A Postcard from Texas

Whilst over in the US visiting our friends at Texas A&M – Central Texas College of Business Administration, I’ve spent the past couple of days at the SXSW Eco event in Austin listening and talking to, networking with and generally being inspired by the energy, passion and vision of the multitude of changemakers in the building.

High points include keynotes from elder statesmen of the sustainability movement such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr (of Waterkeeper) and William McDonough (of Cradle to Cradle fame), but not far behind, albeit in the fringe workshops and after-parties, has been the next generation’s contagious energising buzz and optimism.

I am incredibly encouraged by the apparently much greater appetite of the next generation to break down silos – SXSW Eco has been a crucible of entrepreneurs, designers, artists, scientists, technologists, filmmakers, educators, executives, investors, writers and activists – all willing to explore, find and share common ground, bringing their eclectic skillsets and perspectives together around a common interest in finding innovative solutions for a sustainable world.

Seeing educators and researchers firmly in the thick of it at an event like this reminded me of the challenge posed in the 50+20 vision for academics to embrace being public intellectuals, getting close to the coalface and rolling their sleeves up to problem-solve. For my part, I’ve particularly enjoyed workshop sessions with Tim Mohin at AMD, Laur Hesse Fisher at MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence and Sarah Morris at Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Team – thank you all for greatly enriching my time here. I’ve also enjoyed some of the most expansive and challenging conversations in the margins, making unexpected connections and sparking wild ideas (that might just work!).

The sheer diversity in the building has been its strength. But as Sarah Morris at Microsoft pointed out, whilst ‘diversity is humanity’s greatest asset, inclusiveness is our greatest challenge’. We all have much to learn from Microsoft’s inclusive design principles, which put the marginal user (or excluded non-user for that matter) at the heart of designing any solution, consider the needs of missing voices from the table and challenge you on what experience you want to provide.

I think there’s a challenge here for the organisers of SXSW Eco. In the scheme of things, the lucky few get to attend events like this (5,000 of us in this particular case). It has been so educational and enriching in so many ways (least of which conventionally!), that it’s a pity that the value of being here can’t be shared with a much wider audience. Please – find a way of doing this for 2017.

That particular idea of accessibility and inclusiveness is explored eloquently by Michelle Wise and Clay Christensen’s paper ‘Hire Education‘ which advocates online competency-based education as a means of building ‘a dramatically new value network that changes the rules of the game for the common good’.

It also happens to sit at the heart of our philosophy at OPEN for Business. When we think about how we can provide responsible business education for the world, it seems to me that applying user-centred inclusive design thinking is going to be absolutely crucial in creating the right solutions that reach and resonate with current non-consumers of business education.

If we can get it right for them, then it will work brilliantly for everyone else.

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