As the world slowly emerges from the economic gloom, and the “hyper-social real-time web” requires new organizational designs, it’s clear that business as usual will not be so usual anymore. Yet fundamental concerns remain, both for business leaders, who face the challenge of innovating in a hyper-transparent and always-on environment, and for consumers, who are increasingly searching for non-economic values amidst the shattered trust in business and the information overload. Smart companies recognize the historic opportunity to transform the way they do business and provide customers with more value-rich, sustainable, and meaningful products, services, and business models. From “un-entitlement” to “disruptive realism” to “for-profit activism” — here are some of the new paradigms that shape meaning-driven brands.
GE, which is widely known for its rigorous, metrics-based performance management, is changing course and shifting attention to social intelligence, empathy, and listening skills. The company is putting 1,000 managers through their paces to learn how to react to sometimes imperceptible signs of change. While this is not entirely new at GE or any other company, GE is striking a refreshing tone, admitting that: “We don’t have all the answers.” In A Whole New Mind – Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Dan Pink wrote several years ago that “Creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers are holding the keys to the new empire,” and GE, humbled by the recession, is catching up with that insight. It emphasizes context over text, the Big Picture over details, listening over brand control and messaging discipline.
Ma Yun, the president of Alibaba, the world’s largest online B2B marketplace, requested that the 18 co-founders resign from current positions in the company and re-apply for jobs – a radical measure to reshape the company’s culture and administration in order to face new challenges in e-commerce after one decade of fast growth.
The employees of large US retailer Costco are known to be incredibly loyal, which can be attributed to a host of exceptional programs and benefits to motivate them. It doesn’t hurt that Costco pays, on average, $17 an hour, which is 42 percent higher than the average hourly pay of its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogeish. Costco’s CEO, James Sinegal, firmly believes that keeping employees satisfied and committed will result in profitability for the organization in the long run. With such a loyal employee base, Costco can maintain the luxury of relying only on word-of-mouth, not having a PR department, and striving to connect with its customers solely through the in-store experience.
RADICAL TRANSPARENCY: Dachis Group
On the Social Web, companies may soon need to share everything about their business, including complaints, profit margins on particular products, and even corporate strategies. In the spirit of Radical Transparency, companies could even make their live email correspondence public. An open and interactive email feed may propel knowledge sharing and collaboration, but also an ongoing conversation that customers, partners, and global media can join. A first step in this direction is the list of outbound emails (“ABC just sent an email to XYZ”) that the Dachis Group, a global social business consultancy, publishes on its web site. It draws the visitor into a stream of real-time events and provides a snapshot of the company’s social graph. This openness, not to mention the implied social references (in a sense, the email recipients vouch with their name), builds trust.
OPEN INNOVATION: Nike + Creative Commons, Best Buy
Nike is committed to developing products that use sustainable materials and are designed for easy disassembly. In its commitment to protecting the environment, the company is sharing its knowledge so other businesses can do the same. Nike has partnered with Creative Commons and Best Buy to support a shared vision of “creating a platform that promotes the creation and adoption of technologies that have the potential to solve important global or industry-wide sustainability challenges.” Together they have formed the GreenXchange. The project aims to develop strategies for using patents and know-how to facilitate and promote open innovation. In late October, 2009, Nike also entered a partnership with social innovation network PopTech as the first participant in the PopTech Labs to “foster open collaboration on key innovation challenges.” Each of the PopTech Labs will bring together a select group of leading scientific researchers, engineers, designers, corporate leaders, policymakers and other key stakeholders around a single topic of research in areas of vital importance to business, society, and the planet.
Best Buy‘s mantra is “the company as wiki.” The company is tapping into its 130,000 employees to market its brand rather than just relying on the marketing staff to do so. It is a great example of how a major company has redefined its attitude towards control and information.
