Hello, and welcome to the Japan Society’s U.S.-Japan Innovators Network staff blog. I’m Andrew Stuerzel, Program Associate of Global Affairs, and I’m here to kick-start what we hope will be an interesting, informative and stimulating resource for people committed to a better future. In short, the U.S.-Japan Innovators Network is a multidisciplinary network of innovators committed to making a social impact through retreats, symposia, exchanges and virtual media. The Network enables participants to step outside their everyday lives, connect with people, collaborate with them and catalyze the future.
Recently we’ve been discussing a number of topics here at Japan Society, such as sustainable design, revitalizing communities and essential skills for social entrepreneurs like improvisation and storytelling. Last month we held our first-ever public symposium titled Improvisation, Creativity, Collaboration: Fueling Innovation in the 21st Century. The symposium participants Marty Ashby, Dan Pink, Hiroshi Tasaka and Alan Webber highlighted the importance of jazz and “right brain” qualities like improvisation, empathy and joy. What really hit home for me was this theme of “ego management” in the boardroom discussed during Marty Ashby’s conversation with Alan Webber. According to Marty ego management is just another way of checking your ego at the door. Know yourself, embrace you strengths and weakness and celebrate the strengths of the people around you. Anybody can lead at any moment. Don’t impose you will on others because if you do it will only lead to inharmonious moments, which leads to stalled collaboration and improvisation. In Marty’s words, “You just have to swing man.”
Listening to Marty, my mind drifted back to the Innovators Network’s last retreat in January 2007, (IN)SIGHT: Bridging Gaps. There, retreat participant and founder and CEO of Architecture for Humanity Cameron Sinclair talked about ego management as well, but in a different sense. Cameron talked about Architecture for Humanity and how it serves people in developing and war-torn countries. His take on ego management came down to this: Don’t go in thinking you know the best solution. Ask the people what they want and need, let the people be collaborators in the design process and go from there.
It seems so simple doesn’t it? Let the end-user help design what they need. Imposing your own personal designs, plans, structures and ideas is the way of the past. Open source collaboration is erasing the lines between expert and your “average Joe.” By empowering people to step up and become part of the process you can start a cycle of empowerment within a community that changes the way they live forever.
Inspiration and genius can come from anywhere at anytime; from the kids playing soccer in an alley of some war-torn country or from the junior-level assistant you just hired.
Check you ego at the door, learn from those around you…and just swing.
A couple of quick hits before you go:
The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (2 East 91st Street, New York, NY 10128) is holding a great exhibition demonstrating how design can be a dynamic force in saving and transforming lives, at home and around the world. A couple of us from Japan Society visited Cooper-Hewitt recently and were really impressed by the innovative design solutions currently on display there. Check it out. On display until September 23, 2007. Here’s a little bit about the exhibition:
“The exhibition highlights the growing trend among designers to create affordable and socially responsible objects for the vast majority of the world’s population (90 percent) not traditionally serviced by professional designers…[It’s] divided into sections focusing on water, shelter, health and sanitation, education, energy and transportation and highlights objects developed to empower global populations surviving under the poverty level or recovering from a natural disaster.”
World population growth is increasing. Available drinking water is decreasing. Let GOOD Magazine put it in perspective for you in Drink Up: “The world’s water resources are becoming increasingly valuable–and strained. GOOD and the Office of CC put the mind-boggling numbers in perspective.” View Drink Up transparency.
And for those of you who think this water problem effects only developing countries you might want to read this article: US News and World Report, The Coming Water Crisis, By Marianne Lavelle and Joshua Kurlantzick. Here’s a little taste:
“In a nation where abundant, clear, and cheap drinking water has been taken for granted for generations, it is hard to imagine residents of a major city adjusting to life without it. But Atlanta’s water woes won’t seem so unusual in the years ahead. Across the country, long-neglected mains and pipes, many more than a century old, are reaching the end of their life span. When pipes fail, pressure drops and sucks dirt, debris, and often bacteria and other pathogens into the huge underground arteries that deliver water…America’s aging water infrastructure needs huge new investment, and soon.”