Carla Echevarría, Design Lead Google Assistant: Designing the User Experience With Diversity in Mind (Tech4SDG)

We bring you the most interesting moments from the Tech4SDG days in Barcelona, where pioneer and visionary CEOs gathered to share and discuss with us their journey towards the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals), a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a «blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all», set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly.

The Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reducing Inequality
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life On Land
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

As the UX Design Lead for Google Assistant, Carla Echevarría shares with us how she architects the software looking at the diversity across not only gender, but also cognitive or physical abilities, race and language so it suits best the most user’s needs.


Are YOU a Victim, a Student or a Master?

By Mike George

Life means change and change signifies the flowing and flowering nature of life.  Life, like a river, is always on the move. Unfortunately we tend to learn that we have to ‘damn’ the river as we try to stop the flow and ‘hold on’ to a) the way things are and b) what we think we have acquired from the river.  This is known as the ‘Damn It!’ philosophy of change management!  A few will learn to practice the ‘Judo’ philosophy, continuously letting go of the old so that they can welcome and ‘embrace the new’, thereby creating ways to flow with and not against the river of life.

Do YOU fear change?  Are you practicing the Damn It! philosophy?  Do you find yourself resisting people and situations?  Any form of resistance anywhere, anytime, means you fear change.  It means you ‘believe’ you are about to lose something, as any kind of fear is always the sign of ‘imagined’ future loss.  The eight most common things that people fear losing when their resistance starts to show up are in the areas of position, power, pay, possessions, people, prestige, privileges or personality.

In the past two decades the ‘change management industry’, established and sustained by an army of highly paid consultants and trainers, have preached their gospels on how to meet, measure, manage and be a master of change in the world.  One of their mantras is:  the only thing in this world that doesn’t change is change itself.  But it looks like they may have missed the main trick!  For there is something else that never changes and that is ‘the one’ that observes change happening.  The one who watches, witnesses and waits on change is none other than ones ‘self’.  It is the one thing that never comes and goes!

The management of change implies that change can be controlled, but the real master of change knows that they can neither control any change in the world ‘out there’ and nor do they need to.  And they definitely do not want to!  But they are aware that they can influence the flow of change. The master of change has realized that change at all levels, from the material to the mental, from events to circumstances, is like background music in a movie, it simply plays through, behind and around every scene.  The symphony of life is called change.  And the symphony is always playing out exactly as it should.

Many of us see ourselves as victims of change, always blaming and complaining about how life is getting in the way of our happiness.  Some of us are students of change, attempting to work out why life throws up people, events and circumstances the way it does, always looking for better techniques and methods to not be affected and stressed by the unexpected and unwanted.  A few are masters of change, fully aware but undisturbed by anything that happens around them.  For the victim of change life is continuously stressful, for the student of change life is both a struggle and a teacher, for the master of change life is a dance.  The consultants and the trainers need victims and students of change otherwise they would be out of a job!  The last thing they want in their strategy meetings or their classrooms is a master of change, as they would then have to become the student!

So what are you?  A victim, a student or a master?  Here are some other signs and symptoms of each and an opportunity to see where you sit along the spectrum.

Perception of Change

The victim of change is always singing the song of, “Why is this happening to me?”, as they attribute their loss of happiness to someone or something ‘out there’.  The student of change endeavors to view any changes in the world ‘out there’, that are about to have an impact on the way they live and work, not as events that might force them to lose something, but as opportunities to gain something.  They are practitioners of ‘the shift’ from the ‘Damn It’ philosophy of change management, which states that you must hang on to everything in your life, to the ‘Judo’ philosophy of change management, which states that all change is simply energy coming towards you and the wise thing to do is embrace it and make it’s direction and momentum work for you.  The student’s aim is therefore to enact a shift in their perception of change from ‘possible loss’ to ‘probable gain’.  The change master on the other hand has already realised they have nothing to lose for they know that ‘in reality’ they possess nothing, so they are never ‘threatened’ by any event in the continuously changing world ‘out there’.  Free of the belief in loss, free of the desire to gain, they are free to meet life as it happens wholeheartedly, without prejudice, preference or expectation.

Capacity to Cope

In any enclosed ‘change process’, as happens within organizations, the victim of change can only handle so much.  They quickly reach their limit and shout, “Enough is enough, I can’t take any more”.  Or they start to fight with those who seem to be initiating the changes.  The change student, on the other hand, either a) seeks to understand why things around here need to change or b) endeavors to see their situation as an opportunity to increase their capacity to cope.  But they are still holding themselves in a struggle with life.  The change master has reached a point where they no longer have to cope with anything.  They have realized the very nature of life outside the self is ‘change’ but that the true nature of the self is stillness.  They know that around stillness change must flow like water around a rock.  The change master is like a rock, touched by the changing world, but never shaken, never disturbed.  They allow change to flow around and through their life but they are no longer shaped by it.

