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How Design Thinking and Technology creates problem solvers!This week was the end of a one year project in Albania aiming to develop creative problem solvers in our students, young people that are able to use their imagination, creativity, empathy and technology to solve problems they see in their school and the community where they live. It has been a year of exploration, learning, making prototypes, working together, stretching thinking, and a lot of fun for the iclubbers. It ended with a TechCamp and a big Demo Day.It all started a year ago, with 114 secondary schools participating. Eager to learn new things, the schools came from all the districts, towns and villages. All participating teachers were trained in Design Thinking and initiated the creation of iClubs as extracurricular activity in their schools. In no time, we had 114 iClubs, who stared their journey with the creation of their logo, iClub corner, iClub photo sharing. The teachers created their Facebook group, which became the platform where they kept in touch and shared activities and tips on what was happening in their schools. Each iClub had 5-10 students from Year one (15 years old) to Year four(18 years old), who immediately took the challenge in their hands and started their field research, talking to teachers, other students, parents and businesses in their villages and towns. They identified problems/needs/and wishes, and set out how to make their schools better, and how to help their community.

A big project competition was announced, where 114 projects arrived, from how to use holograms in learning, to 3D digital museums, to e-commerce startup to help parents in a mountain zone to sell the much in demand medicinal herbs.

Thirteen finalists, one per district (Albania has 13 districts) were selected and each iClub was mentored to develop their concept further. Excitement ran high when the 13 teams were invited to take part in a 10 week television programme, where they presented their ideas to a live audience of young people and judges and invited the

viewers to vote for their favourite project via M-Pesa, a first attempt at raising support through crowdfunding.

The culmination of it all, was the iClub TechCamp, an intensive 4 days in Tirana, where the 80 young innovators from all over the country gathered at the beautiful Vodafone building, to learn new things, get feedback and take their concept further. They learnt from Margarita, a Ukrainian top Microsoft trainer how to create their websites from scratch, do a bit of coding and use the cloud tools. They learnt from Albi Greva and Elvis Bregu on the experience of other Vodafone projects. They took their design thinking practice further by creating prototypes of hardware, working with Jess and Tom, two passionate British trainers from Technology will Save Us. They were super inspired by a new mentor, Aleksander Bello, only a few years older than them, an Albanian young man working at WhatsApp/Facebook in Mountain View, California. They practiced pitching their ideas and got ready to face the business community and the judges. Demo Day brought a lot of emotion when the businesses pledged their support for the projects to be implemented. A lot of partnerships were created and became crucial to this project. The British Council and Vodafone Foundation who supported it, the Albanian Ministry of Education and Sports, the Educational Directorates in every district, the schools’ leadership. The students were encouraged to create their innovation ecosystem in their village, or town, with parents, local authorities, businesses, local media, who started to contribute in various ways.

There are two particular collaborative innovation networks that were created through this project that make it really special. One is the teachers network, a Facebook group, where teachers shared the activities of the iclub and connected with other. It also gave the teachers the possibility to connect to wider initiatives like the global Teacher’s Guild. The second collaborative innovation network is the one that kicked off at the IClub Techchamp, the young innovators network, with students from around the country.

Students and teachers have called iclub a life changing experience. It gave them the mindset that “they can do stuff, if they have the knowledge the tools and like a designer see every problem as an opportunity for solution”.

None of it could have been done without the passionate work of the innovator teachers, who gave a lot of their time after school hours and mentored the iClubbers all the way!

Many colleagues I have met from different countries have expressed their desire to give a try to this iClub model. Do get in touch if you too would like to help or take it to your country. We think it is pretty replicable model and super inspirational.

Are you an Empathetic Communicator?
Interview with Patti Sanchez
I enjoyed reading Illuminate, a new book by Patti Sanchez and Nancy Duarte, practical, no jargon, visually beautiful, a great compendium for anybody that wants to improve the way we communicate for success. Together, Nancy and Patti spent almost four years researching how the world’s most legendary leaders communicated during time of transformationI and designed a five step approach that anybody can learn and master. I asked Patti and Nancy a few questions and I’d like to share the answers through this blog:
Julia: Change and transformation is often a hard and painful journey. Confusion, uncertainty, gossip and lack of understanding where we are heading and why, make it even harder. What can leaders do that to not only communicate the future vision but motivate people to follow them and be part of the change?
Patti: Leaders often communicate at the outset of big changes and the completion of them but many tend to go silent during the most trying times during the journey. Confusion and gossip are likely either symptoms of this lack of communication, or a lack of empathetic communication. Because it’s the job of a leader to both create a vision and then also communicate it, they may suffer from the curse of knowledge, feeling like they have the best grasp of the situation but failing to see things from the perspective of the people they’re asking to come with them. By taking the time to understand the potential points of confusion or concern, and then communicating about them consistently, leaders can minimize resistance and keep people motivated.
Julia: You liken the transformation journey in a business with the hero’s journey structure in a story. How did you come to that insight?
Patti: We studied movements of all kinds in business and society to try to find a pattern in them. What we discovered is that they are made up of three acts that actually mirror the classic structure of a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It makes perfect sense because stories are all about transformation and asking people to change in any way is asking them to embark on a journey. There’s a reason it’s called a Hero’s journey, though — it takes time and effort because people don’t change easily.. Transformation of any kind, whether it’s in business or in a blockbuster movie, requires hard work. And the people who are doing the hard work—those you are asking to embrace your vision and carry it forward—are the real heroes of your transformation story. And, as a leader, it’s up to you to understand what the journey feels like to them and guide them to success every step of the way using empathetic communication.  
Julia: How possible is it for the leaders to see the long difficult transformation journey with the eyes of the “travellers”? And why does empathy help?
Patti: Of course it’s impossible to see the world exactly as another person does, but you can get pretty darn close with two easy steps: ask and listen. Taking the time to ask people what they are thinking and feeling will help you empathize with the sacrifices you are asking them to make and identify the rewards that will motivate them the most so you can adjust your communication to align with their needs. But what you learn may also change the way you frame and execute your vision because your travellers’ perspective may reveal flaws in your strategy or better approaches to winning support for it. Having a clear picture of where you—and your traveler—stand is the only way you can begin mapping a clear path toward the future.
Julia: Any example that stood out in your research where change was communicated not only clearly but empathetically.
Patti: There are many examples, but I particularly loved the story about how General Motors’ CEO, Mary Barra, handled a crisis. After an investigation revealed that flawed ignition switches in some GM vehicles had caused fatal accidents, Barra had to address the company. Rather than obfuscate the facts or try to minimize the situation, Barra spoke with striking honesty and vulnerability, admitting that mistakes that had been made and acknowledging her own feelings of regret. In doing so, she empathized with the victims of the situation and honored them by asking her staff to keep the experience in their memories, saying “We are going to fix the failures in our system—that I promise…But I never want to put this behind us. I want to keep this painful experience permanently in our collective memories. I don’t want to forget what happened because I—and I know you—never want this to happen again.” By empathizing with their customers, Barra and her staff deepened their resolve to change their processes to avoid such failures in the future.
Julia: Can leaders learn empathetic communication?
Patti: Absolutely. Empathy is a capability that we all have because we’re hard wired to want to connect with other people. All you have to do is start asking questions and really listening and taking note of what you hear. If noticing how others are feeling doesn’t come naturally to you, ask someone that you trust to coach you on it. Let them watch you communicate to your audience and give them permission to give feedback when you’re missing emotional cues or opportunities to learn more about others’ perspectives. The good news is that empathy is like a muscle — the more you flex it, the bigger it gets, so you’ll definitely improve over time if you make it a regular practice.
Interviewed by Julia
March 2016
Question Time
Why are the houses numbered even on one side of the road and odd on the other side?, asked my grandson this morning while we were making breakfast together. I don’t know, I said, and continued to prepare his breakfast. Why don’t you know? Well, I probably didn’t ask my grandma. Why didn’t you ask your grandma? Because …… Well nothing beats a child’s curiosity.  Of course we googled it in the end. And while you try and find answers for questions you have never asked, you learn new things all the time.Unless you are a journalist and trained to ask questions, we are all trained to give answers. Right answers. Of which, very often there is only one. The quizzes, the either or-s, the tables, the sums at school,  followed by all the questions your bosses expect you to give answers to. The power of being evaluated on the basis of the right questions enforces in us the reluctance to say “I don’t know”. What if you reveal that there is more that you don’t know than you know?  How many times you have found yourself in a meeting, wanting to ask a question and deciding not to, in case people wonder, how come you don’t know the answer? Of course you are not alone. It takes guts to do that. Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s DNA, says you need to be humble enough to acknowledge to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, and confident enough to admit that in front of everyone else. In design thinking we call that attitude of wisdom and it is not easy.This month I worked with three big groups,  engineers, communication directors and teachers. We did a lot of quest-storms, (brainstorming questions). The questions that sparked most discussions were about things we either assume we know the answers to or assume everybody has the same answer to as we do. With the engineers the question about ‘What does digital mean?’ brought about 80 definitions. I can’t wait to hear what definition they will bring next time from their clients and their children.For the communication directors, the questions were about who their audiences are, their profile, where they live, are they Facebook inhabitants or Instagrammers, do they watch videos on YouTube or Periscope, do they watch 3 minute videos or 6 second Vines?Curiosity and questions being at the heart of learning, we spent time with the teachers on how might we develop questioning skills in students. One of them commented, this feels like we’re flipping the roles, what if I don’t know the answers? Great conversation followed.Next week it is Question Week, an initiative by Warren Berger, author of‘ A More Beautiful Question’, in honour of Einstein birthday on the 14th March.So, how good are you at asking questions? Berger, has designed a quiz, which he calls your Inquiry Quotient Quiz. I was quite pleased with mine. Find out how you fare here.The important thing is not to stop questioning” Einstein.  And not only on the 14th of March.
Design Thinking in Action
Very often I am asked Is design Thinking only a fun session, or does it really help to make innovation happen? What better that having somebody that has experienced Design Thinking not only to come up with novel ideas but also how to go from rough prototypes to the “real thing” . Welcome our guest blogger Anisa Gjini:
“From paper to reality – when the fun ends and work starts” 
Our idea won at the UNDP Innovation Bootcamp. Our campaign to raise awareness for domestic violence would use a scenario of violence enacted by actors, and capture the reactions of people watching the scene. Our set up would be at a busy square in town where we would put a red door behing which violence was happening. Excitement was high. The four of us were thrilled not only that we won, but that we also got some funding to turn the idea into reality.Time was limited, the budget was small but we were determined that would be able to implement what we had ideated, and the mock prototype looked fab. Then, completely unexpected something happened to give us the first blow. The “red door in the square” idea was being used in a TV commercial. We had to alter that part of our prototype. This was the hardest part. We were back to generating ideas how to create a prop where violence could be seen by passers by in the street.Time was running out, would we be able to finish on time? Would we be able to do something else within the constraints of the budget we had? After several brainstorms, we decided to use a camper van. Finding an appropriate camper was more difficult than we thought. So was finding a suitable place where to park the camper van in Tirana.All set for the weekend, weather being on our side, we parked the camper in a busy road, tried out what passers -by would witness (you have to see the video for this}, and got the cameras ready to film the reactions. Disappointment couldn’t be bigger. We realized the place wasn’t right, people passing by were not noticing what was going on. Tired, worried that the whole thing would be a flop, we made plans to try a different place. It couldn’t have been more different!We were taken aback by how many people stopped by and the reactions we got from them. Suddenly policemen arrived at the scene. A few people had called to report that a violence was happening just by the side of the road, inside a camper van. One of them didn’t leave the scene until we had to open the door and reveal that this was a recording! It was a reaction we hadn’t anticipated, and we are pleased.It started as a fun weekend to come up with ideas, and turning those ideas into reality,  it has been hard work. However much you plan, there are lots of unexpected challenges that come your way. And that is what makes it even more exciting when you are determined to make it happen. It has been an amazing experience and a lot of learning. The big day is near. We can’t wait to see the outcome of the work we’ve done since November, This is where our next stage starts. For this we need all your help to make our campaign viral, so more young people like us become aware of domestic violence. Indeed it happens behind doors but remember “Violence is your business too”. And not only on the 8th of March!
Have a lovely week
February 2016
We got excited this week about the gravitational waves, which had in fact been anticipated by Einstein 100 years ago. I read about them, watched the news, and yet found it really hard to grasp the meaning of it. A big consolation when I read the Guardian’s section asking scientists to explain it in simple terms as if we were kiids. So, I was not the only dumb one, yet none the wiser, until yesterday when I bumped into the cartoon made by Physicists Umberto Cannella and Daniel Whiteson, inviting us to imagine space like a giant sheet of rubber and how things that have mass cause it to bend. I loved it. You can check the comics at PHDcomics.There has been a lot of activity in my twitter world this week. Suddenly a lot of people decided to follow me. I felt obliged to thank them all and follow them too, which brought me to fascinating blogs and articles to add to my list. I loved Ed Laczynski’s story about his blootooth meeting with a potential investor, a great dos and don’ts for any startup. I got to know Linda Naiman and her Creativity at work blog, and got introduced to the Backchannel and the man that dissected his brain.My inspiration this week came from the skype meetups I had with three iclubs, students and teachers from secondary schools in Albania developing their project concepts for a national competition. The theme is “How might we use technology and the knowledge we get at school, to solve some of the problems that our local communities face, and by doing so, take the learning to a different level. The enthusiasm, the passion and energy were contagious!Have a lovely week
Future is what you do now!  
I met Vijay Govindarajan in London this week at an evening organised by Harvard Business Publishing, at the beautiful historic building of Herman Miller’s National Design Center in London. The evening started with drinks and nibbles and networking and by the time we got into the auditorium, it was rather late. VG started with a pack of facts: research shows, he said, that at this time of the day, after 10 minutes in your lecture, you have lost 75% of the audience, after 15 minutes, you have lost 100% of it, and the reason is, at this time in the evening, the mind has got other things to wander about. Later on, walking to the tube, I thought of course, research can be proved wrong if the lecturer is as brilliant and entertaining as Vijay.
VG’s new book, The three Boxes, comes up in April and we got a preview of what’s to come. I’d like to share a few insights from the evening:
1. Strategy is Innovation. A simple equation. Strategy is not about celebrating the past or celebrating people, it is about leadership in the future. As leadership in the future is adapting to change and adapting to change is innovation, strategy is Innovation.2. Future is what you do now. Future is not about what you have to do in 2025. Future is what you do now. Planning for the future is useless, preparing for the strategy makes sense. The challenge is, you need to create your future while managing the present. How do you find a balance between the two? This is where VG’s three boxes come handy. Strategy is about:

