Elegant solutions and human behaviour

You never know when inspiration is coming your way, till it hits you.

I was cooking while a colleague of mine was watching Numbers, a quiet old TV Show (it started in 2005). “What’s that?” I asked. “The guy solves crime cases using math and algorithms” she said.

I stopped for a second. It definitely sounded like the type of nerd stuff that I could totally fall in love with.

I came closer to the laptop to check it out, just in time to hear one of the characters come up with a groundbreaking description of one of the most frustrating issues I experience working in Social Good with a pragmatic and design-driven mindset:

“Charles, you are a mathematician, you’re always looking for the elegant solution.

Human behaviour is rarely, if ever, elegant. The universe is full of these odd bumps and twists. You know, perhaps you need to make your equation less elegant, more complicated; less precise, more descriptive. It’s not going to be as pretty, but it might work a little bit better.

Charlie, when you’re working on human problems, there’s going to be pain and disappointment. You gotta ask yourself, is it worth it?

Hooked.

Switch “mathematician” with “designer” and we’re all set.

As a Fine Arts student and a creative, I know the power of beauty. I live by it. Not the superficial beauty — the more pure and profound one, made of sense of proportion, vibrance, elegance.

I know its ability to inspire, to move, to cut your breath, to make you see things you couldn’t imagine before, to touch your very centre and lit it up, to give form to ideas. Beauty, in all its forms, has always moved humanity, creating the space and time to honour and celebrate what ultimately inspire and elevate our spirit. It’s the hardest thing to describe, yet the one we try to express the most.

But, as Plato would put it, beauty is a characteristics of forms. And forms are the imperfect result of pure ideas manifesting into reality.

That Number’s quote resonates so much because I often find myself stuck with trying to make a solution be beautiful (sometimes even confusing beautiful with perfect), instead of fully focusing on delivering a solution that is, quoting Numbers again, “not going to be as pretty, but (that) might work a little bit better”.

I find important to be moved by beauty, to follow our inner call to shape a better reality around us, by making things that elevate us and improve our lives. But it has to be balanced by effectiveness.

But to make this work, we have to solve the fact that often people see “beautiful” as opposite to “ethical” or “right“.

Somehow, we have become stuck with the idea that “good” must be “humble“, “poor“, ever “rough“. Maybe it’s a projection of the Catholic idea of humility? Let’s think about any communication content on Social Good: whenever it’s “too beautiful” or “too perfect”, there’s always someone turning up his nose.

I think the time has come to solve this dispute.

If we want solutions to work well, of course we should focus on making them be effective… first.

But if we want solutions that engage others, that inspire to act differently,that trigger subtle but powerful educational mechanisms, that reshape unhealthy behaviours — then beauty and elegance must be part of the equation, together with effectiveness.

We naturally reject anything that make us feel uncomfortable, even when they are the best for us. And we love things that make us feel comfortable, even if we know they are bad for us.

What I’d love to see more and more in Social Good is solutions that keep the eye on being effective and impactful, but that also work as triggers to change things on a much wider and much deeper level.

Solutions that are not just right and effective, but also inspiring.

As Buckminster Fuller perfectly stated:

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

 

 

Unire Startup, impatto sociale e Impact Investing: quando, come, e perchè

Sono già passati tre mesi da quando sono rientrata dal Cile, dove ho vissuto per poco meno di un anno e mezzo.

Grazie al programma Start-Up Chile, ho ricevuto circa 40.000 $ a fondo perduto e un visto di un anno per trasferirmi a Santiago e sviluppare la mia impresa a vocazione sociale, Flythegap (le application sono attualmente aperte, qui il link).

Cosa chiede il governo Cileno in cambio del finanziamento e del visto? Semplice, “to give back to society”: sviluppare progetti ad impatto sociale sul territorio.

L’impatto culturale del Cile, però, non si è fatto sentire solo a livello di lingua, tradizioni e mentalità. ll mio inconscio mindset italo-europeo sul tema “impresa sociale” è stato infatti messo immediatamente alla prova.

Qui in Europa il concetto di “social enterprise” continua ad essere oggetto di più o meno esplicite dispute, che vanno da cosa si intenda esattamente per “impresa sociale”, ai modelli di sostenibilità, al chiarimento di quali siano le differenza tra un’impresa sociale e una startup a vocazione sociale, al fatto che la Sharing Economy è semplicemente tutto un altro tema — e via discorrendo.

In Cile è, da questo punto di vista, molto più semplice: hai una idea di startup? Puoi fondarla in 24h, con circa 20$, online. Crea un impatto sociale? Si? Bene. Quale? È verificato? Fine.

