December 21, 2020

PG #72: Staying with the trouble

Illustration by Bonnie Graham

"The necessity for a form of socialism is based on the observation that the world’s present economic arrangements doom most of the world to misery; that the way of life dictated by these arrangements is both sterile and immoral; and finally, that there is no hope for peace in the world so long as these arrangements obtain."

–– James Baldwin, No Name in the Streets

In January 2020, our CEO Chris Marmo wrote here in this newsletter:

“2020 is the start of a vital decade, and we’re looking forward to taking a rest, rolling up our sleeves, and staying with the trouble.”

I doubt he could have predicted the sheer scale of ‘trouble’ 2020 might bring.

In Australia, 2020 started with bushfires – our fossil fuel dependence and climate change chickens come home to roost. Dangerous smoke blanketed the country; lives and homes and habitat were lost, while our senior government officials literally went on holiday. Little did we know that our cursory attempt at mask-wearing to cope with the air quality was just practice for what was to come.

There is not much for me to say about the pandemic that hasn't been said elsewhere. The pandemic is a thing that was, and is, and will remain for some time. This year I learned to casually throw around phrases like, “well, everything is going well, apart from a global pandemic” into casual conversation. It’s just part of the water we all swim in now.

Chris’ prediction did come true of course, in that 2020 meant plenty of “staying with the trouble.” 

Here are just a few of the 34 projects we completed this year: 

  • We co-designed strategy with Beyond Blue to help them respond effectively to mental health needs during the pandemic
  • We worked with the Supreme Court of Victoria to help them respond to the increase in self-representation at court, and the coming waves of litigation that tend to follow a recession
  • We worked to make it easier to deal with fines in NSW, and easier to apply for the Disability Support pension in Victoria
  • We conducted research for Atlassian that looked at the sheer scale of the impact of the pandemic on knowledge workers
  • We helped a cemeteries trust understand the impact of lockdowns on funerals and grief
  • We worked to make it easier to apply for the Disability Support pension in Victoria
  • And we won a good design award for our work to improve justice system outcomes for people with cognitive disability.

These projects were all conducted in the midst of a year filled with uncertainty – uncertainty in the future of our communities, our society, and our planet. Considering the uncertainty of 2020, what might 2021 bring? 

As I write this there have been no active coronavirus cases in the state of Victoria for 30 days. But even with the virus effectively eliminated (here, if not yet in much of the world), the last thing I would want to see is a return to ‘normality’.

Why? Because 2020 was the start of a vital decade, and now we are a whole year in.  It’s clear that the trouble in our society – the inequities, the injustice, the unfairness, the unsustainability that needed responding to prior to 2020 – are all still with us.

Some issues have been brought starkly to light by the crises of climate change, the global pandemic, and the resultant recession. Some people and organisations are clearly more responsible than others for these problems. But regardless of the causes, I think we can all take this moment to confront the past, fix the present, and shape the future. 

2021 will be about coping, managing, responding to, predicting, and creating change. At Paper Giant, we believe the world can be better, and we hope you can join us in making a better world a reality.

–– Dr. Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #72 here

December 21, 2020

PG #71: Design changes the designer

Illustration by Jess Allison

My year has been characterised by two projects. Both involved co-design within two vastly different, but equally complex contexts: mental health and education. They left me more enamoured than ever with this approach to design, but more importantly, they asked me to look at my world through a different lens. 

Co-design has a few closely connected themes:

  • Facilitators need to understand and acknowledge the power differentials that exist within groups, in order to better facilitate collaboration.
  • Creating and maintaining an inclusive environment is crucial. Every participant must feel valued and be able to participate in a meaningful way. 
  • The safety and care of all participants throughout the co-design process is absolutely paramount. 

Exploring these themes has made me a different designer and it’s not a stretch to say the impact on me has been profound. They will continue to influence and characterise my approach to my work into 2021 and beyond.

I believe that co-design, if understood and implemented correctly, can impact organisations in the same way they’ve impacted me personally.

– Ernez Dhondy & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #69 here

November 12, 2020

PG #70: Strategy in uncertain times

Illustration by Jess Allison

As strategists and designers, we trade in the future. Our entire industry is built around organisations seeing something wrong with their trajectory and looking for help to course-correct. Typically the time spans we work within are reasonably stable, but these days even the near-term is deeply uncertain.

Below are a few suggestions to help organisations plan during what are now known as these unprecedented times.

Rapidly generate future scenarios
Sharpen your strategic direction by imagining plausible but challenging events that might have an impact. 

