Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design

design

The Importance of Social Design

I read widely to challenge and expand my thinking. In The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design, Cheryl Heller presents a system for putting social design into action. This takes creative abilities and puts them into practice. It’s different.

Cheryl Heller is the founding chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

 

What is social design?

Social Design is the design of the invisible dynamics and relationships that affect society and the future. It’s the creation of new social conditions intended to increase human agency, creativity, equity, resilience, and our connection to nature.

It is essentially the same process used to develop innovative products and services, but applied at a larger scale. Instead of a small team of expert designers being responsible for the creative output or product, however, social design is done by cross-disciplinary teams, including both people inside the company and in external stakeholder communities. The goal, in addition to breakthrough products and services, is breakthrough interactions between people that lead to ongoing innovation. Because the process is participatory, everyone learns to do it. Because learning to do it instills a greater sense of agency and possibilities, everyone who participates is transformed.

 

“Social designers are resourceful, observant, open minded and able to live and work with ambiguity.” -Cheryl Heller

 

Social Design versus Traditional Design

How is it different from traditional design?

Social Design differs from traditional approaches in several important ways:

‣ It looks far beyond design thinking, which has made significant inroads in business, education and social organizations in recent years. It is an iterative process for developing alternative ideas and strategies based on understanding a “user” and a specific problem. Social design’s purview is whole communities or societies.

‣ The design process isn’t relegated to a team of designers, or isolated in a specific phase of the research and development process. Cross-departmental teams, some of whom are designers, are formed around a particular goal or outcome, and everyone participates in the entire process. What are typically sequential activities, performed by a series of experts, like research, problem framing, synthesis, ideation, testing and the like, are collapsed into a series of fluid stages in which everyone’s perspectives are integrated. This not only surfaces opportunities and challenges early, but also gives everyone access to insights that make them smarter, regardless of which stage they are accountable for.

‣ Social design relies on observation and inquiry rather than formal strategies and fixed plans. Preconceived ideas, however brilliant they sound, are to be avoided. Research is undertaken not to prove a theory, but to understand context and reframe questions. Answers are not determined in advance. The ultimate outcome may be fixed and inviolate, but not the step-by-step path to getting there. Observation of patterns, of unexpected reactions, whether in team members or customers, become the source of inspiration and invention—the real-time feedback that makes the idea, when it is developed, far more likely to work and succeed.

‣ Social design employs “making to learn.” That means giving ideas form to which others can react and help refine in collaborative fashion. Instead of waiting to get an idea “perfect” before showing it to its intended audience, users respond to versions in unfinished stages, and that input is incorporated into the design. Making-to-learn relies on iteration, and requires the freedom to pivot along the way, sometimes abandoning an idea, but always long before a big investment has been made. Giving form to ideas makes those ideas more appropriate to the people for whom they’re intended and makes them accessible to more people, and more diverse perspectives, as they’re developed.

‣ The outputs aren’t PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets. Instead, they are maps and sketches and images and pictures underpinned with data that bring to life the entire ecosystem of stakeholders and forces in play. These visual outputs help make sure diverse people are seeing the same thing and can uncover otherwise hidden dynamics.

 

“Social design relies on observation and inquiry rather than formal strategies and fixed plans.” -Cheryl Heller

 

How is the role of the designer changing today?

How Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation

human footprint

Create Connection

Though we live in an ever-connected, always-on world, we somehow seem less connected to actual, real people than ever before. Is it possible that the very technology that connects us is contributing to a sense of loneliness and isolation?

In Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel answers that question. Based on research spanning thousands of managers and employees, Dan’s new book is a fascinating look at the impact technology is having at work and at home. Dan is a best-selling author, a partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com.

I recently asked Dan to share a little more about his research.

 

“Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden.” -Arianna Huffington

 

Workplace Loneliness

Tell us more about your research into workplace loneliness and its connection to technology.

There is a loneliness epidemic spreading across the entire world. An Aetna study shows that almost half of Americans are lonely. In the UK, nine million people are lonely and over 200,000 haven’t spoken to a close friend or relative in the past month. In Japan, 30,000 people die from loneliness each year. I’ve read about the impact of loneliness and have felt lonely myself as an only child and someone who lives alone in New York City. For my book Back to Human, I conducted a global study with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees from ten different countries. Overall, I found that 39 percent say they at least sometimes feel lonely at work. I spoke to the former U.S. Surgeon General, and he said that loneliness has the same health risk and reduction of life as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day. In the workplace, technology has created the illusion that we are all hyper connected, yet in reality we feel disconnected, isolated and lonely over the overuse and misuse of it.