Dal OuiShare Fest, al Social Good Summit, al Festival Internacional de Innovación Social che ho avuto l’onore di conoscere da dietro le quinte, le possibilità di entrare in contatto con queste tematiche sono ormai moltissime. Tutt’ora, però, rimangono confuse e frammentate.

Rientrando in Italia, non riuscivo a smettere di pormi sempre le stesse domande: cosa troverò, al di là delle parole sui media? E cosa si potrà fare in merito?

Atterrata a Milano, ho avuto quello che viene definito un “reverse cultural shock”: ho trovato una Italia post-Expo 2015 e pre-elezioni civiche 2016, in piena balia di quella stessa frammentazione di linguaggi, approcci e obiettivi a cui non ero più abituata. L’ulteriore situazione dell’Europa, disorientante e difficilissima, non aiuta a tenere delle linee guida chiare, soprattutto di fronte alla crisi rifugiati che fa impallidire la maggior parte delle altre tematiche fino ad allora definite cruciali.

Da una parte, non potevo non capire la confusione, il disorientamento, la difficoltà di persone e organizzazioni nel decidere cosa si potesse fare, come, e con chi, di fronte a tutto questo.

Però per natura, e forse anche per influenza pallavolistica, tendo a reagire alle situazioni invece di subirle, individuando gli alleati e coordinando una azione di risposta. Anche in assenza di ginocchiere, palla e rete.

So che ci sono molti attori sul territorio che, da più o meno anni, si concentrano sullo studiare e mettere in atto piani di sviluppo del territorio, con le persone al centro e la responsabilità sociale come obiettivo di innovazione. Questi attori sono diversi, parlano lingue diverse e hanno obiettivi su piani diversi, ma credo che il panorama attuale impedisca di continuare a credere che il “fare per conto proprio” sia una opzione valida.

È facile credere che i “grandi passi” li debba prendere qualcuno che abbia l’autorità per farlo — alla fine, il sistema a cui apparteniamo ci ha storicamente insegnato che funziona così. La realtà però, oggi, è un’altra. Non esistono più grandi atti di coraggio di singoli, ma solo passi che si può scegliere o meno di fare insieme.

Ho deciso quindi di fare il mio passo, e lanciare un appello per aprire un confronto con quelle persone, organizzazioni ed istituzioni interessate a ripensare l’interazione tra questi tre grandi temi: imprenditorialità, impatto sociale e impact investing per lo sviluppo del territorio.

Questo mio appello ha ricevuto risposte pressoché immediate — ancora una volta segno del fatto che di voglia di fare ce n’è molta, e che è giunto il momento di indirizzarla.

Hanno risposto Fabriq, l’incubatore di imprese sociali di Milano, l’assessorato di Politiche Sociali del Comune, ItaliaCamp, il Politecnico di Milano e molti altri, con cui ci troveremo il 28 Gennaio presso la Società Umanitaria, dalle 18.30.

Insieme a me interveranno anche Cristina Tajani (Assessore Politiche per il Lavoro, Sviluppo Economico, Università e Ricerca), Mario Calderini (Politecnico di Milano), Marco Nannini (FabriQ), Francesco Pozzobon (ItaliaCamp) e Roberto Randazzo (R & P Legal). Qui c’è il link per registrarsi all’evento.

Sicuramente questo incontro vede ciascun attore partecipare per ragioni diverse.

La mia speranza e la mia volontà? Fare di questa serata una opportunità per confrontarci, per riconoscere la compatibilità degli obiettivi di ciascuno e individuare passi concreti da realizzare affinché si esca dalla dimensione “dialogo” e si possa entrare, coordinati, in azione.

“We must do it today, because today is when matters.”
(Aaron Swartz)

On why we’ve invited the Government to join our hackathon

On June 2015 a group of entrepreneurs from Italy, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Poland, Singapore and Ecuador decided to organise a hackathon that would gather designers, developers, activists, entrepreneurs, universities and the government, to work together on projects focused on social impact and smart city.

If someone decided to tell the story of ImpactON, it would start with a paragraph like this.

The hackathon that is going to happen in Santiago this weekend, the 21-22-23 of August, is just the final phase of a process that we’ve designed together with a bunch of entrepreneurs with whom we share three key elements: we all happen to currently live in Santiago (Chile), we all are passionate about combining doing business with doing good, and especially we all like to do things differently.

Why differently? What’s different in organising a hackathon? And what’s an hackathon anyway?

These are all valid questions. Let’s answer them all. But backwards.