Begin first by defining the focal issue (this could be your sector, or even just one aspect of your organisation’s work), the timeframe you are planning for, and any relevant past events. From there, list out the driving forces in your sector, then analyse what critical uncertainties you will face within the timespan you’re looking at. Include a diversity of voices from across your business to co-design these scenarios, so you can make sure all the uncertainties are surfaced.

With that info, you can develop three or four plausible scenarios for the future, from which you can map out actions you can take today. These actions should be anti-fragile enough to succeed in all the scenarios. This will help you future-proof the plan you create.

Don’t just write business goals, write customer-oriented ‘impact goals’ 
Imagine the change you want to create in the world for others and use that as a way to design a work plan. 

Bring together leaders from across the business and work together to reframe your business goals. Assess each goal, then flip it into a customer-oriented version of it. For example, a typical business goal might be ‘Increase market share’. Flipped into a customer-oriented impact goal, this could be something like ‘Help future customers gain access to [our service] so that they gain [benefit of the service]’. 

Streamlining your daily, weekly and monthly work with a laser focus on impact will make decision-making in times of stress and uncertainty easier. It will allow you to drop away from the work that drains resources but isn’t creating the impact you want it to.

Operationalise your strategy
Strategy requires real-world actions to bring it to life. With your impact goals written, work with your team members who are on the ground to assign metrics, write detailed actions that will achieve the goal, and a time frame for each one. Stress test these impact goals against the different scenarios you imagined before – what do you need to change so they still work well in the future scenarios?

If you and your business have found any other great ways of tackling planning for the future – or you’d like to chat about the challenges you’re facing – I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to get in touch via LinkedIn!

–– Roya Azadi & the PG team.

Read the rest of issue 70 here

October 13, 2020

PG #68: Competing for talent in the post-Covid world

Illustration by Wendy Fox

We’re all aware that organisations engage in competition with each other at a product and service level – in fact, within industries and markets we’ve designed rules and regulations to ensure competition, with the recognition that it leads to better outcomes for customers and communities. 

We are less aware of another form of competition, including perhaps the fiercest one – the competition for talent. Businesses with switched-on, highly skilled employees who understand how to connect with clients and customers will always have an advantage over the competition. 

While salary is motivating up to a point, leading organisations have an employee value proposition (EVP) that goes further. Crucially, they have historically attracted talent by offering flexible working conditions, including working from home options.

That advantage is now gone. The competition has caught up. With COVID-19, even the most stodgy, traditional companies are allowing employees to work from home. If organisations want to retain their talent advantage, they’re going to have to level up their employee value propositions.

Paper Giant has been thinking about the employee experience for some time now, but I’d be very interested in how your organisation is approaching this – if you have time, please share your thoughts by replying directly to this email or messaging me on LinkedIn.

– Dr Chris Marmo & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #68 here

September 29, 2020

PG #67: Five ways to bring more strategy into your work.

Illustration by Elliot Midson

Ask a room of a hundred strategists what ‘strategy’ means, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

And that’s how it should be: each organisation is going to need a definition that works for them. It’s all about making sure the work people do every day is effective, and actually getting them to where they want to go.

So rather than provide a single definition for what strategy is, I’ve outlined five ways that you can bring strategy into design work, whether it’s for a small business, a government agency, a non-profit or a large corporation.

1. Zoom out
Look at the big picture. Understand the wider factors that are influencing your project now, and that will influence it in the future.

Be genuinely interested in what transpires in the community, industry, and wider business environment in terms of trends, undercurrents and possible futures. Understand the implications of these macro-factors and trends on the client’s business and on the specific project.

2. See both sides
Be both human centred and business focused. Understand the needs of all the parties involved - your client, their customers and the business.

(Read Hannah’s piece below for more on this.)

3. Bridge the gap
Build connection between research insights and delivering value. Give life to research by translating findings into actionable opportunities to support decision-making – give people the instruction manual for your research.

4. Align to the ‘big goals’
Weave the project’s goals with the organisation’s long-term strategic objectives. Make your project recommendations be the obvious thing for the client to prioritise and invest in, by demonstrating how it accelerates their goals.

5. Supply the plan
Hand over your projects with everything required to turn the project into a reality on the other side of that final presentation. Document the staging of activities, the timelines, the stakeholder engagement strategy… don’t leave design work hanging.

I hope looking at strategy from these varied angles can help you think about how go bring it to life in a way that makes sense for you.

— Roya Azadi & the PG team

Read the rest of Issue #66 here

September 15, 2020

PG #66: Vulnerability in the Workplace

Illustration by Bel Giles

I cried a lot while working on my last project.

