Idea Engineering Agency has partnered with Circle of Women, a student-run organization at Harvard University, to support the education and healing of a particular group of women in Peru. Circle of Women has projects set up in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and now Peru. They started a rapport with Casa Mantay, which houses young women who have been victims of rape. Circle of Women is working on giving them an education and a way to generate income with the goal of helping the women attain economic independence. The organization reached out to us, inviting us to support the project through the use of the neurological research and tools we have developed to help these women move away from the trauma of rape into providing a happier life for their children. While there, we will seek to understand how they see the world and will work to empower them to create a world they own beyond Casa Mantay.
Our first step will be to observe the environment; from why rape has become a cultural norm, their diet, habits, cultural view, ethics, how they view themselves, what they need, how they would like to be helped, their neurological state, to infrastructure needs. In most cultures, women carry the responsibility of raising the children, therefore if we empower them with education and economic independence, we truncate child trafficking, sexual exploitation, disease, poverty, etc. Rather than simplifying the problem, we recognize that change can arise from the smallest details. In September last year, we attended the Do Lectures, where an amazing woman called Chido Govera shared her story of how learning to farm mushrooms changed her life. That simple skill catalysed an education for her younger brother, a career of education for her, and a better life for other orphans. She was able to truncate so much suffering by giving women economic independence. What was striking about her story was the simplicity of the solution: give a girl a skill with which she can create economy and she thrives. Since we opened our first innovation space in London 2.5 years ago (THECUBE), we have wanted to tackle a project that would make use of all of the skills and resources we have accrued. Circle of Women is providing Idea Engineering Agency with a pivotal opportunity to act on a need that we can best support. Through the creation of THECUBE and WECREATE, we have learned the importance of a healthy community. Healthy communities create healthy minds that have balanced levels of the key neurochemicals for innovation. Furthermore, they lower anxiety and fear helping people reach their goals in a more effective way. By exposing our research and knowledge to other communities, we believe we can create lasting positive change. It is not about giving money- it’s about sharing skills, knowledge, time, and kindness.
Our dream for our spaces is to grow a communities that not only generate strong businesses but also help other communities cultivate their own economy. It is a long road, but are excited to be starting our first step.
Our hypothesis is that at this moment we do not need leaders – we need visionaries. Most people disagree with this hypothesis, “ Who will take charge of creating change” How would a company function without a leader?
There is the argument that nature has alphas and they end up making a decision for the group, which may lead to the demise of the entire group, especially if two alphas go head to head for territorial dominance. Do we really want this behaviour at this moment in time?
We are currently facing one of the most pivotal eras in recent history. We are running low on natural resources. We have high levels of poverty, conflict, and economic rot. What we need are visionaries – people that ask big questions and create hypothesis. Being a leader at this time doesn’t even make sense; We don’t know where we are going as change is happening at such a rapid pace.
So if no one is leading, how do you squeeze the intelligence out and move forward? By providing people with platforms that will let them act independently when they need to and collaboratively when problem solving. By platforms we mean education, knowledge, tools, and spaces to congregate. Furthermore a collaborative community of smart individuals, who are all equally innovating in their own fields is much healthier than a monolithic community with one leader.
Second solution is being a visionary; ask questions, create hypothesis, and constantly observe. Visionaries evolve their ideas according to time and the information they draw from their surroundings, rather than myopically leading in one direction. Yes, there are times when decisions need to be made. However, the brain doesn’t think linearly, and we never arrive at a decision following an A to B route. We arrive there based on taking in various stimuli, thoughts and observations. Therefore to think that we can do it on our own is naive and not conducive to innovation.
Another way to look at is as a symphony. Each person playing an instrument at t heir own level of talent and independence, however there is a conductor, which helps guide the instruments into harmony.
In favour of visionaries: Big Think published an article which stated, “Since right wing conservative ideologies are more authoritarian, that set of beliefs attract people who are not very smart.”
However, this is not unique to just right wing conservatives – this would apply to any organisation that has a totalitarian leadership structure. If you want to be around people who are smart and creative, then you all need to be more of visionary. Otherwise people will grow accustomed to one person making the decisions, truncating autonomous thought.
Furthermore there is plenty of scientific evidence that correlates narcissism with leaders. Narcissistic behaviour leads to overconfidence, this overconfidence leads to mistakes and less favourable decisions than those who are less confident. It is within this difference that the myth of leadership perpetuates, someone taking charge is great, however if they are not able to make decisions or bring people together, do we really want them to lead?
