39 minutes | Apr 23, 2021
10 Jennifer Brandel on Engagement as a Business Model, the Importance of Process Over Product, and Alternatives to the Unicorn Model of Business
Jennifer Brandel is Co-founder of Hearken, a people powered process and technology that enables organizations to better engage and collaborate with their stakeholders, as well as the Co-Founder of Zebras Unite, a network creating a more ethical, inclusive and collaborative ecosystem for mission-based startups. For her work in journalism and entrepreneurship, Jen won the prize for “Best Bootstrap Company” at SXSW and won the News Media Alliance Accelerator Prize. She received the Media Changemaker Prize by the Center for Collaborative Journalism, was named one of 30 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business, is a Columbia Sulzberger Fellow, an RSA Fellow, AND a member of the Guild of Future Architects and the National Civic Collaboratory. Jenn and I talk about building a values-based business, why process should come before product, alternatives to the unicorn model, so much more: How combining the philosophical underpinnings of business and working with the Bahai faith taught her an effective way to impact journalism and plant the seed for starting Hearken How changing the process of reporting fundamentally changed the dynamics and results of the newsroom Why and how Hearken preserved optionality as it has grown over the past five years, and the options that are opened by maintaining sole ownership The zebra company as her response to her disillusion with the silicon valley model and exponential growth and monopoly market Why engagement is a strategic business model, and how Hearken is thinking about a more relational engagement model that expands possibilities for peoples lives How Hearken approaches helping companies transform, and why they focus both on what is being left behind and what is newly being built How Hearken designed a system with different moments of feedback loops at major decision making moments and how they deliberately think about the dynamics they create for 1:1 and 1-to-many interactions References and resources: Zebras Unite You are more powerful than you think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen by Eric Liu Community Centered Journalism: Engaging People, Exploring Solutions, and Building Trust by Andrea Wenzel Design Justice Network Select highlights: "Just by tweaking the process of how news stories got made, we ended up creating a different sounding and differently consequential journalism. Other newsrooms started asking us about it, and I knew I would regret not trying to help others make it work, because I do think it is universally applicable process that makes the world a little bit better." "I feel like what we're trying to do is maintain the mission, and the money follows if you center the public. But the operations and the way the operating systems of news rooms have been set up is completely counter to this, so the work of doing this change while it might sound so simple on the surface is surprisingly more challenging because of the way they're optimized for speed, efficiency and distribution, not for listening, relevance and trust. So, there are a lot of changes that need to happen inside an organization first on a mental paradigm level, and then a workflow and tooling and schedule and business level. This tiny idea ends up changing a lot." "I ran into the tension of what seemed like the Silicon Valley pattern recognition and it felt inherently impossible to build the kind of company I wanted to in that value system in place and that structure. If I want to build a company that lasts a long time and has these kinds of structures, why am I focusing all my time on making a small group of people very wealthy who aren't who I'm trying to serve with this work? I was always pushing back on the 10x unicorn model, but I didn't have the language for what I wanted instead. "That was a tension that was hard, just the tradeoffs along the way of trying to find aligned financing and again hearing people say 'We'd invest in you if you only tweaked it this way or that way,' knowing that that would actually compromise our values. It's hard to walk away from money but we really have figured out that who you get the money from and what it's designed to do is so important, and it's better to say no if you have that option." "It was a real gold rush mentality, and folks really glommed onto one or two narratives of how you could strike it big. Then that just became everything that people were chasing, and then forgot the fact that our economy and country are built on these more steward-owned models in which family or generational companies are growing incrementally over time." "It all comes down to human nature. It's not something that is going to change. People are always going to be curious, they're always going to have questions, they're always going to need other people to help fact check and understand the complexity of any situation to make it digestible and easy to understand what to do. Those things are never going to change, and I feel positive about any system that's built on human nature fundamentals designed for the most productive version of ourselves, versus the most destructive tendencies that we have. And that's what I feel we have with our public powered process and tech." "I think it's all about discerning what are the dynamics that make for the best outcomes for everybody." "There's different network design built for different purposes and I think its really thinking through what's the most productive and what's going to yield the most positive responses for everybody." "The more people are involved, the more they get to see their voices mattering and shaping things and the change they want to see happening the more likely that are to support you and trust you. So many institutions don't have this connective tissue." "People first, going into process, and then product is the final layer. It's easy to start with product because it's tangible, where process is more abstract and requires more mental bandwidth. That's part of it, convincing people the process innovation, which is hard to wrap your head around, is so much more important than what products you're using."
