Genocide museums – like those in Rwanda, Germany and Washington, DC – are extraordinarily important institutions, ensuring that the atrocities they chronicle are never forgotten. But the museums are not terribly effective at enlisting volunteers in preventing future atrocities.
That’s because the institutions follow a proven, predictable path: introduce visitors to horrific events through facts, artifacts and stories, which leave them smarter but shaken. We discovered a new path: by re-introducing hope and humanity within the museum experience, the institution allows visitors to recover their emotional balance and imagine themselves joining the fight.
The research was part of our UX for Good initiative, in which GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek invite a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join us in resolving a complex social challenge. The initiative produced the Inzovu Curve, a model that has guided modifications in Rwanda and helped designers map the emotional impact of institutions around the world.
Strengthening democratic governance around the world requires shaking up the social norms of international diplomacy. That was our conclusion from work with the U.S. State Department, which enlisted us to develop a new model for international organizations.
For example, democracy governance is messy. But diplomats, the polished representatives of their various countries, are polite, measured and disinclined to reveal the underbelly of how their countries’ democratic institutions actually work.
Another example: the most mature democracies, like the United States, are always cast as the teachers and the younger democracies – no matter how effective – are always cast as the students. That must change, we concluded in our report: “All participants must be given the opportunity to act as teachers and as learners. Sometimes the United States should report to Estonia.”
The project was part of our portfolio of work critically assessing norms of international relations, which includes our work with the U.S. State Department on the concept of venture democracy and with New America on supporting social stability.
The single most essential element of collaboration – of cooperative efforts at any scale – is an inadequately understood idea called transcendent interest. This is what GreenHouse unearthed at the request of the world-renown TED Conferences, which was looking to boost participation in and impact of its annual, global TED Prize.
“I’m not talking about a win-win, where our interests overlap. It’s something that lives up here – above our interests, a grander concern,” Jeff Leitner said in a subsequent address on transcendent interest to the Kellogg Innovation Network. “Let me tell you what it’s not: it’s not a homeowners’ association; it’s not the EU; and it’s not cooperation, in which I help you move your couch upstairs and you give me a beer. That’s a win-win. It’s not simply a sublimation of interests. It’s beyond that.”
GreenHouse has successfully isolated a few of transcendent interest’s key features. For example, transcendent interest requires suspension of individual identities; it renders original interests hollow and it utilizes an untapped element that wasn’t being accessed in previous interactions between the parties.
Institutional leadership requires the assertion – not simply the development – of a vision. GreenHouse principals worked with top officials at NASA’s Langley Research Center, the space agency’s longtime home of R&D, to develop a framework for asserting the agency’s vision to Congress, the private sector and the public.
There is no shortage of vision at NASA. But the agency had become overly reliant on passive strategies, such as waiting for a U.S. president to set the space exploration agenda just like John F. Kennedy did in 1962.
But the social norms around “the vision thing” have changed. Adam Frankel, a presidential speechwriter we tapped for the project, explained:
“When JFK challenged us to go to the Moon, he was essentially challenging NASA,” Frankel said. “Now that would be different. It would be the president calling on NASA and all of the American people who are interested in this work. The ‘we’ would be different. That’s the opportunity.”
Industries are almost impossible to disrupt from the inside. Winners in the current system have way too much to lose, so it’s hard for them to imagine a vastly different environment or to abandon the strategies that made them successful in the first place. But radical disruption is inevitable – even in the relatively staid, predictable business of practicing law.
That was our challenge in Law 2023, a year-long project in which we worked with a national team of top attorneys and legal-industry vendors to imagine the impact of sweeping economic, sociological and technological changes on their field. We guided the group as they reckoned with corporate and academic trend-watchers as well as authors, reporters, and designers who embrace disruption.
What emerged were seven rules we believe the winning law firms will follow in the next decade. For example, the winners will develop offerings that transcend jurisdiction.
“As the pace of globalization quickens, the nature of jurisdiction will change,” our report reads. “It’s not just that corporations and other institutions will need to navigate dozens or hundreds of sets of rules and regulations — they’ll also have a significantly greater need to choose among them. These clients will expect their counsel to keep up.”
“The opportunity: Firms will employ technologies to help them rapidly understand how a transaction might play out across all possible jurisdictions. Then, crucially, they’ll use their human ingenuity to craft offerings that transcend jurisdiction, maximizing clients’ freedom to act across the globe in real time. Top legal minds will help regulatory bodies and intergovernmental organizations figure out how to make sure everyone plays fair in this new arena.”
After releasing the report, we continued the work with two of our collaborators, who are launching the industry’s first real legal R&D effort.
Virtually everyone agrees that children would benefit from mindfulness training – learning how to be calm, attentive and aware of their thoughts and feelings. But virtually nobody knows how to squeeze mindfulness training into already jam-packed school curricula.
That was at the center of a challenge posed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who in 2004 told a crowd in Vancouver, Canada that the time had come to “educate the hearts and not just the minds of children.” A year later, followers launched the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, which has been trying ever since to integrate mindfulness and public education.
We took up the challenge through our initiative UX for Good, which GreenHouse developed with Jason Ulaszek to enlist top user experience designers from around the world in solving social challenges. Interestingly, the answer we found was unrelated to school curricula and related instead to classroom management. Teachers had independently discovered that they could use mindfulness techniques to more effectively manage disruption and disciplinary issues, leading to quieter, happier classrooms. They were more than happy to share these insights with their colleagues.
This insight led to the Center’s development of Heart-Mind Online, a resource launched to facilitate the sharing of mindfulness resources among teachers and parents.
We have also deployed UX for Good to tackle challenges facing genocide memorials and the livelihood of professional musicians in New Orleans, for which the initiative won the user experience design industry’s top award.
Everybody wants school reform. But decade after decade of public debate hasn’t brought us much closer to substantive change. It appears, at least to us, that the problem might be with the debate, itself.
That’s the conclusion we drew from a project called School Is Not School. We drafted and posted online an original, incendiary manifesto, which suggested the role for school ought to be building community. We collected a week’s worth of online comments, then analyzed those comments to see what we could learn from what well-intentioned people thought about the idea.
What we learned is that it’s nearly impossible to divorce the idea of school from human capital development, from preparing individual students for college or career. The social norms related to the purpose of school are pervasive and fixed.
From our report: “Right now, even advocates for greater community involvement in schools tend to view community as a mere external resource that supports schools’ essential activity of adding to students’ skills and knowledge – this human capital development is seen as what the school ‘is.'”
Creativity in big corporations will die without the right social norms to sustain it. With design executives from Starbucks, Herman Miller, Johnson & Johnson, and the BBC, we isolated those norms and the structures that keep them healthy and alive.
Together, we identified four models by which corporations successfully nurture and protect creativity. One, for example, requires the corporation to leverage the natural cycle of reinvention and maximization.
From our report: “There are times when the people who are itching to develop a new product or plan must sit back and come up with tactics to harvest the benefits of what has already been built. Similarly, the folks responsible for the next earnings statement or report to the board need to remember that creative types always need some level of stimulus if they are to exercise their brilliance and bring about the next spring.
“Conversation between the maximizers and the reinventors is be made possible by a common understanding of the organization’s place in the natural cycle.”