Clay Shirky @ THNK

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At THNK forum again today, this time we have Clay Shirky, He is beaming in from New York via telepresence, no he’s not live, but he is on a huge screen and he’s here for us. As close to live as we can get today. If you don’t know Clay’s work, check here. Clay is also on the board of Ushahidi. He is THE authority on cognitive surplus and all things crowd sourcing.


FIrst a brief summary of Clay’s Why are those people working for free?
Answer: because they feel like they’re having fun.
So if you want folk to contribute to your effort, don’t see them as unpaid labor, put yourself in their shoes, ask yourself what’s in it for them. So if you’re envisaging a crowd sourcing community project, something that is an absolute necessary, that you have to have in place: People have to have positive normative values associated with your project. And the community needs to do one of these 3 things for people who take part, they are:

  • Autonomous – I have an influence
  • Competent – I’m good at this
  • Social – I’m a member of a group

Ellen Jorgenson is up with the first question, turns out she knows Clay already, New yorkers 🙂 She wants to know in how far he would envisage that an online version of her lab Genspace is a possibility. He explains how we can concept the trade off between travel and communication. And says his conclusion is that you shouldn’t collaborate as partners on any serious endeavor without having breathed the same air. He advises Ellen not to set up a Genspace elsewhere with partners, without first sitting down together with those partners.

Turns out thanks to Jillian York for connecting THNK to Clay.

Next up Itai Talmi, he is making a mobile platform for people to co-create, go through a full design cycle in fact, and then gamified and his question is  will this be enough shared value, the will to create? And does Clay think? Clay runs off and draws a pyramid for us, and refers to …… he says about 1% of users will jump in wholesale, and then about another 9% will comment and then the other 90% will just listen in or lurk. If the platform doesn’t produce a way to watch, it won’t fly, because you need to recruit from the other 99% to get them active. Clay’s advise, prototype and user test a version which has no gamification to find out if there is intrinsic value beyond the game elements. Otherwise you might end up with Farmville for creativity.


Karim pick up on this, Is a lurker a participant?
Clay: Yes!
1. they are your recruiting pool and
2. the lurkers provide validation to the actives and lurkers provide – via data analysis – they provide enormous feedback to your product.

Kaz Brecher has a question, her project is Curious Catalyst she’s working on mega cities issues with an agile methodology and she struggles with the wording and sharing her plans with people, when the words she is using are key but now well known.  Clay loves the question as it’s one he struggled with himself. He has a couple of tips;
1. Even if your’e an excited New Yorker, you have to learn to speak slowly
2. Use a story, an example
3. Begin with here’s why this works
For example: If you and I working together could get fewer potholes on the street! would you join.

Nick Graham has a question on how to motivate / engage people for neighborhood issues.
Clay: You can think of people in one of three categories, naive economists, naive politicians or naive theologians.
Naive economists – if we work together we will both benefit
Naive theologians: Its’ the right thing to do even if we fail.

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THNK participants listening to Clay

And in general: Clay says:
Every social network started good and small and grew, you don’t start big and mediocre! No-one gets up to spend the day wasting their time on an awful platform. The first group you recruit is wildy important.

As a final advise in answer to Ben Keenes question, presumably in relation to his work creating eco-tourist islands,
How do you not get demotivated, when a lot of people don’t seem to care.
Clay: Work for those who do care, even if it’s a small group. 

And now we get to do Wok+Wine with Peter Mandeno, Yay!

A selection of children’s ingenuity for Inspiration

Oftentimes adults seek to inspire children, especially in educational settings, to learn, to discover, to know what we already know and would like children to know too. We often forget however, just how inspired and inspiring children already are.  This post is then a thinly veiled propaganda piece, a note to remind adults, to wonder, do we take children’s perspectives seriously? Do we allow their ingenuity to inspire us?


Where photographer, Matej Peljhan and 12 year old Luka team up for a series of photographs, based on the imagination of Luka who suffers from muscular dystrophy. The series shows the boy doing things he in reality only imagines doing, because of his condition. He can however use his fingers to drive a wheelchair and to draw, and of course collaborate with Matej for this inspiring series.


