Tickets Podcast: Gary Chou and Christina Xu on entrepreneurship education and harnessing the power of networks

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Back in the late 2000s, a number of community-driven internet companies began to change the way new products and services were brought to life. 

But even the most forward-thinking of those companies’ founders may have been surprised at where their platforms are now being utilized.

One example is in the Interaction Design Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Over the last 7 years, over 100 students have taken on the challenge the make $1000 by design, launch and complete a crowdfunding campaign that benefits a community they’ve worked with over the course of the semester. 

Today on Tickets I’m joined by the teachers of the 1k challenge, Gary Chou and Christina Xu.

As the challenge completes its 7th edition, they’re now sharing what they’ve learned so far via Teach the 1k – a workshop to help other entrepreneurship educators run their own 1k challenges.

In this conversation, we talk about the importance of constraints for creativity, the benefits of communities of practice, and the fear of putting our work and ourselves out there on the internet.

Teach The 1k

Gary & Christina online:

http://christinaxu.org

https://garychou.com

Background:

https://postindustrialdesign.school/background/

https://medium.com/@garychou/infrastructure-and-interdependence-417e926c539c

Coaching: Stories can lead to solutions

A coaching client came to me to discuss a challenge they had at work.

This client works in an executive role at a large professional services company.

A team member was coming to the executive’s office on a regular basis with seemingly long-winded, rambling and meandering background information about various situations they found themselves in.

The exec was frustrated at how much superfluous stuff they had to wade through, and how the only things of meaning they could pick out were problems, not solutions.

Dealing with this on a near-daily basis was taking a toll.

We sat with the broad topic of working with this team member as a colleague. 

What was my client’s current view of them? 

What other views could they take of who this person was, and what made them tick?

After taking a walk around a few different viewpoints, one suddenly seemed to click.

This team member was a talented storyteller. They used their verbal storytelling ability not just to convey feelings and ideas, but to work through problems.

Recognising that people have different strengths and different learning & communication styles suddenly put a new angle on the situation.

We worked up a simple but compelling question this executive could ask their team member the next time they were looking at how to deal with a challenge.

Tell me a few ways you think this story could end?

The story can lead to the solution.

Bringing the Essential Mix to work

For over 25 years, the UK’s BBC Radio One has hosted a weekly Saturday night show called the Essential Mix.

Comprised of a continuous 2 hour mixtape by an established or breakthrough electronic music artist, the show is hosted by veteran DJ and presenter Pete Tong.

Despite the plethora of new options available for both artists and listeners, the Essential Mix is still revered around the world and being invited to put together a set for the show is a big deal.

No matter which genre or artist is featured, every 30 mins or so listeners will hear from Pete with a brief voiceover – reminding us where we are and who’s providing the sounds. His signature motif as each segment ends and we go back into the mix? 

Continue reading “Bringing the Essential Mix to work”

Pressure brings performance – or does it?

Free Throw Basketball

“Pressure brings performance”

You may have heard this saying.

It’s a nice maxim, but is it just a story we tell ourselves to try and suppress the fear?

On ‘The Moment’ podcast hosted by Billions creator Brian Koppelman, author Steven Pressfield and Koppelman talk about pressure and performance through the lens of basketball, and by asking two simple questions.

The first question:

Who would you choose to take a foul shot if your life depended on it? [1]

And the second:

Would you tell them?

The answer to the first is probably a professional basketball player.

The answer to the second – probably not. 

Just tell them to step up and take the foul shot. That’s what they do. That’s what they practice. To make the shot.

There’s something that happens to nearly us when there is pressure, or at least our perception of it (after all, the world we experience isn’t really out there; it’s just our perception of it). 

Rehearsing for that is hard. 

There are a few hacks – before practicing your talk or your free throw you can try to simulate the feeling by doing a load of push ups, or drinking 3 coffees.

These can help, but what Pressfield argues is that practice is more likely to bring performance. Doing the work, putting in the reps. 

The pressure doesn’t bring performance, the practice does.

The practice brings out the performance, in spite of the pressure.

Look like we’ve just gotta keep practicing.


Steven Pressfield on ‘The Moment’

[1] You don’t need to like basketball to get the point. It could be a foul shot, open heart surgery, landing a plane, whatever.

5 x Why, 5 x Who

Toyota Factory
Toyota factory (image via NYT)

You may have heard about the 5 Whys.

It was originally developed at Toyota to help them figure out the root causes of failures and inefficiencies on their manufacturing line.

Over time, the idea spread – it now shows up in everything from Six Sigma to goal setting. It’s a great way of uncovering problems – especially those relating to processes and systems.

Change just one letter in the 5 x Why concept and you’ll probably land on 5 x Who.

Or, more specifically, Who is it for?

The car, the campaign, the service, the sandwich.

Who is it for?

We usually answer this. Just once. That may be enough, but often it’s not.

You can do this little exercise alone, but it works even better with a friend, coach, colleague or mentor.

And if you’re using this for something that’s important to you (and I’d bet you are), don’t think about it too much. Use your instincts. Go from your gut.

