Changing the world with technology at #TDC12

The message at Thinking Digital 2012 at the end of last month was loud and clear – we’re in the middle of a huge transformation that many of us, individuals and organisations alike, are resisting (us humans tend to be change averse).

Traditional organisations are failing to take new ideas to market quickly (see Bill Buxton’s ‘long nose of innovation). The difficult part is not just about having the ideas – yes we all get the equivalent of ‘writer’s block’, but there’s so much inspiration in the world, just go for a walk, read a book, watch and listen to people and you’ll come up with a solution or an idea. It’s the implementation of those ideas that’s the blocker.

To address this, to force through these barriers, there are people all over the world just going out and making changes. We heard from the amazing Pam Warhurst from a little town in West Yorkshire called Todmorden where the most amazing grass roots changes are happening, all around building a vibrant, economically viable community based on growing and selling local produce (Incredible Edible). We heard from the inspirational Sugata Mitra who put a computer in a wall in a New Delhi slum and watched as local children taught themselves and others to speak English and surf the web. He created The Granny Cloud where hundreds of grannies near Gateshead were recruited to go online to help teach children in India based on the grandmother method – stand behind, admire, act fascinated and praise. His work blows our traditional education system out of the water and turns it completely on its head.

Alan Moore, author of ‘No Straight Lines: Making Sense of our Non-Linear World’ gave a session that was a wake up call to all change averse companies -  according to Alan, we’re in transition from a linear world to a non linear world which is very ambiguous for most of us. Our industrialised world is ridiculously complicated. We are being disrupted by a whole set of forces and companies and we don’t know how to adapt. By placing an economic value on every aspect of existence we’ve done very bad things for humanity. However we’re very resilient – we are not machines. We’re having a system upgrade of the Human-OS. So how do we design better for society, our organisation and be commercially vibrant – all at the same time? How do we make the post-industrial world be a better place to live? Alan suggested the following:

Ambiguity: Pattern building is very important to get to grips with a different way of thinking and operating. Companies need to stand back, evaluate, critique, communicate regularly to agree what those patterns and processes are and be quick enough to make necessary changes.

Openness: Openness is resilience, it allows diversity to flourish. Openness includes open API’s, open innovation, open business models, open platforms, an open society where mutuality and trust is core. Instead of thinking about what we get out of a business relationship, we need  to come together and ask how can we work together so we both win? Allows information to flow, rich things to happen.

Participatory leadership and tools: By collaborating we accelerate learning including peer-to-peer. We need to lead each other and kick off a truly different way of thinking about leadership. Think about you company as a community, the collaborative enterprise.

Craftsmanship: A craftsman is defined by hand, heart and mind. The craftsman asks ‘is what i create for the collective good?’ Craftsmen are always curious and confident and aware they’re the architects of their own future. They’re also committed – so how do we harness this to create and develop that engagement and commitment in the organisations we run?

Epic: Bourne from the idea that gamers seek an ‘epic win’. This is about people not saying ‘what if’ but ‘how can we’?

Participatory learning: If we can find a process where the people that are using and working in that service are able to come together to pool their knowledge that can be harvested, collected, voted on, discussed – where we can all say we understand limitations, possibilities and what everyone needs to be doing, this is a very different style of leadership to how learning works at the moment. How can we lead each other? Humans are motivated by much much more than money.

We have the ability to navigate from the world we’re in to a better world (we have a unique design challenge) – the opportunity is to create organisations that function better, creating economies that deliver a vibrancy that the industrial revolution was once famous for.

Steven Kyffin, Dean of Northumbria School of Design, asked ‘what’s the price of innovation?’ From his experience, making ideas turn into something tangible is the hard bit, not coming up with the ideas themselves. Making a design and prototype happen – to build it – is often impossible, particularly in large companies, which is why innovations tend to take so long to get to market (see Bill Buxton’s long nose of innovation). It’s key to turn things on their head and get rid of the processes and enormous numbers of people involved in the decision making so you can get innovative products out of the door.

All in all Thinking Digital gave me the freedom to think big, think creatively – and always with the greater good in mind.

Full sessions will be available on the Thinking Digital website.

Published by Sara Allison

Sara is the editor of Ubelly - when not heads down scouring Ubelly articles for typos (and not always catching them), she's scouting for new writing talent. Give her a shout @SaraAllison if you've got something to say about development/design and want to be heard.

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