Lessons from PopTech: Hybridity, Lobsters and Design

With some high-level direction to Think Big, Act Small, Move Fast, Solve Problems along with some detailed tasks, we found ourselves in eclectic teams focused on specific assignments. This PopTech workshop was built right on the edge of Maine’s rocky coast. In the crowd were diverse disciplines.

Our task was to figure out a way to help sustain the declining Lobster Industry and inspire young people in the region to careers that could help or even replace the primary careers for which they are headed.

We were designing – designing aquatic robotics, the educational platform, the PR campaign, the cultural shifts – but what we were really exploring were the unique benefits of mismatched disciplines and approaches to solving challenges. There was chaos, laughter, arguing, epiphanies, dissension and moments of disconnected ‘what ifs’ that resulted in undiscovered notions worth exploring – all in 90 minutes.

My group included a software engineer from Silicon Valley, a Deloitte consultant from Washington, DC and me. In three minutes we were finishing each other’s sentences, encouraging each other to blow up our ideas and apply different experiences to how students can design a robotic arm to harvest samples from the ocean floor. Next to us was a group exploring the buoyancy of the robot itself (a designer, a former Navy Seal, a scientist and a teacher). The claws were out, but the results were astounding.

The lesson wasn’t as much about the robot or the infusion of new technology into the Maine fishing industry as it was about applied hybridity to solutions, and it was eye opening.

I returned to Philadelphia with the realization that we have an opportunity to harness the power of our innate hybridity. We sit in groups and alone to ideate solutions for health consumers and professionals and often we are a mixed bag of the usual suspects, bringing our perspectives from our disciplines – and that is wonderful. But we have to find the courage, acceptance and celebration of stepping outside our roles to find the unexpected.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”

A few notable presentations for me are listed below and you can find all the presentations here.


Using Data to Become More Human

It’s time to change our minds about data. Information Designer Giorgia Lupi says, “We jump to think that data is about algorithms — (but) data is about people, when it matters.” Lupi uses slow data, small data, crafted data and data-gathering as personal documentary to become more, not less,human.


There is Philosophy in Design and Design in Philosophy

Mule Design Co-founder Erika Hall makes the case that the design process is simply determining the space between “is” and “should.” She argues that designers also must be philosophers, and that the question “why?” is their most vital tool.


Your Past is Eternally Present

In media, the pressure of the NOW—publish now, get page views now—can overshadow the great work that has come before. Esquire Editor David Granger discusses how he tackled this challenge as he brings his magazine’s 82-year legacy into “The Eternal Now.”


For All Who Negotiate (and we all negotiate)

Jennifer McCrea, a leader in philanthropy, explores the difference between clients and collaborators. She discusses how she’s learned to put shared values at the center of fundraising; money is the “gas in the car,” not the car, driver or destination. Her question is always, “What are we going to do together?” — not “What are you going to do for me?” or “What am I going to do for you?”


Have You Found Your Work Life Balance Unsustainable?
(I can see your time sheets.)

This is the persistent state of absent presence and cluttered Mind leads to cluttered design. Irene Au explores hybridity in the brain: the battle between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdale, and the Emotional Intelligence growth that lies between the two.

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