Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Framing Innovation

It happens at nearly every conference I attend.

"Oh, I recognize you! It's the glasses."

The thick black cat's eyes have framed my perspective for the last seven years. Sometimes the opposite will happen. If I am not wearing my glasses, students and even friends have walked right by me without a spark of recognition. These frames have become my brand, if you will. It is how people come to recognize and remember me, at least initially. But a conversation at last night's TED Summit dinner has me looking at my lenses through a new perspective.

Amanda Palmer, who happens to be here in Banff for the TED Summit, writes in her book about how her perspective was changed by shaving her eyebrows, a look that has become part of her signature style:
"I found to my delight, that it had the unintended side effect of causing people to look me in the eye. When you have creatively painted eyebrows, people will assume you're approachable and affable, and talk to you."
This has also been true of my black cat's eye frames dotted with silver stars in the corners. I have been stopped on the street and questioned in the checkout line. They are a ready made conversation starter. And as I am not the best at small talk or even introducing myself to strangers, my glasses help me connect immediately. There was the barista who had to know where I got my frames because they reminded her of a picture of her mother, which was a reason I was drawn to them as well. My mother wore a similar pair in her high school graduation photo. The mother who stopped me to share her love of the singer Lisa Loeb (again, me too). My frames are a way to form immediate connections, to share stories, and move beyond simply getting to know someone by asking what they do for a living. These frames introduce me before I even open my mouth to speak.

And last night at dinner, TED fellow Tunji Lardner helped me think through my lenses from a new perspective.

Over our first course, Mr. Lardner asked about the role of the new TED Innovative Educators within the larger TED community. I described the innovation projects that each of us would spend the next year working on. He asked about how we, those of us sitting around him, framed the idea of innovation. What is innovation? The conversation evolved to discusseing how elements of design and innovation are dependent upon a particular cultural lense. Innovation, real innovation, must then both acknowledge that frame and move beyond it. Our culture frames design, frames innovation. What then is innovation at a global level?
Photo by TED Innovative Education YauJau Ku

So now I'm thinking about how my glasses might also serve as a reminder. The fat black frame is always present in my periphery, serving as a reminder for me to check my perspective. I am always aware of the frame through which I interact with the world. My glasses tangibly remind me that I have a particular perspective and perhaps if I want to think outside that frame, I might need to remove my glasses.

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