Kelydra Welcker is serious about water pollution in her area. She lives near the Ohio River and discovered that ammonium perfluorooctanoate, a chemical  was polluting the river and killing fish. She has developed an approach for both the detection and removal of the pollution in a simple and cost effective way. She is now in college, and aims to see her solution rolled out to the market over the next 5 years. She says on Popular Mechanics  “I hope people understand that science isn’t just people in white lab coats speaking gibberish,” “Scientists are real people who want to make a positive impact on their world.”


On seeing this wistful photograph on @historicalpics, of a boy reading in a ruined bookshop in London, after a night of heavy bombing in 1940, I had to think of the eery parallel with Syria now, where this week the startling number of 1 million children refugees was reached. 1 million displaced children, what does that mean for their future. For anyone interested in how children’s education is affected during war and who does something to fill the gap, check out the wonderful INEE, an international education in emergencies platform


On a brighter note, Meredith age 4  wished to show her insides here, using red and transparent plastic in this  self-portrait. This is  from a group called Reggio Children, on Pinterest, based on the ground breaking approach working with children in Italy after WW2. Reggio Emilia exhibition called The Hundred Languages of Children has been telling the story of the Reggio Emilia educational experience worldwide to thousands of visitors for over thirty years. The Reggio Emilia approach is  significant due to it’s emergent curriculum and the way educators document the works made by children.


Ever wondered how the Braille reading system for the blind works or who invented it? It was invented by Louis Braille at the age of 15 in 1829.  The Braille alphabet uses a format of six raised dots in two parallel rows whereby each letter in the Roman alphabet is represented by a a different configuration of dots up and down. The huge advantage of Braille above the systems used before Louis invented it is that you can read and write braille, not just read.

In the “Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000, from MOMA they argue that children are ‘design activists in their own right, pushing against imaginative and physical limitations and constantly re-creating the world as they see it, using whatever equipment they happen to have at hand.”

This piece is inspired and informed by children, Maria PopovaChristopher Jobson,
I have endeavored to correctly attribute images and quotes to their creators and original sources, while creating a readable article, if you see something on Unexpect which is wrongly named or quoted, or would like removed for some reason, please contact me. 

Why you SHOULD use Design thinking approaches in education!

After reading a number of articles today criticizing Design Thinking, even one specifically against it’s use in education I feel called to respond. My professional experiences using Design thinking have revealed a great potential for education, both for teachers in their own practice and for students (young and older). For the new ‘Nederlandse School‘ (I’m in the design team), the curriculum concept is ‘Ontwerpend leren’ and partly informed by design thinking.  Similarly the methods of  Unexpect ‘Creative Thinking for Social Good’ have overlap with design thinking. Both projects in the education domain.

What is Design Thinking anyway?
In short, design thinking is about applying the typical design cycle to new domains. The design cycle, moves, generally speaking, from (user centered) research to creative thinking to prototyping to testing and implementing or indeed going back to the beginning of the design cycle to start again. Very important here to note is that most proponents and users of design thinking use their own version of the cycle, paying relatively more attention to one or another stage, or indeed simplifying the stages or changing the language used to describe them. Most folk also develop their own tools and sub methodologies with the cycle. Just like each village in France makes it’s own cheese, most design studios have their own signature design thinking approaches.

For example: The well know IDEO in their University Toolkit talks about the stages of : The brief – Inspiration – Concepting  – Refinement – Realisation; Design for Change, referenced below, in the ‘I can’ method calls their stages: Feel – Imagine – Do – Share; At Butterfly Works we worked with: Social Need – Research – Ideation – CoCreation Workshop – Making – Pilot – Scaling; and the ‘Creation Flow’ of  the THNK Creative Leadership program, uses the stages: Sensing – Visioning – Prototyping – Scaling.
And probably that is key in this discussion about the pros and cons of design thinking. Design thinking is a powerful method, when done consciously with methods continually under development and adapted to the caucus at hand, by experienced practitioners.

So do I have any doubts about design thinking?
Not fundamentally. As a designer by trade who has applied the design cycle, aka design thinking, in many forms, to a number of domains, from international development to conflict prevention, youth participation to education, across some 16 countries, with good effect. Effects such as heightened engagement of participants, ownership of long term solutions, unexpected solutions and development of cross-disciplinary partnerships. The key is in the authentic doing. If one would take design thinking as some copy paste process or a hat of tricks, it will have little or no effect on the run of the mill practice.

