February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Work Smarter Through “Extreme Listening” | SLJ Summit 2015

Marnie Webb, CEO, Caravan Studios

Marnie Webb, CEO, Caravan Studios

Say you have a project. It’s not quite “done,” at least by your—or your team’s—estimation. That’s precisely when you need to get it out there, Marnie Webb told attendees at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Seattle.

“Let people touch it,” said Webb in her September 26 keynote address. ‘It’ being whatever you’re working on, whether an app or a library service. “Let them wear off some of the rough edges and apply some of the shine. Not you.”

The CEO of Caravan Studios, which creates apps for social good, Webb has refined the San Francisco-based nonprofit’s design thinking process to encompass something she calls “extreme listening.” It’s an empathetic approach that educators and librarians could use to enhance the effectiveness of their services by listening deeply for feedback at every step of project development in order to best meet community needs.

Before prototyping—the aforementioned “touching phase,” which should not be a concept reserved for techies, says Webb—comes “interviewing for empathy.” In developing an idea, it’s important to engage your audience with the outlook of “understanding a viewpoint that is not your own.”

Case in point: an idea “generator” in which Caravan Studios invited Bay-area teens to talk about bullying. Rather than the one-on-one, schoolyard incidents that Webb anticipated hearing about, the kids revealed much larger concerns, such as police aggression in certain communities. The extreme listening approach enabled Webb to overcome her existing biases to gain real insight, which, in turn, informed her work.

Swarm 500The extreme listening process

Webb’s advice:

  • Identify the themes. Caravan engaged the teens around a focused topic. “We knew what we were listening for,” she says.
  • Do your research, find out who is involved. Being informed will enable you to listen well. Get to know the related players, and this means everyone who touches the issue. Caravan learned which police units dealt with bullying issues, for example, and got to know nonprofit and government representatives active in this area, even bus drivers.
  • Identify your constraints. Everything that’s in your way? Write them down. Then set them aside, says Webb. Know what you’re up against, but don’t let it stop you from moving ahead.
  • Embody curiosity. Be willing to ask questions. And embrace the answers genuinely, even if they’re unexpected.
  • Imagine the impossible. You’ll have to watch the below video for this example. Let’s just say it involves mimes.
  • Brainstorm the smart way. The best ideas, studies show, come after the initial flurry of ideas. Persist to that point.
  • Stay hungry to learn what happens next. Don’t be “hungry to prove your point,” cautions Webb. Embrace the uncomfortable. Be prepared for it “and understand what to do with that.”
  • Share wildly. Keep the engagement going; it may reinforce what you’ve learned in this process.

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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