44 minutes | Jan 14, 2021
09 Dave Inder Comar on Corporate Culture and Law as a Creative Force
Dave Inder Comar is an attorney and Founder of law practices Comar Mollé and Just Atonement. He has an amazing ability to humanize law, approaching it with creativity and empathy to make policy something people can use that helps them navigate the changes organizations face today. He’s a bold leader, having led a case against George W Bush Administration for illegal acts of aggression in the Iraq War, getting so far as the 9th circuit where it was acquitted due to the immunity provided to high ranking officials by federal law. In this episode we talk about law in business and the workplace, and how it can be a creative, generative function for businesses: The dual-entity structure of his practices and how it enables him to be flexible and creative in his practice. How a social science background has helped him break the mold of law firms and humanize law. Why process is an important complement to making policies and laws work for people and organizations, and how meeting human needs can avoid unnecessary legal risk and costs. Why compliance and the culture and processes around it are critical for business success, retaining institutional knowledge. How and why companies need to implement policies that address the changes we’re seeing from compliance to the move to remote work and online infrastructure. Inder’s thoughts about the role of the Chief Ethics Officer. Why he recommends clients struggling to retain employees and clients should re-manifest with values into a more values-explicit and innovative company Whythe most rewarding parts of being a lawyer is the human impact. References and resources: Comar Mollé Just Atonement Tao Te Ching Select highlights: “We’ve tried to create a nurturing space where lawyers who share those values can come and have an economic foundation and have some economic security from the practice, but we also want to give people freedom to do the things that they wanted to do… I think that’s something that not a lot of firms can not say, and so as a result, we’re able to attract some really awesome lawyers.” “We’ve created at the firm our own ecosystem where we’re cultivating those values. And those values start to emerge in the lawyers themselves. So that is a really important product of the firm itself, that type of professional development is something I’m most proud of.” “Culture is the river, and the rules and regulations are the dam. You can impose some structure, but the culture is the river, and ultimately a good lawyer will know how to inspect the culture and come up with a set of documents that people can actually use and will be incorporated into the company’s culture.” “A lot of times people just want to be heard. A lot of people get a lawyer because they haven’t felt heard. And so if you provide a mechanism where people can feel heard, you might be able to resolve it before it gets miscommunicated and misconstrued in different ways.” “I think compliance is evolving. That would have been a surprise to me years ago to predict that. I think there is an understanding that there has to be some dignity at work.” ” I think that’s something every company should do and it starts from the board all the way down, and that’s create a culture of compliance.” “Like everything in life, there’s a psychological bias that it isn’t a problem until something terrible happens. As lawyers we can see the things down the road that are coming… I do think lawyers can have a lot of value in terms of compliance, and also creating the culture of compliance where any person can feel comfortable saying I dont actually know if this is compliant with our internal policies.” “People should feel safe at work. And if the workplace doesn’t feel safe, that’s a terrible indictment of the company.” “The ultimate value should be, in my view, creating a place for human dignity to thrive.”