Yes, where some, design thinking process fall short in my view is on three points:
1. The re-frame of the original brief;
To explain, the step of re-framing the original question posed at the start of the design process is fundamental to a good design cycle, this is regularly understated in the approach. Question the question.
2. The presumed availability of creative thinking skills;
While everyone is essentially creative, many of people have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.
3. Experienced pattern recognition;
Creating ideas is one thing, choosing the best one for the situation at hand, is where the real brilliance or experience comes in.

The articles this post was triggered by are:
– ‘Design thinking is a failed experiment. So what’s next? by Bruce Nussbaum, one of design thinking earliest and longest proponents of design thinking,
–  ‘Why design thinking doesn’t work in education‘; a well written and researched article yesterday from @onlinelearning!
Beyond design thinking in education and research by Jordan Shapiro in Forbes.

Taking the them one by one.
Bruce’s Nussbaum’s main point of concern as I understand it, (with which I totally agree) is that as Design Thinking is usually prescribed as a step by step process many people have followed it in form but not in essence, thus missing the essential creative experience. My answer to Bruce would be, just because people are using a method badly, don’t blame the method. The attitude with which you go into and through any design process has to be one of open curiosity, you have to be able to delay your judgement long enough to allow new insights to arise.  And it’s at this point in the process that many (groups of ) people want closure and they go for the easy or known solution, almost defeating the purpose of the design thinking exercise.

@onlinelearning! concludes in her article that design thinking with it’s user centered approach can be helpful for instructional designers and teachers to enhance their methods but for children it’s a bridge too far, for their level of knowledge and understanding to be able to use design thinking. With the second part of this conclusion I couldn’t disagree more strongly. To me, if anything design thinking is particularly suited to children’s levels of curiosity, their ability to ask good questions, to help enhance their creative thinking skills and in making  education contextually relevant to them. The best example of doing design thinking with children has to be the Indian Design for Change, running in some 180 countries.

Jordan Shapiro, in his Forbes article asks, what the heck is this design thinking that he is hearing all the hype about and wonders if a healthy skepticism about solutionism can exist simultaneously with design thinking. To which I would answer with a resounding yes!. The rest of the article shares ideas about a particular application of design thinking within medical research. A main point here being that innovation is rarely an individual effort.

In sum, while Design Thinking, is of course not a one size fits all methodology nor does following it’s  steps guarantee one  success or creativity, it is a potent formula for any age group to have in their toolbox. Indeed, have you ever had a serious question that didn’t deserve to be critically and creatively appraised? I say bring on authentic design thinking, let young people learn it and assess it for themselves. I’m glad it’s finally become a buzz word, let’s hope it goes main stream.

Note: Other terms often used for similar processes to design thinking:
Service Design
User centered design
Social Design
Design research
Meta Design
Critical Design
Design Management
the list goes on.

Creative Thinking with 8 year olds

This time a workshop for a group of 8 year olds in Amsterdam North, on color and lateral connections. I’m fascinated by synesthesia (hearing colors, seeing sounds etc) and I was wondering a few things:

a) are children are more likely (than adults) to experience synesthesia?
b) would stimulating synesthesia promote creative thinking?

With creative thinking I mean the ‘Torrance Framework of Creative Thinking’, which gives us these characteristics:

  • Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
  • Elaboration. The ability to give detail to the ideas generated.

When working with groups I always strive for the optimum balance of structure and freedom. The workshop program for the group of 15 children, ages 7 and 8 years, was about one and half hours long and looked like this:

– Short presentation on color scheme’s, rainbows and how your eye perceives color.
– A movement exercise: ‘Move like a color’
– Choose a color and work with the color wheel see below.
 Share your findings.



Each child using the sheet chose a (favorite) color, filled in with text or drawing, what the feeling, sound, taste, shape, and smell were for that color.

So what did I discover?
I guess my test workshop was not really designed to answer my questions, I would need to do a series of lab test with various groups and read the literature.

What I did learn was:
About a third of the group were high on flexibility, fluency, and elaboration. It was easy for them to understand the idea of imagining a color and what it might sound like, what it tastes like, what it moves like etc.
About a third of the group struggled, it seemed a strange request to them, and their imaginations were not serving them with much response.
Possibly the most interesting is the last third. This group initially responded with surprise and some confusion, but with a fe small suggestions and questions got right down to it and enjoyed exploring this way of looking at their chosen color. In my design research style (as opposed to scientific research), this is the group who have the most to benefit from being exposed to creative thinking programs in schools or other channels. I suspect they have a creative tendency but that is nit (yet) encoraged in their home environment.