1. What’s a hackathon?

“The word “hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon“, where “hack” is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer crime”.

And also, still quoting Wikipedia: “a hackathon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software and hardware development collaborate intensively on software projects. (…) The term “hackathon” has also been used as a term for more general “focused innovation efforts” that includes non-coders and community members.”

Generally hackathons have a specific focus or main subjects to work on, which in the case of ImpactON are social impact and smart city, with the related six sub-challenges.

2. What’s different in organising a hackathon? (AKA: why organising a hackathon at all?)

Once you decide that you want to foster creativity and collaboration amongst players that usually don’t work together or close to each other, you’re basically stating that in your humble opinion they should. 

And this is totally our case.

We believe that the public and the private sector, the academia and the citizenship should gather to co-create solutions to real problems, the ones that everybody cares about and that everyone would like to solve but that nobody can actually sort out without engaging with the other players.

ImpactON wants to show that this collaboration is possible, and hackathons have the perfect model: they forces you to get into action. A hackathon is not a conference, it doesn’t have just talks on interesting and inspiring content — it actually has desks where you have to sit, and make things happen for real. It has challenges to solve, there’s a competition, there are prizes.

3. Why differently?

Because we care.

Doing things differently means that you care about something, that you know the current patterns and dynamics around it, and that you’ve decided to question them to make things better.

And this requires intelligence, and courage. Intelligence for getting (sometimes uncomfortable) true answers about what needs to be different, and the courage to act accordingly.

First uncomfortable truth: most of the hackathons don’t really generate anything more than a bunch of apps/softwares that might create impact if they’d ever get combined with a business/sustainability model.

Second uncomfortable truth: we think that coders alone are key but just not enough to solve problems.

Impact, mode: ON. 

So we created ImpactON.

ImpactON has been inspired by models like the Inzovu Curve by UX for Good, and Bukminster Fuller‘s theories of change based on design principles.

To foster creativity, we’ve designed a process that would alternate ideation and reflection.
To inspire action, we’ve organised talks and workshops supported by online co-creation.
And to consolidate solutions, we’ve set up a three-day hackathon with mentors and partners.

ImpactON is made to include non-coders, in order to bring into the game also designers, students, professors, entrepreneurs and the government.

After two design thinking workshops, we are now a few days away from the inauguration and the three-day hackathon where we are going to work on challenges that have been co-designed with 6 different government’s units and other stakeholders.

Why all this? Why involving the government and not just students, entrpreneurs and developers?

To us, is simple: because to solve everybody’s problems, we want everybody’s voice. And because every brilliant idea needs accountability and resources to grow.

Organising ImpactON has been a priceless experience already, and after this first edition we will decide on bringing this format to other countries.

Which, anyway, enables me to say something I love to say: this is just the beginning.

– – –

To register: impacton.org

We’ll be streaming the event, follow us!
@impact_on
#impactON

On Resilience, Entrepreneurship and Volleyball

Before being entrepreneurs, we’re humans.

“You don’t say?”, you’ll think.

Well, the truth is that out there there’s way more stuff written on how to do sales, or gain more users, or on [insert startup topic here] than articles on how to go through the emotional, physical and psychological roller-coaster that defines your life from the day you decide to set up your company and be your own boss.

One of the most touching and open-hearted articles I’ve read on this topic has been written recently by a fellow Italian entrepreneur, Armando Biondi (you can check out his article here). Reading his words, and especially observing the reactions of other people across this sector, made me reflect on how liberating can be to have a space to express this side of the story too.

The side that is not about the product/company and its growth, but about our growth and our evolution while working on our project.

As soon as you get to speak with investors, or any other entity that seeks the diamonds in the rust of the entrepreneurial sector, you’ll hear it right away (and very often from then on): “the number one thing we look at, search for, and care about, is the right team. The talents.”

But talent alone is not enough, is it?

Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’

Talent is nothing without hard work, capacity of adaptation and aim to practice — to become better and better everyday. But especially, IMHO, talent is nothing without resilience.

Resilience (n):

1. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
2. the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

This made me immediately think about volleyball.

I’ve spent 12 years playing volleyball, also professionally, and I’ve recently discovered how much of what I’ve learned as a volleyball player is a powerful tool for my life as an entrepreneur today.

For example, if you’re a middle blocker (like I was), volleyball teaches you to know very well that the opponent’s attack is your problem first, way before being a problem for everyone else: you’re the one in charge of blocking, in nullifying the “issue” that is coming your way — and your speed, agility and position will be the reference for the defence, to get into position.