41 minutes | Dec 3, 2020
08 Emily Schildt on creating an innovative business model based in an understanding of the customer
Emily Schildt is the founder of Pop Up Grocer, a traveling pop up grocery store that lies at the intersection of exhibit, retail store and grocer. She's also a brand communications and marketing consultant, and previously was the director of digital engagement at Chobani in its early days. Recognized as an innovator in the retail space, AdWeek named Pop Up Grocer "Best Pop-Up" in its first annual retail awards . In this episode we talk about: How her experience as a brand communications and marketing consultant informed her strategy for Pop Up Grocer, and why she forewent market research and created a brand that was what she wanted to see in the world. How she created an experiential company at the intersection of exhibit, retail and grocer with a business model that aligns more with being a media company than a retail company. Why it's critical to educate and communicate thoroughly when doing something very different and innovative. The challenges and complexity introduced by looking for traditional marketing metrics when moving commerce into experience that is both geographically specific and online, and how Emily differentiates indicators of performance from sales. Why its companies' responsibilities to support causes in line with their values or the times and how there are many ways of doing that beyond just monetary support. Why curation and trust is important in the attention economy. References and resources: Pop Up Grocer Company of One by Paul Jarvis Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slimm The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson Table Manners with Jessie Ware Select highlights: "Especially when you think about the current time we are living in and how that might affect peoples shopping habits, I think they definitely want to make decisions that are grounded in values and missions and interests and activism of the company, so that's something we certainly think about in our product selection." "You dont know from a tomato jam on shelf that it's black owned, or that its growing its tomatoes through specific harvesting; it's up to us to relay that story and ensure the person visiting our space understands the reasoning behind our selection. Also, that's what distinguishes us in this discovery space from a traditional grocery store or retail space, is that generally speaking you dont have an opportunity to get a sense of that contextual information." "I think in terms of sustainability, I think people care about that and want to care about that, but they care about other things first: what something says about them and their own identity. To have something be cool first and foremost and then if it just happens to house all these things that are sustainable, for example, it benefits everyone, because I think its a much stronger motivator than just wanting to do better for yourself or the environment." "I felt every food company when approaching how to create its brand was hanging its hat on the fact that they source their ingredients responsibly and they're 100% clean and non-GMO. Those are stock standard things that people expect. What else is interesting about you? I approach our brand in the same way." "If you sell things that's a total bonus, but what we're offering you is exposure and visibility. And just like any form of advertisement, newsletter podcast influencer, access to our audience of early adopters and other influential people comes at a cost. And its a pretty insignificant cost." (Of the PUG business proposition and market value) "In the forming of my career and me as a professional woman, I learned at Chobani for example, that giving back should just be ingrained in your business model... I think its the responsibility of businesses. When I was developing our business model, that was a part from day one." (On the move to e-commerce) "If everything wasn't happening as it is, I think we probably would have waited longer, and it would be much more sophisticated and robust. Like everything I think I've done, you just start. You just start somewhere, and you let it evolve, and grow with it." "Similar to our physical spaces, the opportunity with e-commerce is to translate that discovery experience. To really surprise and delight and bring a sense of joy and happiness, especially right now to people in their homes."
40 minutes | Oct 6, 2020
07 Satsuko VanAntwerp on Designing Human-Centered, Equitable AI