Ready, Willing and Able

The change victim is always complaining about their stress.  Any signs if stress means they are either not ready for the world to change, not willing to face change or they are not able to deal effectively with whatever changes are happening.   The change student may have recognized that the pace of change in the world is only going to continue accelerating.  They are therefore continuously ‘working’ on themselves in order to be more ready, more willing and more able to deal with it.  Their learning involves a conscious effort to shift from reacting to responding thereby restoring self control in the face of ‘the uncontrollable’.  To the change master there are no surprises so they are always able to respond appropriately.   They don’t have to ‘get’ ready, for they are always ready.  They don’t have to become willing to face whatever happens, as they have no intention of avoiding anything or anyone.

Alone or Lonely

With the tendency to take things personally the victim of change frequently feels abandoned and alone when faced with change.  The change student is continuously struggling to overcome feelings of separation, isolation and aloneness when they meet the challenges of a changing world.  They even learn to hold out their hand and assist others to cope with the changes knowing, that as they help others, they help themselves.  The change master, on the other hand, never feels isolated in a changing world for they know that everything is unbreakably interconnected at a more invisible level.  They know and are constantly aware that we are all ‘in this’ (game of life) together.  The change master never feels lonely for they know and accept separation as a natural condition of the material world.  They know they are always alone!   Connected yet separated, alone but never lonely, the change masters universe seems to be filled with paradox and apparent contradictions.  But to the change master there are no contradictions, no paradoxes, for all is one, and all is as it should be.

Mastering change is not about using pre-designed or learned techniques, strategies or tools.  Becoming a master of change is the realisation of a completely new perception of the world and of ones role in the world.  From their still and silent centre the change master sees that the world around them is in a constant state of flux, it is simply the energies of life rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning, and as it does it simply is as it is.  From this awareness the master of change acts, which means ‘creates their response’, from inside out, informed and shaped by the wisdom that is found in the unchanging stillness of their being, and not from the exhortations, demands, desires or the pleas of others.

Question: Where on the spectrum – victim, student, master – would you currently position your self?

Reflection: When things happen in some parts of the world they say, “Don’t just sit there, do something!”  But in other parts of the world they say, “Don’t just do something, sit there!”  Why the different responses and what is the difference between the two?

Action: Awareness exercise – take five minutes at the end of each day this week, review the day, and decide in which mode you were in (victim/student/master) at various points during the day.


How Present Are YOU?

By Mike George

You’re sitting in the meeting, someone calls your name and you suddenly notice you haven’t heard what’s been said for some minutes.  In a split second your attention is back in the room and you realize you had drifted off.  Not into sleep but into ‘absence’.  You’re not exactly sure how long you were away!  You were lost in a story that you were running on the screen of your mind.  You remember now.  One part was a memory of an unhappy encounter with a member of your family the night before, which then dissolved into some worries about possibly having to sell your house in the next six months.

During the course of your absence you went through a series of judgments, regrets, assessments, worries, hopes, evaluations and criticisms.  You were busy in your absence!  In just a few minutes you not only made yourself unhappy but you missed some vital information that was shared in the meeting at which you were assumed by others to be present.  Your body was in the room but you were not!

This is something that happens to us all at some time or other.  And for some it happens all too frequently.  Many of us are often absent from our life but we don’t notice our lack of presence.  We are not aware of making our many escapes from being fully ‘here’ and completely in the ‘now’, until we realize we’ve been away!

You could argue that ‘being absent’ is not a new phenomenon in human consciousness, and it’s definitely not a new and exclusive habit to this generation or this era. But like stress, abuse, interpersonal conflict and levels of anger, it seems it may be on the rise.

The Deepest Addiction!

One of the obvious reasons is we all now live in the ‘age of distraction’.  Every day our attention is up for auction.  We are surrounded and hounded by a media driven world with vast industries spending huge amounts of time and energy trying to hook our attention in order to get into our pockets.  That, combined with a sophisticated array of technological windows on to the world and the result is an ‘addiction to distraction’ unknown to previous generations.  So it’s easy to understand why we have a tendency to create the habit of escaping into a multitude of events, messages and other people’s lives.  We have become superconscious of ‘what’s happening now’ both near and far.  But this kind of ‘now’ is not an indication of real presence simply a habitual desire to know more about what’s going on somewhere else or to someone else.

And then, when we do attend the meeting, or sit quietly somewhere with our coffee, or take a stroll through the forest, the ‘habit of absence’ kicks in and we start to run a variety of stories in our heads.  Absence is when we lose our self in a mental story entirely created by our self on the screen of our own mind.  The stories are filled with those judgments, hopes, guilts, evaluations, regrets and many other thinking habits and emotional patterns.  We are not aware that they are just stories, that we are the creators of the stories and that we are losing our self, our awareness, in the stories.

