Language is the Mother of Innovation #67 #cong17

By Tracy Keogh.

I didn’t do a piece for Congregation last year because I didn’t have the words. When you’re building, when you’re passionate, when it’s going on instinct, it is just hard to have the words. It happens for me with gender equality. I remember when I found the language of equality and the feeling of relief with words like unconscious bias allowing me to properly express the frustration I felt when I came across actions I just knew were unfair, and the other person couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong.

I want to make the case for placeholder words, particularly in communities that want innovation to penetrate their culture. That is, communities, that want to empower individuals to make change in their environment. I also want to suggest a framework that will give people the tools to create and use those new words.

Towns are the physical representation of the communities in that area. Like the Broken Windows Theory, where small acts of vandalism can affect crime rates, the future of what our towns look like with hugely impact their communities. It is critical, where rapidly changing business models are impacting towns, that we equip those communities with the tools to be resilient and adapt to change.

By way of an example: I spoke to a lady (lets call her Jane) who owned a really quirky shoe shop in a city. Like most shoe shops, it is tough, labour heavy work. Last year, 80% of her sales came from abroad. She doesn’t need the high street store, so she will move out. What will the community do to replace it? In this case, a coworking space, that reflects her new challenges of e-commerce, loneliness of an online business etc is a perfect replacement.

Do you remember those tests in school? They tested our English. The tests had placeholders, ‘Jackie goes ____ the store to ____ an apple’ and you had to find, understand and input the words in order to complete a coherent sentence so that it, and you, could be understood. The word coworking is currently going in those placeholders. It is being used as a way for community leaders to express that they want to succeed and thrive, but they don’t mean coworking, in the traditional sense, per say.

At a recent Future of Towns event, one speaker said that in the UK they worry when vacancy rates hit over 14%. Some of our first floor properties have 80% vacancy rates. A coworking space might move the needle a couple of percent, but what after that?

Words power innovation. ‘Coworking’ is credited to Brad Neuber and only took wind around 2005. We need more words, we need to create and curate the new language of our towns.

We need to understand what our communities mean, beyond what they say. There’s a danger in using cookie cutter models everywhere. Not just because it does not work, but because it will negatively affect the people behind it, our community leaders who are willing to dream and do.

I’ve always had a placeholder word for ideas. It’s Iggy. I use Iggy when I know there’s a solution to a problem but I just can’t verbalise it yet. Want to try something? Let’s call it Iggy. Instead of saying ‘We want Jane to stay, thrive and use that space as a shoe shop’ we say ‘We want Jane to stay, thrive and use that space as an *Iggy*.

Think of Iggy as your shield. You say the word, and you get the pack (and all of the responsibility that comes with that). Your Iggy pack will need:

1 A coalition of the willing who want to do *something*: Simply a bunch of people from a diverse range of backgrounds that you call, update and bounce ideas off. No one gets preference voting rights, user insights trump all.

2 A budget: You’ll need a budget that you do not need to explain/justify. You can do a lot with 500.

3 Research Pack: Examples of other towns, and some examples of how some spaces like coworking spaces or mens sheds began to turn up in our towns, what worked and what didn’t.

The Process:

Acquire insights: Bring in all of your basic lean canvas/business model canvas/design thinking knowledge and learn to talk to your community in a different way. Who are they? What do they do? What are their dreams, hopes and challenges? With this you create your personas. EG in Jane’s case, you may find loneliness as a key challenge for her since she moved home to work online.

Build, quickly: Paint stuff, break stuff, build stuff, rip down stuff, just do. You build because that’s how you test, but you also build because that’s a core part in owning your creation. EG in Jane’s case, buy a desk from IKEA, ask her to spend a few days working from there, with you.

Iterate to completion and name it: Keep understanding the user, and build. EG in Jane’s case name it coworking and build it out past Jane.

Move next door and do it again but bigger, better, quicker :)

Words that fuel ambiguity and creativity will be instrumental in adapting to change. Spaces, when created, should be scaled into areas they apply to only. True creativity and innovation isn’t in the cowkorking spaces. It’s in creating the next word. A mens shed, a coworking space, a donut shop.

I’m over here, if you’re up for testing!

Hat Tip to Des, for spending quite some time helping me to find the words.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie