How to create change: Lessons from Jared Cohen.

I’ve just got done watching the video embedded below from Jared Cohen, who is the head of Director of Google ideas and someone whose work I’ve been following for a while. There’s another great interview with Jared and Eric Schidt (another of my favourites) at a Foreign Affairs magazine event you can watch too.

Jared Cohen: Don’t Pursue Ideas With Obvious Conclusions from 99% on Vimeo.

In the video, Jared shares his thinking about how ideas are implemented and how change is created through doing that. Specifically, he walks us through how he has begun leading Google Ideas towards reducing the level of extremism in the world today. It seems like a fairly broad topic from the outset, but Jared leads us through his thinking and the eventual actions with some candid stories of his time in the middle east; namely Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

What struck me most about this, is that everything Google are doing in response to this issue is very simple. They’re simply beginning work on it, and by doing so, achieving some very small (but very important) outcomes. They launched Against Violent Extremism, and held the #ave Summit a few weeks ago. I wanted to share my reflections on that, and what I see as a very common pattern emerging in successful initiatives.

1) Aim, Fire, Adjust.

Watch Rexster’s ‘Angry Birds’ video.

In this video, Pete talks about how Angry Birds is a good example of his innovation mantra: Aim, Fire, Adjust. It’s something which is consistent in Jared’s video too. Instigating the #ave network and community has been the first step towards actually doing something to rectify this global issue. The summit could have been a flop, but that wouldn’t matter as much to Google Ideas as just firing and getting out there to see what adjustments they would need to make for the next move.

2) Don’t worry about the numbers. But make it global.

The #ave had only 80 people attend it. Not big numbers, by any stretch. But the 80 people who attended were the exact right people who should have been there. There doesn’t seem to have been any ‘passengers’ in the mix. The Mindful conference which Ross Hill and Jan Stewart ran in May was similar. It also only had 80 people – but that wasn’t the point. The point was to get the right 80 people together to begin investigating what it was to be mindful at the edge of modern world. There have already been a number of amazing take aways from this event.

What you’re doing doesn’t need to be a massive hit right away. It needs to have global relevance, but not necessarily massive numbers. I followed the #ave summit on Twitter.#Mindful was similar in that it was followed by a number of active people from overseas. Most people won’t ever hear about what you’re doing. That’s ok. Just make it amazing for those few people around the world that will follow along.

3) Keep building

I’m really looking forward to watching the crew at Google Ideas over the next few months (and years) as they progress their work. They’ve run the event now, and have a community who has bought into the idea of fixing this issue. They don’t know how yet, but they at have a good mix of people to test things with.

A short time ago, I read the book Solving Tough Problems, by Adam Kahane, which talks about getting small groups of influential people together to help build constructive dialogue around the various scenarios that could occur to the group. It’s a practice which matches well with the ideas behind David Snowden’s Cyenfin Model.

The idea is to bring a group of 7-12 people together who can have a direct impact on the problem area and chat about the things that could occur, and how they could respond to them. From these meetings, which should be built from the #ave attendees who most resonated with intent at the summit, Google could take a raft of great (small) initiatives towards implementation. Once technically implemented, it becomes a case of continuing to aim and adjust until they’re hitting the sweet spot and seeing their most desired scenario play out.

That’s just a few of the ideas I’ve taken from the summit. They seem to be consistent with the approach we’ve taken in the various projects I’ve been working on in the last little while, like the Lantern Mental Health 2.0 Unconference, the Awesome Foundation Sydney and Trampoline.

What do you think?

Moving on.

I’m writing this from my favorite cafe at the moment, The Falconer, in Sydney. I’ve had a terrific night tonight, attending Share Space and geeking out over all it had to offer. It’s the kind of night where the chill in the air is in perfect harmony with the stillness of the back-streets of Surry Hills. It’s the perfect night to write this post, which has been percolating in my head for a few weeks now.

It's a magical evening in Sydney

I’m moving on from Ai-Media. About 3 weeks ago, I was told that the little company that we had managed to build from about 16 people when I got involved to about 75, needed to shrink it’s staff. There was a large cut-back announced, of which I was one. The product we’ve been working on, Ai-Live, is not yet generating the cash required to keep it sustainable and so as a result only staff directly involved in revenue related activities have been kept on. It’s a tough call, but the right one for the company to continue it’s journey towards ending disability.

But this isn’t a sad post! I’m so proud of everything that we’ve achieved at Ai’ in that time and personally am proud of my own contributions towards that. Unfortunately, these things just happen sometimes. I can’t wait to see what the remaining team deliver to all those people who require access in the future and can’t wait to take the valuable lessons I’ve learnt in my time onwards to the next adventure awaiting me.

