Thursday, February 19, 2009

Think Small

I agree with the previous "PoST-ers" that Sep Kamvar's work is touching and engaging.

We began with 5 minutes to brainstorm how to think smaller for our POD projects- and contrasted this with our typical call to think bigger. Like Maalika, I found this a refreshing (and helpful!) exercise.

Kamvar began by telling us. "I am not going to walk through a How-To on how to think small. There is really not a whole lot to it. Just take whatever you are thinking about/doing and think a little smaller." Instead he told us stories about his work, and his own experiences "thinking small."

Within these stories he highlighted his four lessons:

1. Think small to think new
2. Think small to think deeply
3. Be small to think small
4. Often, the biggest rewards are the small ones

In these lessons, Kamvar reminded us to approach our work with humility. (Similar perhaps to Jessica Flannery's advice.) He reminded us that most people don’t care about your work when you think small. They tell you to think bigger-and don't pay attention until you do. It requires confidence and humbleness to stay small- but this offers its own rewards. When no one is paying attention to you, you can explore new ideas, even break some rules without notice. Through this flexibility and time to explore, you can potentially be more innovative. It also offers an opportunity to listen and learn more deeply. And, starting small (w/o a lot of operational expenses) provides its own flexibility to take risks, respond to opportunities, etc. Finally, he noted that appreciating the small rewards in life is perhaps most important.

Kamvar also offered tips on how to disseminate stories and ideas:

4 lessons
1. Tailor the medium to the mission
2. Be playful
3. Bring work to where people are
(Corollary 1: Make People feel is viscerally (feel it emotionally)
Corollary 2: Don’t be afraid to work outside the system)
4. Have a point

Especially when considering difficult social issues, it seems important to engage on all four of these. He showed us Banksy's street art as examples. Banksy effectively (and playfully) addresses serious, often depressing issues, with a humor and playfulness, that does not diminish the seriousness of the issues. It works.

Since the presentation, I have been thinking a bit about the power of information and story telling through aggregate data, combined with individual stories - and, the possibility to invite people who are often not invited to the table to tell their stories. Kamvar is working on a new, more accessible platform for storytelling for just this reason. I am very much looking forward to seeing his future work in this area.

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