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The Newsletter | Edition 062
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

High-growth projects, platforms, and companies can sometimes spin out of control, with unintended use cases and ethical dilemmas abounding. At some point, structure needs to be implemented so that all stakeholders are on the same page about the purpose, limitations, and consequences. How do leaders know when to institute these guardrails? What is the best way to both create them and communicate them? And how can we stay within the realms of 'responsible innovation' while still leaving room for spontaneity?
  1. Live out your product experience, from Joey Camire
  2. Center the vulnerable, from Trevor Larry
  3. Create a culture of responsibility, from Sheila Villalobos
And this time, our illustrations from Ash Casper.


From Joey Camire


DoorDash is instituting a program called WeDash where all employees are required to make deliveries on their platform in order to build empathy with the other sides of their marketplace (customers, merchants, and delivery people).


I first came across the program from Twitter user Joshua Ogundu, because some employees were allegedly complaining about it on Blind, the tech equivalent of Fishbowl. However, the more you dig into the program, it’s hard to find fault with the logic. It is impossible to avoid concepts like empathy, customer-centric design, and design thinking in the worlds of innovation and product development. And yet, these concepts can quickly fall into the realm of lip-service or jargon if you’re not living them out.

Developing programs that ensure your entire company is intimately acquainted with the experience your users have when interacting with your product or service can only serve to make your product more “user-centric.” Tech companies often speak about this as “dog fooding”—eating your own dog food, or using your own product, originating from Alpo commercials in the 1970s. But this isn’t unique to tech. Companies like Wal-Mart advertise about promoting leadership who started in their retail locations. The premise is that they can act from the shared experience of their employees.

We could probably all afford a dose of empathy, even if it’s mandatory.


Eat your own dog food.


When thinking about guardrails to implement for your team, or within your process, make sure you’re eating your own dog food. It’s easy to come up with ideas that can theoretically improve your team, but until you live them yourself, it remains theoretical. In the case of DoorDash, the CEO and other leaders are not exempt from this policy. If you’re trying to accomplish progress within your organization, make sure you’re living it along with everyone else.

If it’s labeled chicken flavor, make sure it actually tastes like chicken. If it’s labeled empathy, the flavor should hold up.


From Trevor Larry


How do you design digital tools that can empower millions of people to communicate and create together, without inadvertently enabling people with bad intentions to use them for harm? According to Sahar Massachi, there’s much to learn from how we build healthy cities in how we might build new tech platforms.


We’ve seen buzzworthy products like Clubhouse and Meta make headlines in recent years for their potential to ‘change the internet.’ But after the buzz subsided, news of misinformation, harassment, and abuse showed the harm caused by people using both platforms. As the tech industry grapples with the negative impact of their products, specialists advocate for bringing back healthy friction, like limiting the number of posts people can make, into digital products to slow bad behavior. Even if you’re not building the next social platform, the lessons being implemented can be useful for anyone pursuing more responsible innovation: protect people at greater risk, incentivize good behavior, and introduce healthy friction before your product launches.


Center people who are at greater risk in your design process.


When building any product, we often have a key person in mind who we imagine might use our service. In collective exercises, we may build a user persona or design target to picture who this person is across a team. During this exercise, aim to center people who may be at greater risk (of misogyny, racism, trolling, identity theft, etc.), and then focus on making it difficult for those who may cause them harm.


From Sheila Villalobos


Sometimes workplace ethical dilemmas happen despite codes of conduct, training, and audits. They weren't enough to prevent Ford Pinto’s fuel-tank design disaster or Facebook’s data privacy scandal. Encouraging bystanders who see something to say something can be a better tactic to nip ethical dilemmas in the bud.


A KPMG report found that about two-thirds of employees across industries witnessed misconduct in the 12 months leading up to being surveyed. If there is any reputation-ravaging wrongdoing at your company, chances are bystanders have noticed it. Will they report it and prevent a costly scandal? It’s not likely. Only an estimated 1.4% of employees blow the whistle. Can we blame them when the majority of whistleblowers have suffered repercussions like harassment and job loss?


Empower employees to speak up.


Speaking up is scary when people tend to blame the messenger. It can be even scarier when confronting people who hold more power in an organization. Create a culture where people feel safe for doing the right thing early before situations get out of hand.
  • Reward people who highlight risks and escalate concerns throughout every stage of the innovation process, from ideation to execution. These don’t have to be financial rewards. Genuine words of gratitude go a long way.
  • Make a public commitment to putting customers before profits so employees feel it is a shared goal that they should do their part to uphold.
  • Make true anonymity an option. Provide avenues for reporting that are secure, and allow employees to speak up individually or as a group.

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