This is a picture of me as a student – a time where I felt I wasn’t making much of a difference (even though I did, sometimes). Making a cardboard person didn’t change the world.
Finally, I feel like things I do actually do have an impact.
The problem is – I don’t always know which things will have an impact.
Eventually I would like to target my time more sophisticatedly to make the best possible impact on the world. So here are 4 ways I have recently found out that I made an impact, beyond what I’ve been paid to achieve.
Adopt-a-Grandma was a charitable scheme that I set up at university. I had to put it on ice because I didn’t know how to make it sustainable. 4 years on, I still get phone calls from people that want grandparents for their children, and from people that want to set up a similar scheme themselves. I even got a phone call from the BBC who got me to talk on Radio 3 Wiltshire about it a few months ago.
Last week I spoke to a mother in Brighton who is researching how to set up her own Adopt-a-Grandma. I told her what I’d found out from my experience with it, as well as some things I’d found out through working with social enterprises and councils and charities. I also explained different approaches she might be able to take – use the Business Model Generation book, remember that different communities have different needs and you’ll have to adapt what worked for me to your community, talk to your community, etc. She didn’t know what accelerator programmes were, nor seed funding, and she hadn’t connected with any local entrepreneurs networks either. I asked her three times to update me with how she goes – it sounds like she is fantastically positioned to make it work in her area, and I want to support her however I can so she can make it a success.
Speeding through all these ideas in 40 minutes has reaffirmed to me that I actually do have useful experience in what works with setting up a social enterprise. I know about modern practices and approaches. I’ve lived through problems with making business work – not just read about them. I’ve had enough successes to pass on ideas about what can work, and enough positivity and hope to motivate people into taking action when they are afraid.
The mother from Brighton said that she would update me in a month, and I asked her to call me if she got demotivated. If she makes it work with some help from me, I will feel part of her success.
On the phone she said that I seemed fiery and that I looked like someone that was really going places, from the photos she’d seen on my blog. I was chuffed. After years of honing my personal brand, I must be finally giving the impression of success, fun, creativity, and the force of nature that I feel inside.
2) Lucia, Nottingham Trent student
Two years ago I gave a lecture in Nottingham Trent about design and well-being, and I ran a month long project with the second year product design students. They ended up designing happiness apps, schemes connecting young and new mothers as part of Mothercare, and some of them even got round to questioning the meaning of life and what utopia might look like.
Lucia was one of those students, and this year she graduated with a dissertation about whether designers need to be aware of well-being to design well. I heard she got a 1st for it – I really can’t wait to read it. Lucia visited me in London late last year and we discussed her project. I’m not sure how much I helped, but I’m glad that more young designers are considering well-being as an important factor to their design work. I believe that this angle helps designers take a more holistic view, considering the wider context and societal impact of their work – meaning more work with positive social impact will surely be produced.
I took part in a debate in Central Saint Martins in November last year, with a group of second year graphics students on the Design Interaction pathway. The debate was about whether we need specialisms in design, and I explained my point of view from a service design angle. It was the first time the majority of the students had heard about service design.
Three weeks ago I went to their end of year exhibition, where they had produced publications about the debates series. They had split into groups to make the publications, and they all had a different take on what I had to say. Some people were really into service design, and others were fundamentally opposed to the idea that we need specialisms in design. Their responses made me reconsider my point of view…. service design works for me as a titled specialism right now, and somehow I’m still also working as a graphic designer, illustrator, film maker, event curator, etc. I haven’t found the label to be limiting at all, though it might work differently for others.
I didn’t know that they would be dissecting what I’d said. And I certainly didn’t know they would be illustrating the stories I told. I was thrilled that I had been able to provoke critical thought.
A girl came up to me and was very interested in service design. I wasn’t expecting such a positive reaction, but it seems like she’s going to go ahead and try out some service design methods with a project she’s doing with a friend. This experiment for her might not be happening if I hadn’t explained the benefits of the service design approach well enough. I am so glad to inspired action, and I hope that it works out for her.
4) Lauren, Goldsmiths student
Image from Lauren’s website
At last year’s degree show, I went around arrogantly telling people about what they could do next with their project. That was during the brief period that I really wasn’t earning any money, and just networking like crazy. One of my weaknesses is that I can act like a know-it-all sometimes when I feel vulnerable.
Yet… a couple of months ago, I bumped into one of the students that I’d waxed lyrical to in Sainsbury’s Holborn. It turned out that she’d followed up on one of the companies that I’d recommended she should look up, and they had given her some paid work. So, my evening of unsolicited advice did mean that a new graduate got some work.
So all that isn’t too bad, for achievements that are outside of what I get paid to achieve. Who knows, I might have made even more of an impact than this, but I just haven’t found out about it.
It seems that the common themes here are motivating people to try out the sorts of projects that I’ve got some experience with, through connecting them to concepts and people, with a bit of pep talking thrown in.
I’m not very good at the active listening approach that mentors and life coaches commonly use. But sharing connections and ideas, and instilling hope and energy – that I can do for people.
It’s hard to do this in a targeted way, because those in want of advice can pop up anywhere, any time. So I’ll just keep making good work, and keep putting it online and talking to students, and the opportunities should present themselves.