Designing for serendipity

This should have been the title of the talk I gave last week while speaking at an innovation jam in Spain.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. My brain starts to make more succinct connections when I give it the chance to slow down and download the bits that are flying around in my mind. As Shane Parrish famously says, “you can’t increase the speed of your decision making, but you can increase the quality”.

Reflecting on the event and the points that were raised by the speakers at the innovation jam, I can easily string the connections together through memory and collective experience.

One of my favourite words is serendipity and my time in Spain over the last two months has sure exposed me to many moments of serendipitous exchange.

I probably should have pointed out that had Covid not have happened, I would not have had the opportunity to attend the event and share some of my rambling thoughts. I feel as though I have had four years of learning within the last two, it was me searching for ways to recreate physical serendipitous interactions online during Covid that led me to say yes to an introductory phone call with Jens. Which then led to speaking on an online real estate event panel with Gaston, the founder of theleisureway, in 2021 and this subsequently triggered a visit to Spain in early 2022.

If you looked around the room at the diversity of people that attended the event, you would have seen many anopportunity for a serendipitous exchange. The combination of people with different views, backgrounds and experiences is why I enjoy get togethers of this nature.

Here are some of my notes, common threads, and observations from the speakers at the event.

Ocean:

There were several interesting points shared in this talk, here are the ones that I selected based on some of the thinking that they triggered for me.

While talking about the layers of the city, a point around social capital was raised. It’s a space that I have spent some time thinking about and I need to go deeper to make them a little more coherent. I shared some thoughts on this bridge last year — Exploring the bridge between social and financial capital. In his talk Ocean referred to Balaji Srinivasan whom I also reference in the piece. I would recommend checking out his website and pre-ordering his book Network State which is due to be released in July of 2022.

To better understand the influence that technology has had on people, it’s vital that we use the studies of social science and ethnographic research to guide our inquisition. Cities are interwoven spaces that uniquely combine different communities and we need to deeply study the influence of technology on societies evolution. This is a fascinating space that deserves a dedicated piece, I have added it to my writing list.

The point around social impact led me to think about public goods, positive sum worlds and shared infrastructure. The next time you walk round a city, you might look at things a little differently once you consider how all the roads and plumbing are maintained.

How might we bring more top talent and attention to work that needs to be done public goods? Gitcoin is a leader in this regard, I would recommend following the following thinkers on twitter — Scott Moore, Kevin.

Ignasi:

We have access to a remarkable amount of information through the internet and direct access to learn from the experience of others with a click of a button. It’s an exciting chapter for humanity to be living through and it is one of the reasons that I firmly believe we will work through some of the challenges that we face in respect to climate change.

Ignasi’s personal story about moving between contexts, start-ups and corporate juggernauts, reminded me about the need to unlearn and relearn things. Simply porting ideas and lessons from one space into another can often catch you out. Replicating outputs in different scenarios is beneficial for speed, but over the long run simple replication does not replace bespoke design that is aware of the context of each situation.

He raised an interesting point around middle management and how sometimes this can be a barrier to unlocking innovation within large corporations. It triggered me to think about incentive design and clarity of outputs. What might we do differently in this space to make the flow of information between departments in companies more fluid?

What might organisations look like in the future? Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) are an interesting and timely experiment, that are helping us to think through how we might design new ways of working together. Autonomy, small teams, context horizons, remote work, and agency, just a few of the things that are being explored. Organisations that are not paying attention to the developments in this space will battle to retain young/top talent over the coming years.

Ulrike:

Blended retail experiences. How did your retail behaviour change during covid and what will bring you back to an in-person shopping experience? It is going to be interesting to see how brands start to personalise physical spaces to individual needs, merging this with hyper personalised digital experiences driven by data.

We have five basic sensors, touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. The more I think about it, blended spaces will need to tap into and connect with the different sensory emotions. This will be part of a brands success when connecting with people.

With this in mind, we need to start to think differently about the data that we use to craft personalised experiences. At present we primarily use data from third party resources, purchase history, and search activity to build “personas” for audience. We need to get more creative to foster genuine relationships. What about personalised ownership and community affinity? A good example to explore this thinking at a deeper level is,Proof collective, a NFT (Non-Fungible Token) community nurtured by Kevin Rose.

As Ulrike was speaking, I was drawn to words from Socrates, “I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only make them think”. Her talk certainly encouraged me to think about what the blended world of retail may look like in the coming years.