In volleyball you have to know your role, because you’ll have specific movements and muscles to train, and specific responsibilities. You never lose coordination with your team, and at the end of every playing action, won or lost, everyone gathers in the middle of the court and join hands. “We are all together in this“.

Sounds a lot like leadership and entrepreneurship, doesn’t it?

Insights like this made me reflect a lot on how much of my resilience comes from my years of volleyball — and it’s about something more than just having determination, or the generic ability to train and work hard for a specific goal.

You learn resilience when you push yourself to do something that is usually not possible or natural for others — like jumping up in the air and, meanwhile, coordinate your entire body to hit a ball with strength, elegance and efficiency.

You learn resilience when you run to catch a ball, throwing yourself to the floor if necessary and, while keeping your eye on the target, you catch the ball, fall, and immediately stand up again — to get back to your position.

You learn resilience when you train to do this without getting injured, without letting pain or fear distract you or block you, without losing focus on the action in game.

“You can’t become a champion until you become an Athlete first”, they say. And I, personally, agree.

So, as former volleyball player and entrepreneur, my two cents advice to you, fellows: do (any) sport. Encourage your team members, friends, children and significant ones to do sport. It’s not just about keeping our bodies in shape.

It’s about training our hearts and minds to go through this challenging journey (being it founding a company or something else) with more strength, tools and abilities than we would have ever imagined.

The ultimate Santiago life-toolkit. For foreigners, by foreigners!

“Give back” they say.

Pretty simple and powerful, right?

It’s kind of what I’ve thought when I’ve realised that it’s been more than 7 months since I moved to Santiago to join the Start-up Chile community, and that there is stuff that I could “give back” in terms of tips and advices on the life here.

Especially now that I’m finally meeting the members of Start-up Chile Gen11 and Gen12 (welcome guys!) I can see in them the same funny struggle I had while trying to settle down in Santiago: “it’s so european and still so different from what I’ve ever experienced”.

The hardest struggles are actually caused by the simplest things: here it’s not so immediate to find those daily references that enable entrepreneurs to keep pushing the boundaries and to focus on the projects that they are carrying on, instead of focusing on trying to find good coffee.

Therefore, I’ve thought to list here some of these international references for entrepreneurs, innovators and  aventureros de la vida who have for some reason ended up living in Santiago de Chile.

If you have some other link or useful info to share, please post it in the comments or send it to margherita@flythegap.com. I’ll add it to the post!

1. (Good) Coffee

Of course.

The most different companies are universally united by this common denominator: there’s always at least one coffee-addicted member of the team whose sales/code/designs/whatever will simply not be delivered properly unless someone brings him/her good coffee. ASAP please.

I know you’ve gone to the closest supermarket and you’ve ended up depressingly staring at Nescafé/soluble stuff. I feel you, we’ve all been there.

But no worries. We got this!

You can buy real coffee at Jumbo (if you’re using a moka pot, the type of coffee you search for is the “molido”). You can find Jumbo in the Costanera Center (open everyday, from 8.30 am to 10 pm) or check here for other locations.

If, instead, you aim to buy coffee beans, please check this list of places where you can get it.

But you can also get good coffee comfortably sitting in a café. Here there’s a list of the best spots in Santiago:

Bloom Cafè

Cafè Mosqueto

Cafè Pedregal

The Original Green Roasters café

El Divan

Cafè Colmado

Fix Cafè (thank you @Diego)

Espresso Capitale Coffee Shop (thank you @Raul)

For some pretty extraordinary reviews and some further info about these places, please check this link.

2. Free wifi Spots

AKA: alternative offices and work-from places.

While nomadlist and workfrom are not that on-track (yet) about Santiago, we still have some pretty awesome crowdsourced info.

Here there’s a (massive) list of cafè with Wifi in Santiago, but if you want my humble suggestions on where to go to work check the list below.

JustPeople

One of the coolest cafes I’ve found in Santiago, extremely modern and international. Wifi is good and food too!

Cafè del Opera

Impressively good wifi (perfect Skype calls with video, not even one issue) and very good food. Both breakfasts (national and internationals) and sandwiches are very good, same for salads. Definitely a handy spot!

Holm

It’s one of the places where you will get not only the healthiest and more natural food ever (you have to try the juices and have a brunch there!), but you will be able to benefit of great wifi and a quiet spot where to work from during the day. It gets a little bit crowded around lunch time, but in the afternoon it gets peaceful again.

Address: Padre Mariano 125 – metro: Pedro de Valdivia.

Cafè Literario

On the most beautiful and relaxing spots for working. Located in the middle of the Parque Bustamante, it allows you to work with good wifi while enjoying the view on the park, its trees and fountains.

