Near the end of my fellowship I spent a lot of mornings on phone calls to Germany trying to secure funding and speakers for our first Dverse Media conference this fall in Hamburg. My co-founder and I are on a good track, yet uncertainties remain: Will we be able to secure enough money to fly in all the top-notch speakers we would like? How do we make crystal clear that bringing together business journalists and industry thought leaders to find hands-on ways how to increase inclusiveness in organizations is not a vehicle to corrupt each other, but to learn and experiment with experiences from other industries. I am deeply convinced that if we only included the media industry in this conversation, we would miss out hearing best practices and inspirations.
What keeps me very optimistic: There is a true need for a new initiative around diversity and inclusiveness in German newsrooms such as Dverse Media: Wherever I present my vision for our first conference, journalists listen. And they want to be invited!
Most importantly, however, I feel I have acquired the essential tools here at Stanford, that will help me deal with the remaining uncertainty moving forward — not only for my challenge, but for any new adventure that may come my way once the fellowship ends.
In the months ahead we may have to “scale down to scale up.” I learned this strategy that Silicon Valley startups so successfully apply from d.school co-founder Bob Sutton, a luminary Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) professor and expert in scaling excellence. We may have to build a lot of prototypes that may make you feel uncomfortable to avoid settling for safe solutions; I learned this in “d.leadership,” a signature class taught by Perry Klehban, director of Executive Education at the d.school and his team. And I have learned in this course to empathize with resistance, something I will surely need on my path forward.
We might consider reframing our language to get buy-in from risk-averse managers, as0 I understood in teachings from Baba Shiv, professor for marketing at the GSB and an expert in neuroscience. Shiv showed me how to get the best from not only myself, but from my colleagues and my boss. We might have to work harder on our message to our intended audience, which is what I practiced with J.D. Schramm, an outstanding lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the GSB and an expert on how leaders communicate.
If we want to succeed at organizational change, we need to focus on culture, not just strategy, an important lesson I learned from Sarah Soule, GSB professor and researcher in organizational-level policy change as well as from outstanding strategic consultant and Stanford lecturer Rosanne Siino. We will have to pay attention to the culture we want to build; I acquired the tools for this in the Stanford signature class “Entrepreneurship from the Perspective of Women” taught by the fantastic Fern Mandelbaum. And on our way — and in my personal path into the future — we will always keep listening to our users, the central teaching in human-centered design.
Whenever exploring new ventures, I will know how to design an outcome-focused process using the best practice techniques that I learned from listening to media innovators in the Bay Area such as Corey Ford, founder of Matter VC, Lisa Stone, co-founder of blogher or Burt Herman, founder of Hacks and Hackers. Herman is a JSK Fellow from 2009. I now know that in the future there will be an outstanding network of fellow alums such as Herman and a vast collective knowledge that I will always be able to tap into, such as I experienced during my year here with my outstanding JSK ‘16 fellows who have supported me in so many ways. And there will be Dawn Garcia, the future director of the program, who has sustained me the last ten months already with her wisdom and warmth.
Last but not least, it was here at Stanford, the heart of the future-obsessed valley, where I found peace amid the sometimes overwhelming noise about the fate of our profession, journalism. In conversations with outstanding writers — such as Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson, world-famous authors Tobias Wolff and Michael Lewis as well as New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch — I once and for all found reassurance that despite the challenges facing journalism, and whatever new distribution technologies and platforms, trends and buzzwords may arise, here’s the key message: At the core, what our audience really cares about is excellent and profound storytelling about real humans and their real human needs — something journalists have been best at uncovering long before design thinking existed. I am good to go.