How radical ingenuity has helped me transform my design process to meet the needs of people who are often excluded
Quantum computing is almost fully realized, artificial intelligence exists in the real world and is used in practical applications, and varying forms of web 3.0 are beginning to tether our digital world with the analog variant in unprecedented ways.
As technology continues to advance, our world is starting to resemble the futuristic societies depicted in sci-fi movies and comic books that many of us grew up admiring. But for many people, the reality of living in a world that is not yet fully advanced can be a daunting and difficult experience.
Just as the X-Men comics served as an allegory for the Civil Rights movement, for many of us, it feels as though we are the mutants with the “X” gene, struggling to survive in a society that is defined by systemic persecution and inequality.
The tech industry has long been plagued by a lack of diversity and inclusion, leading to the exclusion of marginalized voices and the perpetuation of harmful systems and policies.
This lack of diversity and inclusion is a well-known and ongoing issue that continues to menace the industry. It is a refrain that has been echoed in numerous reports released by tech giants each year, yet remains unresolved. It is a problem that refuses to disappear, a haunting melody that repeats itself endlessly.
As a Black leader in the design and tech industry, I often found my perspective on inclusion drowned out by the needs of upper-middle-class, cis-gendered, white males when it came to product development.
I observed that many in the industry are content or at least complacent with ignoring the symptoms of exclusion, as seen in corporate America, the state of design in advertising, and the view of “innovation” in tech.
I have recently been questioning the validity and usefulness of many of the design principles, technological development approaches, and startup ecosystem strategies that I have previously accepted as fact.
Through this process, I have come to the conclusion that much of what is considered to be the standard framework in these areas is actually designed to benefit those who are already privileged, rather than being based on genuine merit or effectiveness.
Truth is, I am tired of hearing this broken record as well as doing my part to spread the gospel of inclusion to the moral consciousness of a congregation that simply doesn’t give a damn. Or in other words, It feels like a futile effort to keep emphasizing this issue to an indifferent audience.
Despite my jaded disposition, I believe there is hope that we can change the tune. To do so, however, we must go beyond simply acknowledging the symptoms of exclusion and actively work to address its root causes. This will require intentionality and a willingness to confront the difficult issues head-on. Only then can we hope to create a more inclusive and equitable tech industry.
Despite the tech industry’s reputation for fostering innovative thinking, I believe that our solution to the problem of inequity will require something more radical. It will require a level of ingenuity that challenges the status quo and pushes us to think differently about how we build and shape the industry. Only through the use of radical ingenuity can we build an equitable future — one that reflects our society as a whole.
For over a decade, I have assisted clients in building solutions and experiences for their businesses and brands. Though my focus on inclusive design was often welcomed, it was not always embraced.
It is disheartening to see products that could transform the world or make a meaningful difference in underserved communities go unutilized because of someone’s unconscious bias or refusal to meet the needs of historically excluded groups.
It is also frustrating to witness innovative thinking being sought after but suffocated due to outdated approaches, processes, and ego.
The fact is, it’s hard to be innovative from the start. Innovation is often difficult to achieve because it requires breaking away from established ways of thinking and doing things. However, ingenuity, or the ability to think creatively and find novel solutions to problems, can be a gateway to new and innovative ideas.
Last year, I made the decision to dissolve my service-based business and pivot to a product venture, Zanago, a technology company specializing in consumer products that prioritize ethics, inclusivity, and sustainability for the betterment of society.
With this new venture, I have taken all of my successes, failures, and theories and applied them to how my company will execute the products we develop.
This framework is called Radical Ingenuity.
Radical ingenuity is the spark that ignites the flame of transformation.
Radical ingenuity is a type of creative thinking that involves going beyond simply finding solutions to problems, and instead actively seeking to fundamentally change the way things are done in order to bring about positive transformation.
Radical ingenuity requires a willingness to take risks and think outside the box — using unconventional methods and approaches to achieve desired results. This approach to design is crucial for bringing about meaningful and lasting change, especially in industries or systems that are entrenched in tradition and resistant to transformation.
To put it simply, radical ingenuity is the spark that ignites the flame of transformation.
But how do we apply radical ingenuity to product design and tech development?
Radical ingenuity is upheld by five key principles:
- Challenging the status quo: This involves looking beyond traditional ways of thinking and doing things, and seeking out new and innovative approaches.
- Embracing the spectrum: This means being inclusive and considering the needs of people from a range of backgrounds and experiences.
- Considering ethical implications: It is important to consider the potential impacts of our actions and ensure that they are responsible and equitable.
- Enhancing collaboration: Collaboration is key to fostering innovation, and we should create a culture that encourages the sharing of ideas and the exchange of perspectives.
- Taking risks: In order to truly innovate, we must be willing to take risks and embrace the unknown. This means being open to trying new things and being willing to learn from our mistakes.
By following these principles, we can support and enhance radical ingenuity in our work and drive meaningful and lasting change.
Challenge the status quo
One of the key elements of radical ingenuity is the willingness to challenge traditional ways of thinking and doing things. In the world of product design and tech development, this means looking beyond the existing solutions and considering novel approaches that may have previously been overlooked.
Design Thinking is the dominant methodology in design. However, its reliance on “How Might We” statements to translate insights into actionable design solutions often results in superficial solutions that fail to address systemic inequities and do not have a meaningful impact. This is due in part to the pretentious attitudes of the designers using this approach.
Instead of varying “How Might We” statements, designing through the lens of radical ingenuity starts with a singular central question:
What can we do to empower individuals and communities to take control of their own lives and create positive change in their world?
This is quickly followed up with a series of “What if” statements.