This way of thinking is not new, according to Wikipedia “socicracy was first coined in 1851 by Auguste Comte, a French positivist philosopher. Sociocracy means the rule by the “socios,” people who have a social relationship with each other – as opposed to democracy: rule by the “demos,” the general mass of people.” This indicates that it can be possible to run a company or a movement without leadership. Further more “consent as defined and practiced in sociocratic organizations is a more efficient and effective decision-making method than autocratic decision-making, because it builds trust and understanding.”
Finally, ask yourself – who do I want to follow? Most people would say no one, so if people do not want to follow- there is no room for leaders. Visionaries can paint a general environment and attract people who can contribute to its creation…that I would be part of.
Who’s Doing It
THECUBE/ WECREATE – We do not have employees, we have collaborators, partners, or associates. This helps keep responsible for their role, deters homogenised thinking, and harnesses talent.
Bracket Projects - They bring people from diverse backgrounds to work together for bigger projects
Rem Koolhaas – He runs his architectural firm as a think tank, which encourages criticism. This helps keep the company fresh and on its toes.
Honey Bees -Colonies possess decentralised decision-making because it combines effectiveness with simplicity of communication and computation within a colony.
Within the entrepreneurial industry there are many workshops, books and blogs dedicated to moving things faster or providing some sort of secret to success. However, there is plenty of evidence that many of our most astonishing achievements have taken years or even decades to accomplish.
We have a societal obsession with getting things done faster or finding the optimal route to success, but what does history teach us about time? What do we lose by not letting things evolve at their own pace?
The economy continues to be unstable. It is forcing people to ask really big questions, such as: how do we create a better way of life? How do we create a better economy? These questions are not going to be answered with a formula or by going faster. We have met many entrepreneurs that are looking to create lasting change and we often hear their frustration with time.
We spoke recently with Alison Coward, founder of Bracket, a collaborative agency building the tools and platforms for the economy of the future. As more people turn to enterprise and freelancing, we will move from working in stagnant groups to collaborative projects. This new way of working needs the time to be accepted. To start with, behavioral norms need to change, the advantages of working in this new way need to be proved, and word needs spread.
History and nature teaches us the importance of time. Look at the growth process of an oak tree, how it grows from the tiniest of seeds into one of the most majestic trees. Can you imagine if nature was as obsessed with time? It would have missed many of its evolutionary advantages, beauty and sophistication.
Or look at the sophistication and evolution of our tools: we were a species that started with a flint and now we have beautifully designed technology that allows us to study everything from the cosmos to the brain.
Understandably, once we understand a problem repeating is not the optimal choice. However, going down a linear optimal road is not just boring but can stop discovery. Einstein’s law of relativity was not discovered in a linear optimal manner. It took him many walks, copious sheets of formulae, and even moments of complete chaos before getting to his beautiful formula of E=MC^2. We should learn to feel more comfortable with chaos. The first step to accepting and feeling comfortable with chaos is by learning to observe it rather than fighting it or zooming past it.. The elapsing of time can teach us lessons, add depth to our studies, and leads us to unexpected discoveries. These are all things that could be lost through dogmatic optimisation.
We often hear people talk about how difficult collaboration is or that it’s a waste of time. People are reluctant to share for fear that their ideas will be stolen or that people will only ‘use’ them. Unfortunately, these things do happen but not at fault of the system of collaboration, but people’s failure to understanding how to collaborate correctly.
The Loner Myth
New York City’s economic system has been built on the myth that only the fittest survive, propagated by the saying ‘dog eat dog’. However, that has not served us well. We have only to look at the current state of Wall Street to understand that this is not the way forward. This myth has seeped into the world of enterprise and we see how entrepreneurs struggle to make meaningful connections. We have experienced this ourselves where people do not reply or partnerships seem to be one sided. After a couple of bad experiences, our primitive brain engages and wants to protect us, which then makes us fearful of collaboration. This leads us to think that it’s best to do it alone, and we become close-minded.
The second societal construct that feeds this myth is the ‘lone genius’. We love to construct mythological stories about people like Steve Jobs, solely responsible for paradigm shifts. They are the authority.
But wow far can you go by doing things alone? Is it even possible to do things alone?
We Are All Connected
We firmly believe that we cannot do things on our own. Furthermore, nothing in this universe works in isolation. Our entire universe works on collaborative ecosystems.
Scientific research is providing proof of this. Quantum psychics argues that everything was formed from the Big Bang. Thus we share particle composition with everything on this planet. Biologist Bruce Lipton talks about how we are all like cells and we need to learn to work better together in order to create a healthier culture.
In order to build a fruitful and strong economy, we must learn to collaborate with each other. Our sister space in London is two years old and we are already seeing the fruits of collaboration. Businesses grow faster, people feel great about being in the space, and the level of business ethics is high.
Even from a limbic perspective, being part of a collaborative community helps us stay healthy. We release dopamine when we are social and dopamine gives us energy!
So if we are all connected and science backs it up, what does this have to do with enterprise?
The Right Environment for Collaboration
If a start-up is to succeed and move forward, it needs collaboration. Collaboration starts with a healthy environment. Here’s how:
This piece is part of a thought-curated series on innovation and collaboration in New York City written by a community of visionaries who are interested in generating lasting economy and social change.
“Truman Capote once described himself as a horizontal author, saying I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed on stretched on a couch’. There might be something in his posture, which led him to write incredible novels, Darren Lipnicki and Don Byrne at the Australian National University in Canberra have found that people solved anagrams in about 10 percent less time when lying down compared to standing.” *
The hypothesis for these results is that stress is the enemy of conceptual thought. When we are stressed we release cortisol amongst other adrenalines, which impede us from thinking about the big picture. Therefore finding a posture that is relaxing to you can play a role on how you think and come up with ideas.
This part of a new are of neurology called ‘embodied cognition’, which is that our body thinks right along with our brain. For instance ‘ you may think that you smile because you are happy, but in fact happy feeling arise in a large part from the psychical sensation for smiling. Furthermore in a study where people had their frowning muscles frozen through botox took longer to read sad or angry sentences. *
* The above quotes are extracted from New Scientist The Thinking Body 15 October 2011.
IEA is currently studying how some of the principles of Buddhism can help innovation, as we have observed many parallels in their narrative. This is not to say that we have a bias towards Buddhism as a spiritual practice; rather, we are exploring it as an ancient thought process, which has successfully persevered for millennia across different cultures.
The crux of innovation is the idea. Ideas come from feeding your brain with diverse knowledge bases. When your brain perceives and understands a certain mechanism, it will then find a pattern from which it will continue to interpret. For example, we no longer have to ‘think’ about tying our shoelaces, because our brain has created a pattern for it. Taking this principle further, when looking to innovate we have to break away from established thought patterns – otherwise we will literally keep thinking within the same parameters.
There are many books and courses claiming that they have the secret to innovation; sadly, it cannot be bottled. There are some constants that we have observed in people that innovate: they are in a constant state of inquiry, they are great observers, and they march to the beat of their own drum.
So what can we learn from the Kalama Sutta, Buddha’s sermon to the Kalama people? In this ancient religious text, when the Kalama asked the Buddha how to tell which prophets were telling the truth, he replied:
Do not accept anything because of
From our observations, great innovators questions everything and do not settle for someone else’s ‘truth’.
Imagine if the Wright brothers would had been satisfied with the accepted theories of gravity? Or if Galileo had heeded the accepted wisdom of his time? Or if Darwin had been content with the Biblical explanation of creation?
It takes bravery to break away from tradition, popular thought and current dogma, but if you wish to innovate that is what you must do.
In a recent article published in Forbes online, engineer Tom Gillis says that “the truth [is that] the era of the engineer is over”. We would say the era of how engineers had been used is over, not the engineer. He states that in the past, engineers were employed to make things “better, faster, cheaper”. This worked well in an era of profit at any cost, but what about now? What is the new role of the engineer?
According to Wikipedia, the word engineer is derived from the Latin word ingenium, meaning ’cleverness’. At a time when America and Europe’s economies are broken beyond easy repair, the Middle East is awash in political unrest, and our natural resources continue to deteriorate, how can ingenium not be at its most significant?
Engineers are furthermore known for their great analytical thinking drawing on science and mathematics, making them the gatekeepers of pragmatic and essential solutions.
Anyone, even an engineer, claiming that these attributes are no longer fundamental to helping us create better ways of doing things is not seeing the full potential of the engineer. However, our in house engineer, Daniel Gutierrez would argue that this is not a new perception – ‘I studied engineering because I wanted to create better systems and now I use my skills to make entrepreneurs more productive’. It is engineers that are moving the economy forward in countries like India and we are missing out if we do not create more in the UK and US. In the article Tom Gillis says that the future of an economy is service based- however we still need engineers to create a better economic system, create more environmentally friendly solutions, and even be part of political negotiations – who is leading solutions in difficult countries like Afghanistan or Iraq?
