Technology has become so powerful that it’s tempting to think it can solve all our problems. Faced with increased competition and a disruptive economy, many businesses are tempted to throw a big dose of tech at their problems and consider them solved. But the essential first step in any tech initiative has nothing to do with technology.
I’ve lived (barely) through many tech initiatives, and I learned the hard way that the essential first step to tech success is cheaper, more fun and decidedly non-techie: your workplace culture.
Take the television broadcaster I worked with to create a digital video library. The project had super-smart staff, cutting-edge technology, and buy-in from the highest levels. It failed spectacularly.
It failed for three primary reasons:
1. No curiosity about new ways to do things: No one in the rank-and-file saw a problem that needed fixing. Their process was basically unchanged from the days of film, but with smart people and lots of effort, it still worked.
2. A lack of openness to new ideas: The new system was radically different and required a new way of working —and there was lots of scary new stuff to learn.
3. Fear: There was widespread fear that the system would not work, or that if it did, it would put people out of jobs.
There were plenty of other reasons, of course, but a culture that had stymied innovation for years permeated the company, and no one involved in our digital initiative took that into consideration. Instead, we focused on tweaking the technology to make it more palatable to users. We missed the boat completely.
If you want to change the world with technology (or at least your little corner of it), check your culture first:
1. Is your organization open to new ideas and people? A good start to creating this is dropping the “Yes, buts” from your speech. Instead of instantly arguing for why something won’t work, welcome it with “Yes, and,”thereby starting a conversation about possibilities instead of limitations.
2. Are your people curious or defensive when presented with new things? Rewarding curiosity by placing lots of small bets, pilot projects, and individual initiatives —even if it leads to dead ends —exercises a vital organizational muscle.
3. Do you recognize emotions on the job, and do you acknowledge and respect them? (This is also known as emotional intelligence.) Start with yourself: pay attention to what emotions come up during your day and call them out, silently to yourself at first and then out loud, sending the signal to everyone that it’s OK to have feelings on the job.
These critical cultural cornerstones not only lay the foundation for tech success, but also show the most important business investment is in your people, not machines.
How does your organization’s culture support innovation?
By Tim Peek
Tim Peek creates the ideal future with businesses, NGOs, and their leaders and advises them on ways to make it happen now: www.timpeek.com.
What are you pursuing or working on now?
Kristina: I’m currently working on the global health team at ThoughtWorks. Our team works at the intersection of technology and global health, building solutions to enable access to health care in resource poor countries.
Melanie: I’m currently working as an experience designer at ThoughtWorks, and working on a redesign for a major airline in India. My role is a mixture of product strategy, user experience design and creative visioning.
How did you get started?
Kristina: Prior to ThoughtWorks, I was working on a project with for the Ministry of Health in Tanzania so when the Global Health practice launched, I wanted to be part of it.
Melanie: I was running a small design consultancy called Commons11. We helped individuals and companies to create solutions to social and economic problems. I actually found out about ThoughtWorks through Kristina who organized Mobile4Drinks with my business partner! When I joined, I was really excited about joining a company that was doing great large scale technical work while also doing good.
Are there any challenges that you didn’t expect?
Kristina: Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, right? We work on a global team so even the simple tasks of scheduling meetings is a difficult task.
Melanie: Absolutely! I never thought I’d be sent to India to work on a local project. Travel is an exciting and expected part of this job, but also can be challenging; in the end though, you learn and gain a lot from each experience.
Who or what has been the biggest supporter or catalyst of your work?
Kristina: Watching end users use the technology we build is the biggest catalyst of my work. It’s so humbling and exciting at the same time.
Melanie: I am really lucky to have built up a great community of people in Toronto through Commons11 and now ThoughtWorks who help inspire and push me forward every day.
When are you at your best?
Kristina: The few times when our team is all together is when I’m at my best. We all feed off each other’s energy.
Melanie: Similar to Kristina, I’m at my best when I’m surrounded by people who inspire me and working together we are stronger. I also love adapting to new situations where I can tackle big systemic challenges.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
Kristina: Health is a human right that a majority of the world does not have access to.
Melanie: Information and technology are great enablers, but also can divide those who don’t have access.
If you could name one thing, what would be the most important challenge for your country to tackle?
Kristina: Inequality in access and delivery to health care.
Melanie: Oh that’s tough, but I would have to say I’m really concerned about water in Canada. Access to clean water affects the health and socio-economic status of our population, especially in rural, remote and first nations communities in Canada. If we don’t step up our protection of such a critical resource, we’ll lose something we can never regain.