NOWISM: Zara, TCHO, Zappos
Customers always want it faster, that’s not news. But the implications of the real-time web are more profound and affect the way organizations operate and adapt their business models to the new and ever-changing demands of immediacy. Zara, the Spanish clothing chain, uses customer feedback to develop new clothes, in near real-time. TCHO, the San Francisco-based chocolatier, relies on continuous flavor development and customer feedback to drive constantly evolving versions of its dark chocolate, with variations emerging as often as every 36 hours. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, successfully combines real-time customer service on Twitter with near-real-time product delivery.
GLOCALISM: FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona (“Barca”) was one of the first soccer clubs to be founded in Spain, and it became a haven for Catalan sentiment when Catalan self-government and culture were proscribed during Franco’s dictatorship. The club emerged as the playful manifesto of Catalonia’s spiritual independence, and since then, nowhere has soccer been more fundamental to the sense of identity than in Barcelona. It is ironic that a club rooted deeply in Catalan nationalism has such an international following. But Barca’s appeal is so global precisely because its roots are so local. Barca represents the Catalan people while at the same time creating a sense of belonging to “beauty and excellence.” The meaning of Barca transcends the boundaries of sports and nations, and embodies the universal values of sportsmanship and integrity. Barca is fully owned by its members, unlike most other big soccer clubs – which are either in the hands of large corporations or American (Manchester United) and Russian (FC Chelsea) billionaires – and the members possess significant voting power. Based on its spirit of independence, the club has always taken on broader social issues and played a pivotal role in promoting diversity, tolerance, and peace worldwide. Barca’s partnership with UNICEF is a statement of the club’s continuing efforts to be at the forefront of solidarity projects with a global reach. Under the agreement, which bears the slogan “Barcelona, more than a club, a new global hope for vulnerable children,” Barca contributes to the financing of UNICEF humanitarian projects and endorses UNICEF on its shirts – it is the only major European team not to wear an advertisement.
COMMUNITY MARKETPLACE: Etsy
Etsy is an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade: clothing, music, furniture, software, jewelry, robots. Since launching in June, 2005, the company has experienced incredible growth with hundreds of thousands of sellers globally. A grassroots community has developed amongst its buyers and sellers, and Etsy facilitates these interactions. For example, Alchemy is a space on Etsy where members can post requests for custom handmade items, and sellers submit bids to create them. Etsy also helps bring its online community to real-world teams (organized by location or type of craft) for its sellers to connect and share ideas. Etsy’s mission is “to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice. Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.”
With its Expedition 206 campaign, Coca-Cola is tapping regular people to be their “Happiness Ambassadors” and travel the world throughout 2010, documenting their quests via blog posts, tweets, YouTube videos, TwitPics, and other social media tools. The goal of the campaign is to “find happiness” in 206 different countries that sell Coca-Cola products around the globe. The winning three-person team, selected out of numerous applications, began its journey on January 1, 2010 and is attempting to travel more than 150,000 miles in 365 days. On the way, the team will experience the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and the World Expo in Shanghai. The team’s duty is to engage with locals and uncover what makes them happy, openly document and share their experiences online, and complete tasks in each country as determined by online voters. The campaign connects the ambassadors, and by proxy, the global Coca-Cola customer base, with locals. Through immersion, it will generate empathy and understanding for local cultures. On the web, the campaign will “activate” a dormant network of Coke fans that will follow the ambassadors’ travels and connect with each other. By connecting people from different cultures, Coca-Cola offers a way of looking at the world and creates social wealth: better mutual understanding through enhanced intercultural knowledge.
ONLINE ACTIVISM: Pepsi Co.
For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi Co. decided not to run any advertisements during the Super Bowl in 2010. Instead, the nation’s second-biggest soft drink maker plowed marketing dollars into its Pepsi Refresh Project, an online community that allows Pepsi fans to list their public service projects, which could range from helping to feed people to teaching children to read. Visitors to the site can vote to determine which projects receive money. The program will pay at least $20 million for projects people create to “refresh” communities. Last year, Pepsi Co. spent $33 million advertising products such as Pepsi, Gatorade, and Cheetos during the Super Bowl, according to TNS Media Intelligence, $15 million of it on Pepsi alone. Ad time last year for the NFL championship game cost about $3 million for 30 seconds, on average. Pepsi Co. spokeswoman Nicole Bradley said Super Bowl ads don’t work with the company’s future goals: “In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement.”