Get the other person to ask you this simple question 5 times in succession, and just say what comes to mind. Ask them to write down your responses.

You may be surprised at where you get to – where the root of this goes, who this is really for, who they really are, and maybe even why this all matters. And once you’re done, take a moment to observe how you’re feeling – you may just have uncovered something more.

Who is it for?

Who is it for?

Who is it for?

Who is it for?

Who is it for?


thanks to Bettina Bellande for inspiring my 5 x Who

“You had to be there”

When we’re told a joke or a tale that falls a little flat we may hear a sheepish response along the lines of “well, I guess you had to be there”.

The same is true elsewhere of course – gigs, movie premieres and theme parks to name but three. It’s whole point of live events. 

The best of these compel us to say this same phrase, but in a slightly different way: 

you had to be there

One other area where this applies is in the classroom. 

We can be there, but are we really there?

Like the tall story being shared, we’re often hearing it second hand – one step removed – even if we’re in the room.

Just watching and listening to lectures or demos can be tough. We miss the moments, the tension, the punchlines, the breakthroughs, the juice.

This is one of the biggest challenges for both traditional and online-driven education. 

We’re there, but we’re often not really there.

The good news is there are ways to make this better. 

Emotive, energetic teaching; compelling storytelling; hands-on activities; real-time feedback loops.

An experience where you tell other people, and tell them “you had to be there”.

The Action & The Juice

Well ya know, for me, the action is the juice.

Michael Cheritto, Heat

In Michael Mann’s classic movie Heat, Robert DeNiro’s crew of high-end thieves eventually feel the heat closing in on them. As they make a call on whether to push on with their audacious heist plan, each member has to decide whether they’re in or out.

For Tom Sizemore’s character Michael Cheritto, it comes down to something simple. 

The thrill of the heist is where it’s at. The payoff fades into the background. The risk is worth taking. 

The action is the juice.

Sometimes we don’t do a great job of knowing the difference between these two things.

It happens a lot when we’re making a change: from hobby to career, principal to agent, player to coach, contributor to manager, actor to director.

How much do we still yearn for the action?

Can we live without it?

Or is it just nostalgia, a mirage?

Does the juice make up for it?

And what else is now available in this new place we’re stepping into?

What’s the action, and what’s the juice?

Tickets Podcast: David Lavin on representing some of the world’s leading intellectual talent

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Think about talent agents and the first image that comes to mind may be something similar to the character of Ari Gold in the TV show ‘Entourage’; fast-talking, fickle, and more focused on the action toys and awards than the quality of the art.

But beyond the caricature, there’s of course far more to this kind of work than meets the eye – and a growing range of talent with important ideas to share with the world.

On this episode of Tickets I’m joined by David Lavin, founder and CEO of The Lavin Agency. 

The agency represents some of the world’s leading intellectual talent; from bestselling authors Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, to Angela Duckworth (Grit) and Steven Pinker (Enlightenment Now).

During this conversation, we get into what really makes for a compelling speaker, where there’s space for new ideas in education, balancing risk and reward, and who’s really worth booking for the $10,000 keynote.

Continue reading “Tickets Podcast: David Lavin on representing some of the world’s leading intellectual talent”

Design Thinking: Culture and Contraceptives

image: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

One of the first initiatives the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched in Africa was supplying contraception to women who couldn’t otherwise access it.

After distributing a huge number of condoms to the women of the towns and villages in their target locations, they went to check in on how their initiative had fared [1].

The women said they weren’t using them. 

Why?

After all, during the research phase, many women had requested better birth control.

The thing was that HIV was a big worry in several of the countries the foundation wanted to support.

By supplying women with condoms (and thus the women being responsible for getting their husbands to use them), the foundation had unwittingly put the women in a very difficult position.

A woman suddenly proffering a condom to her husband suggested either the husband had HIV (and was thus cheating on her), or she had HIV (and was cheating on him).

Neither of these insinuations were appealing, and so the women didn’t use the condoms.

The foundation changed tack. 

Instead of a condom, they provided the women with female contraceptives; discreet and under their own control. 

You can guess what happened – the initiative started working.

All of which is to say: the solution you come up with may well be a perfectly reasonable solution.

But if you don’t understand the culture, the human behaviors, the way people do things, the hidden needs – it probably won’t be.


[1] I heard this story told by Melinda Gates at this Oprah Winfrey event I attended in NYC.

[2] You probably won’t be surprised that Bill & Melinda used data to help them with this.

6 lessons from going live with Oprah

Oprah and Michael B. Jordan live in Times Square

I was sitting at my computer willing the words to come.

I’m creating a workbook/guide for independent professionals and the last 10% of it has proved by far the hardest. 

Midway through my mid-distance stare into nothing in particular, my phone rang.

It was someone I’d spoken to only once before, and was one of those serendipitous moments that maybe only ever happens in New York City.

A spare ticket to see Oprah Winfrey’s new show.

In Times Square.

Today.

In just under two hours.

Did I want to come along?

Continue reading “6 lessons from going live with Oprah”