  • managing the present- VG calls that managing BOX1, where most of your current projects are,
  • selectively forgetting the past-this is BOX 2, where you put what you need to forget, to unlearn. This is really difficult, as it has to do with entrenched thinking, remember the monkeys and coconut tree experiment.
  • creating the Future- this is your BOX 3, where you work to create the new market, come up with breakthroughs.  And, of course the trick is maintaining a balance between the three boxes, putting the right resources, metrics and people in each.

3. You need to create “next practices”. We all know about best practices, benchmarking and performance management. VG says, strategy is not about best practices, it’s about creating the next practices. You can not do breakthroughs with the tools you have in BOX1, you need other tools and possibly other people for your BOX3. Take the example of The high jump innovation. It goes like this. The journey started in 1896 with the Scissors technique, it had continuous improvement and then it didn’t go any further, until the Western Roll arrived. That too improved and improved incrementally till it could go no further. The Straddle technique arrived with another breakthrough and then later on the Fosbury Flop did the trick. All breakthroughs happened when there was a new way of doing it, a BOX 3 way. The interesting thing is that eventually all BOX 3 techniques, with time, become BOX1 scissors; a warning bell for all startups out there.
4. You need to have a big ambition, a goal that may seem unrealistic today. JFK’s moon statement was one such at the time: ” We will put a man on the moon and bring him back before the end of the decade”. True, if you imagine a mediocre future, that’s what you will get. And this is not just for companies, this is something for me and you too.
So, what’s your moon statement?
Have a lovely week

When four generations come together.  It was London Design Thinking Innovation this week. A group of 11 participants gathered in Somerset House to learn about Design Thinking. This is an open event, so you never know who your participants are, let alone what type of group dynamic to expect. One thing you know for sure, you will have a lot of assumptions from reading a bit of background of each participant. They will be smart, with different types of intelligences, I refer here to Howard Gardner’s ten intelligences, and they will learn from both the Workshop and the other participants.

This time the mixture was 50 percent professional executives and 50 % students. I had never had such a split. Not only that, this time, different from the post graduate or doctorate young ones that Design Thinking attracts, the students were first year undergraduates. Assumption number one- half of the people are experienced the other half are not. Assumption number two- the students will benefit from both the workshop and the other participants, the executives might feel the peer experience is thin and hence not beneficial enough.

It didn’t take long to bust the assumptions and enjoy working with a group that was made up of four generations: baby boomers, generation x, generation y, and generation zed, had lived or worked in 24 countries spread across the continents, and were passionate about innovation.

In my sessions, I often refer to collaboration across boundaries as the greatest ingredient for innovation but at the same time as a very hard thing to manage. I have been reflecting this weekend what made this diverse group work beautifully together, and I could see three factors:
-Respect for what each of them brought to the table-
-A common task to work on.
-The desire to learn more on a subject they were passionate about

The key factor out of the three, I would say is the first, the mutual respect for the knowledge, experience, and the interpersonal intelligence. And while I believe that it was of course down to the group itself, my thanks also go to a little beautiful tool, called “My life Map”, that we use at the very start of the two days, which helps the group members share in a very visual way, key moments from their life, the highs and the lows that make them who they are today.

Have a lovely week

Asking the questions

A few weeks ago, we gathered in Brussels for a short session on Design Thinking Innovation and how might we apply it to challenges that we as communicators face. Don’t stop reading, even if you think you are not a designer: this is not a remote, irrelevant concept.   Design thinking is a mindset, a process and an approach to solve problems through innovation.

As a mindset, it embraces ambiguity and uncertainty, challenges assumptions, encourages collaboration across boundaries, and uses prototyping as a way to fail early and learn from it. It is optimistic – where everybody sees a problem, a design thinker sees a need, an opportunity for a novel solution.

As a process, it embodies the HOW of innovation. We all want to be innovative in whatever we do, improve or bring new services, offer new and better products, or produce efficiencies. The question is how? This is where Design thinking comes in, giving us a process that takes us from discovering needs, both current and latent (EXPLORE), to coming up with lots of ideas, by using techniques that trick the brain(IMAGINE), to trying some of those ideas out before making them real (IMPLEMENT), and inspiring people to be part of the innovation (Telling The Story ).

In this piece, I’d like to share my thoughts on the Explore stage. As an approach, design thinking tends to start with the people, rather then the problem. As most problems have got people in them, understanding people at a deeper level is the first step in the design thinking exploration. Very often we think we know our users, customers, employees, we have surveys, focus groups and questionnaires that give us insights. These methods are useful but not enough. The only way to test the assumptions we hold about the way they use our products, the way they read our messages, is by getting out, observing, talking with people in order to create deep empathy, or immersing ourselves in their environment.

For the communicator experts in Brussels the questions were about who our audiences are, what their profile is, what are the spaces we can reach out to them, do they live in Facebook or Instagram, do they watch videos on Youtube or Periscope, do they watch 3 minute videos or 6 second Vines? More questions were explored about the stakeholders in the message, and the power relationships among them: are the communication departments a layer in the flow or part of the decision making process? Are communication directors included in the creation of the message or are they just called in after all is done and it needs to be turned into a press release? With the information deluge that surrounds us, is this the  death of the traditional press release as we know it?…. And then, it’s time to make sense of all the answers, the research, the data, and define the problem itself. The groups realise that very often, what presents itself as a problem is actually a manifestation or effect of something deeper, that needs to be uncovered  – and that takes time. It brings to mind one of Einstein’s sayings: if he had one hour to solve a problem on which his life depended, he would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution. We often do it the other way round, by jumping too early into the solutions space.

Unless you are a journalist and trained to ask questions, we are all trained to give answers. How many times you have found yourself in a meeting, wanting to ask a question and deciding not to, in case people wonder, how come you don’t know the answer? As Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s DNA says, you need to be humble enough to acknowledge to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, and confident enough to admit that in front of everyone else. In design thinking we call that attitude of wisdom and it is not easy.
So, how good are you at asking questions? Warren Berger, author of “‘A More Beautiful Question’, has designed a quiz, which he calls your Inquiry Quotient Quiz. I took it and was quite pleased with mine, 9/10, a natural-born questioner but not a master! You may take yours here.

have a great week

I am in Albania this week. The schools iclub project supported by the British Council and Vodafone Foundation has reached a milestone, 114 secondary schools, spread all over the country, have created their iclubs, have designed their iclub corners and have entered their first project to a nationwide competition on how to use technology and creativity to solve problems in their school and the community, where they live. As BETT, the biggest education event of the year in London comes up this week, we have a real sense of pride, presenting a project that managed to bring together many stakeholders. This in itself is a good reason to celebrate.

IMG_1407This week we have also been talking Future vision and innovation with the top management of UET, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, an inspiring day where leaders from different faculties, functions and disciplines aligned and engaged to make their University top in the region. And as the day progressed there was no doubt that technology will develop at even speedier rates and impact the way knowledge is digitalized and accessed, but in the end it all comes down to people, the leaders, the staff, the students to design a future that will be true to their vision of excellence, and contribution to the labor market and development in Albania and the Balkans.
It rang a bell wnhen I read Ed Hoffman of NASAsaying that even in their highly technical projects,  more important are the social and political risks of the relationship dynamics within and outside the core project team.

You can not have a week in Albania and not immerse in the buzz of new friends, old friends, pay respect to somebody who has lost a dear relative, had a new baby, or celebrates an anniversary. In between the travels inland, had coffee with a group of my school friends, a bunch of baby boomers over 50 s  (of course we have a Facebook group, where we post all our happenings and meetup possibilities) . Most of us have become grandparents,  we all work, we all look good (at least this is what we think), and we all want to do things. As it is January and a lot of resolutions are underway, we started talking about what next. And “next” is far from next months, or a year. We are talking about the next 10 to 15 years, for which we only have ourselves to blame if we want to stay idle or get our acts together and do stuff. So, we started to figure our our “encore careers”, blending what we really have a passion for, some income, and some element of social impact. Research in America suggests that as many as nine million Americans aged 44-70 are engaged in post-retirement careers, and another 31 million Americans want to pursue an encore career. That’s not the case where we come from, so the thrill of being pioneers here starts to show.

THE FUTURO HOUSE

What would it be like to go back to a world with no internet, no laptops, no mobile phones, no Facebook, twitter and emails?

Futuro House

Futuro House @ CSM

This week with my Innovation Accelerator students at Central Saint Martins we spent a couple of hours doing just that, up on the terrace of CSM in Kings Cross, where the Futuro House has landed. It was exciting to step on the terrace and be struck by a spaceship structure, unlock its door and pull down the steps, switch on the lights and find ourselves in a beautiful little house
with a sitting/dining room, a bedroom and a kitchen all in one, and a bathroom on the side. Small but fully formed.

The Futuro House was designed by the Finish architect Matti Suoronnen in the 60s and restored by artist Craig Barnes one year ago. He bought it in South Africa, dismantled and  shipped it to the UK, where 18 months later and after a lot of passionate work by a big team of enthusiasts, the Futuro House is back to its old glory.

Central Saint Martins has housed it temporarily as part of the Intelligent Optimist festival, a range of activities and exhibitions from Future Gazers, Material Explorers, Social Agents and The Fixers, all, in their various ways, using their creative practices and canny intelligences to reimagine better futures.

What would it be like to go back to a world with no internet, no laptops, no mobile phones, no facebook, twitter and emails?

This week with my Innovation Accelerator students at Central Saint Martins we spent a couple of hours doing just that, up on the terrace of CSM in Kings Cross, where the Futuro House has landed. It was exciting to step on the terrace and be struck by a spaceship structure, unlock its door and pull down the steps, switch on the lights and find ourselves in a beautiful little house
with a sitting/dining room, a bedroom and a kitchen all in one, and a bathroom on the side. Small but fully formed.

The Futuro House was designed by the Finish architect Matti Suoronnen in the 60s and restored by artist Craig Barnes one year ago. He bought it in South Africa, dismantled and  shipped it to the UK, where 18 months later and after a lot of passionate work by a big team of enthusiasts, the Futuro House is back to its old glory.

Central Saint Martins has housed it temporarily as part of the Intelligent Optimist festival, a range of activities and exhibitions from Future Gazers, Material Explorers, Social Agents and The Fixers, all, in their various ways, using their creative practices and canny intelligences to reimagine better futures.
2015-11-26 19.12.52
My CSM students are Innovation Accelerators, so The Futuro House became the space where we went back to the past and talked about how our lives have changed over these 40 years, what innovations we have seen, how technology has transformed the way we live and work, how gadgets have become smaller and cheaper, how family structures have changed, how cities have become bigger, how most of us have moved from different places, how we stay in touch and connect with one another, and more importantly what matters to each of us….And then we went on to imagine what the next 40 years might bring!

My CSM students are Innovation Accelerators, so The Futuro House became the space where we went back to the past and talked about how our lives have changed over these 40 years, what innovations we have seen, how technology has transformed the way we live and work, how gadgets have become smaller and cheaper, how family structures have changed, how cities have become bigger, how most of us have moved from different places, how we stay in touch and connect with one another, and more importantly what matters to each of us….And then we went on to imagine what the next 40 years might bring!

December 2015

My young one turned 18. Party at home he said, yes, I know the rules, he assured me before I even started, and yes we are officially allowed to drink this time. It’s a lovely bunch of young ones. We leave food ready and go out for a meal and film.

As we sit at the local Turkish, who takes pride in having featured in a Silent Witness episode, my husband says, you realise this may be his last birthday at home. He’s already planning to have a cricket gap year in Australia. I shouldn’t be shocked, our elder ones have already left home and built their own lives back in Albania, where I come from. What will WE do? We’re both baby boomers, so the short answer is we’ll work, travel a bit more? and hopefully have more time together?

The theme of age and generations has popped up several times this week. We, the baby boomers make up 901 million today, The number of over 60s will be 1.4 billion by 2030 according to UN,  with a lot of us having at least another 20 years, an exciting prospect when you think you may be able to design your own retirement, as Jeff Giesea says in his HBR article, which of course you will not call retirement. So, how will you spend those extra 20 years? My friend Rhona is 69 this year. She will be graduating as a psychoanalyst this year. “I’ve got another decade ahead, she says, good to start a new career!” Both my husband and I enter the 60s with new careers, and having Rhona as a role model, who knows what we will be going for in our 70s.

Research shows that with people continuing to work while they are still able to, we will see five generations working in the same team. A great mixture if people value the contributions from each generation and leverage the great diversity, but also a potential for conflict due to different outlooks, ways of working, perceptions and assumptions. I use a postcard which shows 5 generations, the traditionalists, the baby boomers, the gen X, Gen Y and Gen Zeds.  The traditionalist (in his 70s) is portrayed with a walking stick. The designer of the postcard was in her early twenties, and it never fails to produce some good conversation about perceptions one generation has about the other.

Some companies have started to recognise the generational differences and are doing something about it, like reverse mentoring schemes, where young employees mentor older ones in social media skills, while older ones mentor younger in the organisational ropes of their company.

The benefit of inter-generational cohesion is also picked up by communities. With families becoming smaller, with many on migrational moves both inside and outside their countries, a lot of young people rarely spend time with grandparents or other old people. I loved the example that Ania and Malgosia kindly sent from their Toy project in Poland, of how young and old are building intergenerational life long learning spaces with the goal to unite young children and older people, improve social bonds and dismantle stereotypes.

Talking about stereotypes, this week I got a better one.IMG_1081

It came from some students of mine designing a character 60 years of age. I’m sending them this week’s Times weekend cover in response” What 60s look like”, and a link to misconceptions about aging today.

 

 

 

 

Have a lovely week ahead, get together with somebody from a different generation if you can. And Be open what you can learn!

UNDP design thinking bootcamp

 

 

Our Guest blog this week comes from Jori kadare, reporting on the UNDP Innovation Bootcamp organised in Tirana.

Cool, futuristik, teknologjik, out-of-the-box, të gjitha fjalë të asociuara rëndomtë me inovacionin. Gati gati të krijojnë idenë që vështirë se mund të jesh pjesë e tij. Po realisht inovacioni është më shumë proçes dhe bashkëpunim se sa llampa briliante idesh që papritur ndizen në mendje kreative. U deshën 2 ditë, 20 orë, 40 të rinj dhe një ambjent frymëzyes që të arrinim në këtë përfundim.   

“Nëse do të kisha 1 orë ne dispozicion për të zgjidhur një problem, do ti kushtoja 55 min problemit dhe 5 min zgjidhjes” – Albert Einstein. E njëjta llogjikë funksionon edhe për Design Thinking, metodologjinë që përdorëm në këtë innovation bootcamp. Ditën e parë ja dedikuam plotësisht eksplorimit të temës “Dhuna me Bazë Gjinore”.

Grup 1

Të rinjtë takuan ekspertë të cilët punojnë drejtpërdrejtë me gra të dhunuara, u informuan mbi statistikat që ekzistojnë mbi dhunën e ushtruar kryesisht kundrejt gjinisë femërore. Ata dëgjuan histori nga më të ndryshmet, deri tek ato më të rëndat. Gjatë mbasdites,  të shpërndarë nëpër Tiranë ata intervistuan bashkëmoshatarë për të marrë më shumë informacion mbi njohuritë e tyre rreth kësaj teme dhe kanalet më efektive të komunikimit për këtë grupmoshë.

Grup2

Pasi përpunuan informacionin e mbledhur, grupet filluan procesin e gjenerimit të ideve mbi një produkt i cili do të shërbente për ndërgjegjësimin e të rinjve mbi dhunën me bazë gjinore, duke përdorur teknologjinë.

Grup 4

8 prototipe u zhvilluan dhe u prezantuan gjatë fazës përmbyllëse të bootcamp, nga të cilat 2 ide u vlerësuan si më inovativet dhe me pritshmëri për impakt më të madh. Gjatë 10 ditëve të ardhshme dy grupet do të konsolidojnë prototipet. Në datën 10 Dhjetor do të shpallet prototipi fitues, i cili më pas do të mbështetet financiarisht deri në realizimin e produktit.

iclubs-innovation clubs in 100 schools

The  past two weeks we have been talking about what it means to be a community school and why it is necessary that schools, as hubs of knowledge, are at the centre of innovation in the community they are part of. This is at the heart of a British Council project in collaboration with Vodafone Foundation , the Ministry of Education in Albania and 100 secondary schools.

We met with teachers in Korca, Fier, Shkodra, and Kamez in Albania, where teachers from secondary schools shared their examples of how they are setting up the iclubs in their schools as innovation catalysts, how they are thinking of pulling the rest of the school into their endeavours to use technology and problem solving within their school and in the community where they live. They are part of 100 schools around the country that are setting the pace with innovation in schools. It is a project which aims to empower and support teachers to learn and apply innovation skills. One of the teachers asked : “shouldn’t we work like this earlier in the school system, the elementary schools?” and very much in the spirit of Design Thinking asked “How might we bring this change earlier on?”

Realising that challenges like this can not be solved by just one institution alone, however powerful that may be, we have been working on creating the innovation ecosystem where teachers, students, parents, local authorities, NGOs contribute to the common purpose of connecting learning and the students to real life, and helping them use the technology and their creativity to solve real life problems.

Asking the questions is where it all starts and the question of bringing the teaching methods to the 21st century is a big challenge, which is being addressed at many levels. Realising that while everything around us has changed big time, while the way we teach our kids has not, is only the start. Taking it to what we might do in our school, in our village, in our city, and joining up with other people who are addressing the same challenges can start moving thing forward. There are many initiatives for joined-up thinking, where local solutions can be shared, tried out in other contexts and scaled. Some of these initiatives are global open innovation platforms, like the Teachers Guild , MIT’s SOLVE or RSA’s Education challenge, to mention just a few I am involved with, and there are a lot of inspirational examples to grab and tweak, add your flavour, improve, make your own and share again, the true meaning of Steal like an artist as Austin Kleon says.

As an inspiration this Sunday I’d like to share a few examples from TechinsiderThe 13 most innovative schools in the world, covering learners of all ages, the Ørestad Gymnasium in Denmark, where students make research and work together in solving problems, the Makoko Floating School in Nigeria, which serves as a communal learning space for all ages and the Big Picture Learning school, which includes a Learning through Internship module for students to learn in the real world.

And thinking about it- the difference is: Learning in the real world rather than only learning about the real world.

What do you think?

In praise of “soft”

My youngest son is getting ready to apply for University. We have been making day trips to several already to get the look and feel so he can choose – in the end it usually comes down to gut feeling.
This week our day trip was to Birmingham University. Birmingham is the second largest city in UK and has no fewer than five universities. These visits follow a pattern – a presentation on the subject you  are planning to study, a visit to the student accommodation, a look round the social and sports facilities and another presentation on how wonderful it is to spend three years there.

