Last night, I spoke at The SF Acumen Fund Chapter‘s event and someone asked a question that struck me as important. They asked about Acumen’s perspective on design. My gut reaction was that Acumen Fund is not a design firm, but the question warranted more consideration.
Bavidra Mohan, another Fellow in my cohort, took the lead in highlighting the importance Acumen and its investees place on human centered design principles. In particular, Bavidra’s role at D.Light (incidentally the full name is D.Light Design) was to gather feedback from the end customer in rural India and take those lessons all the way back up the supply chain to D.Light’s manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China.
While Bavidra was speaking, it occurred to me that design is not only a popular trend (we actually held the event in a design company’s space) but that it has now become an essential component of how anything is developed, from internal processes, to advertisements, to product messages. While it may not be the first thing you think of when you consider diligencing a BOP business, it is true that Acumen is fundamentally in the business of investing in products and services that are designed in a way that meets the mass market (think BOP) consumers’ true needs.
However, Acumen Fund and Jacqueline Novogratz in particular, have built a reputation for making liberal use of a more universal tenet of good design: listening.
At the end of the day, human centered design is effectively a structured format for listening–not hearing, not asking, but for truly searching and reaching a deeper level of understanding.
While this talent is quite applicable to the design sector, listening unlocks doors all around.
Listening is a leader’s locksmith. Whether you are coordinating a large organization or pioneering a new unproven sector, listening is the key to designing effectively for success.
Last year while I was in Pakistan, Jacqueline came to visit (the investments, not me). Having seen how other senior leaders have behaved in similar situations in my career, I was very impressed that Jacqueline spent little time in the meeting room.
Her role, as she saw it, was to go out to the end-customers and just listen. We were in a room full of proud men who were part of a community built as a result of Acumen’s investment in Saiban. Jacqueline questioned, poked and prodded until people opened up and told her not just what they thought she wanted to hear, but also what wasn’t working.
In a way, Jacqueline was doing the same thing for Acumen’s investment committee that Bavidra was doing for D.Light’s supply chain: Immersive loops.
Immerse yourself in listening, gather feedback, and design whatever it is (your product, your message, your thoughts) for your end-stakeholder, whoever that may be.