Sometimes I kept how I was coping to myself. Sometimes I shared it with the people around me. As a project team, we had a lot to process.

In partnership with Beyond Blue, we were exploring how COVID-19 is affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing, especially people who were already experiencing mental health challenges before this all started.

For a project like this one, being able to talk about how I was feeling was incredibly important. Working with experiences like isolation, suicide, or family violence is challenging on the best days – taking it on in the midst of this pandemic was nearly all-consuming. I found my own mental health lurching around wildly at times, and I'm grateful to the people who I was able to talk about it. 

I noticed that when any one of us shared openly about the emotional impact of the stories we were hearing, it became easier for others to do the same. When one of us allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, it created space for more vulnerability. 

I want to be mindful here about how I’m talking about vulnerability. Environments where people are expected to share openly about themselves are almost always harmful. What makes a challenging day can vary significantly from person to person, from too many Zoom meetings to the re-triggering of a trauma, but the window of ‘acceptable’ responses to the seemingly innocuous “How are you today” is often quite narrow in workplace contexts. The question becomes a trap: come up with a lie on the spot, or be judged for oversharing.

That being said, I can’t imagine how the time with our community of co-design participants would have worked out if we had all tried to remain impartial and unaffected. Embracing vulnerability – safely – as part of how we worked together allowed us to be deeply moved by the stories we were hearing, and for these stories to open up new possible futures to explore together. But, maybe more importantly, a shared sense of vulnerability made it easier to take care of each other – to anticipate concerns and anxieties, respond to difficult moments, and make sure everyone was getting the time they needed to process everything.

I am grateful to have spent the last few months with the people that I did. To the folks at Paper Giant, at Beyond Blue, and our co-design participants – thank you for being gentle with me.

— Ryley Lawson & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #66 here

September 1, 2020

PG#65: High Rents Are Killing The Arts

Illustration by Wendy Fox

Australia is in the grips of an affordable housing crisis. Melbourne and Sydney have some of the most expensive housing in the world, behind only Vancouver and Hong Kong in the global rankings, and most of our other cities are classified as “severely unaffordable”. One of the great tragedies of increasing house prices is that it breaks apart communities. I used to live in a cluster within walking distance of a bunch of different friends. As rent has increased and our incomes haven’t, we’ve all moved radially outwards, further and further away from each other.

This disassembling of communities is pretty garbage for everyone, but it’s absolutely deadly for the arts. As economist Chris Dillow writes:

“Art and culture, as much as industry, benefits from agglomeration effects – the ability of creative people to live near each other. In the 60s and 70s countless musicians moved into rundown New York apartments where they could live cheaply whilst they honed their craft and waited for their break.”

As far as I can tell, you get good art by shoving a bunch of musicians or painters or writers into cheap flats in the same area until they form a scene and start collaborating and making incredible stuff. I mean, some people can make good art alone in a mountain cabin, but mostly that’s not how the movements that have pushed us forward have happened.

Art also requires a certain amount of free time and energy – if would-be artists are working triple shifts just to make rent, they’ll be rendered too exhausted and brain-shrivelled to do anything creative.

High commercial rent is also an issue, because artists need venues to perform, and venues need to pay rent. When rent is high, only the venues that appeal to the widest possible audience can survive. No strange little places that appeal only to niche audiences. You absolutely cannot afford to take a risk. Eventually all live music becomes cover bands, because cover bands draw a reliable crowd.

The Ramones, Blondie, The Misfits, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and a hundred other bands came out of the scene around New York’s CBGB club. In 2006, the CBGB’s landlord sued the proprietors for $90,000 in alleged back rent, on top of the $19,000 a month they were already paying. They couldn’t come up with the money and were forced to close.

The arts sector in Australia has been absolutely devastated by COVID-19 shutdowns and subsequent abandonment by the federal government. Alongside direct support, a Covid recovery plan that tackled affordable housing would help arts and culture to revive and flourish – and we’d all experience the benefits.

— Mckinley Valentine & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #65 here

August 18, 2020

PG #64: “Be Ruthless With Systems, Be Kind With People”

Illustration By Bonnie Graham

"Be ruthless with systems, be kind with people"

Michael Brooks, 1983–2020

I’ve been really struggling this week, knowing what is going on here in Melbourne, and knowing bits and pieces of what is going on in the rest of the world. In a week of bad news, in a year of bad news, in a decade of bad news, it’s really hard to think of what to write about.

The other reason I’m struggling with the newsletter this week is that I’m worried I’ve got a bit repetitive in general: my schtick seems to be “we already know the solution, dummies!” Recently I’ve written or been speaking things like:

We already know the solution to poverty: give people money.
We already know the solution to homelessness: give people homes.
We already know the solution to climate change: a green new deal.
We already know the solution to our economic woes: doughnut economics (plus a green new deal, for good measure).

And I’ve said it before many times: ‘innovation’ doesn’t always mean doing something new; sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is apply the obvious solution that is right in front of you. This isn’t always easy of course. Sometimes that solution needs to be revealed in a compelling way before you can see it.


To take my somewhat trite ‘We already know the solution to poverty: give people money’ as an example here: the current pandemic has made it abundantly clear that a) poverty is no moral failing, it’s the inevitable outcome of an unjust and fragile system, and b) governments can mobilise resources and change economic systems extremely quickly to stop people falling into poverty, if they want to.

By one estimate, the raise in the ‘jobseeker’ rate in Australia lifted more people out of poverty (~425,000) than any other government action in our history.

So: the crisis has revealed that we can act quickly and compassionately (in this case to a sudden influx of unemployment) if we choose. What else can we react this quickly to if we treat it like it’s not an individual moral failing, but a systemic problem? How about homelessness? How about climate change?

Of course, what real innovation takes is political will to change the status quo, and this is usually the most difficult step. First you have to treat a crisis like the crisis that it is.

— Dr. Reuben Stanton and the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #64 here.

August 11, 2020

PG#63: Building Australia’s Mental Health Literacy

Over the past eight weeks, I have been working with Beyond Blue to understand people’s diverse experiences of mental health and wellbeing. I have had the privilege of hearing stories from ordinary people all across our communities. As a result, I have a deeper appreciation for what many people endure, not just because of their personal situations, but because it is so difficult to access mental health care in Australia. I have strong feelings of guilt for not having had this level of understanding earlier.

Equally, I’m frustrated that the task of changing the way our society approaches mental health has fallen solely to people with mental health challenges, and the people and organisations (like Beyond Blue) who support them.

I believe that mental health and wellbeing is a subject we should all be actively engaged in.

This could start with each of us educating ourselves. We could do a better job of understanding what it means to have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other conditions, and what it means to have mental health challenges that do not come with a neat label. We could do a better job of identifying when someone may need our support and not just leave it to clinicians and medical professionals. We could learn about ourselves – each of us has personal indicators that tell us when our mental health is taking a dip. It is worth learning what our indicators are, and having strategies already in place for when they show up.

We have a responsibility to our friends, families, colleagues and communities to build our mental health literacy. We have a responsibility to ourselves.

Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Servicehas been set up for anyone dealing with pandemic anxiety, lockdown isolation, financial worries, added stress on relationships, and so on.

They have web resources, an online chat service and a dedicated counselling phone line, all separate from the regular Beyond Blue support service, so please don’t feel like your problems aren’t big enough or you’d be ‘wasting’ their resources – that’s what it’s there for.

— Ernez Dhondy and The PG Team.

Read the rest of issue #63 here

August 3, 2020

PG# 62: Asking The Right Questions

Illustration by Wendy Fox

At Paper Giant, we’ve built a business around helping people find answers to their most important questions.

Some of our work is helping clients understand what the most important questions actually are. The rest is finding answers, using the tools of design, research, capability building and evaluation.  

A common question looks like this:

What should we [do, improve, make, stop], given [x, y and/or z]?

x, y and z might be the organisational structure, the markets or domain they’re working within, or their target user or customer group.

Many of our clients expect the answer to be:

Do this.

They want a very neat and well-defined answer. Often, we’re able to give it to them. However, in particular contexts, or at particular moments, there is so much uncertainty and things are changing so rapidly that a neat answer like do this isn’t possible.

In times or contexts of greater uncertainty, the shape of that original question isn’t helpful. A more useful question type is:

How might [x, y and/or z] influence our decision on what to [do, improve, make or stop]?

It’s a subtle difference, but asking this version rather than the first gives you much richer and more useful answers. Rather than telling you what to do right now – an answer that’s tied to the particular context and moment – you end up with an understanding of how to make decisions over time, even as circumstances shift.

Given the amount of change and uncertainty at the moment, we find ourselves working with far more how might questions than what questions. Here are some examples:

While we do give our clients specific and actionable what recommendations, focusing on the how allows us to create models and frameworks that give our clients longer term strategic tools, as well as the answers they need in the short-term.

–– Dr. Chris Marmo & The PG Team

Read the rest of issue #62 here

 

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Email: hello@papergiant.net
Call: +61 (03) 9112 0514

 

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