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We say we practice human-centered design at IDEO, but what does that really mean? Our friends at +Acumen and have designed a free online course to answer that question. Open to anyone anywhere in the world—no prior design experience needed— the class is called “Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation.” The goal is to teach budding social entrepreneurs how to develop solutions for those who live in such dire circumstances, they may not know where their next meal will come from.

The team-based, 7-week curriculum was first offered last summer and brought together over 13,000 people from 134 countries. Many inspiring ideas came out of the course, but one in particular caught my attention.

Two groups of staff members from Jacaranda Health in Kenya, which is dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality healthcare to low-income women in East Africa, looked at “barriers to good nutrition” for pregnant women. To better understand the problem, they interviewed people all along the healthy eating chain—pregnant women, farmers, community members, cooks, and food buyers—distilled the information, then brainstormed possible solutions. Then they built prototypes and showed them to patients in their maternity clinic for feedback.

What’s interesting is that even thought the two groups were looking at the same problem—“improve pregnant women’s nutrition”—they came up with very different solutions. One group thought better education was the answer, so they came up with healthy eating do’s and don’ts that they published in a local newspaper and posted in the clinic’s waiting room. The other group felt pregnant women know what to eat, they just don’t have the right resources, so they created a burlap-sack kitchen garden that would grow iron-rich greens in their homes.

Jacarada Health’s commitment to taking a human-centered approach to solving their communities’ maternal-health challenges is impressive and has caught the attention of the Gates Foundation, Heath Enterprise Fund, and others. In about the time it takes to get a passport, you, too, can be introduced to a whole new way to approach the world’s toughest challenges.

Specifically, the social-innovation course will:

  • Teach you human-centered design processes and methods
  • Help you identify patterns and opportunities for concept development
  • Inspire you to approach challenges differently and experience how human-centered design can add a new perspective to your own work
  • Give you hands-on experience speaking to, prototyping for, and testing solutions with potential users.

This year’s registration deadline—March 30—is fast approaching. Time to design a better, more human future together. Sign up now.


What challenges will you tackle with your newly acquired design-thinking skills?


(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Reflections on Davos 2013

February 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

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I recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The overall sentiment there was one of cautious optimism. While there is a long list of major problems to be tackled, the immediate prospects for the global economy seem reasonably good and there is a sense that most economies will grow this year.

The theme of the week was resilience—the question being, how do companies and countries weather the increasing volatility of markets, society, and climate? One obvious conclusion is that resilience requires the ability to rapidly react and innovate in changing circumstances. Creativity and design can help make organizations more resilient.

Another theme was the growing focus on tackling global problems that are associated with basic human needs. I couldn’t help but reflect upon the Designing for Life’s Necessities post in December. Access to healthy food and clean water, achieving active healthy lifestyles, redesigning broken healthcare and education systems, creating new jobs, supporting aging communities, and mitigating the effects of global warming—these were all topics of discussion in Davos. My sense is that in the next year more large corporations, governments, and NGOs will be looking for creative ways to address these issues.

Davos is a place to meet intellectual superstars and I was fortunate to spend time with both Daniel Kahneman (father of behavioral economics) and Clayton Christensen (of The Innovator’s Dilemma fame). They both offered wise words about purpose, success, and happiness—while commenting on the dangers of taking a conventional view of success and happiness. In particular, how companies measure success today in terms of return on capital.

How will you measure purpose, success, and happiness this year?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

I recently moderated a fascinating session at the World Economic Forum ‘Summer Davos‘ in Tianjin, China. Two network scientists, Cesar Hidalgo of MIT and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Harvard, discussed the underlying science of how networks operate and how this knowledge might be applied to business and economics.

At the outset of network science a key question was raised: are networks random? If so, all nodes would be more or less similar to each other. But that is not the case. The reality is that certain nodes have more connections than others and play the role of hubs. New nodes in a pre-existing network tend to connect with highly connected nodes. After a certain threshold, the removal of highly connected nodes can make a whole network fall apart. Thus interconnectivity is beneficial but also brings in vulnerability: if you and I are connected we can share resources; meanwhile your problems can become mine, and vice versa. This happens in many different kinds of networks, from financial systems to social media to electrical power grids. Numerous complex systems can be mapped and analyzed, such as transportation and biological systems.