It would be interesting next to interview the children, their parents and teachers on their attitudes to creativity and see if there is a correlation between attitudes to creativity and scores in creative thinking exercises.

I loved that this girl, whose favorite color is black, said that black for her sounds like the wind,  has a shape like a jump, and tastes like an apple. She also gave black a new name: Klink.

Benjamin & Rosamund Zander @ THNK forum, ‘The Tour of Possibility’

This evening’s forum at has a mystery speaker. People have been trying to guess all week who it might be. Speculations from royalty, to rock stars to famous philosophers. Earlier forum guests at THNK have included Queen Maxima, Steve Howard, CSO of IKEA, Jose Maria Figueres of the Carbon War Room and ex-President Costa Rica, Esther Wojcicki, chair of the Creative Commons board of directors and Michael Johnson director of PIXAR. So who could it be tonite?

At 7pm in walks …  the fabulous Benjamin Zander, conductor, TED speaker and author, together with his ex-partner in life Rossamund Stone Zander, together they are the authors of one of my favorite books: the Art of Possibility.

Benjamin is famous for his ability to convince people that they can love classical music, from busy CEO’s to young children in conflict zones, he reconnect us with the magic of music. and Rosamund Stone Zander I know less about, but as we know behind every famous man there is a powerful woman, Hopefully tonite we will get to know her better.

Here we go!


Benjamin introduces Ross, as his exwife, and says that she is the real source of the book the Art of Posssibility. Ross jumps up and quips that Benjamin is her Wusband, (has been husband), wonderful example of collaboration with your ex-life partner.

Benjamin wants us to meet another person in the audience,  Mark Churchill, his  friend of 42 years, with whom he collaborated all through that time, and then when they were both, recently fired, Benjamin syas that he himself fell into some despondency while Mark was undeterred. Since then, together they have set up a new orchestra with which they played in the Concert Gebouw in Amsterdam this weekend and Benjamin syas – someone who has conducted thousands of concerts that this was possibly the best concert ever! The new orchestra is called the Boston Philharmonic Youth


Thnk folks listening up.

Possibility is not the same as positive thinking, Possibility is making it happen!
Ross jumps in. Possibility is always only one sentence away!
She also says something which was seriously beautiful because of its normalness, she says, ”I love you” and gives Benjamin a hug, good to note, they just re-met at the door of THNK this evening.

The difference between between driving on the open road and behaving and then they start behaving well, when they get into the tunnel, because they share a vision of what has to happen, Benjamin compares this to the Youth Orchestra he is travelling with from Mastricht to Haarlem to Rotterdam to Amsterdam. They are all in clear consistency of vision, this orchestra, they know what their visions is.
Their t-shirts say: ‘Shaping future leaders through music’

You can’t say Vision Accomplished.

So what’s the method at work here?
It’s largely based on El Systemo, in Venezuela, 

Assignments that Rossmund devices for the group on their tours are for example:
– Notice your contribution this week.
– Walk with spirit and love.
– Compete and give up wanting to win

Rossamund tell us that while these assignments may sound unusual, in the context of a group who has commited to moving together in the realm of possibility, these assignments make complete sense and bring out the most amazing qualities in people.

There are two systems in the world:
1. The downward spiral and the realm of possibility. In the downward spiral, hierarchy is the name of the game, winners and losers, success and failure, ok there are moments of love.

2. The system of possibility where there is no hierarchy, there is vision, there is rules and possibility.
Rule number 6: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Shining eyes.
Looking around the room Benjamin spots a number of people whose eyes are shining, and says that the way it should be, people with shining eyes, otherwise you are directing folk in the wrong way.
Rossamund says: You are the source of the story of your life. If you don’t like the story rewrite it.
All hierarchy is evil, says Rossamund.


Mark Churchill sharing some of his experience of working with Benjamin.

Possibility Leaders
A new type of leader. Either they enroll you or you enroll them.

Rosamund answering questions from Thnkr’s

I love Rosamunds answer to Peter’s question about scale, in the sense of how do you take this to scale, beyond the 9 million TED video views and the thousands who have read the book. She says I think it’s easy to underestimate the effect of your presence. Every moment is a new possibility  to create.