Resisting Reality

Even if someone were to point out that we are attempting to escape from the reality of our self, or from the reality of what’s in front of us now, we would probably reply with something like, “But it’s natural …or… I’m being creative…or…But we need to think about these things …or… I am anticipating and preparing for what might happen in  reality”.  When, in fact, we are more likely to be resisting the reality of the present moment, fighting the reality of what’s happening in front of us now or just succumbing to the habit of avoidance.

We sometimes notice however, that our feelings of sorrow, irritation, frustration and all our fears are arising from all those moments when we lose our self in our mental compendiums of fictional tales. We sometimes notice that they disturb our peace and drain our energy. It’s not easy to see, but in truth we lose our self in our own ‘interpretations’ of previous experiences or in constructions of future speculations.  Even in the cinema we will lose our self not in the movie but in our ‘interpretations’ of the movie.  That’s why no story that we ever run on the screen of our minds is ever ‘true’!  There is always some distortion or deviation in our interpretations and re-interpretations.  Which is one of the reasons why ‘truth’ can never be captured by the mind.

Living fully in the present is quite a different ‘insperience’.  The inner signs of being fully present include a quiet mind which is no longer busy running stories of our past or future, or of other people’s lives.  All forms of resistance to the world, or projections onto the world, have ceased, and there is a serene acceptance of what is happening in the world ‘out there’ around us.  There is an easiness that feels like an ability to flow with the ever changing currents of events and circumstances alongside an inner wisdom that supplies the clarity not to just go with any old flow!  There is an inner calm that seems to give us the power to remain internally stable no matter what happens in our life or in others lives.

Seeing Through the Illusions

Imagine sitting in the cinema and not losing the awareness that you are just sitting in your head, watching through your bodies eyes, as those flickering coloured lights dance across on a blank white screen ‘out there’ in front of you. You do not lose the awareness of the simple truth which says that there is no ‘reality in’ the movie…it’s just a movie, it’s just a story.  You are therefore not surprised or shocked or indeed moved by any of the images or by any of the characters and events within the story.  Not because you do not care, not because you are resisting the movie makers attempts to manipulate your emotions, but because you don’t lose awareness of your self as the observer and that what you are observing is not real.  In fact you clearly know that the story itself is an illusion of an illusion.

The idea of being a detached observer of the movie sounds like a dull and boring life to many but that just indicates that we are addicted to our illusions.  We become addicted to the mental and emotional stimulations that illusions induce, which is why so many of us find it so hard to find real, stable and consistent peace in our life.  While positioned as a form of relaxation, entertainment is essentially a stimulated escape from the reality of our self and our life in this moment now!

Discovering Inner Peace

There normally comes a moment in the lives of those who consciously search for real relaxation, otherwise known as ‘inner peace’, when they realize that actually my real world is within me.  The ‘real’ world is the inner world of our consciousness.  It’s just that it’s not even ‘inner’, it is the self, itself!  When the self is fully present to itself there is no inner, as opposed to outer, self!  This is quite a breakthrough for most of us who have, for our entire life, learned to believe that our primary reality was out there in ‘that’ world!

In the world that is within us, the world that is I/me/you, ‘being present’ is the ability to observe whatever thoughts and images may arise in our mind without ‘going in’ to our minds or being carried away by ‘what’s on’ our minds.  Whatever feelings and memories of emotions that arise are allowed to rise and fall and fade, as they do anyway…eventually!  In this practice of watching and witnessing, the self is centred.  The self is still.  The self is peace.  The self is not ‘thinking’ I am still or I am peace, but just is.  In this ‘isness’ present moment awareness is born. And in that awareness we restore our self to ‘full power’. The peace that arises out of our stillness is also our power.  But don’t tell that to Hollywood, Bollywood or Global Sunny Beaches Inc!

In this awareness of ‘isness’ the self knows the self as it really is…as nothing and no one!  It’s a scary thought in theory, on paper, in writing, but that’s only because it threatens all the illusions of who we thought we were, all the identities that we have been creating within our stories, which we can now see as pure fiction!  Being nothing and no one is a scary thought because it means all that we have been taught about our self is not true.  Not wrong, just not true!

But it’s only scary as long as it remains as a thought, an idea, in our mind.  As soon as we restore the actuality of our ‘inner space’, rediscover the reality of our ‘self’, of our being, and notice that there is no one and no thing ‘here’, except pure awareness itself, that is when all scariness dissolves.  In that awareness we may notice there is not only the deepest peace but also the presence of an energy that ‘seems’ to permeate and connect every thing in ‘here’.  Sometimes we call that energy ‘love’.  Perhaps that’s why we sometimes glimpse in our meditations; sometimes see in our quiet moments of reflection; that the presence of love is …everything!

Question: What are the most frequently recurring stories that you find your self escaping into?

