding things I do on a regular basis at work: how to approach business through the lens of constraints, how to overcome them, and suggestions for how to make innovation work within the constraints you have.

Professor Owens breaks innovation’s constraints into 6:

Individual constraints: People aren’t challenged to think differently because they don’t know how to. This is something I face with people I work with very often, and toolsets like Ideo’s Method Cards, even Willsh’s Artefact Cards are solutions to this. Very simply: start generating ideas, assess the concepts you come up with, and implement the best one.

Group constraints: While working in a group, the culture of the group doesn’t support risk. So you need to find ways to make risk OK. Solutions to this include developing a process that mitigates risk and makes people feel they are more in control. It also depends on the participants of the group, so they need to be chosen carefully at the outset; with an individual’s behaviours counting for more than their job titles. An energetic junior planner over a Chief Strategy Officer might actually be the right choice for a particular situation – we shouldn’t forget that.

Organisational constraints: This happens when an organisation doesn’t consider innovation strategic enough to pay attention to. It can be overcome if the organisation structures itself differently, in a way that prioritises innovation. Tips for this include knowing what your strategy is, telling the story to the people you work with, trusting ‘doers’, understanding the risks across the business, finding hidden stakeholders (as he put it ‘people who don’t necessarily have the power to say yes but who have the power to say no), following project logic, making innovation everyone’s job – not just a subset of the company, cultivating a mechanism for people to appeal decision to avoid groupthink, keeping teams aligned so you don’t go off-piste, trying not to over or under-fund it – both are problems, developing pilots & prototypes, and always – ALWAYS knowing who you’re innovating for in the first place; the audience.

Market constraints: This happens when industry fails to recognise an opportunity because they don’t see utility & value in it. Solutions to overcome this include: partnering to learn instead of to kill innovation (i.e avoiding the trap many tech companies fall into these days; Facebook bought WhatsApp to stop them becoming bigger than themselves. It’s still early days so I hope they have a plan to learn instead of sitting back after the acquisition), developing new tests for new ideas, sharing the returns to innovation with partners so you always sense-check your progress or lack of it, telling the market what’s new in advance so you prep them for your product, watching the market instead of the competition and starting at the low end of the market instead of the high end.

Societal constraints: This is when society doesn’t support the product’s values and aspirations.It happened with the Segway, for example – stellar team but it wasn’t the right time for people to accept it. The barrier can be overcome by making the product legitimate in their eyes. This can be done by accounting for different kinds of value systems in society, by getting stakeholders involved early, by making sure you’re not innovating just for yourself, and by understanding the wider issues in the world (economy, culture) and how they will affect your product.

Technological constraints: This is when you can’t really make your brilliant idea a reality because the technology to make it happen doesn’t exist yet. It can be overcome by knowing very clearly what you do and do not know – so where the knowledge gaps are, by thinking of sequencing the steps to build your product and co-ordinating arrangements, by leaving time for feedback after tests, by having a process to collect output and by being aware of the by-product of your innovation, both desired and undesired (maybe you produce a new kind of solvent that does a lot of damage to the environment even if it solves you problem; what is your solution to that in advance of your bringing it to market?).

Obviously some of this is more obvious than others, but I found it a useful lens to approach innovation through. Each week required students to do a diagnostic test to assess how impeded we were by our own constraints that fell into each of the above buckets. I was forced to think of the processes I was confronted with daily at work (and in an organisation like Omnicom there are many) as well as in myself, so I started thinking about how to improve them, and me. I don’t have all the answers yet but drawing on lessons from the course I hope to find some soon!

Words of wisdom from @annfriedman


This morning we had Ann Friedman speak to a bunch of us at Ada’s List. Ann used to be the Executive Editor of GOOD, and is a freelance journalist who has written for, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Hairpin, and Columbia Journalism Review amongst others.

There’s a Storify of the morning here, but I also wanted to separately share the links Ann referred to as I think they are all worth knowing (or re-familiarising ourselves with):

Shine Theory, or how powerful women make the best friends by Ann Friedman in

Horizontal Loyalty, from a 2011 commencement speech by NPR’s Robert Krulwich at the University of California Berkeley

Mentorship vs. sponsorship in fast-tracking your career by Jenna Goudreau in Business Insider

On scenius and stealing like an artist, Austin Kleon at SXSW 2014

100 Interviews, a personal project by journalist and comedian Gaby Dunn that kick-started her career

Ask and Offer, by Natalia Oberti Noguera on trying to match your skills with what someone else needs and vice versa

The Island, a (fictional) place to consign harassers to that can become code for warning people about them, by Ann Friedman

The Disapproval Matrix for understanding haters, by Ann Friedman