RADICAL CROWDSOURCING: Victors & Spoils (V&S)
Two Crispin Porter + Bogusky alums have launched Victors & Spoils (V&S), “the world’s first creative agency built on crowd-sourcing principle.” V&S says it will “provide businesses with a better way to solve their marketing, advertising and product-design problems by engaging the world’s most talented creatives.” V & S is eating its own dog food. The first line you notice on its web site (after the humble “Welcome to Victors & Spoils. Let’s Change an Industry”) is “Why does this site look so plain, Jane?” and the answer is: because the site design, the look and feel, and even the logo are being crowd-sourced. V&S received thousands of applications for crowdsourced projects in the first week after launch.
CREATIVE CONVERGENCE: British Airports Authority and Alain De Botton’s Heathrow Diary
The Swiss writer Alain De Botton was commissioned by the British Airports Authority (BAA) to spend a week in the middle of Heathrow’s bustling Terminal 5 and write about life at the airport. Dan Glover, creative director at Mischief, BAA’s PR agency, said that “If we funded a brochure that said how wonderful the airport was, people would switch off because they’d think they’re being marketed to.” Instead, he added, the Heathrow Diary campaign sought to stimulate “branded conversations” among travelers “through the experience of seeing a top literary figure at the airport — and potentially being a character in the book — and by receiving an exclusive copy to read on your travels. The overarching objective is to make a passenger’s time at Heathrow the best memory of the trip.”
PRESENCE THROUGH ABSENCE: Maison Martin Margiela, +/-0
Instead of crafting a story around its clothing line, Cult fashion brand Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) has remained swathed in anonymity throughout its 20-year history. Namesake designer Martin Margiela chose to remain out of the spotlight, and it was this invisibility that helped to develop the brand. MMM became a household name and its admirers, devout acolytes of the brand. This cult of impersonality spread through the aesthetic of the brand: Stores are never listed in phone books or identified with signage; staff at stores and at Margiela HQ wear standard white lab coats; white is also the ubiquitous color of all stores, MMM’s HQ, and the sheets that cover all in-store furniture and displays; packaging is monochrome and logo-free; models at MMM often appear on the runway with covered faces; seating is mostly first-come, first-served, avoiding the industry standard of seating hierarchy; and the company uses a first person plural response to all inquiries, emphasizing the collaborative, disciple-like consensus of their thoughts.
Japanese brand +/-0 strives to offer “only the things we need.” In response to a belief that many of the products found in the global marketplace are superfluous, +/-0 seeks to design necessities that last a lifetime. The firm has dedicated its business to creating things that “people feel they have truly wanted. Things that seemed like they already existed but didn’t.” These things enter the market without fanfare. The products are carefully designed so the fact that they are unseen makes them appear to have always been there: “Because these things ‘seem to have already existed,’ people feel comfortable with those things, even though they have never seen them before. It is the feeling of having seen the actual shapes of things that people have obscurely, or even unconsciously, felt they have wanted. That is why these things naturally ‘dissolve’ into people’s behavior and into the space around them.” +/-0 began in September, 2003 in Tokyo. The website launched in December of the same year with the quiet unveiling of the first collection by design director Naoto Fukasawa. Since then, the company has garnered widespread attention in the design world for its understated composition. Fukasawa’s personal philosophy is that he’s designing for the gaps, bringing to life a “shared sense” of what should be there.
DISRUPTIVE REALISM: UNICEF
Disruptive Realism is an expression presented in an everyday context that disrupts people’s perceptions about different things. The most prominent example to date has been Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which was meant as entertainment and commentary on how evolution had been twisted into Social Darwinism. Regardless of its intention, the broadcast caused mass hysteria. More recent examples include Banksy’s graffiti, Bruno Taylor’s work, which involves physical designs such as the swing set in the bus stop, or Reverse Graffiti artist’s Paul Curtis’ “Pictures by Cleaning.” Disruptive Realism was also used in a campaign conducted by UNICEF in Finland. Wanting to raise awareness of children’s rights, the “Be a Mom for a Moment” campaign placed unattended blue strollers with a crying baby audio track in crowded places in 14 cities. When passers-by looked in the strollers, they found a note with the message: “Thank you for caring, we hope there are more people like you. UNICEF – Be a mom for a moment.” The media and public reaction was overwhelming, with coverage in all major TV, radio, and web news.