There’s actually a second one, located in Providencia.

Hint: do not order coffee there. Great location, awesome spot where to work from, but no good coffee yet!

3. Good/healthy (and vegetarian-friendly) restaurants

I’m not going to be rambling here, I know it’s a matter of taste and I will just leave here my three favourite restaurants where to get good, fresh food:

El Huerto

Delicious vegetarian place. The variety of options is immense, and if you don’t feel like choosing just go for the menu of the day. You can’t possibly end up disappointed, ever.

El Naturista

Kind of an hidden spot, but definitely a great one. From the checked table cloth to the atmosphere, you will really feel like home.

Senz Sushi & Nikkei

Great, fresh sushi, delicious juices and a great variety of combinations between the Japanese and Peruvian cuisine.

You can find a further list of healthy and vegan/vegetarian-friendly places here.

Last but not least, a special mention goes to Buffalo Waffles, the perfect high-quality cheap eat place close to Lastarria. (thank you @Layla)

4. Where to buy really good and cheap vegetables and fruit

If you don’t want (like many of us) to go to Jumbo to buy vegetables and fruits, you will have to go for the best option you have: La Vega market.

Cheap, delicious stuff, and a massive variety of options – you will actually find the 4% of the entire Chile’s horticultural market there. Yes, you will also be staring at some fruits of vegetables that you have never seen before.

For a detailed guide on the La Vega market, please check this link, while for the exact location click here.

On Fear, Entrepreneurship and Surfing

The last thing you expect while spending a few days on the coast, working and surfing, is to find yourself in deep fear.

I recently got back to Chile after a months of business trips across Europe: Milan, Barcelona, London – I came back tired but satisfied. Excited about the people and organisations I’ve met, about all the opportunities that are coming by and the interest we’re getting for Flythegap.

Though, less than 24 hours after landing in Santiago I left for Pichilemu, a spot on the coast. I felt like I needed to spend a few days regaining my energies, while surfing and (of course) catching up with emails.

And that’s when I started experiencing one of the weirdest feelings I felt in my life.

A sort of fear mixed with panic, enhanced by being physically tired and further messed up by my rational consciousness, that immediately wanted to regain the control and try to convince me that everything was just OK.

Meanwhile, of course I had to get back to Santiago, to the Startup Chile program and to my team – some of my responsibilities here in Chile.But I was missing the ocean, the waves and especially the surfing.

I know that staying close to the water always enhances my thoughts, and I felt the need to try to reconnect with that state of mind and see if I could use it to try to figure out what was happening.

And that’s how I ended up watching a movie that a friend of mine mentioned me a thousand of times, just telling me that it was based on the true story of a famous surfer: Chasing Mavericks.

You know, I love movies based on true stories, and there were waves and surfing too. Seemed OK to me. Well – it turned out to be quiet something more that just OK.


Chasing Mavericks

There’s this scene in the movie, when Jay and Frosty are diving in the water practicing holding their breath (Jay needs to get to four minutes to even consider surfing the Mavericks) and – as they are about to come up for air, a great white shark swims just above them (mini Spoiler Alert: they make it out).

When they get to the boat, Frosty asks to the upset Jay what happened.

“Why did you panic?
“Fear, I guess…”
“Well, one thing you gotta know: fear, panic. Two separate emotions. Fear’s healthy, panic’s deadly.”
“But if you’re scared to death, how do you not panic?”

“By identifying the fear. And what you’re afraid of. Not just out there, but in life.”

*click*.


Hello, Fear & Panic. Nice to meet you.

I couldn’t help it – I felt like everything was clear again. Or at least understandable.

I think that especially when you have some sort of responsibility in life, or simply if you live by it as a principle, you just can’t avoid fear.

And it doesn’t matter if your fear comes from being afraid of failing as an entrepreneur and “lose everything”, or from the chance of disappointing your parents that are paying for your studies, or the team you work with, your family, your supporters, your friends… You fear to miss the expectations of what or who matters to you.

And that’s just fine.

The important lesson there for me to learn was to not panic about it.

The fear and panic separation and identification, the four pillars of foundation, the importance of being honest in recognising what your inner call is and how to better prepare for it… this movie has several concepts that I couldn’t avoid to relate to my life as entrepreneur.

Finding them all very simple, thought clear and powerful.

Chasing Mavericks to me has been one of those types of messages that just make it to you, precisely when you need them the most.

May this blog post do the same for some of us, out there.

Hang loose

M.

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

― Steven Pressfield