Natalie:

The circular economy. A massive space, where does one even begin?!

Covid gave us a time to pause and reflect, a forced time out so to speak. There is no doubt that to create change we need to start somewhere, otherwise the situation will forever appear too daunting. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation and Kate Radworth’s Doughnut Economics, are two spaces that I follow closely and provide me with inspiration.

Natalie made a brilliant point around creating a movement and the power that we have as individuals. From sustainable consumerism and thinking about the choices we make in respect to the way we act, we all have an ownership of our collective future.

Mark:

An interesting talk from an established thinker that blended academic research with practical application.

I am busy reflecting on his points around co-production. Personally, I think that the framing around “production” is incorrect. Production is defined as “the action of making or manufacturing from components”, this aligns things too closely to an industrial era. Perhaps we should think about a metaphor that more aligned to crafting, weaving or sowing the fields together. We need to nurture the future together, not simply produce it.

Many of the ideas that he shared are being discussed at length inside the emerging web3 space. Mark encouraged us to shift the way we think about product market fit. This theme is a strong one within the web3 space where I deploy some of my mental resources. Building with and for the community, not producing something for people’s utility.

Frank:

Slow fashion and social capital, two fascinating points that made me think out our relationship with time. Convenience is great, but I also think that it has made humans a tad hasty, and we have lost the appreciation of things that take time. I would encourage us to all connect with an activity of making something, slow time down and tune into the felt experience.

Frank’s talk surfaced this quote from Reggie James “How we choose to do what we need to do is the basis of culture”, which was part of the first semester of Crypto Culture and Society (a DAO that I backed in 2021).

We have load of resources to get creative with when it comes to fashion, but we rarely react for materials that have already been manufactured. Franks white car leather servers as an inspiration for us to challengeconventions and think differently.

How can we better transfer this knowledge between generations, people, and industries? This in my mind is a core part of moving towards a circular economy.

Jens:

The person who brought us together and created the jam. Massive thank you sir!

Exploring systems design and the relation between the different components is something that fascinates me. The story Jen’s told about helping a friend of his, across language barriers, develop a structure to unlock the potential of his team. Creating an environment for exploration and enabling them to think for themselves is an important trait in good leaders.

So, how does this all link into the original topic that I had planned to speak about before I derailed my own talk by freestyling it.

Age is a number and a metric that is used to show the passing of time.

Ageing isn’t just the passing of years, getting older, but rather all the interactions we connect with on the journey. Experience might indeed come with the passing of time, but this has been accelerated by access to information enabled by technology.

If our reputation and identity is only tied to this number we call age, we turn humans into computers and their interactions into code.

If I had asked you at the end of my talk how old you thought I was, there would have been a variety of answers shared.

I want to challenge us to remove the concept of age as a number from our thinking. There are many different puzzle pieces that compose our identity. I think that at times we conflate (not all the time, but sometimes) — the concepts of age and experience.

The concept of age is complex. It’s just a number that has been used as an identifier to mark the passing of time. Experience on the other hand is something far more interesting to explore.

If you’re going to be designing and crafting organisations of the future, you need to think about how you’re going to foster an environment for different generations to collaborate with one another. Creating cross generational learning experiences and the opportunity for ideas to come together.

“Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” Charles Eames

Our inability as humans to see how truly connected the world is what gave rise to a fractured response to a global pandemic. It is also the cause of many problems the world faces today.

As we have globalised the world, we had focused on purely the number connections, but not the quality of them.

We can learn a lot from designers, their minds, and the past.

Reflecting on the last 24 months, I can’t help but think that as humans we had become too comfortable with what we once knew.

To those who attended get together, thanks for your attention. Life is made richer by the people we meet and the places that we visit along the way.

I started writing this in the plane in the middle of the night as I made my way back to South Africa — sitting someone high above the ground in the Middle East as the plane approached Dubai. I finished it while sitting in the bush with some friends in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

From Spain to South Africa in 24 hours, via Dubai. I wonder what the original explorers who took years to move around the world would think.

You can find me on Twitter — @joshnuttall

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A deep thinker, synthesiser & learner. Interested in tech, data, & ownership. Enabling reverse mentorship. DAO: Crypto, Culture & Society

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Josh Nuttall

Josh Nuttall

A deep thinker, synthesiser & learner. Interested in tech, data, & ownership. Enabling reverse mentorship. DAO: Crypto, Culture & Society

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