New Mural on Women Innovators: Art meets Research to Tackle the Biggest Conundrum of our Time

Our team is thrilled to launch our Women Inventors and Innovators mural, a story-rich big picture visual that captures the feeling of eras in history – as women changed the game, despite the obstacles. The mural takes a fresh look at the historical context as well as the amazing individual women and their disciplines. It is an aligning art piece that will help us have new conversations about women for the future. It is the foundation for a radical research project we hope will help catapult women into the positions where we need them (us!).


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Before sharing more about the mural and the research, I want to honor the influence of Dr. Douglas Engelbart -and his radical philosophy – on this project. Bear with me on this tangent because Dr. Engelbart’s ideas helped us understand how major transformation occurs. Transformation is one of our goals with this mural.

Dr. Engelbart was the father of Collective IQ who patented the computer mouse as part of the famed ’68 Demo, the prototype of the personal computer. We worked on a book with him over a period of five years, from 2003-2008 and stayed in close touch until his death in 2013. We miss him and want to dedicate this new mural to him.  Many life-changing insights emerged from our dialogues with Doug, but the one closest to the heart is that we should dream big and devote ourselves to challenges that may seem impossible. It’s a hero’s journey, whether or not the problem gets solved, and unexpected discoveries may emerge. The goal of Engelbart’s group at the Augmentation Research Center was to raise humanity’s collective IQ to enable us to solve urgent and complex problems. On the way to this lofty and impossible goal, his group innovated the greatest technology discoveries of our time. See our timeline mural featuring Doug’s discoveries in the context of history and his philosophy, the  CoEvolution of Human and Tool Systems.

Dr. Engelbart inspired us to dream. Now we are gathering many people in Engelbart’s community to help with a huge and perplexing puzzle we have today:  What is standing in the way of women being represented in at least 50 percent of influential positions on the planet? (in science, government, engineering, leadership, politics, business, technology, organizations, etc). This huge and complex question thankfully is receiving an enormous amount of attention. However, the numbers are not changing much–women are underrepresented in nearly every influential sector of society.

Conventional wisdom is not working, and we need new approaches. Many projects to enable diversity are under way; ours is a bit unusual. We start with a landscape and stories – we created this mural as a conversation-sparker. We hope that when people look at this mural, they will see themselves, their mothers, and their grandmothers and perhaps begin to trace the feelings and attitudes that enabled or thwarted women’s contributions. We hope they will begin to uncover the more subtle conditions that may have an influence of women’s full participation in every sector on the planet.

From Dr. Engelbart we learned that the approach to research must be emergent in the context of an overarching goal. We learned about the subtle interrelationship between the evolution of technology and culture. We learned that research and communication tools must be developed in the process of research and communication–they cannot be pre-ordained. Engelbart called this the CoDIAK process: The Concurrent Development, Integration and Application of Knowledge. Thus, we are convening conversations using current technologies that we hope to adapt especially for the type of conversation we will be having: What are the behaviors and attitudes and conditions that empower (or disempower) women? What types of information or communication can support changes? How can women offer one another real-time support, information and stories to help one another through difficult situations? How can we have conversations about topics that may feel awkward? What would happen if women had immediate forums to discover they are not alone in experiencing subtle forces that keep them from moving into positions where they can have impact? With the communication tools we have available, we should be able to go deeper in our conversations and get to the bottom of the problem.

So it’s a very different challenge, a different conversation, and we want to go about it in a different way. We want to inspire your imagination! Our mural emerged from the Imaginal with shapes and pictures that evoke something more than the words. We think that an artistic view helps us with a different perspective. We want to know what you imagine, feel and think when you look at it.

Art is impressionistic and our mural is not a comprehensive final report, but rather a conversation piece. It is decidedly U.S. Centric and creates a gestalt of the different eras in U.S. history. We plan to go global with the mural and create multiple versions to reflect conditions for women around the globe, and will continually be changing it. You’ll see features in the landscape that range from whimsical to disturbing. The green fields of the Agricultural Age, the guns of the World War II era, the “little boxes” of suburbia in the 1950’s. I created this mural originally on old-fashioned paper with pastels, and then Ellen Lovelidge brought it to life with her digital art for the Web, and she worked with Sequoia Echeverry under the tutelage of David Price of DebateGraph to link the names to a robust database that ultimately will enable us to track nuances of the stories.

Besides the artistic orientation, there are other subtle features of  the mural that we hope will  shift perspective. First of all, the “key” at the left shows our categories. You’ll see we have combined cultural innovations with technological and scientific innovations. Breakthroughs that help society – promoting peace, human rights, or safety – often are placed in the “soft” category, but we think they are just as hard as technological discoveries and deserve equal play. We are also changing the conversation by combining fields and disciplines into categories that focus on outcome. Customarily, we would divide inventions into categories including science, technology, engineering, math…and expanding to include sociology, business, psychology, etc. However, we’ve been looking at research that indicates women often are more motivated by making a contribution and teamwork than they are by invention or making a name for themselves. Hence, we chose categories that focus on outcome such as Augmenting Human Potential (which includes psychological as well as computer breakthroughs) and Promoting Peace. As you read through the key, are there other categories you would add?

Right now, our greatest hope is that people will relax into the mural and take a journey through time. We hope you will have conversations about it, and let us know what you learn. We hope you may join us in our belief that we can figure this out! There is no logical reason why women are not fully represented at every table in ever place of impact on Earth! So there must be an illogical reason. Let’s figure it out together.

New Mural on Women Innovators: Art meets Research to Tackle the Biggest Conundrum of our Time

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