FOR-PROFIT ACTIVISM: Virgance
The San Francisco-based venture fund Virgance aims to support social causes through multi-pronged campaign platforms that resemble the way Obama for America mobilized its supporters, and it typically consists of four core elements: A web-empowered network of volunteers, a presence on Facebook, a team of paid bloggers to promote the campaigns, and YouTube viral videos. Virgance is not the first for-profit-do-gooder of course; there have been plenty of others whose business models combine bottom line thinking with social value. But Virgance is more like Facebook Causes. It adopts the forces of amateur self-organization described in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and builds its entire business on a social web platform, embracing the principles of open-sourcing, mass collaboration, and transparency: “If a for-profit company did the type of work that non-profits often do, but did it more efficiently, would people trust it the same way they trust non-profits?”
PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Emily Pilloton (her PopTech 2009 talk) is in the middle of a Design Revolution Road Show on behalf of her organization, Project H Design, visiting 35 schools in 75 days.
On Tuesday, the Road Show Airstream was on the Pratt campus in Brooklyn, New York near PopTech Fellow James O’Brien’s Brooklyn Community Arts & Music (BCAM) High School, where he serves as Principal (his PopTech 2009 talk).
Some of his BCAM students visited Emily’s Road Show and learned about products designed to change the world, and Emily and James caught us up on what’s happened for them since they appeared on the PopTech stage in October:
More in Emily’s great blog post about Tuesday, and you can see the Design Revolution Road Show today in Syracuse and on the rest of the tour (through April 18th!) before the Airstream parks in North Carolina for its next project.
What is your favorite social innovation product?
During several years endowing orphanages around the world with bicycles, we often wonder why someone else hasn’t done it first.
88 Bikes at a rural Vietnam orphanage; image courtesy of Dan Austin.
“We never thought of that,” said my friend Sulakshana, who directs a partner NGO in Nepal. “But look at the kids! They’re so happy!”
What before was overlooked, becomes a no-brainer. Humanitarian efforts have historically focused on sustaining people: rescuing them from hunger, abetting their survival. But something was missing.
Greg Mortenson, celebrated mountaineer and school builder of Central Asia expressed it well in his recent memoir: "Playgrounds [for their schools] had not exactly been at the top of the priority list…”
Happiness is an amazing thing. It’s the ultimate renewable resource. The amount of happiness in the universe, unlike energy, has no limit. Some have called the bicycle the most efficient, self-powered creation in the history of humanity, but it may well be the most efficient engine of happiness, as well.
Dan Austin showing recipient his 88 Bikes sponsor card; image courtesy of Dan Austin.
My foundation, 88bikes, gives bicycles to children in difficult circumstances. We endow orphanages, ashrams, centers and schools around the world. One person sponsors one bike for one child. We give the child a picture of her sponsor in addition to her bike. There’s a world map on back showing where the child lives, and where her sponsors lives. Kids love it. They ask questions and turn their heads and squint and pull the card right up to their noses calculating the vast distance between two points on a map. They carry the cards around with them like talismans.
The whole event is called The Moment of Happy.
The first time it happened, in Cambodia 3 years ago, my brother Jared and I were caught off-guard by what I can only describe as a “tsunami of happiness.” It was so incredible, people 2700 miles away in Tokyo stopped mid-stride and wondered why they suddenly felt so good; people across the ocean in Los Angeles skidded to a stop in unison on the Venice Beach bike path and gazed out over the Pacific for an impromptu “Damn, that’s beautiful” moment.
