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Taking a Courageous Step into the Unknown

Meg Kemp is not only a dynamic professional and entrepreneur, but is also an invaluable member of the OutGrowth Advisory Board. Her work as a community-driven leader in the technical and creative spaces is the perfect illustration of a life designed with intention. As we continue our month dedicated to Design Thinking, Meg gives us the beautiful story of her professional life and lessons to date, giving us insight into how we can all design a life and career with meaning.

Interested in taking a deeper dive into Design Thinking? Be sure to read more in Meg's recent En Root article coming out tomorrow, A Case Against Designing for Need Alone. In it, Meg tells us about her experience in Human-Centered Design, and the privilege and responsibility that come with designing user-focused products and solutions.

Tell us about your personal and professional journey in Design Thinking.

Growing up, I’d spend hours in my parents' attic digging through boxes of long-forgotten scarves, ties, magazines and figuring out how I might re-purpose them into something functional (that wouldn’t cost any allowance money). I’ve taken that spirit of experimentation through a varied career in publishing, design, humanitarian work, technology, and entrepreneurship. I find that the circumstances that emerge from taking a courageous step into the unknown, and noticing what you might change or combine or re-purpose to serve yourself and others in a different way then served before can be a deeply satisfying way to navigate life both personally and professionally.

At OutGrowth, we are committed to giving access. Tell us about your approach to creating access through Design Thinking, and what this concept of access has meant for you.

Far too often the folks closest to the issues are missing from the table when decisions are made. I think when some institutions work to address a social challenge, they can feel stuck in the immense complexity of the issue. I started my company, Alma Major, with a desire to address this through design thinking, and to influence a world where creative power is distributed fairly. My hope is to make issues of power visible by tackling them head-on before the design process even begins. I encourage anyone who is interested in this kind of thinking to check out the Design Justice Network, a network of like minded organizations at the intersection of design and social justice.

Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment in your personal or professional journey.

In 2017, I was traveling to help with a technical implementation of a program designed to provide more access to subsistence coffee and cacao farmers in El Salvador. My colleagues and I drove to the farm communities in armored vehicles to speak with some of the young people tasked with collecting data on the project. They shared with me that they did not feel safe carrying the iPads they had been asked to use for data collection. They told me they were afraid for their lives carrying something with so much value in such a violent and volatile economy, and that they would much prefer paper or a simpler and more discreet device. In that moment I realized how much damage well-intended humans can do when we don’t take the time to thoroughly listen and build empathy with all stakeholders before implementing solutions.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?

I have carried this lesson with me for every project I’ve worked on since: When designing solutions for real life, the most important thing is to listen intently to the humans experiencing the issue and to gain an empathetic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, ahead of everything else. While it can take a few tries, the process of identifying root problems needs to be an inalienable part of the process. Solving for the wrong problem can be frustrating, demotivating, and at times, dangerous.

How do you believe Design Thinking can impact one's career path? What are your top three pieces of advice for students and professionals who may want to integrate DT practices into their personal lives and jobs?

I think choosing the “right” path can be overwhelming for a lot of people (it definitely has been for me!), and Design Thinking is an excellent tool set when weighing your options. I would say to read the book Designing Your Life, listen to your gut, and compassionately revisit your plan when you feel the need for change. You are not stuck, but whatever you are not changing, you are choosing. To help with this, get in the habit of asking yourself “Does this support the life I’m trying to create?”

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Take your education seriously, don’t sell yourself short, listen to your inner voice, and don’t let naysayers distract you from what you want.

What is your favorite quote?

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2020?

In 2020, I’m looking forward to building out new partnerships for Alma Major, and to using human-centered design methods to co-create projects that improve lives here in Baltimore and beyond. I’m also really excited to see OutGrowth continue to grow!

Meg Kemp is the founder of Alma Major, a company dedicated to using human-centered design methods to help organizations and communities co-create projects that improve lives, and a passionate advocate for social equity. Meg is a Baltimore transplant and graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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