In the time I’ve been at Ai-Media I’ve had the chance to experience and learn so many things and I’m a better person as a result. I’ve…

– Understood that the process of creating societal change is a long one, but still a worthwhile one to make.
– Better understood how communication amongst people in an organization works and how to amplify it.
– Played around with (and implemented) cloud/SaaS platforms internally with some stunning results.
– Helped grow a Yammer network to the point that it plays an important role in our organization.
– Learnt about how to work with a development team offshore, and how to be a product owner/product manager.
– Got my head around the principles of the Lean Startup methodology and begun understanding what it looks like to implement them in an organization.
– Learnt how to make an impact at an organization by being pleasant, playfully relentless and leading by example.
– Took the lessons of ecosystem management into an organization and actually did it.
– Started to learn how to code in Ruby on Rails and attend my first #railscamp.
– Helped build a continuous integration server and educate our team in the ideas behind Test Driven Development.
– Worked with many wonderful people who have all had a ‘special something’ that is worth sharing in and celebrating. 
– Understood myself better as a person. 
– Got the Sydney chapter of the Awesome Foundation started.
– Got started working on an awesome slow project with my man Bruno called, which i’ll tell you about as soon as I get around to writing the post.
– Picked up very little AUSLAN, German and Spanish (Sorry Vic!).
– …learnt how to make amazing pizza on a Chimenea at #tbpsyd.
– …probably forgotten to mention many other things I’m sure I won’t realize for a while yet.

I’m excited by what the future promises and what it holds for me. I’m really looking forward to taking a slight pause, breathing in for a moment, before finding the next exciting journey and beginning it. Of course, i’ll let you know what that is once I do.

To all of those people I’ve share this time with, especially my darling Rose and the crew from ‘The Strathfield Office’, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve made it the terrific experience it’s been and I can’t wait to share the rest of journey with you.

If you’re interested in catching a coffee and chatting opportunities, drop me an email. I hear The Falconer is pretty good…


I just finished reading Euan’s awesome blog post on patience. It’s a short one, but a great one. Thanks for sharing, Euan, and prompting me to post this.


I’ve been thinking lately that all of the work we do is as great as the time we give it to become awesome. We must learn patient stewardship when working with our organizations and friends. 

I’ve recently felt the power of time in my work. I’ve noticed the people I work with, who you can follow on the @accessinclusion twitter list, are now amongst the people I consider my friends. I’ve noticed that, because of the respect and trust we share, it’s easier to have tough conversations and solve problems that would have seemed too hard a year ago. I’ve noticed that, with the benefit of time, all of the little things that we’ve been doing everyday for the past 18 months have added up into a rich an valuable artifact to use for future plans.

Ross Hill recently wrote in his letterly all about relentlessness, and especially how he’s inspired by people like @Rexster who keep pushing and pushing for great ideas and innovation. I think patience and relentlessness goes hand in hand and love the feeling I get when I feel the pulse of time stretching back through the things I’ve thought and done.

So when you’re next confronted with a problem or delay, thank your lucky stars that you have been given the chance to practice patience and lay a strong foundation for tomorrow’s relentless, grand, plans. It will all happen, if you let time work it’s wonders.


This is a response to Jan Stewart’s excellent post the other day, and stems from many conversations I’ve been lucky enough to share with her over our journey.

Since Mindful I’ve been percolating on a few different lines of thought. You can see some of the things I took away from Mindful in the immediate moments after the event in my post I wrote the week after. Since then, I’ve begun considering some ideas on a deeper level, and one of those is Compassion.

Breakfast coffees

But what is compassion? Why is it important? And so what? To me, compassion is about transcending the way we colloquially define it. Compassion has always been, to me, something that you were able to give people in a very limited way. My definition was probably closer to the idea of ‘passion.’

The way the Dalai Lama, and others, seem to define it has a much broader meaning. They talk about it as moving to a place where you respect and appreciate all human kind as equals. Where you find the space to connect with people on the most basic of all levels – the fact that we are all human on this earth and that we share that experience amongst (almost) 7 Billion people today.

In my own practice during this past month, I’ve learned to respect myself a lot more. I’ve been stretching more and generally looking after my own health. I’ve also really found myself to be more accommodating of others, where as perhaps I would be more negative about a particular situation. I’ve really focused on taking a more open mind into my dealings with others, and trying to focus my inner monologue on meeting them at a human level.

How have you engaged in compassion? Is this is all new to you? Have you engaged in practising compassion in your life?