Back in Cambodia, a happy ruckus had ensued. There was one scraped knee. One kid wanted a blue bike and got a red one. 100% efficiency, in physics—or happiness—is probably not going to happen. Just ask any parent on Christmas morning. But overall, it was such a scene of exuberance that we knew we’d have to do it again.
88 Bikes in Peru; image courtesy of Dan Austin.
And so we did. Hauling 200 bikes 10 hours up awful roads to a remote refugee camp in Uganda during a gas crisis on New Year’s Day was a gut-wrenching, but rewarding second act. A year later in Peru we gave bikes to kids in the Mantaro Valley, many of them HIV-positive, and shunned by family and society. And just a few weeks ago: 300 bikes to heroic kids around the world rescued from slavery.
The kids we worked with in Vietnam, Ghana, Nepal and India had endured conditions and treatment no human being, let alone a child, should ever confront. For many of these kids, childhood is a distant memory. But one thing remains the same: give her a bike and she becomes a child again.
We all do, really. I asked people around the world, young and old, rich and poor, to tell me about their first bike. I won’t forget a bikeshop keeper in Allahabad, India: a gruff old fellow with a gigantic face and fat fingers filled with rings. He gestured out over his small but impressively packed bike warehouse like a pontiff, “30,000 bikes a year! That is what we sell!”
We sat down at a rickety table to work out the deal. The chai wallah came bearing tea. He was a tough negotiator (the shopkeeper, not the chai wallah) and didn’t seem too impressed with the idea of giving bikes to kids. Business was business.
After we’d finished, I said coolly: “I have a question for you,” and turned on my camcorder.
He steeled himself, his pursed lips disappearing beneath a large mustache, his eyes narrowing. "Yes,” he said dismissively.
I mustered my best, equally-dismissive look and leaned in, nostrils flaring for effect: “Tell me about your first bike.”
50 hard years and who knows how many disappointments, heartbreaks, failed friendships, rebellious children—it all just fell away…“My first bike?” He said in amazement, stunned, his voice suddenly high and light, "My first bike?”
I nodded. The camera rolled. The shopkeeper leaned back in his chair. “It was blue,” he said wistfully. “I rode it everywhere, I was six years old.”
“Did you have some great adventures?” I asked.
“Many, many…” he said, almost smiling as he watched some slideshow I couldn’t see play a few feet above my left shoulder.
“Do you still have this bike?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he said with an easy chuckle.
“So, what bike do you have now?" I nodded out over the hundreds of bike frames hanging behind him like gigantic, plastic-wrapped bats from the ceiling.
“Now?” He looked a bit perplexed. “I don’t have a bike now,” he said softly, as if just realizing this, his eyes falling to his clasped hands on the table.
It may not always be as simple as this—but then again, it may. Give a child a bike and her world is transformed. Give her a bike and she can get to school and in many cases, avoid rape and danger.
88 Bikes in Cambodia; image courtesy of Dan Austin.
But most important of all, and purely and completely indefinable and unquantifiable: give a child a bike… and she will be happy.
Perhaps this is why it took Greg Mortensen ten years to realize the benefits of building playgrounds at their schools (“You really need to put them in,” chided his daughter. “All children need to play, especially ones suffering and hurting like the kids in Pakistan.”) Maybe this is the reason why well-meaning, effective NGOs fixate on sustaining the body and mind, while overlooking the needs of the heart. Maybe this is why we hear it from almost every one of our bike sponsors: “The reason I got involved is because I wanted a child to be happy.”
Happiness. You can’t measure it, you can’t put it on a graph, but you can see it. Oh, can you see it. And you can feel it, too. Many of the kids who received bikes in Uganda had been former child soldiers; some had watched both parents die of HIV. Many of the girls who received bikes in India and Nepal were survivors of unimaginable abuse as sex slaves. But even in these cases, where the kids were more subdued, their understated happiness was just as evident as that of the rambunctious kids in Phnom Penh who got up at 5 a.m. the day after the Moment of Happy to ride their bikes around the center, rousing the orphanage staff with a symphony of little bike bells…
During all these travels (including 17 countries, 2 1/2 months on the road and 12 endowment sites on our just-finished Project FOUR), a thought keeps echoing in my mind: is our ignorance in addressing the desire and need for happiness for all people at the root of poverty’s pervasive grip? Despite clear research from Jeffrey Sachs and other economists that, comparatively speaking, it wouldn’t require that much to lift the caul of poverty for most; despite millions of NGOs, billions of dollars and countless courageous individuals, poverty remains, unabated.
