Is innovation and positive social change possible for the homeless?

The world is driven by the pursuit and use of technology-based activities and applications that dictate our working day and leisure time that was unthinkable even 20 years ago. But this rapid social change comes at a price it seems. For all the back slapping and kudos that technological  innovations receive, there is a huge disconnect between rich and poor Australians, with the “haves” and “have-nots”  denoting the digital divide.

The national Homelessness Week which finishes today (7th to 13th August) has prompted commentary regarding a ‘digital divide’ that has deepened significantly and the failure of disadvantaged groups and individuals being able to access the internet and on-line services.  This formed part of the findings from an inclusion index completed by RMIT researchers in partnership with Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology, Telstra and Roy Morgan Research. Three key areas of focus were; online access, affordability and digital ability (Nott 2017).

Although there has been marked improvement in ”digital inclusion” in recent years those on lower incomes with reduced education and employment opportunities, and Indigenous Australians and people with a disability are being left behind (Nott 2017). For the many different welfare agencies that support disadvantaged families and individuals, the strain of other household bills, makes internet access out of reach for many that are struggling financially.

My own experience working in this sector has seen it first hand where a mobile phone is the only means of communication for clients especially for those without secure housing and who are much more transient; this technology still requires access to power sources, money for pre-paid credit and are expensive to replace if stolen or damaged. The digital divide gapes even wider when one is trying to communicate with government departments such as Centrelink and are left on hold on a phone call or forced to log-on.

Thankfully, there are organisations who recognise the need for greater participation by all Australians within the digital space. Not-for-profit Infoxchange has just established a new alliance with support from various organisations including Australia Post, Google and Telstra to address this issue (Nott 2017)

Another positive initiative by Infoxchange was the development of  the Ask Izzy app which connects homeless people throughout Australia with appropriate services and charities. According to new data collected by Ask Izzy, demand for shelter doesn’t cease at sundown with the majority of online requests occurring between 12am and 3am looking for accommodation options. Research conducted by University of Sydney found around 80% of homeless people own a smartphone but lack access to power points to charge their phones (Rooney 2017).

To overcome this problem a fundraising campaign to provide battery recharge cards  has been launched to coincide with Homelessness Week by Ask Izzy. This worthwhile cause is asking the public to donate $15 to buy  Ask Izzy Power Card for those who need to access the more than 350,000 services nationally ranging from food, health advice, warm bedding or a place to sleep  available through the smartphone app (Tann 2017).

While we still have a long to go to solve the multi-layered issues surrounding homelessness, an innovative app like Ask Izzy, is a positive step in reducing the “digital divide”.

References:

Nott, George (2017) Digital divide deepening according to inclusion index,  Computer World, 4 August, 2017                                                                                                                            https://www.computerworld.com.au/article/print/625673/digital-divide-deepening-according-inclusion-index/

Rooney, Kieran (2017) Most people without homes have phones but lack power points, The Observer, 8 August 2017.                                                   https://www.gladstoneobserver.com.au/news/most-people-without-homes-have-smart-phones-but-la/3209877/

Tann, Phil (2017) Ask Izzy lets you give some warmth to the homeless this winter, Ausdroid, 8 August 2017.                                                                                        http://ausdroid.net/2017/08/08/ask-izzy-lets-give-warmth-winter/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The business of innovation – for richer or poorer

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Innovation is another one of those terms that gets tossed around frequently, but do we really take the time to think more deeply about what it means? We all strive to be more  innovative; whether it is to make a difference in the world or come up with a product or a service for a ready-made market. This week I received my regular cosmetics’ brochure and there were at least six or more new beauty products all boasting innovations.  From the small to the big things, innovation can cover a multitude of uses. We are also told there is a difference between being creative and innovative.

 

It is easy to become enraptured by the ‘big guns’ such as Tesla with its driverless electric cars or Virgin with plans for holiday space trips to Mars; and neglect the quiet achievers. Innovation surrounds us everywhere and we probably take many inventions and other activities for granted.

