I got to know Anna through Social Innovation Camp. This was where the idea for Mypolice.org was born and since then I’ve followed Anna through her journey of Bethnal Green Ventures, studying an MBA and launching Poetica. I’m thrilled Anna is coming to talk to our Experience Design students as part of their Business Strategy project.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the last year?
Be comfortable with what you don’t know. I’ve learnt a great deal about both the process of building software and the current state of web technologies, but I am the only non-engineer working on Poetica (https://poetica.com). I couldn’t write the code that powers what we’re building myself; but I understand how it works and I can explain the technology to anyone who asks. I am a generalist and pragmatist: I like knowing a little bit about a lot of things and I enjoy learning as much as I need to achieve something or find useful connections between things. It’s liberating to work with talented people who do jobs you can’t: it forces you to completely trust your co-workers and helps you focus on your own role within a team. It also teaches you to ask good questions and to be unafraid of admitting you don’t know something. Being comfortable with the unknown is also important for creating anything new: everything is unknown; it’s your job to discover it.
What’s your burning question of the moment?
What to prioritise next. The hardest thing about building a new company/product/service is deciding what the one most important thing you should be working on right now is. That’s true of both of what you as an individual within a team should be doing and making decisions about what the team as a whole should focus on. That’s always the most burning question. Your time and resources are finite; your options for what to spend those on can feel infinite. There’s noone telling you the answer. Finding ways of prioritising product features, prioritising which users you talk/listen to, prioritising business development opportunities – that’s consistently our biggest challenge.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?
A software developer called Kate Heddleston has been writing a fantastic blog (https://www.kateheddleston.com/blog) about working culture in the technology industry. We talk about the lack of women being a ‘problem’ in science and technology. Heddleston argues that the lack of diversity is actually the canary in the coal mine; it’s not the problem itself. The problem is the working culture that we’re creating that makes not only women and others unwelcome, but hinders innovation and productivity for everyone in organisations. Her writing is thoroughly researched – grounded in academic studies, not reckonings – and offers practical ideas for improving that culture, making it the most helpful, optimistic writing I’ve read about some of the challenges this industry faces. We need to put as much effort into designing our companies as we do into designing our products and services: without the former, the latter will eventually fail.
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