Network science and tools are readily available to shed light on factors that were not considered in the past and to inform decisions in many different sectors and organizations. The adoption of network science and tools for decision-making are especially powerful when designing for complexity. Hidalgo even proposed that the future economic growth of nations can be predicted based on an analysis of networks of production.

In our own organizations, network visualizations and analyses can be used to inform management decisions by looking at how employees connect to each other and how information flows through networks.

Here’s more from the session on the power of networks:

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


This seems an appropriate title under which to resume my commentary on design and design thinking. I do indeed apologize for the lack of posts over the last three months but this is not the primary reason for the choice of title.

I just returned from a visit to Tokyo, a place I have visited more than twenty times over the last twenty years. I was struck this time by the change that seems to be going on in the national psyche as a result of the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. Japanese citizens have lost confidence in their institutions and in response all those institutions seem to be able to do is apologize.

The most striking impression you get on arriving in Tokyo is that it has gone dark. What was once one of the brightest cities on the planet has dimmed significantly as lighting in public spaces has been turned down and escalators in subway stations turned off to conserve power. This dimming seems emblematic of an institutional lack of imagination and resolve. Instead it is Japanese entrepreneurs and business people along with students and the non-profit sector who seem to be leading the charge into the future. I met with a group at the Tokyo University i-school, an interdisciplinary innovation institute based out of the engineering department similar to the Stanford d-school. The students were extremely eloquent in their assessment of the disaster and its impact. Here are a few of their comments:

“Japanese people have increased confidence in themselves but less confidence in the government”

“we have never felt more strongly Japanese”

“to win back trust government needs to be more direct and open”

“government should be a platform for information”

They commented on how important social networks, and in particular Twitter, had been in allowing them to share more information and bypass the government. I left thinking that this elite group of students who would normally head off to the major corporations or into government might just decide to take a different, more entrepreneurial direction with their careers.

At a meeting of TEDx Tokyo organizers and others concerned with promoting ideas about positive change in Japan I heard a similar message of needing to support the new generation in their desire to be entrepreneurial. The conversation centered on how to create networks that supported the implementation of new ideas. Ideas that might make a difference to the areas effected by the disaster and Japan as a whole. This seemed to me to be the nub of the issue. We have developed networks that very effectively promote new ideas. How do we move to creating networks that support getting those ideas done? Networks of action are far harder to establish than networks of conversation. What are the key principles for establishing them? How can the social web enable more people to get more stuff done?

I left Japan feeling that the old institutional hierarchies were left wanting at a time of crisis (and let’s not forget we had the same experience with Katrina) but that while we have the beginnings of a new social network driven alternative we still have some design to do.


January 25, 2010 — 1 Comment


I am spending the next day and a half in Munich before heading up to Davos for the annual WEF annual meeting. There is a great event that happens here every year called DLD (Digital Life Day) put on by Burda Media. You can think of it as a mini TED but with many more Europeans. The content is eclectic but I came away with a couple of interesting insights from today’s sessions.

John Nesbitt, author of the iconic Megatrends in the 1980’s, is just publishing his new book China’s Megatrends . He, along with his wife and venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf, were talking about what is really going on in China. One interesting comment from Nesbitt was “China is a country with no ideology”. Given the way China is represented in the western press this comes across as pretty radical but the point he makes is that China today is about the under 25’s and they are only interested in creating better lives and not in whether communism or capitalism are the right ways to do it. For those thinking about innovation in China the point is that our assumptions are not necessarily accurate.

In another session on health, moderated by Esther Dyson, we heard how health will be driven by user generated content and consumer applications. Products in the future will be a collection of therapies, monitoring, applications, communities and incentives. In other words they will be experience systems.

Finally, the CEO of Deutsche Post, the world’s largest logistics company as well as the German post office, talked about innovation in his industry. One thing that is interesting is that Deutsche Post is quite profitable unlike its counterparts in the US and UK. He was quite critical of the banking industry because he believes that business has to be based on meeting the needs of customers and taking responsibility for employees. He believes that much of the banking world has lost touch with both of these ideas and in many cases no longer serves customers with its activities. I agree with the essential nature of meeting needs but I might expand the idea of taking responsibility beyond employees to include the community in which business is practiced which for the largest companies includes much of the planet.