But it makes sense: it’s difficult to get excited—and generous—about simply sustaining someone. We want to see our fellow human beings do better than languish; we want to see them progress and find fulfillment in their lives.
Perhaps if happiness were embraced as a need on par with food, shelter, water, love—the tide would turn. Not because happiness in and of itself can drill a well or sow corn or turn back climate change—but because making people happy is a mission a whole lot more transcendent and enjoyable than just keeping them alive.
Perhaps all this time the bar hasn’t been raised too high—but too low.
88bikes is a very small organization working to affect the lives of a very small population. We hope that those bikes will last for years to come, and we have a small army of volunteers working to make that happen. But at the end of the day, we’re under no illusion that the bikes will last forever; we’re under no illusion that a bike will single-handedly turn an orphan into the future president of Nepal. Bikes get stolen; bikes break down. We hope they help the kids get to school; in most cases they do. We hope that the bikes (and the workshops and apprenticeships we organize) are catalysts for careers. We’ll see.
But we do know one thing: Every time we give a bike, the happiness in the universe increases just a bit.
Perhaps you can remember your first bike. I can remember mine. Like the shopkeer in Allahabad, it’s long gone, too, but it’s a happy memory.
Every kid deserves to have a childhood, to be happy.
And I think every kid also deserves to have a bike.
88 Bikes on a Cambodia bike ride; image courtesy of Dan Austin.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an “international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science,” named for Ada, as she is widely known—the first computer programmer.
There are many women in the PopTech network creating amazing work in science and technology, leading the way; we are highlighting three today:
Neri Oxman is an architect with a design approach inspired by nature and using computational generation and material engineering to explore form. She thinks laser cutters are feminine and spoke at PopTech 2009, asking her crucial question: what does a material want to be?
Laura Kurgan is the Co-Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (a “think-and-action-tank”) at Columbia University, where she visualizes complex political and social data to advocate for social reform. She told PopTech 2009 why there is no such thing as a neutral map and ways data can be repurposed:
Carolyn Porco, leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission to Saturn, talked at PopTech 2005 about the storms on Saturn that die by merging, wondering what energizes the winds, and how particles in the rings of Saturn are sometimes the size of houses:
Who are your favorite women working in science and technology?
Today, we are delighted to announce the theme of PopTech 2010: Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures, and Improbable Breakthroughs from October 20-3 in Camden, Maine.
From the announcement:
“In a complex and messy world, solutions to big challenges frequently follow unobvious paths to success. At PopTech 2010, join a network of visionary thinkers, leaders and doers in science, technology, business, design, social innovation, entrepreneurship, culture, education and the arts for a three-day, boundary-defying conversation about the nature of creative, technological and social change.”
- The Power of Failure: In areas as widespread as education, business and government, what has to die so that the right things might live?
- The Exponent Effect: Why do some ideas only work at a grand scale, and others only locally?
- Complex Interventions: How do we decide where to intervene in a complex system? How do we intervene in multiple places simultaneously?
- The Simplicity Instinct: How do we get to what’s essential?
- Strange Loops: How do we deal with feedback loops and unintended consequences created by our efforts?
- Architectures of Choice: How can small changes to our ‘default’ options lead to breakthroughs?
- The Heretic’s Path: Every visionary starts as a heretic. How do ideas – and their champions – move from the edge to the center?
- The Geography of Ideas: How does ‘cultural software’ – from our our media to the built environment – shape our thinking?
- The Art of the Mashup: What do radically different disciplines – and ways of thinking – have to teach each other?
We hope you will join us in October in Camden!
Please let us know your questions in the comments below.