I have just finished watching the final episode of the SBS TV series Michael Mosley: Queen Victoria’s Slums (2017) which involved  families and individuals living the life that their ancestors did as slum dwellers in London’s East End during her reign. The reality of life for the poorest of the poor becomes evident very quickly. One has to admire the ingenuity and survival skills living in the slums required. The final show moved onto the new age following the death of Queen Victoria, and the attempts to introduce welfare reform. Among these was a mass clearance of slums. While some people remained at the bottom of the rung others managed to work their way outside of the slums for a better life. Due to exposure in local newspapers with photographs and stories highlighting the dire circumstances of many individuals living in poverty, there was a more acute awareness among those with the power to change things.

With the rise of trade unions for better conditions and pay for working men, the women’s right to vote movement, and cooperatives which supported families, innovations were coming to the fore as part of a more progressive society. One example, the cooperative store provided a range of quality goods at competitive prices to consumers as well as social support. There were free first-time outings to the countryside away from the squalid city conditions for cooperative members and their children.

While poverty has not been eradicated with many disadvantaged groups still struggling today, the introduction of social security payments and subsidised medical treatment offers safety nets for those who need financial assistance in Australia. Innovative thinking was behind welfare reform but as we face different challenges and changing needs of the population, innovation is required again to avoid entrenched poverty becoming the norm.

 

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1010612291769/michael-mosley-queen-victorias-slum-the-fledgling-welfare-system

 

 

Bringing two worlds together

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Science as art – physical world meets innovation.

Our latest study topic Mining Interfaces is about breaking away from the predictable “silos” approach to dealing with issues and drawing on more than one discipline in a quest to unearth new opportunities and creative ideas. The possibilities are unlimited when one opens themselves up to this way of thinking; there are plenty of examples of combining the arts and science. Leonardo Da Vinci was not only famous for his artistic pursuits but also his ability to bring drawing and science together. His talent for painting iconic images such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper  was matched by a brilliant mind for mathematics and physics.

This got me thinking about how my mind has been moulded to dismiss anything mathematical or what I regard as high-brow science in favour of literature and the arts. Don’t get me wrong I am fascinated by science and admire how academics can make sense of a bunch of numbers and equations but many times it seems to be beyond my comprehension.   Returning to study as a mature age student requires me go places that maybe I haven’t been before. I already have a natural curiosity about the world and its workings, which many fellow journalists and writers possess. Lets face it, I was born a “sticky-beak”! I think my lack of expertise in maths was hindered by poor teaching from a text-book and maybe a touch of laziness.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook what we have stored up in our own brains over our lifetime. I believe the key is to find those individuals or resources that allow one to build on their existing skills and experience.

The onslaught of all information known to humankind has been accelerated by the invention of the internet and it is not realistic to expect anyone to know everything. The ability to “chunk” things down into manageable forms is more important than ever.  The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” devised by Buckminster Fuller, discovered human knowledge doubled nearly every century up to 1900.   Post World War 2 and it was said to be doubling every 25 years.   As the present internet expands and absorbs more information,  IBM claims the “internet of things” will see a doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

In a world crying out for our attention at every moment possible, I like to think that there is always room for creative and innovative ideas and inventions to inspire us and make us better as people with hearts and minds. Our willingness to cross disciplines is part of the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching problem solving

 

Mount Buller July 2017

Don’t be deterred by the size of the problem.

How often do we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem because we try to take on the whole thing in one go.  I am reminded of the analogy how does one eat an elephant; one bite at a time. In week 5 we are being pushed to dive into our tool box to start the process of problem solving which does require some creativity and innovation.

I am learning that solutions are not always flashes of inspiration or even a light bulb moment. Even those that are regarded as geniuses did not arrive at that point without a process beforehand. Application and pure sweat are usually involved as well.

So how does one approach problem solving? Adam Savage of Myth Busters TV fame provides a useful framework in a talk he gave in 2010 in California to tackle this dilemma his way.  I regard myself as being more creative in literature than anything to do with science or maths. But Savage makes the point that we possess existing skills that can be utilised in a different discipline or area of endeavour. His skills as a sculptor and the knowledge he gained from doing his art were applied to a new role as a film producer. As he says even painters need to adopt some problem-solving steps to complete a great work of art.