How/ why did you decide to become Hub Organizers? What about your experience with The Feast has inspired or surprised you most?
Kristina: We’re really passionate about food and wanted to create a forum in Toronto for locals to discuss and engage.
Melanie: Food, inspiring people, great conversation… need I say more?! I was really inspired and surprised by the diversity of people who came to the Feasts, making each feast very different from the last.
We’re taking on new The Feast Worldwide dinner organizers: learn more here. Applications close July 30th.
The Feast’s weekly round-up is a mixture of things you want to know in-the-now and looking forward. Know something that should be on this list? Let us know!
The world’s first family robot. Jibo is elevating the game for software application developers and has potentially meaningful insights about the future of technology and interaction design.
Where farm meets skyscraper. These floating responsive agriculture designs use current practices from around the world as inspiration for an answer to the growing concerns around global food security and urban planning.
“Ignore the wisdom of the crowd in favor of the wisdom of the confident.” Why being aware of external influences and being confident in your views can create a wiser communal outcome.
Want ice cream? There’s an app for that. In NYC? Uber is on ice cream delivery call. Today, July 18th, only, use your smartphone to satisfy your craving by selecting the ice cream option on the Uber app.
It pays to be a country that does good in the world. Simon Anholt explains in his TED talk, “I have never once seen a single domestic policy issue that could not be more imaginatively, effectively and rapidly resolved than by treating it as an international problem, looking at the international context, comparing what others have done, bringing in others, working externally instead of working internally.” Listen to the full talk.
Can social media and anonymity co-exist? Sustaining a supportive and thought-provoking space for social media anonymity while making a profit proves to be a challenge – but not an unconquerable one. Read how Whisper is entering this “secret economy.”
Listening to your gut turns out to be extremely valuable. Here’s how you can get better at it.
Inspiration or distraction? Is the trend in playful design of offices instead of or in support of utility? A thought-provoking piece on what the offices of tech giants tell us about the future of how we work.
Biases in our data. If technology is changing the way the world works, how do we ensure that platforms are objectively representative? Some universities have cracked the code on how to even the playing field.
A special film screening in Times Square today. Join Global Citizen from 4-8 pm today in Times Square in celebration of Nelson Mandela Day and the movement against extreme poverty.
If you had told me that I one day would be devising a social innovation world domination plan, I would have laughed. Then shuddered. But here I am plotting on Skype with people from Athens, Greece to Jakarta, Indonesia how to move thousands of people doing the best work in the world to do the best work for the world. Turns out, in 2014, it’s a very small world.
The plan is called The Feast Worldwide and was born from a belief that the biggest ideas are often sparked around the dinner table. It’s in those intimate, seemingly insignificant moments between friends that you are free to ask questions you don’t typically get to ask: Why are things the way they are? Why do we do what we do? How can we do better? These questions lead to unassuming trains of thought that find themselves snowballing into bucket lists and business plans and dreams to change the world.
We are creating a movement for anyone, anywhere in the world to rally themselves, their communities, and the world in taking a step forward toward a better future. Over two years of world domination, here’s what we’ve learned about making change:
1. It takes time
Though it seems obvious, it’s the one point we most often forget: change takes a lot of time. You can’t end childhood hunger in a two hour conversation over dinner, no matter how brilliant you are, but you can plant the seed. As the saying goes, “From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.”
2. There’s power in numbers
Margaret Mead notoriously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We’ve seen first-hand the power of a group of ambitious, idealistic people hungry for change coming together in the same room. Ideas cross-pollinate and percolate into thought-out plans. Together, by combining skills and communities, their bold vision for the world suddenly seems within reach. And it is.
3. Trust the outcomes
When we come together with a shared goal or vision, it can be easy to get caught up in expectations. The expectation of meeting the collaborator you’ve been searching for. The expectation of spontaneous clarity. The best outcomes from dinners often can’t be measured, and expectations can blind you to opportunities hidden in plain sight. Trust your intention, and be open to what may come. This is also known as painting a vision and entrusting people to strive to meet it.
Join me in my path toward world domination for good. Set the table for brilliant ideas to take root. Become a Worldwide Hub Leader.
Learn more at feastongood.com/hubs
By Karen Baker
Karen dreams of a world where no one feels isolated. Good thing she connects people in the community to Feast programs, managing Worldwide, process and other delightful encounters.
What are you working on now? How did you get started?
I’m currently the Chief Happiness Officer at CreativeMornings, a globally distributed event series for the creative community. Other companies might call this a Community Manager or Director.
