Hey, there. I’m Dave.


The Art of Seeing

I recently started sketching again, and I’ve been having a blast. I used to love sketching and drawing when I was younger, but it somehow fell to the wayside over the years as these things tend to do.

During my time at ?What If!, I loved hanging out and working with our phenomenal designers because it was just magical seeing them bring things to life with such deft and confident strokes of the pen (or mouse). I hoped that perhaps I could learn a few things by sheer osmosis. And if I took away anything, it was seeing how powerful it really was to bring abstract things to life through compelling visuals, movies, or even rough prototypes. There is a joy in creating things, and I loved every single second of it.

Once I started sketching a bit regularly, I noticed something quite remarkable. While walking down the street, my eyes started honing in on things that I had not noticed before. I started observing the unique lines and shapes of people’s faces and the way they shifted their weight while waiting for Seattle’s mighty monorail. I saw lines everywhere, converging and diverging. It was as if I were seeing the world with a whole new set of eyes.

In a recent interview, Chris Rock mentioned that a big part of a comedian’s job is to notice things that people typically overlook, forget, or just ignore. And with that hypersensitivity (or is it that the rest of us are just numbed and simply unaware?), comedians are able to use that to create their material.

For innovators, we know how important it is to look at the world with Fresh Eyes. When we look at the world with fresh eyes, we can throw away the assumptions and preconceptions of how we think the world should be and see the world as it really is. I never thought that sketching would help me with this, but I’m incredibly grateful for this gift.

If you haven’t sketched in awhile, I suggest trying it out. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help you see the world with a set of Fresh Eyes!

Fresh Eyes and Industry Eyes

During a recent meeting with my incredible FSP team, I remarked how I was really looking forward to striking the balance between having Fresh Eyes and Industry Eyes in the upcoming months as one of the newer members of the team.

Fresh Eyes is all about the habit of seeing the world with a new perspective. It’s about being curious and wondering why things are the way they are, and it’s about the practice of seeing things from new angles and perspectives.

During my anthropology days, we would often use the “Anthropologist from Mars” device to really bring this concept to life. To an Anthropologist from Mars, our life here on Earth would seem incredibly new and strange, and clearly she would question the things we consider obvious and given. If you’ve ever taken an introductory class to sociocultural anthropology, this point was probably brought to life through reading the tale about the strange Nacirema people and their body rituals. If you haven’t, check it out here: https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html

On the other hand, Industry Eyes is slightly different. If Fresh Eyes help you to relook at the world and make you pause and wonder, Industry Eyes help you discover new things by revealing nuances that may not seem so obvious to the casual observer. Let me explain this with a quick story.

In my prior job at ?What If! Innovation, I spent quite some time working in the spirits industry. Whether it was traveling to Stockholm to talk about the future of vodka or trying to imagine what the next generation bar could be, I quickly and happily gained some deep subject matter expertise in this space – well beyond my frequent “research” trips to the bars in the East Village. Once I knew the ins and outs of the industry, it was as if a new language was revealed to me. I started seeing the intent behind many of the choices bar operators had made because I could now see and appreciate the details that were revealed to me through a set of Industry Eyes.

The trick is to figure out how to balance and effortlessly switch between these two mindsets. If you always look at the world with Fresh Eyes, you run the risk of only seeing shallow observations and not gaining a more nuanced and intimate understanding of your challenge. On the other hand, only seeing the world with Industry Eyes can all too quickly lead you to a myopic view of the world. It takes practice getting out of your river of thinking.

I’m currently on my way to Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania with my team for a learning trip. We’re going to meet some of our amazing partners and get a deeper understanding of how real people are interacting with mobile money. I’m looking forward to developing my Industry Eyes even more on this trip while still observing and experiencing everything with a set of eager, Fresh Eyes.

Here’s to traveling with a hungry heart!

David Christian: The History of our world in 18 minutes

There are TED talks, and then there are TED talks. I first learned about David Christian from a recent New York Times article, and I was immediately intrigued by his class and approach to teaching. He masterfully weaves an incredible tale across traditional disciplines, and he brings you along for a wild and exhilarating ride. If you ever wanted a condensed history of our world – our universe, really – then definitely check out his talk!

After living in NYC for the last seven years, I recently moved to Seattle, WA for a new adventure with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It wasn’t easy deciding to leave New York, but I’m really looking forward to working with our amazing partners to create beautiful and impactful financial products for the poor in East Africa. This new adventure consists of a new job in a new city, and I can’t wait to explore what this part of the country has to offer.

While I’ll miss this view…

and this one…

I sure don’t mind having this little nook in my new office

Here’s to new adventures!