What got me thinking was the subject presentation, where the lecturer talked about how they teach not just technical but also soft skills. Maths and science though highly technical are not enough. Research shows that the jobs that have grown most consistently in the last two decades have been those that require high math skills and high social skills. Interesting graph in New York Times referring to thenew study by David Deming from Harvard University, shows the trend what has grown, what has stayed the same and what has fallen.

What are soft skills? We hear them mentioned more and more, often bundled up as soft or social skills. And how can we develop them? How can they be incorporated into education and training? Well, soft skills are already in the education system – at nursery school, where we are taught to play nicely together, share, consider the other person. And yet by the time you reach the age of about seven, these vital skills vanish from the curriculum. There are some ways in which you develop empathy, team work, listening skills and so on, but they lie outside the main academic curriculum. If you play in a sports team, you will need such skills; if you play in a band or an orchestra, you cannot possibly get by on technical ability alone. And, of course, living in a family would be a nightmare without soft skills to smooth the rough edges of daily interaction.

As we take the train back to London, I ask my son, “do you do group projects at any subject at school? Nope, was the short answer, can’t think of any- was the long one.” “ We are obsessed with the individual, says my husband, and what you’re referring to is team work”.
Isn’t it time our children were prepared for the demands of the real jobs market and for the even trickiest business of life?

Kitting the students to do collaborative work

This week I met my Design Thinking students at Loughborough University. I will be teaching over 100 students, who are starting their post graduate degrees with a Design Thinking module, that gets them ready for an interdisciplinary collaborative project. They will be learning through doing, studying a real social problem and working collaboratively with others to innovate and design a solution.

This is the first year that Loughborough University has a campus in London. It is inspiring that this campus is at the heart of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. You couldn’t think of a better place for a University, which is UK’s premier university for sport, and at the international forefront in the science and technology on which sport relies.

The next door neighbour is BT Sport. You can see and feel the emerging of an innovation quarter there. The University is also next door to Hackney Wick, one of most deprived wards in London. With a population of over 10 thousand, it has relatively greater proportions of children and young adults, more lone parent households, more households living in social housing, higher unemployment and worse health level than the borough average.

Our first project aims to make an immediate practical use of some of the learning in the local community. What we are trying to do is tackle one of the challenges that the people in the ward are facing: sustainable transport solutions that would enable the different communities of Hackney Wick to take full advantage of the employment and leisure opportunities in the neighbourhood. And we will use design thinking as a human centered methodology to work on it. Watch this space.

SOLVE

5th October

I’m writing this blog from Melrose in Massachusetts, a leafy, quiet, beautiful suburban area, where autumn colours merge with traditional Victorian architecture of the houses, competing in their pride for the imaginative mixture of three colours. The warmth and hospitality of my friends Jane and Bob make it feel I’m at home.
I am here to take part at SOLVE at the MIT, and be part of Boston Hubweek too. Art culture and technology have always collided in this place. Both events are gatherings of dreamers, curious minds invited to develop meaning ful connections, participate in creative dialogue to solve global issues in education, health, energy and medicine.

We have gathered from around the globe to find some answers to some of the challenges we all are facing now and which will be accelerated even more in a world that will reach 10 billion by the middle of the century. We have been challenged to consider hard questions that we have no answers for. How will we create modern and productive cities where people can thrive? How will we educate people for a lifetime of rapidly changing opportunity, reaching everyone, anywhere, who has the will to learn? Will we be able to provide effective health care to all who need it, combating the diseases that bring suffering and cut lives short? How will we power a global digital economy to provide meaningful and engaging work for all who seek it? Can we generate cleaner energy to fuel our rapidly growing world? How will we adapt to a planet already inexorably affected by climate change?

The groups are organised under 4 content pillars: Learn, Cure, Fuel, and Make. Each pillar focuses on one central objective and identifies a series of questions that approach that objective by breaking it into smaller pieces.

I am on the Learn challenge group. Our big challenge is “How might we provide access to a quality education by 2050 to anyone, anywhere, with the will to learn. “ We have already four fundamental questions under this challenge:
1. How can we prepare students to become lifelong learners by teaching at scale the skills to learn?
2. How can we support teachers and transform teaching to better prepare students for the challenges and opportunities ahead
3. How do we transform universities to become partners in lifelong learning and retraining
4. How can we bring the benefits of collaborative, in-person educational environments to digital learning programmes, as Anant Agarwal  says how do we move from a bricks and mortar culture a to bits and bytes culture. Expectations are high. I’ll report next week on what we came up with and I’d love to have your thoughts on them too.
Have a lovely week

Facilitating Serendipity

27th September 2015

It was the week of Innovation KAFE at AIA. Every time we wait in anticipation who will turn up. In that sense it is pretty much like any other Kafe, you have no clue who will pop in. As it is still early days we are trying to find out what’s the best way to reach out to people and are using a variety of channels.And learning we are! e-mails produce no response al all, word of mouth brings a few, our own AIA website brings a few and Facebook page brings the most. We have also learnt that when you create a Facebook event, and see that 90 people click “going”, don’t panic that your space may not be big enough to host all of them. The number includes bot Goers and people who Like it but find no Like button for the event.

What else have we learnt? Our  AIA HB is in Durres, but our Facebook network is global. It is both fascinating and puzzling that our KAFE guests, like in Facebook are not bounded by location. So, most of the people that come are not from Durres but from Tirana, Lezha, Shkodra, and people who visit Albania from abroad. This makes it even more exciting. Every time, the mixture is a surprise, and everytime synergies are found among people that just met each other and connections are built for various ways of continuing the conversation in the days to come.

This week, our group had two students from the University of Tirana, who are building a platform where students can find all the information they need when they join as freshers. Excited, with a business plan with them they arrived and said “we heard about this HUB and thought you’ve come at the right to be a sounding board and mentors.

An energetic duo of a PR and Marketing company also came from Tirana. They are already up and running and had been beneficiaries of an incubator that had given them a lot of visibility and network. They are among the few that offer a full treatment for your digital footprint and are now onto the next stage where growth is in the cards. They gave us invaluable insight and advice from their perspective of being mentees on how to match/customize our training and mentoring to the people in the incubator.

We were delighted to have a guest, who commutes between London and Tirana and is the founder and director of an online resource for students, parents and teachers. This is the very first of its kind in Albania, where digitalisation of education is in its first steps, and the founder is very keen to see it used by the different segments.

Luck had it that the group was joined by three headmasters from Northern Albania, who had heard about iclub project and wanted to get more information on how they can bring it in their schools. They were delighted to have a private rendition of the digital platform with hundreds of videos and other resources they can tap into. Last but not least we had a 16 year old student who introduced himself as a game engineer, volunteering for Moxilla and about to launch his mobile app, a trivia game. We did ask if he had asked permission to be away from school!

It was inspiring to see how generously they all contributed with questions, listening, and ideas to other people’s challenges. A coffee well drunk- said one of the guests!

While putting together this issue, the common challenge for them was high on my mind- how to get to know what their customers need, how to test their hypothesis-what they think their customers want, and more concretely how to ask the questions that will give them the information.
Some good advice in Three innovation myths that won’t die. I can’t agree more with Krystyn Corrigan writing: If one more person tells me that Steve Jobs didn’t use market research and then uses that as an excuse for not listening to their own customers, I’m going to lose my mind!
I also picked on the three examples, in the Fast Company from Starbucks, Panera Bread and P&G , whose CEOs championed the customer in their top priority.  Ron Shaich, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Panera Bread, which serves over 8 million customers each week, says he wants to discover how to bring them the kind of food they dream about. He even describes his role as “discoverer-in-chief.”
How high is the customer in your priority?

The power of questions

We have been talking a lot this week about ways to develop questioning skills in students. And the wisdom of Warren Berger has come to help through the pages of his book ‘A More Beautiful Question’.
I also enjoyed reading Warren’s article in the HBR on why curious people are destined to lead, as success may be less about having all the answers and more about wondering and questioning. He quotes Dell’s CEO saying that curiosity can inspire leaders to continually seek out the fresh ideas and approaches needed to keep pace with change and stay ahead of competitors.
But picture this, you are the boss, how easy would it be for you to ask questions which sometimes reveal that you don’t know something, there’s a risk not easily taken by a lot of us. As Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovators DNA says, you need to be humble enough to acknowledge to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, and confident enough to admit that in front of everyone else. We call that attitude wisdom and it is not easy.
Warren has also designed a quiz, which he calls your Inquiry Quotient Quiz. Quite pleased with mine, 9/10, a natural-born questioner but not a master! You may take yours here. And I loved his idea of creating a list in Spotify with songs that have got a question for a title. At the end he says: What’s yours? I crowdsource it to Tim and I get:  Is this the way to Amarillo?, Where have all the flowers gone? Why does it always rain on me? How much is that doggy in the window? What’s yours?

I’ve been listening a lot to business radio this week and I took part in one too. Hosted elegantly and competently by the amazing Bonnie D. Graham, I was inspired by my fellow panelists Guy Van Wijmeerschof Barco and Alejandro Pifarré of SAP on Innovating Innovation on SAP’s Game changer Radio. And I am tuning in to Wharton School’s show hosted by Steve Blank, creator of the Lean Start-up movement. Steve examines what makes entrepreneurs tick, how they came up with their ideas, what habits make them successful, the highs, lows and pivots that pushed them forward. This week he had Chris Shipley, who has helped more than 1,500 companies make their market debut.
If entrepreneurship is your interest you may enjoy reading the insights from a study on “Can you predict a start-up success on the initial idea alone?”
One of my mentees, the talented Kris Omeri, is a photo reporter. It keeps me on my toes to know more on photography. Being Sunday afternoon, with boys off to football, I have been MOOCing on the subject. And as a break, took the photo quiz Real or Photoshop. Well, I got 14 out of 25. While the quiz master urged me to brag about it, I hear Tim saying “You’re not particularly observant are you?
Have a lovely week

Design Thinking back in fashion

I was thrilled to see the September issue of HBR devoting much space to Design Thinking. Jon Kolko’s article Design Thinking comes of age, Tim Brown and Roger Martin’s Design for action, and Tim Brown’s question If everybody uses it will it still be a competitive advantage, make a good reading list for anybody that would like t know more about it and actually do something to create the capabilities in-house to innovate.
I do hope it will create a better understanding of how design thinking can be used not just for innovating products, services or marketing but also organisations. Here at G, we have been focusing on the last one and it has not been easy for companies to jump on the train. I have been trying to help organisations use design thinking both as a mindset and as a process to innovate in the organisational space, in the way we do strategy, in the way we work and in the way we design and manage change. Empathising deeply with the people that have the challenges and drawing them into the ideation phase to come up with solutions has very often brought different dimensions to the strategy works and different insights too. Translating those abstract concepts into physical prototypes by “building to think” has always brought teams to new ideas to take to experimentation.
And thanks HBR for bringing the topic back in focus.

Have a great week

Innovating in Education

A lot of inspiration this week has come from the Teachers Guild, a platform for teachers from all over the world to address big challenges facing schools and education.

The first challenge we have been addressing is How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools. A lot of inspiring examples, my favourite, how one teacher Kevin Brookhouser,inspired by Google’s 20% rule, gave his pupils one day a week to work on a project of their choice, and innovations did emerge, from a YouTube channel that encourages literacy among young people to a clothing recycling project that promotes sustainable consumerism.