We often hear in the news of the struggling CEO at the helm of a company that is no longer performing the way it ought to be. The usual response is to cut costs, and make things cheaper to manufacture to increase margins. However, what would happen if corporations were instead to hire engineers to create better systems, not only in production but also in the office? Or include them as part of the innovation team to create better systems around the innovation process, as well as engineering better products and services?
As part of the IEA team, we have an industrial & systems engineer. However, instead of engineering mechanical systems to increase productivity on a factory floor, he creates productive systems of innovation for entrepreneurs.
The future of engineers is to be leaders of innovation, productivity, and improvement. We need more engineers, not to make things cheaper or faster, but to create solutions for a new era of economy and change. We would like to leave with one last thought from Albert Einstein – ‘Engineers create that which has never been.’ Creating that ‘which has never been’ never goes out fashion, it is human nature to keep creating.
What We See
At a recent talk we attended by Carl Schramm, the CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, one topic that kept coming up was ‘How do you form successful firms?’ This led us to wonder what was at the core of a successful business. Our answer is ‘human beings’. It seems very obvious and common sense, but we do often forget to put the human at the centre when turning our ideas into businesses.
From our perspective, businesses are set up by humans for humans. Therefore understanding our own brain technology is important in creating a successful firm. There is no formula, shortcut, or A to B process for creating innovative businesses. It is about being aware of what humans need and then learning to effectively communicate the vision. We are seeing more and more businesses that take care to understand the human and therefore create mindful businesses. There is Be Social Change in NYC, who is run by behavioural psychologist; aLondon-based web company which uses psychology as a basis for their design, and a Dubai-based investment firm, which only invests in companies which will create a positive social impact.
Finally, putting the human back in the middle can help us create more visionary enterprises. We are reaching a saturation limit in creating companies that are only driven by profit and create little benefit to society.
Think About It
Who would have thought that the 15 years that I spent dedicated to Shakespeare could play a role in innovation and enterprise. According to a recent study published in Big Think, Shakespeare’s use of language excites our brains.
Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool School of English looked at brain responses. Our most common brain response time is 400 milliseconds after “experiences, a thought or perception”. These responses are called N400 and they are the most common. However when the professor studied the brains of people exposed to Shakespearean language they had a response called P600, which indicates activity 600 milliseconds after their initial contact with the text. The professor equates this type of response of “a state of heightened consciousness”.
In the process of innovation, this is exactly what we strive for. We strive to be in a heightened sense of thought, exploration and awareness. The brain needs to be turned on and exercised, or it will literally get bored – and a bored brain only throws out ideas that are patterned.
Imagine how much more exciting your ideas would be if you could operate your brain to provoke P600 responses rather than the usual humdrum, day-to-day responses.
The professor’s hypothesis is that the Shakespeare’s unorthodox use of linguistic construction interrupts our brain. It tells the brain that this is something that needs further attention. We cannot just sit and read Shakespeare; he forces us to think. He actually interrupts our consciousness because our brains cannot create patterns or make linguistic assumptions. In other words, when we read simple text our brain no longer has to ‘think’, but when exposed to Shakespearean language your brain has to be in the moment, aware, and on.
Being innovative is like being a great athlete: you cannot foster an active brain by sitting by and being lazy. Your brain needs activity and stimuli.
What We See
Female leadership seems to be on the rise and we have seen it in the amount of women starting business at our spaces as well. The glass ceiling seems to be lifting as we begin to accept the fairer sex as a powerful contributor to finance, innovation, and enterprise.
The shift is also creating a balance in the business place, this trend doesn’t mean getting rid of the male perspective. We are hopeful that this is the start of the sexes learning to collaborate more effectively. After all ideas need the support from diverse collaboration.
According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, this trend is actually quit primitive, she believes that we are actually going back to our roots. When our ancestors were hunter gatherers the tribe depended on the skills of both sexes. Testosterone lead in the linear and calculating task of hunting, this is the reason males are much better at linear thought, systems, spacial awareness, and making high risk decisions. In contrast estrogen had to manage crops, children, the kill, therefore females now carry traits of management , multi focusing, observation, and circular thinking.
Think About It
1. If the traits that are related to estrogen begin to lead in enterprise, what will products look like, how will this affect company management, how would this affect value?