In Brooklyn, New York, for example, you can join expeditions to explore Dead Horse Bay and the “slew of wacky trash from eras past” or go underground and explore the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel. Or, drive from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania to sound ringing rocks.
So whether you venture like John Priscu beneath Antarctic ice (his PopTech 2008 talk), or closer to your neighborhood, we hope your weekend adventures are full of moments “where the world briefly reveals itself to you,” like the narrator’s encounter with butterflies in this story from Anthony Doerr at PopTech 2009:
At PopTech 2009, artist-programmer Zach Lieberman explained why he thinks “artistic practice is a form of R&D for humanity,” connecting technology, human interactions, and breathing.
Do you think, like Zach, that an open mouth (from wonder) is the pathway to someone’s heart?
Editor’s note: this guest post is from Alana Conner, senior editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and co-host of the podcast channel Social Innovation Conversations. The Stanford Graduate School of Business is holding another event April 29th, “Collaboration for the Greater Good: Social and Environmental Responsibility in the Global Supply Chain.” (Registration details.)
Many psychologists, writers and other students of human nature have reached the same conclusion: people are usually too distracted, tired, scared, or just plain lazy to act on their best intentions. But few of these observers suggest how us humans might overcome our less noble tendencies.
Scientists at a recent Stanford Center for Social Innovation conference, however, presented a bevy of tactics for transforming even the most bumbling schlemiel into a model citizen. Called “Small Steps, Big Leaps: The Science of Getting People to do the Right Thing,” the event showcased how to use gentle nudges, subtle tweaks, and quiet prompts to summon better behavior.
One of the most overlooked strategies for getting people to be generous, for instance, is actually to ask them, related Frank Flynn of Stanford Graduate School of Business. Flynn discussed his experiments,
showing that one barrier to “the ask” is that people grossly underestimate how often their requests for help will be honored. And if at first you do not succeed, then ask, ask again, he recommended, presenting findings that people who say “no” to an initial ask are more likely to say “yes” to a subsequent one.
You need not even tell people how much to give, noted Leif Nelson of the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. His findings show that people sometimes donate more when they get to set the amount.
And you need not feel guilty about asking people to help, because you may actually be doing them a favor, suggested Mike Norton of Harvard Business School. His studies reveal that giving people the chance to help others can improve everything from their mood to their dodge-ball game.
Even better than asking people to take the high road is making the high road the easiest one to take, argued Eric Johnson of the Columbia School of Business. When policies and practices turn good behavior into the default option, people tend to act more ethically—or, as Johnson put it, “There’s something very special about doing nothing.”
For example, in countries where people have to take the trouble to opt out of organ donation—a post-death benevolence that many societies value—vastly more people donate their organs than do in countries like the United States, where people have to go out of their way to opt in to organ donation. Likewise, people save more money when their employers automatically enroll them in retirement savings programs and use less energy when florescent bulbs are the only light in town. (For more about defaults, see “Helping the Poor Save More” (.pdf) in the winter 2010 Stanford Social Innovation Review.)
If you must trouble yourself with framing a message, several researchers revealed how simple shifts in wording can spell the difference between vice and virtue. Just mentioning money can throw people off their altruism game, showed Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Her experiments demonstrate that even minor references to cash make people stingier and less sensitive to suffering—even their own. For fundraisers whose job is to ask people for money, Vohs’ findings could inspire dismay. But she has an antidote: First ask people to donate their time, and then ask them to donate their money.
Public service announcements and other social good campaigns often communicate that everybody pollutes, steals, carouses, or otherwise behaves badly—but you shouldn’t. (“Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” exhorts Smokey Bear.) Yet humans are herd animals; and so despite our claims to uniqueness and independence, we tend to follow the crowd. As a result, campaigns that imply that the crowd is up to no good often backfire: A sign in Arizona’s Petrified Forest reporting that visitors purloin some 14 tons of wood per year, for example, doesn’t deter such theft—it encourages theft.
A better way, said Goldstein, is to convey that most people are doing the right thing—and you should, too. Accordingly, a sign saying that most guests conserved water by reusing their towels (rather than having them laundered) inspires far more towel reuse than does a sign lamenting how many guests waste water.