Satsuko VanAntwerp is a design researcher and service designer working on creating human-centered AI. Having previously founded a social sector design consultancy for government agencies, you'll hear how she brings her experience in business and the social sector to make more just and equitable AI. In this conversation we talk about: why she sees large scale AI as an opportunity to shift until recently invisible power structures data and its implications for businesses and customers how a cross functional AI product team balances desirability, feasibiliy and viability what happens when you optimize from a biz/tech lens and how to optimize from a human lens and why it generates better results why AI needs to have ongoing learning from humans, making it important to have humans in the loop the critical but distinct roles that tech and design play in developing explainable AI how the micro and macro social contract within a company and of a country impacts the adoption of AI Recommended Resources Compass recidivism rate research Explainable AI Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruja Benjamin Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez Satsuko VanAntwerp on LinkedIn Select Highlights "Design, what I'm representing, is the desirability. What does the human want, how do we make this usable? Does this make sense for society, and is it humane and responsible?" "In the end, AI is just a tool, but it has the opportunity to do a lot of good if we can get our values in there. Tech is not neutral, right? And so I'm most excited by AI, enterprise level AI, AI that has the opportunity to be used by a lot of people, because it's just another slice of society that we can actually embed values that are good for all people." "Values that are good for all people like equality, fairness, accountability, safety, privacy, all of these things. If we dont intentionally embed this into the technology, it's not going to happen on its own." "As a design researcher, in the end we really believe the user is king or queen. My client may be a cosmetics company, but who I really think of as my client is the end user society, humanity." "AI can be problematic if we dont highlight some of these issues and deal with them. At the same time it shines a light on everything that has already been going on that's not working in society." "What's so helpful about the AI technology, now we have the proof, the data. And now we can't ignore it. Now we have to do something about this. Yes, it's problematic, and it's all of our collective responsibility to act and do something." "It's so granular. I think one of the things thats interesting about AI. I think people think of it as Ex Machina, or HER, or Westworld. And we think of sentient beings, we think of it being very powerful stuff. In the end AI is often very narrow, it's applied to mundane tasks." "Tech is not neutral and what AI can do, what's exciting about it, is that it can shift power. It can rebalance a system. There's so much potential for using AI to create a more just world, the kind of world we want to see. If we just take the data as is, the historical data, we'll just keep perpetuating all these disparities and discrepancies and biases we have until now. But now we do have a chance to rebalance that and to shift power. That's the most exciting part about AI."
45 minutes | Aug 19, 2020
06 Sarah Judd Welch on people-driven innovation
Sarah Judd Welch is CEO of Sharehold, a people-driven innovation agency, and started one of the first community agencies when the concept of community in tech was just getting started. Sarah and Lauren talk about: The need for creating a new set of competencies and capabilities and value systems that allow businesses to serve their customers better. How your customers goals can serve as really effective metrics Why Net Promoter Score (NPS) is limited in measuring the success of community Why systems design is so important for serving your community and customers. Why research and other methods of listening to customers is critical skillset for organizations moving forward How design research helps you identify whether you're focusing on the right opportunities and identify the worthy mountains to climb in business Reframing the presence of conflict as an opportunity for progress Recommended Resources Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Dr. Viveck Murphy Building Brand Communities: How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging by Carrie Melissa Jones and Charles Vogl Just Enough Research by Erika Hall Brene Brown Select Highlights: "The capacity to listen to customers, I think thats probably one of the most fundamental skills a company can develop in 2020 for a competitive advantage." "That in order for there to be a relationship between an organization and its quote-on-quote customer, there had to be a transaction, and I felt there was a missed opportunity. We should able to provide value that is mutual and reciprocal rather than transactional. And I saw this to be true in my work in technology as well. I saw the power of bringing people together and treating people well and solving their problems as a purpose of the business." "The role of a business in society is to serve people, therefore you need to be solving the problems of people. And the people who you serve are core stakeholders in your business and that fundamentally drove what my work is today." "Now the idea of a super engaged, community, true relationship driven business is no longer up for debate, the ROI has been proven, and now we're able to play at a significantly higher level of new value creation." "The work that you do to support your team also supports your customers and vice versa. These are reciprocal mirrored relationships is that you need to be able to do both well." "Conflict can be very powerful. In fact, one could argue that progress is not possible without conflict. You need to work through the conflict to progress forward and develop better solutions, and thats part of the reason why diversity is such a powerful asset in any team."