The Platform is The Teachers Guild and its mantra is  Daring to Design. The project uses design thinking as a mindset and process to drive collaboration in finding solutions for difficult problems. Check it out!

What shall we talk about?

Today, I asked my son, who is interning in G this summer, to suggest what I write about this week. He looked at the content of the magazine and immediately said, there is a perfect article there for you, “Your team can’t read your mind”. Diplomatic indeed!. Many a times he has pointed out to me that I assume he can read my mind and never give enough instructions on tasks that need doing, which leaves him frustrated. And most of the time in response to that, I become defensive and frustrated too. Of course I agree with the article that you need to give a good brief of what needs doing and why, but at the same time I believe there is a lot to be said about leaving some space for flexibility in how it can be done, rather than prescribe every step. However, in the respects of my family, I want them to be able to read my mind, the number of times I ask them to ‘pass me the thingy’ and just get a blank stare back.

As someone who has never actually driven a car, my driving instructor deemed me too dangerous to be on the road after seeing me on the simulator, the advancements in automated cars is a big area of interest for me. The opening of the brand new Mcity in Michigan is hugely exciting. They’ve created a ‘city’ strictly for testing out every possible incident and how the automated cars react to them. A whole host of companies were at the launch eager to test out their prototypes and hopefully we’ll see the introduction of driverless cars in the not too distant future.

Finally, from a woman who is forever forgetting to charge her phone and ends up leaving the house with phone and computer on 20%, with my chargers in hand in the hope I end up somewhere with plug sockets. Well this latest article from MIT Technology Review sounds like there are plenty of others like me around as we may not be far away from self-charging phones. The way these chargers will work is fascinating and well worth a read and although it won’t give you a full charge, I would be very grateful with the extra 30%.

Have a lovely week

Why habits?

This is the second time during the year where we loosen up, and lose our habits. No 7am wakeup allowing you enough time to get a coffee in time for your train. No half hour lunch break where you have to wolf down your food and get back to your desk, and no going to bed as soon as possible because you’ve got an ‘early start’. We’re free. Or are we?

With summer also comes the beach for most, which means a lot of walking around with very little clothing covering you. This is the incentive for lots of people to work on their ‘beach bod’, and this is where habits return into our lives. We count our calories, we hit the gym everyday and ditch the bus for our bikes. But why? Well, Gretchen Rubin may have the answer, as her new book ‘Better Than Before’ sets out and explains how good habits, can make us happier. And difficult as habits are, I agree with her. I do believe that having good habits can make you happier, it gives a sense of purpose and as Rubin explains there are a lot of strategies to choose from in order to develop your habits.

One of them is monitoring. And I can vouch for it. I recently downloaded an app called My Fitness Pal. This app has become my summer obsession, and I love it.  I’m feeling confident that I’m going to lose some weight. I log everything that I eat and it tells me how many calories I’ve taken in during the day and shows me how many calories I should be taking in. It also counts my steps, and I felt so pleased when it told me I’d taken almost 6,000 steps one day (well, out of the suggested 10,000).

I’m not the only one. Michael Gray, a young man from Reading set up a Facebook group for a few friends called the 21 Day Bikini Body Challenge, in which he sets out daily exercises and meal plans, to help you lose at least 7lbs in 21 days. At last counting, this group had 53,066 members, and it’s all based around good habits.

So, if good habits can make you happier, improve your health and give you that beach body everyone wants, what else could good habits do?  Well, Harvey Deutschendorf believes they can make you more innovative. That there are 7 habits that all the best innovators share, which you can begin to incorporate into your life to help make you more creative and innovative. Here’s the link and I highly recommend giving it a read, as habits seem to be the new way to improve yourself.
So while you’re frantically preparing your body for a week in the sun, try not to forget the 7 habits to kick start your forward movement towards greater innovation.

And before I go, My fitness Pal is telling me I’ve done 28 steps while writing this blog, OK, some going to the kitchen to make a coffee, but 28? How accurate is that? And I am not even wearing my iphone like a Fitbit or something! And this is what I found, from Mishel Patel at Knowledge@Wharton. “The new iPhones track your step counts by default. You actually can’t stop them from tracking your steps. You can turn the display off. But Apple was very clever in terms of taking advantage of that default and using the devices. So essentially, every iPhone now is an accelerometer that tracks your steps”.

Well, before I head for hols I better find out what else it tracks by default.
Have a lovely week

List fetishing

I can’t have enough of lists. This week I enjoyed exploring who’s who in MIT Technology Review’s 50 smart company list.  Tesla Motors, Xiaomi, Illumine, Alibaba and Counsyl top the list this year. To make it into this list, you need to have a truly innovative technology that makes a big impact  and a business model that is both practical and ambitious. This year, a lot of companies in this list are from biomedicine. There are startups too, like Counsyl whose cheap, automated DNA analysis is expanding from prenatal testing to cancer screening.

At AIA a lot of the conversation is about how  to increase the rate of success for startups. Stance’s example at Fast Company came as a real inspiration this week. It is about the meticulous research of discovering a niche. And their niche was not in technology at all, it was in the boring world of socks that everybody had ignored, or as Stance’s founders put it, it was a niche hiding in plain sight. Some good lessons there.

It’s raining in London, but we’re promised that Summer is almost here and with the heat approaching, Vogue comes to help with some suggestions how to dress cool and yet appropriately for work. If that’s one of your headaches in the morning, there is help at hand.

Fashion and music have always had a close relationship. I loved the interview with Frdric Sanches for Wallpaper about the soundtracks and moods that create emotions during the shows. It’s all about connecting at the emotional level.

Allison Shapira is bringing her insights from the world of opera to help people be better speakers. And the secret is in breathing. Speak while you breath out and give your voice the richness and fullness it deserves. And people will take note she says.

And talking of breathing, have you heard of the app Headspace, meditation help to reduce stress? I read about it at the New Yorker  Not tried it yet, but in my list.

Have a lovely week

3rd July

A week of events at AIA, with the Innovation Cafe and Design Thinking for your Strategy. Our next events in Durres are on the 26th and 27th August. For more information and to register please check AIA .

We have our first residents at AIA in Durres, Mikel and Gregory a tech startup, Krisi a photo reporter and Klaid and Joana-publishers of new Magazine for their city. They are all young, inspiring and hard working. What they want to do has purpose, they all want to help others either make use of technology offer, document their lives, share information and make running around easier. And they all have the same challenge: how are we going to make money of what we are building, i.e turning our ideas into businesses that stand on their own feet.

IMG_9394

We talked about the excitement but also the hardships you have when starting a new business, the loneliness, the lack of finance, the lack of knowledge on “what happens next”, the big expectations you build when you win a competition, and the realisation that wonderful as they are for recognition, and possible support, at the end of the day, it is you yourself that have to put your nose to the grind.

As new residents we also talked about how might we turn AIA into a meaningful gang of peers that are starting their own businesses, learn from each other, and help each other with different skills we bring to the mix. Great combos forming already.

AIA has attracted some drop bys too. They come to share what they are doing and together design the strategy of how to turn their experiences and skills into new ventures. More on that next week.

Just one more thing-if you think you can offer a couple of hours a month to be an AIA mentor, do get in touch please.

Have a lovely weekend

June

What a week it has been at G. With events in the Netherlands and London, we have  been innoworkouting with a couple of hundred of people from several industries. Everybody is talking about innovation. It is something we are all expected to do in whichever part of the organisation we sit.  This week we heard this from HR directors, IT executives, academics and facilitators. It has been across sectors too, people from public administration, not for profit leaders and large corporate emerging talent.

The challenges are often similar,  how might we create the capabilities to change, to transform, to be more nimble, more agile, more flexible for a fast changing world where ambiguity and uncertainty are in abundance? And most importantly how can we create the culture where creativity and innovation thrive? And one that is fit for the younger generations to engage too.

Talking about the young ones, If you have a teenager at home (gen zed), you may have heard that Facebook is not their playground, and neither is Twitter. As soon as we parents got into what we considered to be the world of the young, they all got out. They have Snapchat. And there they don’t need to write much.They talk with photos. Fascinating to hear the 25 year old founder of Snapchat explaining it to us. I finally know now what is going on when my son takes a picture of himself and snaps it. Story telling, but not as we know it!
Have a lovely weekend

8th June

This week I went to see La Boheme at Royal Opera House ( for the upteenth time). The production goes back to 1974, making it the longest running production at Covent Garden. I felt a bit sad when I learnt that was the last run. The charming immersive set of the late Julia Trevelyan Oman has been for me how I always imagine Bohemian Paris to have been. The details in the room, the costumes, the colours, are now par of a fabulous exhibition on the ground floor of ROH.

At the same time, I am so curious and will wait with anticipation what the next production will be like. There is a lot of innovation happening in opera this days. The new production of Don Giovani is an example, a delightful modern show, bringing the digital beautifully integrated in the period.
I am ready to be awed tonight. Thirty years ago, when reading English literature, I learnt about Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd (this is how we called it then, no idea if it still is). Tonight I am seeing Waiting for Godot, for the first time. Can’t wait to see it and what I will make of it.

1st June

I’m just back from an inspiring week in Albania. We’ve launched the Albanian Innovation Accelerator and kicked off the i-club project with 100 secondary schools.The aim how might we use technology, creativity and innovation to help young people become problem solvers for themselves and the community where they live. It is a partnership between the British Council, Vodafone Foundation the Ministry of Education and local councils.

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It was also the week when Harvard Business Review organised an event at Claridges in London on Design Thinking. It was great exchanging ideas with Jon KolkoTom Hulme and Kirsty Groves. The gist was, yes, design led innovation is here to stay and not just a fad.

A suprise finding on startups and babyboomers. Millennials may be entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers, but that doesn’t mean they’re starting their own companies. The rate of new entrepreneurs is the lowest among the youngest group aged 20-34. On the flip side, as boomers reinvent themselves for the second or third chapter of their careers, those aged 55-64 represented the group with the sharpest increase, to 25.8%, of the total of new entrepreneurs.

16th May

We’re launching AIA in the next ten days. We are non stop on whatsup, Sanika in Mumbai, Bleri and Bona in Tirana, Klaidi in Durres, Thorsten in Cambridge and me in London. We have got a logo that we we all like. It was Ruby’s brilliant idea. Ruby is a designer at Brunel, she sketched it while we were at Hampstead Cricket club, her boyfriend Trevor, Dan and Elly said it was cool, Marzia the design guru approved it, Bona loved it, Bleri said it doesn’t warm me at all, Sanika vectorised it. Here it is in white and black, preserving the orange of G as well. The website is published in its BETA version, we have a facebook group for AIA network, the offices in Durres are being painted, the invitations go out nn Monday. Today we linked live with Startup Live Tirana, part of the Digital Albania Innovation Week. We’ve welcomed the winners to our Smart Startup programme. We also linked by skype with the Swissconnect competition for photography, web design and graphic design. We are so happy to have the winner of the photography at AIA in Durres. She is a Durres girl.

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J_LOGO_58th May

I was in Eindhoven this week. Not quite true. Yes, I flew to Eindhoven and went straight to High Tech Campus and then back to the airport. It’s one of the smartest business parks in Europe, situated at former Philips factories.