Pictures and stories that put a human face on an issue can also steer people towards right action, related Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Radiologists read X-rays more accurately when they see a picture of the bones’ owners, Grant showed, and lifeguards work harder after hearing stories about heroic water rescues.
Putting people in the driver’s seat of their own narratives also works wonders, reported Steve Cole of HopeLab, a Redwood City, Calif.-based company that makes health-promoting products for children with chronic diseases. In HopeLab’s first-person shooter video game, Re-Mission, for example, kids recovering from cancer travel through the human body and, with the help of medicines, blast would-be cancer cells out of their paths (audio lecture). The game is clinically proven to help kids take their post-chemotherapy maintenance drugs—a crucial, yet difficult step in their recovery.
Nonprofits too must control their own narratives, warned Jennifer Aaker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She presented data showing that nonprofits suffer from the stereotype of being warm and caring, but not very competent.
To boost donations and public confidence, nonprofits need to advertise their business acumen.
But perhaps they should do so softly, for the resounding message throughout the conference was this: You need not scream and push when a whisper and a nudge will do. That’s advice that even the most distracted, tired, scared, and even lazy social innovator can get behind.
On Sunday afternoon at the SxSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, moderator Steven Mandzik led a discussion about zero waste, a lifestyle he describes as living without producing trash, focusing on reduction and reuse even before recycling.
The panel included PopTech Fellow Jason Aramburu of re:char, who talked about the challenges of scaling with biomass and why he moved his company from Brooklyn to Austin, and Beth Ferguson, the designer behind “solar pumps” and an advocate for urban solar grid applications:
Also at SxSW Interactive:
- PopTech board member and MTV VP of Public Affairs Jason Rzepka unveiled “Over the Line?”, a place for teens to upload and rate examples of digital use/abuse.
- PopTech 2009 speaker Zach Lieberman presented on his recent work (see our video with him last week on his recent work and inspirations).
- PopTech Social Innovation Faculty member Beth Kanter spoke on the “Crowdsourcing Innovative Social Change” panel (nice summary of the panel’s examples and lessons by frequent PopTech blog contributor Marcia Stepanek).
What was your favorite part of SxSW Interactive?
What would be the social impact of an educational computer that only cost $10?
Last October, I introduced the PopTech community to an organization that is trying to answer that question. Playpower.org is an open-source community that is helping to make educational games available for “radically affordable” computers—including a $10 computer that is already widely available in many developing countries. The 5 minute PopTech talk helps describe the educational potential of open-source learning games—and explains the improbable story of how a computer can be sold for only $10!
Just this past December, I traveled to Hyderabad, India to conduct a two week educational game design workshop for top university students in India.
Image courtesy of Playpower.org.
Using IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit and Playpower’s unique game design curriculum, the students learned to design new educational games to support the needs of low income families in India. In order to make the games engaging and relevant to the target audience, the students created games based on familiar Hindu stories, including the adventures of Hanuman—a deity with immense powers who takes the form of a monkey.
Image courtesy of Playpower.org.
Kishan Patel, an engineering student at DAIICT (The Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Infomation and Communication Technology) followed up on the workshop by founding a working group at his own university. There, he leads a team of students who are working on completing the games. They are also helping to conduct formal field studies, in order to assess whether the games are fun and effective for the groups we are targeting.
Image courtesy of Playpower.org.
To learn more, check out playpower.org.
Also, more specific descriptions of the games and source code are available here.
The games prototyped at the workshop:
Hanuman: Quiz Adventure – Quiz game shows are popular in India and this quiz game challenges the intellectual power of the whole family to help a young Hanuman fly all the way to the sun.
Hanuman: Typing Warrior – Typing is a skill that can help expand economic opportunities. In this game, players use their typing skills to help progress Hanuman through a series of challenges in order to help win a war against the evil Lord Ravena.
Mosquito SWAT Team – Malaria is one of the greatest public health threats in India. In this game, important information about preventing malaria is embedded in an addictive set of mini-games that invariably involve killing lots and lots of mosquitoes.