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There are Many Stories to Tell

Written by: Tony Lai / Founder

In a world of polarization, discord and failing trust in traditional institutions, as individuals, groups, and societies, we are called on like never before to step up. When we recognize our connectedness, our mutual inter-dependence, we begin to own our stake in the outcome — the shared upside and downside.

This is one of the principles of entrepreneurship — having a stake, and being empowered by it. This is why we trust our team-mates to turn up with passion and self-awareness. This is why we create liberating structures that set each other free, with agency, to work towards a common purpose, a common vision, driven daily by a common mission.

As entrepreneurs and as design thinkers, we learn to get out of our own heads, to get beyond our own biases, our own ‘truths’. We are exhorted to empathize, to discover the stories that others have to tell, and to be able to hold multiple truths, to suspend belief and disbelief so that we do not come with a solution in mind, but seek out surprising insights that go beyond the conventional narratives.

From the financial crash, to Brexit, to Trump, to the climate crisis, to the protests in Hong Kong, to the Epstein ‘suicide’, we are confronted today by polarizing narratives that challenge our ability to make sense of what is really going on. Algorithmic propaganda powered by data aggregators fuel the Cambridge Analyticas and shift the sands of our once seemingly strong foundational narratives, the shared stories that supported our collective social and economic contracts.

How might we design our way back to coherence?

On a balmy late summer’s evening, a few weeks into my first year at Stanford, I was walking past the Memorial Church, breathing in the aromas of trees transplanted from around the world. From the distance, I heard the rhythmic beats emanating from what I later learned was the Stanford Institute for Design — the Walking into that open-house changed my life. Invited to join a team delving into reinventing the museum experience, alongside two dozen graduate students, I embarked upon a Deep Dive into Design Thinking, led by David Kelley and an incredible team of professors.

Almost a decade later, I am revisiting these experiences and skills in the context of social innovation and systems change. Katy Grennier has been leading myself and a group of 16 other social entrepreneurs on an intensive course for those ready to lead around the skillsets, mindsets and toolsets to do all this. The DSIL Course focuses on facilitation, design thinking and innovation leadership. The company Katy cofounded, Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership, has been recognized and engaged by governments, corporations, think tanks, and NGOs (including IDEO, the company David founded) to use all these tools and approaches in the service of innovation in the context of societal problems and systems.

There are many stories to tell, and we are learning that the stories others tell are incredible prompts to learnings about ourselves — and then how we can then take those learnings from me, to we, to community. The strongest insights so often come from strangers. We are all learning to set the stakes, to get deeply personal, to build trust, and to craft clarity around what’s important.

Community is important. Trust is important. The mechanisms of power and empowerment that are embedded in legal systems and technology systems are important.

Storytelling is important.

More stories to come…

Learn more about Tony Lai here

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