 

“It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.” -Ed Catmull

 

Share a little about personal fulfillment and how we can enhance it on the job. 

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after we meet our physiological and safety needs, we need to focus on belongingness and love if we want to be self-actualized, reaching our full potential at work. We spend one-third of our lives working, so if we have weak relationships with our teammates, we feel unfulfilled. We are less productive, happy and committed to the team and organization’s long-term success as a result of not having close ties. In order to best serve the needs of our teammates, we have to first focus on our own fulfillment. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing the most, what do your past accomplishments say about your strengths, what your core values are, what brings out your positive emotions and where you envision yourself in the future. Once you’re fulfilled, it’s important to get to know your teammates on a personal level, understand their needs and then service those needs. You can do this through on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and regular meetings where you show you’re committed to their success.

 

“Given how much time you’ll be spending in your life making a living, loving your work is a big part of loving your life.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Create a Culture of Engagement

Quotes for World Kindness Day

World Kindness Day

November 13 is World Kindness Day

 

How many days have I found myself turning down the volume on the television? The news can be depressing. The shouting. The fighting. The lack of civility.

Did you know there was a day dedicated to world kindness?

Let’s find special ways to be extra kind. Turn up the volume of graciousness. Do something unexpected for someone. Encourage others in a way that fires them up.

Here are some quotes on kindness:

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” –Aesop

 

“Always find opportunities to make someone smile, and to offer random acts of kindness in everyday life.” –Roy Bennett

 

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” –Charles Dickens

 

“A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money.” –John Ruskin

 

“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” –Harold Kushner

 

“There’s nothing so kingly as kindness, and nothing so royal as truth.” -Alice Cary

 

“But remember…that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword.” –Rick Riordan

 

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” –Bob Kerrey

 

“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” –William Ward

The Future of Humans in an Increasingly Robotic World

Humanity Works

The professional landscape is transforming, and the only way to maintain competitive advantage is to maximize the unique skills of your workforce. In Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future, consultant and futurist Alexandra Levit provides a guide to making the most of the human traits of creativity, judgment, problem solving and interpersonal sensitivity.

If you’ve ever wondered what the ‘robot takeover’ will look like, how talent and machines can work side by side and how you can make organizational structures more agile and innovation focused, you will be interested in Alexandra’s work. I recently spoke with her about her research and observations.

 

“Enlightened 21st-century leaders will abandon command-and-control to diplomatically govern their organizations.” -Alexandra Levit

 

When Robots Do More

You cover some sweeping trends. Would you share a few of the macro themes that are the backdrop of your work?

The book addresses a few essential questions: In a world where robots can do more and more, where does that leave us as humans? How will leaders build integrated human teams that can compete in a business world with constant evolutions and disruptions while remaining productive, marketable and sane? We explore the demographics, technological advances, work structures, organizational priorities, leadership models, individual career paths and human roles coming to fruition in the immediate years to come.

 

“The speed with which information populates the online world means with one wrong move, your organization’s reputation could be in jeopardy.” -Alexandra Levit

 

As you look at the workplace of the future, what are a few of the major changes we will see?

How to Recruit, Retain, and Advance Remarkable Women

women leadership

Gender Equality

Not too long ago, I read a new book on gender equality in the workplace. I’ve read many of these types of books but this one was from a different perspective. Rania Anderson’s company, The Way WoMen Work, is specifically geared toward helping male business leaders obtain the skills and perspectives needed to intentionally advance women.

Rania realized long ago that many men want to support women at work but don’t know the best way to do so.

In her new book, WE: Men, Women, and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work, Rania not only explains the benefits of recruiting, retaining, and advancing high-caliber women, but she also provides hands-on advice on how to do it.

 

Ernst and Young Study: Over 50 percent of leaders said they need to do more to attract, retain, and promote women to leadership positions.

 

A Surprising Question

In your book, you mention that, while at companies working with women, men were often stopping you to ask for help. Many men want to know how to work more effectively with women. Given the many years of focus on diversity, did this surprise you?

It did. After I was approached a few times, I recognized that many men are ready to transform their workplaces and the way they work and lead with women.

Some are motivated by talent shortages. Others are under pressure to innovate and understand the changing needs of consumers, many of whom are women. They recognize that they cannot win by continuing to rely on half the talent pool.

Yet others want to have flexibility in their work environment and recognize that the changes that women want in the workplace would also benefit them.

The motivations of the men that spoke to me were varied, but what they were asking for was the same – to no longer be left out of the conversation and to be invited to be part of the solution.

 

“Just as companies measure return on equity, there’s also a demonstrated return on equality.” -Rania Anderson

 

The Benefits of Gender Diversity