February 16, 2021

PG #75: Looking beyond the barriers

Illustration by Wendy Fox

Barriers to a healthy, fair, just, sustainable society are often held in place by deep structures that have little or nothing to do with the defined problem or desired outcome.

We are currently doing some work with some philanthropic organisations in the ACT, working to understand the links between family violence and youth homelessness.  

This work is all about revealing those deep structures so that we can work with them, or even change them.

For example: 

  1. Funding for social services that help people in need tends to be focused on short-term, measurable, crisis services – because crisis is where the problems are most visible, and where people are in the most need – it makes sense!
  2. But this means that community services prioritise crisis-response capacity, and de-prioritise longer-term, holistic, whole-of-family, person-centred approaches to preventing violence.
  3. So holistic needs aren’t met, and family violence crises aren’t averted – just mitigated. 
  4. So crisis demand goes up.
  5. So funding gets focused on crisis services.

Then overlay that with a competitive funding environment: services compete with each other for the money that’s available, which limits coordination, information sharing and cooperation, which means less holistic health responses, which, again, means more crisis demand, which means funding tends to be short term and crisis focused.

The system reinforces itself, and family violence keeps happening, and young people keep ending up homeless and unsupported on the streets of Australia. The surface problem is homelessness, but it’s held in place by all these other deep structures.

We’ve heard people in the sector talk about “standing at the bottom of a cliff catching people as they fall, not preventing them falling off in the first place”. So the sector knows this is happening, but they might not have the language – the visual language – to connect it to everything else that is happening and holding them in place.

‘Systems mapping’ shows this structure, in a shared way, to everyone – so that they can see it. Once everyone agrees on what’s happening, and only then, can we design interventions, or change structures, to address the real needs of society. 

Ask yourself: what are the deep structures that hold in place the ‘problems’ that you are facing as a designer, or a manager, or an executive, or a CEO? What is really happening and why?

–– Dr. Reuben Stanton & the PG Team.

Read the rest of issue #75 here

February 16, 2021

PG #74: The future of work is hybrid

Illustration by Wendy Fox

In 2020, I spent most of my time thinking about the future of work – first, understanding how COVID-19 was forcing us to work differently inside Paper Giant, and then through global research and design project work with Atlassian and other clients. 

The task of researching and working on such a shared global experience (and indeed, a global experiment in remote work) was deeply rewarding, but uncanny. Uncanny in that, unlike many of our projects, we were also experiencing the change ourselves. 

As the year progressed, we worked with other clients and ourselves to understand what about that shift would remain temporary, and what was here to stay.

What we learned is that the vast majority of people prefer working remotely to working from an office. In our data, we found that only 20% of people want to return to a majority office-based experience of work. For that 20%, they primarily want to return to the office because they assume their colleagues will be there too. This raises two questions:

  • What happens when your colleagues aren’t there? 
  • What happens if they’re only there on a different day to you?

There are some significant design challenges and opportunities in making this work, but they’re not impossible to solve. 

The shift – to remote and hybrid working models – has profound implications for our concept of the ‘office’ (let alone cities, housing prices, talent attraction and retention, and career opportunities), but also deep implications for the ways in which we work together and collaborate.

It’s an opportunity for organisations to further differentiate themselves from their competition. The organisations that understand how to work in this environment best will be at a significant advantage. 

Flexible work policies and better systems and processes for supporting remote work were already competitive advantages for attracting staff and talent. With even the most conservative organisations forced to adopt these practices for the first time, organisations will have to continue to improve systems and processes to remain at the forefront of employee experience. They’ll also need to build new listening mechanisms into their organisations so that they can understand and work with the newly diverse set of expectations and needs of their workforce.

Every leadership group is probably thinking about office implications, figuring out which teleconference technology to invest in and so on, but the best leaders will also be doubling down on employee experience design – looking to understand the needs of their workforce in a hybrid context, and improving the equality, trust and innovation potential of their teams through better, more personalised supports.

–– Dr. Chris Marmo & the PG Team.

Read the full issue here

February 8, 2021

PG #73: Looking back to look forward

Illustration by Ian Phillips

The month of January is thought to be named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is depicted as having two faces – one looking forward and one looking back. One eye on the past and one eye on the future.

In January 2021, we could all be forgiven for not wanting to look back, but instead staring straight ahead into the new year and hoping that it brings something better or at least closer to what we feel is normality. But, if we do that, we could lose some of the big changes that we want to keep.

2020 was the year that:

  • Services became more accessible than ever before, with remote access – previously deemed too hard to implement – now being commonplace across healthcare, government, the justice sector, culture and more.
  • Remote work became normalised, opening up opportunities to people who couldn’t reach them before and improving the work/life balance for many others.
  • Social media and technology companies started taking (slightly) more responsibility for the environment they are creating, as their role in society continues to increase.

We realised what services are truly essential and how much more we should value and support the work that teachers, nurses, doctors, scientists, cleaners, delivery drivers, warehouse workers and retail workers do.

Our ability to forget can help us move forward. The ability to put bad things behind us, to contextualise the emotions we feel, to make things ok in our mind, is essential to living day to day.

However, that ability to put things behind us can let us down when it comes to tackling the big systemic issues. The sense of returned normality can make it feel like things are fine. But if you were to ask any historian, climate scientist, or biologist about their outlook for the future, they wouldn’t paint a rosy picture.

So, let’s not sleepwalk into going back to normal as we set out into a new year.

Let’s look back on last year and decide which positive trends to accelerate.

Let’s use our momentum to reverse the negative trends with renewed vigour and dedication.

Let’s make 2021 the turning point towards a better future.

– Iain Phillips and the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #73 Here

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

 

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