Savage has come up with some useful steps that myself or others could apply.  To start with ask what is the problem I am solving and most importantly what is the problem. Once you are clear about that, think about the big picture. Am I solving a single problem or is it part of something else? Find out how much time I have to complete the task and what deadline pressures are involved. Time and resources needed tend to go hand-in-hand. And of course what budget is allowed is vital. Location can be another significant problem especially if it involves working in certain climatic conditions. Other considerations can be an awareness of the team’s morale and a realistic audit of my own skills and whether outside help is required.  Taking this step by step approach makes good sense because as a broad check list one can eliminate any issues or barriers before starting the physical work.

I am learning that there are various ways to approach problem solving. There is a current TV ad for Skoda cars which uses the line “you don’t have to be famous to be brilliant”.  Many innovations we take for granted were most likely created by ordinary people who were willing to step up to the mark.   There also needs to be a passion and a willingness to learn as much as you can about the problem you want to solve. Along the way, I am collecting new ideas and concepts, including TRIZ, a 40-principles matrix that offers another approach. What ever problem I encounter, the key is to plan the solution using the various tools available beforehand. I may not be famous but maybe I could aim for brilliance!

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Algorithms for Ideas

Free thinking

Creation requires influence

I am learning fast that if I expect brilliant ideas to invade my mind in one single moment of inspiration without opening up myself to other influences I may be sorely disappointed. The very term algorithms makes me inwardly groan. But thankfully, our university  tutors are taking us by the hand after a period of introspection to learn how to apply simple tools to creativity and innovation. Enter mind-mapping and SCAMPER.

Mind-mapping is one tool I have been exposed to in my working environment but I have suddenly been inspired to use it for other aspects of my life in a positive way such as diet and exercise. From a central point – a key element is used to generate ideas by creating several branches/categories that then create off-shoots for other thoughts and contributions in an uninhibited way. Type mind-mapping into your search engine and be amazed by the artistry and inspired end products. While I can marvel at some complex and beautifully executed pieces of work, it is not necessary to achieve the goal of capturing new ideas. The important part is getting it down on paper and having something tangible to work from. In group work this can be the basis of learning to think in a new way. If people want to add decorative bits that’s OK as long as it can trigger thought processes. I have learned that using curved lines is better than straight lines, but I doubt my financial planner would agree who has created a wonderful flow chart to map out my future finances.

Turning my attention to using SCAMPER as a tool was a new approach. At first one feels it’s a bit childish but it does provide an opportunity to “think outside the square”. Using each letter is a prompt to formulate ideas; S for substitute, C for combine, A for adapt, M for modify, P for put to other uses, E for eliminate and R for reverse.  Sounds too simple? You can use images or words to generate ideas.  There are YouTube online clips on how SCAMPER works on something as humble as a packet of popular chocolate coated multi-coloured sweets.  Maybe this is how product development works? Come up with weird and wonderful ideas to reinvent a product to tempt consumers with something new and innovative for an item they are already using.

Mind-mapping seems to be suited to all different types of problem solving while SCAMPER appears more useful for products. Any way, I’m willing to give it a go if it can give me new insights to being more creative.

 

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants – Isaac Newton

How does one disrupt thought patterns?

This week we are being challenged by the topic Perturbing Thoughts and how to disrupt our well-established mindsets that seem to dictate so much of our everyday lives. Let’s face it, us humans are creatures of habit, whether it be the route we take to work, where we sit in a lecture theatre or the camp site for our  annual  holiday.

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The road ahead may not be clear but it is the road less travelled.

Of course there may be practical reasons for why we adopt such predictable behaviours but when it comes to finding new ways of  creative thinking and being open to innovative actions; there needs to be a disruption to our usual thought patterns. Easier said than done, I hear you say.

Edward De Bono’s research which produced The Six Hats of Thinking strategy offers some insights into our own ways of thinking and how we can adopt a different coloured hat or bring in others to obtain the missing thought processes to come up with workable solutions and ideas. Being a “blue hat” myself which involves being focussed and keeping the process on track means that I may overlook some other processes that can prove useful.

