Think & Do Workshops are events sponsored by the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab (AIL), where a diverse group of scholars, industry leaders, students, and "Wild Card" attendees converge to--you guessed it!--think AND do! The topic in question: "Business Models in an All-Mobile Environment." I was invited to this event due to my participation in the USC AIL Incubator program called CRUNCH, where I am a part of a team working on a social entreprenurship project centered on college access and mobile devices. I have been so driven by the social good possibilities of our project that I forgot we have to think about how we can create a sustainable product! Suffice to say that my attendance at this particular Think & Do was very necessary.
What is a Think & Do?
I had never attended a Think & Do Workshop before, but right from the start, I knew I was in for a full day of engagement and networking. According to the AIL website, each Think & Do Workshop is unique, but are always based on the same principles
- Provocative questions promote exploration. Think & Do workshops lead with a key question in order to spark dialogue with and proceed into creative activities to foster and explore broader themes embedded within the question.
- Phenomenal participants are critical. Key industry leaders, academics, customers, users and other stakeholders are invited. The participants are asked to come and be mentally present throughout the entire session, respecting the goal of the day and the resources allocated.
- Play matters. As John Dewey says, “Knowledge is not a matter of having a set of facts; it is not a domain that stands apart from the world. Knowledge is the offspring of doing.” Play is the most important work we perform at a Think & Do workshop. It is through play that we acquire basic knowledge and skills fundamental to our culture.
- Place matters. It has an impact on how participants engage in the Think & Do experience. Think & Do spaces have the flexibility to be transformed and foster a new culture of innovation, imagination and creativity. This physical space extends into the virtual with an additional suite of AIL tools.
Think & Do: "Business Models in an All-Mobile Environment" held on February 21st
The question framing the workshop was "how can we create new business models to take advantage of an emerging all-mobile environment?" Think & Do attendees included Facebook, Walt Disney Studios, Cisco Systems, Blackstone, Fox Broadcasting, DirecTV, and many others---oh, and me...just an ol' graduate student. I was definitely in good (read: amazing) company.
We started the day, bright and early, with the following question:
As we each went around the room and shared our answer, it seemed that many of us were hard pressed to think of anything inherently interesting (i.e. collaborate on files, check the weather, email anywhere). However, five to ten years ago, it would have blown people's minds to know that we could video chat through our phones or be able to work on project-related documents on a device smaller than your hand. One answer I found to be very interesting, though, was one participant's story about having programmed and synchronized their phone to devices in their home; upon getting home, the mobile device would send a signal to the other devices in the home and automatically turn them on, such as the lights in the living room, the television, etc. Technology is amazing!
After introductions (i.e. Thinking), we jumped into Doing. Everyone was placed into teams, given a character profile, and we were to brainstorm how this individual could leverage mobile devices and business in an all-mobile environment. Each character profile provided the character's profession, education history, an example of what their Twitter feed, and hobbies and/or personal thoughts. Our character was a telecom executive from MIT who really enjoyed learning Mandarin and was spending a great deal of time thinking about diverse, growing markets to expand to. Business is definitely not my forte, so I was learning more from watching than doing. At the end of the activity, each team presented their creative ideas, and the day went on.
Jon Taplin, AIL Director, initiated a thought-provoking conversation around the role of smartphones in our lives today:
Throughout the day, Steven Weber, UC Berkeley professor, kept pushing us to think more deeply about the role of mobile devices:
Towards the end of the day, and after much thinking and doing, we participated in a Fishbowl Discussion, which is an activity I had never engaged in before. Here was the setup: Ideally, you would want to form one inner circle and one outer circle. Those in the inner circle are the ones with the permission to speak and engage one another in the inner circle. Those on the outer circle are to listen, and if you have something to say, tap someone out of the inner circle and take your place among the inner circle to keep the conversation going. I was very intrigued with this activity idea, and I hope to implement it in a future workshop! Here were a few gems that came out of the fishbowl discussion:
Overall, I would love to participate in another Think & Do Workshop. Despite my embarrassingly limited knowledge of business, I still learned a lot, met amazing industry leaders, and spent the day truly exercising whatever creative abilities I had. It was a great feeling to be able to think freely and creatively and just see where your mind and passion take you.
For more information on this particular Think & Do, watch this video.