39 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
05 Nate Nichols on authenticity and elevating more diverse perspectives
Nate Nichols is Founder of the Palette Group, a Brooklyn-based creative production haus. In this conversation that tears down the silos of the personal vs professional journeys, Nate and Lauren talk about: Business as a platform to explore one's identity and to self-express Finding the balance between being authentic and unfiltered but also having it resonate with clients and audiences How branding is a direct filter and lens for you to do the work you want to do in the world How the agency business model directly impacts the diversity of perspectives in advertising Data is driving the future of decentralized advertising, distribution of content and more diversity of creative content References and Resources: Palette Group Ideo: Leading for Creativity Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman Run Studio Run by Eli Altman Freelancer Cyber Summit Allyship and Action Select highlights: "There's something in me that when I am self expressed, there is value there." "When you do set those brand values, if you do that work to design the brand values that you want people to see in your company, you'll attract those people you're speaking about, you'll attract those people in the recruitment process who you'll just immediately get along with because their values align with the brands values. So when they do come aboard, it's just easier to be themselves and be self expressed, because they're fully aligned with the brand values. And thus, your organization will just run way more fluid, way more efficiently because everyones just genuinely happy to be there." "Thats the beauty of branding, if you're really true to yourself and your values you'll be able to create messaging and language and creative that represents that position and those values. So people look at you and experience you in a way that you dont even have to talk anymore."
44 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
04 Lisa Gralnek on brand-based, values-led strategy and growth
Lisa Gralnek is Founder and CEO of LVG & Co, a values-driven growth strategy firm. In this conversation Lisa explores brand-based, values-led strategy considerations for businesses seeking growth. Why getting back to your values and your customers' values is the most important thing, especially in times of change and uncertainty, and how values-led brands are better positioned to stay relevant in times of change, The difference between business decisions and values-led brand decisions The emphasis on growth over the past 10-20 years and the impact that prioritizing growth has on how you do business, and how it has led to toxic cultures for many companies How different organizations set goals and KPIs and why they're critical Why values are not just a feel good story to tell, they're an effective lens for innovation Why a company's values should not just parrot what they think customers want, and how context helps you make your values applied to be relevant How large brands like Walmart have stayed nimble in order to stay true to their core commitments and values How you measure success against you goals and your KPIs are not black and white, and they reflect what you value References and Resources: LVG & Co The Gap Between Medium article by Lisa Consumer Goods Forum articles: The Value of Values: Setting the Course The Value of Values: Walking the Talk Quarantine Book Club - Mule Design Studio UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 BLab Thrive Global Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman--Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual by Yves Chouinard From Green to Gold by Harold Enrico Ishmael by Daniel Quinn Futerra Honest Generation Select Highlights: "How do you measure success against your goals? That's why KPIs are critical. As they say what you measure grows." "Leadership is really where values come in. Values in themselves are leading principles and leadership needs to own them and infuse them through the organization in order for any of the other stuff to happen." "If we say values are our guardrails for decision making, values are also then our guide for action taking."
45 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
03 Ara Katz on a systems approach to business and experience
Ara Katz is CEO and Founder of Seed Health, Co-Founder of Luca Technologies and serial entrepreneur recognized by a number of lists and publications. Ara and I talk about transitioning from tech to the health and biotech industries, and how she has merged the thinking of both to build an incredible product and experience. In this conversation we discuss: How company distribution is critical in making decisions that align with your values from the get go, the difference between board votership and input, and how a diverse eclectic group of investors helped to balance Seed's direction and vision How Seed has found a different, more meaningful way to engage in the DTC market through the subscription model, and some of the risks of the model. Why our current moment in time this difficult look in the mirror can be productive and helpful and help us feel hopeful as a result. How Seed is bridging the gap between clinical data with the holistic experience data as a feedback loop How company convictions can sometimes differ from traditional metrics Where Seed is going as a company, and how it operates with integrity to its values. Select highlights: "I think there are always challenges for being first or for being early, and you pay for that. But then the ROI has a lot to do with thought leadership, but then of course the experience, both conscious and unconscious of what it means to be in touch with a company or brand the humans that work there, the product itself. There's that gestalt effect where 1+1 is truly 3, that amplifier.... That's where I believe companies go from 10 to the 2nd to 10 to the 6th." "Sustainability is not an offset program. these things have to start more ecosystemically and foundationally... it has to be in the batter, and it can't be your frosting." If you understand biology and work in science and care about the environment, but also in our world of health and microbes, we just dont see a distinction between human and environmental health." "For the most part, as within without... its very strange to offer something to someones health for their human body while also serving it up in a way that completely disregards the health of our greater ecosystem."