Since starting this voyage of self-discovery, I have been bouncing different thoughts off my husband. He doesn’t consider himself creative in any way and likes to keep busy with manual work. But his thoughts are not contained like mine which unwittingly have been moulded into the “status quo”. It’s not that I’m not creative but rather I park some ideas to the side while I deal with everyday business of life and work.

Driving home the other night, my husband and I, were discussing lateral thinking and adopting a different approach to solving problems. Living in country areas or semi-rural locations, has created a conflict with wildlife and motorists trying to share the same space. Sadly, this often results in road trauma for our native animals and increased risk  to drivers.  Down our country lane lives four giant wombats who cross the road at night and can be rather difficult to see when they step out from the side of the road. We have lost one large  male this week.

My husband made the suggestion that maybe we should paint the wombats with “high-vis” orange paint so motorists could see them better. I was ready to dismiss this silly idea but then I realise without such thoughts how can one proceed to the next step of formulating a solution to such a problem. His other idea was to fit some sort of sonar device to vehicles to deter wildlife. I’m not sure, but I think there is such a thing in Scandinavia to warn off wild deer.  Our exchange also highlighted to me the need for more than one thinking hat to successful problem solving.

Living on 25 acres, also requires some lateral thinking as well. It is not big enough for large-scale farming so I am trying to think in practical and creative ways to use our land. Exposing myself to new ideas and concepts through alternative farming practices which encompass organic approaches and land management, has been a valuable experience because I add to my knowledge base and network with many other people on small acreage.  This will be a long-term joint project with my “outside the box” thinking husband. Hopefully, it may help disrupt my thoughts in a perturbing way!

 

 

 

 

 

What stops me being creative?

 

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Reflecting on creativity

 

As we enter week two of our university unit on Creativity and Innovation, we are being asked to be introspective about the possible limits one places on themselves when it comes to being creative. What stops me may be the same for you, or totally different. Whatever it is that stifles creativity, it is a topic well worth exploring. Without creative thought, the world would be a much poorer place. Why, only today the invention of the bicycle is being hailed 200 years later. This was in response to a problem when drought conditions caused lack of feed for stock including horses and the need for transport. Today’s cycling paraphernalia is a far cry from its humble beginnings when pedals were not included in the original design.

How does this relate to me being creative or not? Coming up with ideas can be the easy part; however converting them into actuality is another story. Allowing one to be creative is to be applauded but it will disappear into the ether if not harnessed. Creativity has to break through the internal and external factors that place barriers in our way. We need to look at what is self-imposed that we can deal with directly and those outside our control may need more work but can be overcome if we “think outside the box”. Already today, I have fallen prey to procrastination. There is church in the morning followed by coffee, then my daily one-hour walk (which does set my creative juices gurgling!), a chat to the young neighbour who has been sick with her three children for the past week, catching up on washing and preparing dinner. I’m just about to go off and check the oven now! Five minutes later I’m back with a drink in hand. I think you get my point, many of us are guilty of being distracted from our creative pursuits.

We can argue that creativity needs to have free rein but that is probably just an excuse for not making space in our lives and our environment for this important process to fulfil its potential. Many successful writers are often quoted saying that you must write something each day, whether that be a 1000 word limit or a chapter each week. Those of us who worked as print journalists understood that a deadline was exactly what it meant. Not much point writing a beautifully crafted story if it never makes it into print!

I often think it sad that the work of  many talented artists is  worth more after their death. While money shouldn’t always be the motivation to create, the recognition of one’s volume of work within their lifetime would be a sign of respect.

I was surprised but John Cleese of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python fame, had some useful insights via a training on-line clip in relation to creating an environment to foster creativity. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from places that inhibit our creativity or ability to problem solve. He was an advocate of “sleeping on a problem” overnight when a solution was not forthcoming. I also agree with this approach. Brain fatigue dulls the senses and the next day can provide fresh perspectives.

As this day draws to a close, I too will sleep on it and hope that my creative senses will be revived. If all else fails, keep a note pad handy by the side of the bed when you feel inspired so not to lose the essence of your thoughts.