I joined EBAN 2015 congress. There is a new wind blowing in Europe and entrepreneurship is on the rise. All over Europe, a young entrepreneurial generation sees opportunities and launches new ideas and ventures. The investment community is well aware of this and has been supporting emerging startups in the form of capital and skills.

I was there trying to understand at a deeper level the role of angel investors.  Well, I new that they give away money for a share in the business. Not really, that’s the venture capitalists, explains Baybars Altuntas, an energetic, charismatic Turkish entrepreneur. The angels give four things, he says- finance, knowledge, mentoring and networks. His passion about helping entrepreneurs and fellow angels alike, and no doubt his brilliant storytelling got him the top European Award this week.

During the first day,many young entrepreneurs pitched their ideas at the High Tech Camp. There were some impressive businesses, there were also some poor pitches. You could see in practice how good ideas suffered from bad pitching. Some couldn’t even  manage to finish on time their 3 minute slot, which meant they were not able to finish what they had prepared to say. I wonder if anybody had told them to rehearse rehearse rehearse, especially when presentation quality and personal impact are so high in the evaluating criteria.

We discussed a lot on how investors made up their mind who to back. Having a good team came very high, do they have the industry and technology expertise,do they have the commercial skills, are they open to acknowledge the need for advisors, are they being mentored. Other questions were to make sure they had a clear vision, an understanding of the market, and an exit strategy. And of course how innovative their idea was.

How about Holacracy?  I only learnt the word today, so couldn’t ask.

20th April 2015

I’ve just returned from Albania, where together with my team we are building the Albanian Innovation Accelerator as a hub for social innovation. The Accelerator will be in Durres, with the view of the old Durres Tower on one side and the Adriatic sea on the other.

We decided to kick it off with a couple of Innovation Workshops for startups, NGOs and SMEs.  As ‘firsts’ go, it was exciting, full of anticipation,  new challenges and lessons learnt.

To spread the word, we used Facebook but also sent around 100 e-mail invitations to businesses.  The response on Facebook was immediate, we received only one answer from the email invitations.( lesson there)

This was my first gig in Durres, my home town!  Would I be able to pull it off? Thinking of it as a prototype (a design thinking lesson) helped my inner voice a bit. I went over all the mantras “You don’t know,if you don’t try!”  “Prototypes  are there to test and improve” …..but deep deep there was a different type of insecurity and fear this time. I have run Workshops in UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Lithuania, Singapore, China, India, but all of them had been in English, not to mention that all my study in the field of design thinking innovation was done in English too. So, will I be able to pull it off in Albanian?

Anyone that has spent many years living abroad knows how we begin to speak a hybrid lingua that goes seamlessly from one language to the other within the same sentence, without even noticing it, economy of efforts we like to call it, a kinder word than laziness.  We get by with it all right at home, but going back to the country of origin and using words from your adopted language, you can only blame yourself if you are perceived at best as showing off, at worst as ignorant.

After a whole day of rehearsing the presentation in Albanian, I was kind of confident, I could do it. Yet, I had one important word missing, I was at a loss for the Albanian equivalent of the term Design Thinking. The search for help in other languages, did not help much either, ‘ El pensiamento de diseno’  in Spanish, ‘ La pensee de conception’ in French, and ‘ Design Thinking’ i(capital D capital T) n German….  You have to coin it, chirped my daughter!

Well, as I welcomed the participants in the morning, I decided to rely on humility and ask the participants to help. A good number of suggestions. We have now got two shortlisted ones: ‘Mendim Krijues e Analitik’ (Creative and Analytical Thinking) or ‘Mendesi dhe Proces Novacioni’- Innovation mindset and process. Other suggestions welcome.

The group brought together a wide diversity of professions and interests, people from the British Council, Vodafone Foundation,  Swisscontact, IOM, Plan and Go, Diamant logistics, Agency of business development, Help For Children, IPAS environmental association, three award winning architects, a blogger, a MA student, a Wellbeing specialist, a journalist, a finance advisor, a teacher from Elbasan. As I reflect on the discussions, the energy and participation, I am encouraged that there is hunger for new ways of thinking, new ways of working, new experiences, and new ways of learning. I am optimistic that there is a space to work together on Social Innovation in Albania. If you are willing to join forces , do drop me a line.

April 2015

The joy of mentoring

Many  years ago, in my late thirties and with a fair amount of experience in journalism and managing teams, I was offered the possibility of having a mentor. It was part of the BBC scheme of developing young leaders. I had come to identify the mentor figure with the best bosses I had had till then, but I had never had a formal mentor outside of the department where I worked. So I leapt at the opportunity. The first meeting was arranged, I was excited and a bit nervous too!  I knocked on his door and suddenly felt so self- aware! What would he make of me?! Before I could finish the thought ….the door opens and a very athletic young man, with a cheerful face welcomes me in.
“I’ve come to meet Tom”, I said.
“That’s me”, he replied. I was lost for words.
My brain was battling it out between the different selves. Shall I leave? No, that would be rude! Why have they paired me with someone so young to mentor me? Do they think I’m a complete newbie? “Nice to meet you Tom “ was all I managed, while surely the lines on my face and my body language were saying, “I’m just about to leave actually”. “I’m a coach by profession “, he said with ease and confidence, “ I work in learning and development”. Not in radio, or television? Nope! Needless to say, that day he met the mentee from hell. All I could think about was- I’ve got so much to do back in the office, why am I wasting my and his time”.  After one more session, we decided it wasn’t going anywhere.

To this day I feel terribly embarrassed of my behavior, but to me a mentor was a person with a lot more experience than me, a person of some rank, and of course he had to be much older. He would have answers to all my problems and possibly some therapeutic interventions too. Years have gone by and I’ve learnt what a mentor is and is not. Why had I not asked what they meant by a mentor? Of course Wikipedia wasn’t around than and neither was Google. Was it because I thought I knew, or was it fear of looking ignorant? I would like to think the first, but most probably the last. It makes me wonder sometimes how many wrong assumptions we hold just by not finding the courage to ask questions.

I now mentor a lot of business owners, young and old. Very often, I see a lot of my uncertainties in them, the worries, the confusion but also the drive and enthusiasm. David Clutterbuck’s “12 habits of a toxic mentor”  are always a great reminder on how not to do it. I have learned how important it is to listen with all your being. In Design Thinking we call it “listening for empathy”, listening in order to deeply understand, when you are totally present and give the person your undivided attention (switch off the mobile phone is one of the tricks). I have also learnt to curb the urge of offering solutions, finding answers for them. This is probably my hardest. It seems, we are programmed to be helpful, to find quick answers, so we immediately move to solutions and by doing so fail to discover the problem properly. Very often what looks like a problem may well be an effect, a consequence of the real problem. So, the first step is to identify the real problem. And this is where the power of asking questions comes into play. It is through this process of exploration, where we frame and reframe the problem, in order to get into the heart of it, that the paths to solutions become clearer. Einstein’s famous quote hangs in my office:” If I had one hour to solve a problem to save my life, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about it and five minutes thinking about the solution”.

I have enjoyed learning from my mentees as much as I hope they may learn from me. And yes, my current mentor is my 17 years old son.

Get a mentor! And definitely be one!   

28th March 2015

The theme of this week is design and collaboration. I was inspired by the offerings at the Design Museum. This week, the Designs of the year 2015started.  I went to see the 76 awesome contenders and cast my gallery vote. The curator tells us how they had to chose from 200 nominations and present design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year.

It is an eclectic mixture of things, real and virtual stood side by side. The I8 sports car of BMW side by side with a bunch of Indonesian baskets, a street light that played with the shadows of the pedestrians next to a discreet heart monitor.

The interactive map of the history of migration got me thinking again about the power of visualisation, the presentation of information in ways that make it easy to understand and enjoy.

Architecture gets several places, with The vertical Garden buildings, House for Trees, The Rotterdam Market Hall, Arena de Morro in Brazil and many more. Transport is another category that is represented by eco friendly products, the Google self driving car( can’t wait for it), The Loopwheels that are its own shock-absorber.

I leave with a lot of inspiration, ideas  and emotion. Indeed, design is not only about the practical, it is about feelings too.

22nd March 2015

Why are the houses numbered even on one side of the road and odd on the other side?, asked my grandson this morning while we were making breakfast together. I don’t know, I said, and continued to prepare his breakfast. Why don’t you know? Well, I probably didn’t ask my grandma. Why didn’t you ask your grandma? Because …. . Well nothing beats a child’s curiosity. And while you try and find answers for questions you have never asked, you learn new things all the time.

This month I worked with three leadership teams and we have been asking questions about things we either assume we know the answers to or assume everybody has the same answer as we do. I loved the discussion about What is digital? Insightful conversations followed the 80 definitions in the room. I can’t wait to hear what definition they will bring next time from their children and their clients.

We have never had so much access to information as we do now. The big data is upon us all and as Dan Arieli says,” big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it… But, the question is not only about Big data. Tom Davenport of MIT in his new book Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities, argues that Data- is all data- big, small, structured, unstructured, integrated and we need a mixture of big and traditional. The key is what do you do with it, how you get value. Do you start with data and spot patterns or do you start with the problem, find out what data you need and then discover patterns, gaps, oddities. And by doing so, be able to take better decisions.

I also spent time with a strategy team, working on their big challenge. They came with a big pack of data, laboriously gathered from many departments. Wouldn’t it be awesome to  put all these data in a distiller and capture some really hot drops of valuable insights! In the absence of that, we borrowed tools from data analysts and created our own handmade infographics to tell the story of what we made of the data. Infographics are very much in vogue these days, but expressing data visually is as old as the ancient caves. Through graphics we have been able to understand complex ideas like the splitting of the atom. I liked Antonio Salazar‘s argument.  He attributes Infographic’s long life to the effect it produces: ” in the process of reasoning, both analytical and visual, that a graphic requires, we may come to a conclusion we hadn’t imagined.”

Yet, when we do strategy, data is only one part of the puzzle., however big piece it may be. Whatever the problem is, there are always people in it and at the end of the day, unless you make sense of the people, you are solving problems for, the solutions might be half baked. This is where anthropologist’s tools help us make sense of the people. By empathising discovering, observing, analysing, guesstimating, inferring, we are able to make sense and connect the dots between people, data, and each other as a strategy team.

I believe, strategy can have a human face and by bringing creativity to it, not as management entertainment but as tools to design the future, strategy can be fun too.
27th February 2015

Where did the week go? I’ll capture it in 6 words,( a la Hemingway): Lots of learning and challenging assumptions. I travelled to Albania at the start of the week.
We are all excited at G about setting up EILA (The European Innovation Lab of Albania), a start-up hub in Durres. Examples from Silicon Valley, London Hubs and ecosystems, Israeli start-up models, Tech Peak in Trento have a lot to bring. What will the Albanian model be? The whole economy was built on start-ups. The entrepreneurial spirit of people who for the first time in their lives had the chance to build something of their own has been shining through the last two decades. The majority of them used bootstrapped finance, money from the remittances of their people abroad, friends and family. And the result – lots of fully formed small businesses, fending for themselves. Being a small business in London, I have experienced the huge benefits of mentoring, coaching, venture capital, networking, scaling and growing. I’m excited to be able to bring some of that back to Albania.