The journey started about five years ago when I found myself unfulfilled a decade into my Industrial Design career. On a bad day, I felt like I was designing landfill. I’m proud of the products I worked on, but I needed to feel more connected to people. I remember begging my bosses to go to social innovation conferences.
The first Feast conference I attended came a year later in 2010. I remember clicking register at the very last minute because I knew I couldn’t afford it. It was only around 300 people back then but miraculously, connections I made, speakers I was inspired by, and project ideas I workshopped all lead me to today.
I don’t exactly know what happened over that two day period, but I distinctly remember calling a friend and telling her I’d never felt so alive because I was so inspired to make a big shift.
Here’s where I wrote a description of the job I was looking for. I’m a firm believer in writing things down. You have to “see” your goals.
A little over a year later, just when I thought I was making the shift at my own pace, I got laid off. Two months later I was interning with Collaborative Fund to learn as much as I could about social and creative entrepreneurship while living off savings. It was a humbling and defining moment in my life after a former design director position, but three months with Collaborative Fund led to an experience at Kollabora and now CreativeMornings. I’d say the investment paid off.
Are there any challenges that you didn’t expect?
Absolutely. My brain still functions like a designer where much of the creative process is subjective, exploratory, and iterative. I’m used to ideating and building prototypes of inanimate objects then testing them to see if they work; it’s harder to do that with people, but when you get it right the feedback is priceless. I’m learning to be more systematic. Community also requires me to be a lot more organized. I’m a high functioning introvert so on CreativeMornings Fridays, although I LOVE them, I usually feel quite drained, and I’m napping by 2pm.
Who or what has been the biggest supporter or catalyst of your work?
Definitely my CreativeMornings team. I’ve stumbled on something really unique, and I’m grateful for the daily support, friendship, learnings, and laughs.
What about your experience with The Feast has inspired or surprised you most?
If you’d told me 5 years ago that I’d be working in Community and not missing Industrial Design, I wouldn’t have believed you. I also had no idea I’d have the pleasure of working directly with both Jerri Chou and Kevin Huynh (co-organizer of the Feast 2012) so soon.
When are you at your best? How are you bringing your awesome to the world?
This may sound careless but I think I’m at my best when I don’t think too hard and do things instinctually.
For reasons I don’t even try to work out, I’ve become involved in prison and criminal justice reform. The humanitarian in me thinks about the injustice of mass incarceration in this country every day, and I’m in the early stages of a personal project where I’ll be working with a skilled photographer and friend I met through our CreativeMornings community to document the many Americans who are being affected by it.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
You are connected to everything – love accordingly. I learned that at The Feast.
What does the world need most right now?
Racial, sexual, and gender equality.
If you could name one thing, what would be the most important topic or challenge for your country to tackle?
Say hello to Sally at @sallyrumble.
Request an invite to this year’s Feast 2014.
What do creativity, innovation and productivity all have in common?
It’s something we were all born with the ability to do.
For a long time, getting things done meant being busy and putting in the hard yards. It’s no coincidence, though, that the most innovative companies are the ones that make play an integral part of their culture. Google’s famous 20% rule was responsible for 50% of its new projects. And we’re seeing new, emergent markets transform global economies as more and more people turn their play into purpose.
This month, we’re celebrating this very important part of what we do by making it our theme – online, in the office and at our monthly Worldwide dinner here in New York City. On July 22, join us and our community of incredible makers and doers for a fun-filled feast to think about how we can make play an even bigger part of our work moving ourselves and the world forward.
Last week we dug into the theme Invest at the New York City Hub of The Feast Worldwide, joined by very special guests from The Tibet Fund and from Jeff Gitterman Associates. It would seem to be an unlikely pair, but both entrepreneurs stood united by a common belief: Investing your attention matters just as much as — if not more than — investing actual resources.
Side by side at the dinner table
Jeff Gitterman set the tone with these resonating words of wisdom:
“Success is when you align your present attention with what you can give the world.”
He shared his story pursuing wealth management but feeling like something was missing at the end of the day. He had “made it” in the conventional sense, but he was not spending his time in a way he felt brought true value to the community. After conducting interviews with countless role models, he authored the book Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity. The most poignant take-away? “We’re here to figure out how we can bring our best to the world.”
Lobsang Nyandak, Executive Director of The Tibet Fund, then illustrated how to invest attention and resources both through their initiative fostering entrepreneurship in Tibet as a way to tackle rampant unemployment. Over the meal we dug into creative ways to spark innovation and encourage out of the box thinking among youth that The Tibet Fund could try, and to get into the mindset we started with a Tibetan blessing, which we’ve recorded here just for you!