As a designer, I have always found “How Might We” statements to be restrictive and unproductive. They do not allow for the natural flow of creativity, which often emerges spontaneously and without premeditation. For example, children playing with toys do not stop to consider “How Might We” build a fort with their parents’ living room pillows; they simply use the pillows to build the fort. Similarly, musicians and songwriters do not stop to consider “How Might We” add a specific phrase to a song; they simply incorporate it into the music as it comes to them.
This type of collaboration is often characterized by the use of “What if” statements, which prioritize spontaneity and encourage experimentation and risk-taking. By embracing this type of thinking, we can create a more innovative and dynamic environment that is more conducive to the development of transformative solutions.
In order to defy the conventional and challenge the status quo, we have to think differently and incorporate an array of perspectives.
Embrace the spectrum
Radical ingenuity also involves a commitment to diversity and inclusion. By bringing together a wide range of perspectives and expertise, we can create products and technologies that are more inclusive and representative of the needs of diverse users.
The idea is to incorporate inclusivity by focusing on the needs of people who are excluded.
Empowerment begins with understanding that all people are motivated by a desire for greater independence and the need to form emotional connections. By recognizing this fundamental human need, we can begin to empower individuals and communities to take control of their own lives and bring about positive change in the world.
Designing technology and experiences through what is called the Persona Spectrum, which is an exploration of a specific human need and how it is shared among individuals from diverse backgrounds. This includes an examination of how this need can vary depending on the context in which it is experienced.
By incorporating a persona spectrum, we can improve the inclusivity of existing solutions, expand seemingly niche solutions to a wider range of people, and ensure that our business is prepared for the future. This is a powerful tool that can help us create products and technologies that are more representative of the diverse needs of people, and ultimately lead to greater success and sustainability.
Consider ethical implications
As we develop new products and technologies, it is essential to consider the ethical implications of their use. This means actively working to mitigate any negative impacts and ensuring that our products and technologies are being used in a responsible and equitable manner.
This can be accomplished by following four steps:
- Anticipation involves considering the potential implications and impacts of an innovation on the business model and risk analysis.
- Reflexivity is the ability to critically review one’s own actions, similar to quality assurance (“QA”) measures or auditing best practices.
- Inclusion and deliberation involve engaging stakeholders, including the public, in the early stages of the innovation process to consider the various implications of the innovation being developed, similar to front-end activities in innovation management.
- Responsiveness is the ability to adapt and change course in response to stakeholder value propositions, similar to Agile Project Management and recent adjustments in project management.
Many technology companies and businesses have a tendency to approach risk in a reactive manner, which can be costly financially and in terms of brand equity. To truly drive meaningful change, it is important to prioritize risk mitigation from the onset of the ideation and design process.
Radical ingenuity helps amplify this perspective by fostering a flexible and forward-thinking mindset, rather than a reactive approach. By adopting this mindset, we can ensure that we are prepared to address potential challenges and risks as they arise, rather than reacting to them after the fact.
Radical ingenuity is often the product of collaboration and the exchange of ideas. By fostering a culture of collaboration and encouraging the sharing of ideas, we can create a more innovative and dynamic environment that is conducive to the development of radical and transformative solutions.
Tech teams that work in a multidisciplinary manner often produce disjointed solutions, higher technical debt, and products that unintentionally exclude certain groups.
While interdisciplinary teams may be a step up from multidisciplinary teams, they can still lead to a siloed approach to problem-solving. This is because these teams often focus solely on their own areas of expertise, rather than considering the broader context and working collaboratively with other disciplines. This can result in solutions that are disjointed and fail to address the complex and interconnected nature of many problems.
To get the most out of teams and drive meaningful innovation, designers and technologists should consider adopting the transdisciplinary approach commonly used in academia.
The transdisciplinary approach goes beyond traditional boundaries by integrating multiple disciplines in order to solve a problem, regardless of their specific areas of expertise. In this approach, individuals from diverse disciplines are able to communicate and collaborate effectively, sharing a common framework for problem-solving.
By transcending the traditional boundaries between disciplines, transdisciplinary teams can bring a wealth of diverse perspectives and expertise to bear on complex challenges, leading to more innovative and transformative solutions.
In the world of technology development, it is important to strike a balance between minimizing risk and embracing innovation. This means taking a proactive approach to risk management, rather than simply reacting to potential threats and challenges.
By being proactive, we can identify and address potential risks before they become major issues, while still being open to taking calculated risks in order to drive innovation and progress. By adopting this approach, we can create a culture that values both stability and creativity, allowing us to achieve the best possible outcomes for our projects and stakeholders.
To truly innovate, we must be willing to take risks and embrace the unknown.
Risks are not to be avoided but rather understood. Avoiding risk and seeking to minimize potential failures can prevent us from making significant advances and improvements in the field. To truly innovate and bring about meaningful and lasting change, we must embrace a culture of experimentation and risk-taking. However, this should be done in a pragmatic manner, with an understanding of the potential costs and benefits of taking such risks.
Radical ingenuity requires a willingness to take risks and embrace the unknown. This means being open to trying new things, even if they may not always succeed.
It is essential to differentiate between taking calculated risks in the development of technology solutions and blindly deploying products that violate the safety and human rights of people. For example, using blockchain technology to transact real-world assets is a risk worth taking, while deploying a technology solution that discriminates against Black borrowers based on historical data is not.
We must be mindful of the potential consequences of our actions and ensure that our risk-taking is grounded in a commitment to ethical principles and the well-being of all individuals.
By embracing a culture of experimentation and risk-taking, we can create a pioneering and dynamic environment that is more conducive to the development of truly transformative solutions.