Most of the reading was done on the planes this week. Among the top ten for inspiration for me was NASA’s poetic visualisation of how Sahara’s dust is blown by the wind across the Atlantic and reaches and feeds the Amazon forest. A connection to blow your mind. This process is normally invisible to the eye, but NASA has visualized it in three-dimensions in a beautiful video.
Talking of connections, I was chuffed to see in the papers results from one  of the projects my MIT professor Peter Gloor and students from my group participated in on important people, based on articles in Wikipedia. The question is how different cultures determine notability or notoriety in different parts of the world. You may see it here.

And of course this has been Fashion Week in London and Somerset House is the heart of it. Heaving with young people and not so young ones (like me), it’s a magnificent show of the quirkiness, colourfulness, excitement of new materials, and lots of hopeful young things vying to be the next big models. It was in this atmosphere and against this backdrop that I hosted London Innoworkout, a crash course on how to innovate. An inspiring group of executives from a variety of organisations, corporates, NGOs and academia came together to learn and talk about how to bring a different kind of thinking, different ways of working, when collaboration is useful and with whom, how to move ideas from abstract notions to tangible results and how to practice what they learn when they are back in their offices. With such a diverse group, it was striking to see how much we can all learn if we look beyond our own industry.  A useful and productive lesson for all.
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20th February 2015

How do you rank CEOs. How do you measure their impact, both financially and non financially. HBR brings insightful finding. I am happy that in the combined rankings Novo Nordisk comes top.

Design collaborations at BMW always bring fab design and food for thought too. This year they are collaborating with Swiss Argentine designer Alfredo Häberli. For the car of the future, Häberli was inspired by ideas of the future and how our time will be balanced between working and socialising. It will be unveiled in Milan during the Salone del Mobile this coming April. Until then, have a peek preview here.
One question that social scientists and economists have long puzzled over is how corruption arises in different cultures and why it is more prevalent in some countries than others. But it has always been difficult to find correlations between corruption and other measures of economic or social activity. Michal Paulus and Ladislav Kristoufek at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, have for the first time found a correlation between the perception of corruption in different countries and their economic development.You could read more here

It’s Valentine weekend, flowers, cards, rings, drinks and the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. A bold move according to Anthony Lane of The New Yorker. For him the film is not just unromantic, it is specifically anti-romantic. I liked the book, will check the film and give you my views.

14th February

Everybody is talking about Performance, Growth and Innovation. The CEOs, the boards, the leaders. How is innovation translated from speeches and strategy papers into action by the employees.
We are excited to announce two new offerings this year, the InnoWorkout, an agile programme to create innovation skills and culture and Storytelling for Success-it’s not enough to come up with the next new thing, you need to inspire other people to make it happen.
InnoWorkouts are making a good vibe. We’ve been running them in London, Copenhagen, Budapest, Vilnius, Tirana.

Join us in London for an InnoWorkout on the 27th February http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/london-innoworkout-tickets-15155521573

Bespoke InnoWorkouts– Is performance, productivity, talent, engagement, innovation high on your agenda? Have you got a leadership event coming up? Call us at 02089060245 and bring InnoWorkout 90 minute workout, for your innovative leadership.

6th Feb 2015

It has been cold in London, a week of long cold evenings, when you want to have some roasted chestnuts, mountain tea, bread toasting on a wood stove( yeah, setting off the smoke alarm), white sheep cheese and a few olives. Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall the best of BBC’s season,  and plenty to read. Difficult to choose what to include this week. It seems the Brain got me hooked this week serendipitously rather than me going after it. Is it trying to tell me something? Here are some of the things I’d like to share this week:

Project BigBrain has built a free model of the human brain, in 3D and high resolution. It multiplies by 50 the level of detail of previous models, so that the actual neurons can be seen by zooming.

I was still in full fascination with the clip, when I stumbled upon an interview with Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Chinese Baidu, and former Google Brain leader. Asked about computers and neurons he puts everything into perspective: A single neuron in the brain is an incredibly complex machine that even today we don’t understand. A single “neuron” in a neural network is an incredibly simple mathematical function that captures a minuscule fraction of the complexity of a biological neuron. I had just seen Ex Machina, which I enjoyed a lot. Tim was right after all, AI is  way, way away.

And then some more on how the brain works. Konnikova’s article in the New Yorker about the remembering process and the way emotional memories behave at all stages, how we encode memories, consolidate  and retrieve them.

Yet, with all the developments around, we still know so little about dear old brain. Autism for one remains one of the big mysteries. No one knows why autism figures doubled in America in one decade, or why there are such disparities, 1 in 68 children in America, 1 in 102 in UK, 1 in 55 in Japan, 1 in 1389 in Denmark. No one knows why it affects four times more boys than girls either. Assessment methods, social stigma, cultural and linguistic practices….?

30th January

What do we want our children to become? How can education do that? What is the teachers’ role, parents, governments? How do we develop creative minds, critical thinkers, problem solvers, good citizens that care for people and the world we live in. It’s been Bett2015 week in London. The future of education, the role of the teachers, parents, governments, technology and methodology. Star turns like Bob Geldof and Sir Ken Robinson pulled great crowds at the arena, but so did Google for education, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and many others.
Bett2015 was a mixture of talks and exhibition. A lot of large screens where you can draw, write, interact, apps for schools,and digital systems that make it easy for teachers to pull different tools in one place.
Do check it out, and if education interests you get there next year.

January 2015

Everybody is talking about Performance, Growth and Innovation. The CEOs, the boards, the leaders. How is innovation translated from speeches and strategy papers into action by the employees.
We are excited to announce two new offerings this year, the InnoWorkout, an agile programme to create innovation skills and culture and Storytelling for Success-it’s not enough to come up with the next new thing, you need to inspire other people to make it happen.
InnoWorkouts are making a good vibe. We’ve been running them in London, Copenhagen, Budapest, Vilnius, Tirana.

Bespoke InnoWorkouts– Is performance, productivity, talent, engagement, innovation high on your agenda? Have you got a leadership event coming up? Call us at 02089060245 and bring InnoWorkout 90 minute workout, for your innovative leadership.

Smart City InnoWorkouts:  every fourth Friday of the Month.

Virtual InnoWorkouts from your desk every week on Tuesday 18.00-20.30

Do get in touch with julia@gconsultancy.org

31st December

It has been a week of wrapping up and partying. We were too busy to go to Iceland this year so G had the Christmas party at Icebar instead, cold and cool.

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A big thank you to all of you for believing in us and making the partnerships strong. We wish you a wonderful winter break and look forward to see you in January. A very happy new year from all of us at G.

23rd December

We have been talking a lot about failure this week. A painful topic for most of us. I remember the first time I realised it was OK to talk about it, was at LBS, when I was learning how to create new ventures. At the introductory session the prof asked: How many of you have failed more than 3 times? You could see very surprised, uneasy looks around you with few people raising their hands. In many of our cultures, failure was almost a taboo word. After all, we had got a place on this much hyped course by being successful not by failing. John continued: who has failed more than twice? more than once?  By this point, gathering courage from the mass of hands going up rather than being convinced we were doing the right thing, most of us raised our hands. Well, you can stay in this course then, he said, let’s start.

A trends report from Ford, published this week included Bragging about Failure as one of the microtrends for the coming years. The stigma of failure is eroding it says, indeed, it has become something to flaunt: I failed, therefore I learned from my mistake and I am stronger for it. “In an age of constant change, the only real failure is the failure to try, improve and evolve.” There is even a Day for Failure, the 13th of October, founded in Finland a few years ago, designed to kickstart conversation around failing and its role in creating success. Recognition of the day has since spread internationally, and it is hosted by more than 40 groups in 17 countries.

So the question is: are all failures pre-requisite for success? If you look at the example of Dyson trying out more than 5000 prototypes before the final version of the bagless hoover, each iteration brought a more refined and better version. In this context, failure is a synonym of “trying out and learning how to get it right” and as such a very valued part of the innovation process. Would we talk of the same kind of failure if many of the products in the market were faulty? Where I come from, this is “failure”, where the first one was more of a “trial”,  “endeavour”.

While we still have the same word for all kinds of failures, it helps to refer to Ron Ashkenase’s tips on how to distinguish between innovation mode and execution mode and how failure plays in each of them. In innovation mode, it’s important to try out new ideas, formats, and processes – and allow room for plenty of failure – in order to learn what works and what does not. In execution mode, you are focused on executing what you already know how to do instead of innovating something new.  If any further improvements are necessary, they have to be done carefully and explicitly, under controlled conditions, so that the basic operations are not disrupted. As such, says Ron, failure needs to be minimized or eliminated. I think this is a good recipe to help decide which failures to celebrate in the next Failure Award ceremonies on the 14th of October.

14th December

Post graduate ceremonies are always inspiring and the Brunel University one this week was no exception. In his message to the students, the Chancellor made a strong point in reminding them that productivity is not about working more hours, it is all about Innovation, respecting the work of others and learning from them.

Learning from others, borrowing ideas, stealing like artists are some of the phrases you can’t have missed this year.  But who are those others? We used to find models within our industry, we would study the competitors and think how we  can copy, replicate, be better, be different and win. For the companies that lead with innovation that was never enough. Now technology has made it possible for all companies, small and big to access the wisdom that goes beyond their immediate industry, beyond the disciplines you work in and beyond geographies. What I have been noticing this year is  the trend of learning from a different size organisation. The large corporations are talking about how to bring start-up entrepreneurial skills in-house, the start-ups resist the creation of hierarchies and bureaucracies until they can’t function without a certain amount of it, the governments are trying to mimic the large corporations.

So how do governments do innovation? Interesting insights from the Economistthis week. Once the pride of large innovative corporations, the innovation Labs have now made it into governments across the world, both in mayor’s offices and the halls of central government. Schumpeter says: reforming government is hard and often boring work. The innovation labs are making it a bit faster and a lot more interesting. So, here are some of them, Barcelona has the Urban Lab, Denmark has a MindLab; Singapore has PS21 Office, the New Orleans has the Innovation Delivery Team, France has La 27 Region, UK has the Behavioural Insights team and Sweden has Vinnova, Boston has an Office of New Urban Mechanics.

I have always been fascinated by Boston, not least because both MIT and Harvard are there. It has always been a hotbed of innovation especially in life sciences. In aseries of articles about what makes Boston so special, James Temple tries to explain that the reason why we don’t hear as much about Boston as we do about Silicon Valley is more to do with the media than with Boston itself. As Abby Fichter, hacker in residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab puts it: “The New England culture and mindset is you shouldn’t brag about things,” Bostonians take pride in heads-down hard work and indeed you can’t walk down the sidewalk without bumping into preeminent scientists.

The question of what makes one place more innovation friendly than another has had centre stage in studies and practices. Can Silicon valley be replicated, should clusters only grow organically, Is spinning or sprawling a must, and so on. We have always explained the success of Silicon Valley by its proximity to Stanford University, of Boston to the MIT and Harvard. It seems that is not enough. I read with interest this week the study byAnne Marie Knott, director of the Berkeley Research Group in Los Angeles.  It throws light on what makes certain states more innovative than others. She explores clusters and sprawling and uses the Research Index, which is the equivalent of IQ for people.  She finds out thatCalifornia and Minnesota have the highest RI. And what they have in common is that they are both innovation friendly by restricting the enforcement of non-compete agreements. Another strong link between institutional framework and how that influences the creation of the innovation environment.