So how will you use your talents to move the world forward? What happens when you actually invest in people?
Here were just a few ideas we came up with:
What would you do?
Want in on the fun? Sign up for an invitation to our next dinner on July 22nd.
On a Thursday afternoon at Impact Hub DF, a curious group of talented folks in Mexico City gathered around the dinner table to celebrate and feast on ideas for taking ownership of their community. As special guests, they invited Miguel Ramirez from Huertos Concretos and Alonso Vera from AMOROMA.
The theme of the night was Gather, exploring how each of us could become the architects and designers of our communities. For this, there’s no more inspiring example than Huertos Concretos. This organization has taken over rooftops across Mexico City, transforming barren concrete into beautiful gardens. From the gardens come opportunity: educational programs, youth initiatives, and of course delicious herbs, fruit and vegetables.
How might we re-imagine what our communities look like? As citizens, what could happen if we empower enough people to generate local change?
Another fascinating example came from AMOROMA, a collective of artists, producers, designers and activists committed to committed to digitalizing the social fabric of their neighborhood, Colonia Roma. Their project oozes with vibrant stories collected from the viewpoints, insights, anecdotes and perspectives of everyone they meet. This collective is setting out to transform how we think about community and the individual’s own power to transform it. Check out their video below!
Hungry for more? Sign up here to join their next dinner on July 17th.
The Feast Worldwide Toronto has had an eventful year, with everything from crazy blizzards (oh Toronto…) to last minute venue changes. But what they remain awesome at is gathering a community. Last month they brought movers and shakers to the dinner table to celebrate the theme Gather.
“In order to nurture the health, resilience and vibrancy of our linked social, economic and ecological systems SiG will work to develop a “living laboratory” of social experiments that have the potential to achieve system change and improve the well-being of Canadians.”
— Social Innovation Generation
Joining her was Renjie Butalid of Socialsca.pe, a mapping and discovery platform that connects social innovation organizations across the world. Incubated at Igniter, the Toronto-based initiative is taking a new look at how we gather resources, support and momentum towards ground-breaking change.
“We’re building a tool where community organizations, policy advocates — anyone doing work in the social change space — can reference empirical data of what their community looks like in the form of a map. We’re finding that tool currently doesn’t exist, or if it does, people are reinventing the wheel each and every time”
— Interview with Urban Matters
What’s really fascinating? Social Scape hosts “map-a-thons” wherever they go, inviting the local community to gather and share their brain power on all the amazing initiatives going on in their neighborhood.
Which raises the more personal, philosophical side of gathering — how do you make a community your own? In Toronto especially, many people move to the city for work and start from scratch when it comes to gathering a network of likeminded folks. What are the best ways for gathering the resources you yourself might need? And with that, the conversation began…
Toronto will be taking a break for the summer to prepare for their massive feast on October 11. Want to join them? Say hello!
A little while back we celebrated the second annual National Day of Civic Hacking, an initiative born out of the 2012 Feast Conference (yay!) that brings together citizens from all walks of life to improve our cities and local governments.
Over 11,000 participants in 100 cities across the world gathered to move forward projects for a brighter future, and here in New York we did the same, with one catch: Instead of a hackathon to create new ideas, we wanted to hold an event where entrepreneurs can share what they’re already passionately pursuing — and get the support of the community in moving them forward, in the true Feast spirit.
Many thanks to Yangbo Du for the Vine!
To kick it off, we heard from two inspiring civic leaders framing the challenge (and opportunity) facing our cities. David Gilford, Vice President of the NYC Economic Development Council, shared his approach to building resiliency at the local level, while Meredith Lee, AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at the Department for Homeland Security, explained how the federal government is leveraging data to better prepare the nation.
How are we responding? To start, Landline demoed their battery-powered data collection pack and mobile app ecosystem to equip local authorities post-disaster at a fraction of the current cost. Then Dream See Do, the winner from The Feast 2013 Hackathon
Then it was pitch time to start off our breakout sessions, where anyone and everyone could share what they were working on and where they wanted feedback. Our favorite pitch? Team Start a Garden, the winning team of high school students (!) from the Partnership for a Healthier America hackathon:
— Meredith (@mmlee) May 31, 2014
A big thanks to our partners in the event, NYC Big Apps, One Hope Wines, Runa, Magic Hat, and Turn to Tech. You rock. Want in on more events like this? Subscribe to our newsletter.