53 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
02 Zach Nies on company culture and the purpose of business
Zach Nies is Managing Director of the TechStars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with the Nature Conservancy. He's a serial entrepreneur who was part of the first companies to take a BCorp designated company to public offering and is passionate about how the business, human and technology elements interplay. In this rich conversation, we talk about: Why leaders need to see personal growth as a critical part of their company’s success Why lean methodology is not just about efficiency, but about company culture The difference between a global max and a local max, and why the best entrepreneurs are the kind that have the grit to back track to ensure they're on the right path Why the unicorn and the do-good company is a false dichotomy and breaking that dichotomy is where breakthroughs can happen Why lean and agile are great methods for balancing the paradox of being open to possibilities while being hyper focused on a few given things at any one time How stoping to reflect can actually increase your velocity as a company, and the importance of making the distinction between motion and progress Two dimensions of servant leadership: lead by serving and serve by leading. References and resources: TechStars Sustainability Accelerator in Partnership with the Nature Conservancy This is Lean by Niklas Modig Quotes "How you create the container for progress is different than how you create the container to maximize motion." "If you think about the pressures to grow a business, you can't meet the growth targets by just adding time and often you can't do it by just adding people. There are disproportionate gains from stepping by and going, 'where can we fundamentally improve the business?'" "From a pragmatic standpoint, if you’re building a product, you’re going to build it for the human beings using it. And their adoption is largely based on the psychology of how they view your product and how they view their situation. So to me, psychology was an interesting way to understanding the human side of building a business." "We're prone to black and white thinking and I think there's a black and white dichotomy, which is you're either a unicorn chasing all about shareholder value company or you're a do-gooder and you'll putter around with your business for a while and you'll do something interesting and it'll be good for people. To me, the global max is thinking about: how do we break through that black and white thinking and ask ourselves, 'how can we have both?'" "You have to do the work, but the key is to do the work that leads to the progress, that moves the business forward in the way you want to. And there's such a belief system, especially in startups especially in American corporate environment, which is the only thing that matters is that we're all working at 100%. There's such a false trap around that."
58 minutes | Aug 5, 2020
01 Marshall Sitten on why services are an important glue that holds society together
Marshall Sitten is Senior Vice President, Impact & Insights, Citi Community Investing & Development at Citi; Professor of Service Design at the School of Visual Arts; Co-Founder of the Service Design Network NYC chapter. In our conversation, Marshall and Lauren talk about Service Design as a methodology and the impacts of its application in his projects at Citi Bank. Some highlights include: Marshall's journey in establishing a service design practice at Citi Bank's community development and financial inclusion, and the start of the City of New York's Service Design Studio How service design increased adoption of a free tax preparation service The difference of asking if a project is meeting stated intent vs truly delivering the value vs why is the value not tangible? Why catchy ploys to get customers like freemiums can be problematic The considerations and trade offs of industrializing services.= Why automation is going to really show the true colors of organizations' values How service design can unearth dark patterns References & Resources: NYC SDN community NYC Civic Service Design Studio Introduction to Service Design: Designing the Invisible by Lara Penin Quotes: "Service design emerged as a push back of this idea that you can treat people as linear, rational mechanistic actors and that you can engineer their responses and engineer delivery of value. What we all know is that's nonsense, you cant. What I have learned about service design is that you can capture so many of the intangibles of what takes place when someone uses a service and how it produces value for them in their life, how it helps them solve a problem." "Services are so much of the glue of that holds society together. The ways we exchange value for one another through services explains a lot about who we are and how we rely on one another. To look at it from that perspective is to understand the underlying systems that produce services." "When you work backwards using an intentional process like service design that peels back the layers of all the noise that constitutes a service, and you delve beneath the shiny website and pretty app, you get into the systems and it shows how things are tied together, what purpose they serve, where the money goes, where the power exists, who makes real decisions here and who or what part of an org has veto power over how something functions and who it serves... beyond what is stated."