Have a lovely week, 

8th December 20014

My inspiration this week comes from Vilnius. I am with the UKTI team from the Nordic and Baltic countries. Energetic, innovative, friendly. The team makes a great example of what a complex diverse team means, gender, age, geography, culture, discipline. All the elements that make it a recipe for innovation and at the same time all ingredients that make collaboration difficult. Spread over 9 countries, they are already living the virtual reality space. And as I reflect on the two day’s conversations and activities, nothing beats the luxury of coming together once in the while, sharing the space, sharing stories about themselves and the challenges they are facing, eating together and sharing a laugh. And they are putting time into thinking how can they be a dream team. We put the big challenge into the InnoZumba and got more than 400 ideas and prototyped 10,in 90 minutes.

I did another “first” this week, my first virtual InnoZumba, and I am excited that it worked. I had big doubts when I was asked to do it, would people be able to sit in front of the computer for two hours and a half to learn the basics of Design Thinking innovation? Can I deliver virtually a course which is based on doing stuff and learning through it? And then I thought, well, that’s a challenge for you, teaching the world how to approach challenges, get to grips with it. After a lot of thinking and designing, with some great ideas from my facilitator peers in London and online, and help from friends and family who dived into the prototypes, I delivered the zumba virtually. I’m sure, I will tweak it again and refine, but tonight as I write I feel quite pleased really.

From all the new technologies that arrive on my desk every week, two jumped immediately, a material to cool buildings, that is being developed in Stanford and Google translating pictures into words. For anyone that has used Google Translate and has been pleased by the instant gratification sense of understanding something in another language immediately (yeah, I know you get funny translations at time), it has become a tool you go back to. Let’s see how we are going to use the caption tool. 

There has been a long heated debate on middle managers, should they still exist, what is their purpose, some companies even going ahead and scraping the role only to find out that they had to bring it back not long after. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman did a study on what makes us unengaged and uncommitted and gathered data from more than 320 000 employees in a variety of organisations. What they found out was that for the most part, these unhappy people were steady, good performers who’d been in the organization for some time but appeared to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Be a good leader and have a lovely week.

25th November

I hope you are having a good week. I am still recovering from my 17 years old son’s party. They didn’t want me to cook or do things for them, just be out of the way. And all went beautifully, the young ones were fine, it was just me worrying as mums do. I was pleased though that thanks to the gym I wasn’t totally ignorant on the music front, even with their claim, ah, we don’t do charts, we like indie. And of course catching up with all the new things I hadn’t heard of like The Vine, a 6 second video sharing site. It has become so popular that it has its own category in the Tribeca Film festival in New York. My first reaction was wow-can you tell a story in six seconds? Why not! If you can tell a story in 6 words,  as Hemingway did in a bet, it would be even easier with video? I often use Hemingway’s story telling in 6 words in my workshops, so that’s a next activity to add. I got into Vine and looked at some of them, I didn’t get most, supposed to be funny, but some were really good. So, when this week I read that Yahoo Labs has been trying to spot creativity in those 6 second videos. I thought I have to include it in my top ten selection.

The other thing I immediately felt I needed to share, was this animated history of the bike. It has been a long way from the wooden horse to today’s bike and the Danish firm Visual Artwork has brought it brilliantly to life.

It seems I have a particular connection to visuals this week. I saw the Geckoman photo, none other than a Stanford grad student using a gecko-inspired human climbing system to scale a glass wall using sticky pads.

It is no news that Silicon Valley is a men’s world, yet when the demographic data arrived, it created a stir says James Suwiecki in the New Yorker. And if the valley boys are doing anything at all about diversity, is not because they want to be seen to be doing good, but because there is evidence that having a diversity premium as professor Brooke Harrington, at Copenhagen Business School calls it, makes them perform better.

I would like to end with the importance of tweaking prototypes in innovation. I had read about Dyson’s more that 5000 prototypes for the bagless hoover.  This article at Openmind is about how Steve Jobs, a tweaker rather than inventor was devoted to tweaking and refining already-invented devices and technologies in order to simplify their use.

Have a lovely week

18th November

Some weeks the stories struggle to make it into my top ten for inspiration, some weeks it is I who struggle what to choose. The story that made me smile, was Yukinko, a Japanese art installation of a heart warming winter scene with four people in it. When you go near, your face looks back at you from the installation. Suddenly, you are part of it.  Of course you can’t resist buying a copy of it. This is the first interactive installation you can buy a copy and take home. With a 100 000 visitors so far, It could make some money for the museum and Mayuko Kanazawa and pals from Osaka University. Selfies and art become one.
Innovation stories in medicine have always a wow factor. This week the nanoflares came top in my list. They are nanoparticles that attach themselves to individual cancer cells in a blood sample and then glow, thus allowing cancerous cells to be detected.
In my search for edgy courses, Kenneth Goldsmith’s“Wasting time on the internet” at University of Pennsylvania topped the list. Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs. Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory. I think I’ll join.
Ah, I loved the Imitation Game this week. Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is superb. And I’d like to leave you with one of his quotes: Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine. 

11 November

My inspiration this week comes from London. I’m at InnovateUK2014, the best place for innovators to meet, share and find synergies. I meet professor Joshua Silver, Director of Center for Vision at University of Oxford. Prof Silver’s glasses are a perfect disruptive medical technology.While studying mirrors, Silver discovered a new way to change the curvature of lenses. He applied this to create a new form of liquid-filled lens that could be easily adjusted by the wearer to correct the vision. I had seen in innovation featured at San Jose Museum of Technology and was delighted to meet him in person, hear his story and try on his glasses. A great innovation primarily for millions of children in poor countries but not only.

I also meet Armando de la Rosa, with his robotic hand. Armando is a robotics engineer with Shadow, and has been working for many years on the robotic hand.I can see the hand too and the movements it can perform, 20 of them. Within the same envelope as a human hand it has highly sensed finger tips too, And it can be used by a remote control too. You can see it’s awesome videos here.
Smart cities is very high in the innovation agenda too. John Morrison of the Huawei shared his framework and steps of building a smart city and no surprise there to hear about Chinese plans of having 311 smart cities coming up.
And of course, the power of design in innovations is also a current theme. One of the tech speakers put it really nicely:People don’t buy chips, they buy products and design is what turns a technology to a product that sells.

28th October

It has been a week of travelling and reading. And I’d like to share some of the readings I enjoyed and found a lot of inspiration in.
I loved reading Asimov’s essay On Creativity. It was written in 1959 and never published. His friend Arthur Obermayer, recently rediscovered it while cleaning out some old files,and as he says in the accompanying note, “he recognized that its contents are as broadly relevant today as when he wrote it. It describes not only the creative process and the nature of creative people but also the kind of environment that promotes creativity.” You can read here

Every year MIT publishes a special issues called Twelve Tomorrows. It is always a treat. This year it features among others  publications of two futurists I have had the pleasure to know Bruce Stirling and Joel Garreau. A not to be missed collection of mind boggling stories of near futures. And as Claire Evans of Motherboard says, when MIT publishes science fiction, you should pay attention

Future materials always provide inspiration. This weekOpenmind brings 5 of them, an artificial diamond that is stronger than diamond created by Chinese scientists, steel stronger than steel created by a  team of Chinese and American researchers, a material that absorbs water from air created by researchers at Rice University in Houston, an anti-ice surface material created by a team of researchers at Harvard University, inspired by a type of insectivorous plant whose trap is so smooth that it even makes ants slip, and surfaces that adapt their aerodynamics, created at MIT.

I also enjoyed  the fascinating article by Mark Singer,in the New Yorker  on the Man who forgets nothing, or  The minestrone of Martin Scorsese’s mind

10th October

Back from Shanghai after two days of Design Thinking Innovation training for an inspiring group of emerging leaders from China, Germany, Canada, US, Netherlands, Czech Republic from a multinational engineering corporation.

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I love Shanghai. Some places overwhelm you with their buildings, Dubai, Singapore, New York, some with their people, Mumbai tops the list, whereas Shanghai overwhelms you with both.

I arrived on the the weekend of their national holiday. The whole population was in Nanjing Road. Just walking in the pedestrianised road, surrounded by young, healthy, stylish young people, you feel the great energy they embody and a sense of optimism.

IMG_5738 I ask myself what does it mean to have a whole youth that has been growing up as only children, without healthy sibling company and rivalries, with no need to share and maximum attention? They seem happy, confident and social. Compared to 6 years ago, when I first went to Shanghai, more people can answer in English when you ask for directions. My hotel overlooks the People’s park, and on a day like this, clear sky, warm and holiday, the park is packed. A colleague who has been working and living for many years in Shanghai points us to the biggest matchmaking site. Parents with the CVs and photos of their children meeting other parents with CVs and photos of their children, trying to find a perfect fit for a couple. Well, who best than your parents to market you!

marriage market

My favourite spot is the new food emporium, a big building with the best produce Shanghai can offer, to buy and to eat, part food shop part eatery.

IMG_5744The concept reminded me of Eately in Milan. You may spend hours marvelling at the great variety of mushrooms, noodles, sweets, cured meats, teas, eggs and lots of things I have no names for.

IMG_5740A real celebration of food and taste!

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It’s midnight, Nanjing Road is empty. A silent electric bike swishes by . The big surprise is how clean it all is!

 

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22th September

Kids are back at school. So are we! I wake up to the sound of lots of emails pinging into my inbox!
Michael from Brooklin sends humble greetings, Reinaldo from Sao Paolo is thrilled to be part of it, so are Lucas and two student friends of his that have joined the group, Jairo from Colombia and Carlos from Bogota are excited. And a message from Haya from Lebanon, who says ” Hello beautiful people, have a fantabulous first workshop! ” . I have joined the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and I love it. I have attended five so far, with different degrees of engagement, and I am hooked on them, the pleasure of learning new things from the best universities in the world, all at your own pace, from your own home and FREE. Welcome to the future of Learning!
I know it is still the beginning, a lot of experimentation is involved, yet I was surprised to learn at NCIIA OPEN that only 5% of the Universities are doing it so far, 9% are considering, with the rest on the side lines. While there is a lot of discussion on the whys and hows, one thing seems sure: the trend is not just a fad. It is here to stay. According to the Babson Survey Research Group, one in three students takes at least one course online and about 80% of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face- to- face.  Having said that, only one in three chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. So you don’t get any credits, yet.

A few thoughts after taking five MOOCs.
What does it feel being part of a massive 45 thousand strong crowd? The energy was thrilling; there were people from all over the world, from young undergraduates to octogenarians, some beginners, some intermediate and some advanced learners.
There was a massive mix of disciplines too.

The secret of putting together a good MOOC is how to make a massive organisation feel small. It is the same challenge we have in big companies. The MOOCs I liked best managed to create an environment, where you can be part of both a small self organised squad of 4-6 people and a big conversation community.
I have learnt that most of my scepticism on self-organised groups came from the misunderstanding I had about the term “self organised”.  For me, it had meant complete ad hoc grouping, where you make the rules as you go along. Far from it, for any self-organised group to really work, they need to have a good process to use, some good tools, rotating leadership and commitment to take part or be decent and leave.

I think the learning spaces that MOOCs create could be a good model that would benefit learning organisations, where workshops and trainings