Reflection: Why do you think you often prefer to be absent to the reality of the present moment?

Action: Consciously practice being the detached observer of all that is happening around you, engaging only when you are invited to engage, and see what difference it may make to how you ‘spend’ your energy.


Have YOU Found the Fork in the Road?

By Mike George

In a world of accelerating change it’s no surprise there is also an increase in the number of people feeling stressed.   It goes some way to explain the parallel increase in the number of tools, techniques, books, courses and teachers all focused at helping us to manage and prevent the stresses and strains of modern life.

One increasingly visible offering centres around the idea of creating a more spiritually based life and lifestyle.  However, many have an immediate resistance to such an idea, usually because they don’t really understand precisely what it means.

When some hear the word ‘spiritual’ they immediately associate it with some kind of religious commitment or practice, which is often not a place they want to go.  They have not yet fathomed the difference between spirituality and religion.  Conversely, when others hear the word ‘religion’ it conjures ideas about that mysterious energy of ‘the spirit’ and that’s either just too ‘other worldly’ or completely irrelevant to their life.  Could that be because haven’t yet seen the difference between religion and spirituality? Then there are those who believe spirituality is just another passing fad of the ‘new age’.  While others consider any kind of spiritual or religious exploration is best left until their old age!

In this, the age of abundant information, the theories and beliefs of almost every spiritual path and religious tradition are now available at the touch of a keyboard.  On the one hand this accessibility, known by no other generation, is a huge advantage.  And yet it is also easy to thoroughly confuse ones self by ‘supermarket shopping’ the world wide web for just about every religious and spiritual concept under the sun.  So what exactly is the difference between the two?  How are we to tease them apart so that we may see clearly and decide what is best for us?  Here are a few possible pointers.

Religion, in an organized sense, tends to encourage the individual to attach to and identify with a packaged set of externally prescribed beliefs and rituals.  From a spiritual point of view this is the foundation of an ‘egoic’ state of consciousness and therefore not such a good idea.  Spirituality, on the other hand, tends to encourage a certain detachment from all beliefs and the use of some meditative and reflective practice to realise, reveal and ‘see’ what is true for oneself.  Religion tends to see this as too much freedom and the licence to do anything in the name of spirituality, much of which is considered to be neither religious nor spiritual!  The consequence is often many people running around doing many things in the ‘name of spirituality’ without realising it’s not!

One of the original meanings of religion is to ‘reconnect’, to ‘bind’ together.  Religion however, can tend to connect people to just another institution and the ideas and beliefs found therein.  Whereas spirituality tends to help the individual restore their awareness of their authentic self as opposed to their ‘learned’ sense of self, in order to reconnect with their true nature which is peaceful and loving.

Peace is My Religion

The spiritual practitioner would likely say that when one is ‘being spiritual’ ones true religion is peace itself, not as an idealised mental concept, but as a realised state of being.  And yet many who do walk a spiritual path will say that peace is not possible until all attachments are dropped, most especially attachment to beliefs and belief systems, which tend to be the currency of what we call religion!  This often seems to be why there is often the absence of peace both within religions and between religions.  Religion on the other hand tends to emphasise that there needs to be a foundation of ‘right beliefs’ in daily life in order to ensure decisions and actions are ‘righteous‘ and therefore aligned with what is right, so that we may do the right thing for our self and for others.
The difference between religion and spirituality is obviously not black and white.  It seems useful however, to understand both the differences and the similarities if we are to create an authentic path for our self through this journey we call ‘life’, regardless of whether we may call that path religious or spiritual.   As we do we will likely notice shades of grey, overlapping ideas and areas of utter contrast.

This short ‘exploration’ is essentially a ‘contrast of tendencies’.  ‘Tendency’ here means ‘frequently’ but not in every case.  For example, religion tends to be male dominated and spirituality tends to be a more feminine domain.  This may simply be because religion tends towards ‘imposing’ and ‘forcing’, whereas spirituality tends towards ‘allowing’ and ‘nurturing’.  But in neither case is it absolute.  While many religious approaches tend to make either the male or female superior, an authentic spirituality would probably transcend the issue of gender altogether.  Each of us obviously makes up our mind about the efficacy of each approach.  And yet neither of these approaches is the ‘opposite’ of the other, as it sometimes appears in language. Sometimes the spiritual individual is more religious in their sense of  ‘personal connection’ to ‘the source’ or what they may call ‘the divine’.  Whereas sometimes the religious individual is obviously more spiritual in their ability to bring their inherent goodness, their virtue, through into their daily actions and interactions.

So as we contrast and compare it’s not that one is better than the other though it may seem that one may, at times, be deeper than the other.

Open and Closed

Religion tends towards a closed and structured organisation whereas spirituality tends to emerge organically as a more open and free flowing community.  In a religious organisation there can be the danger that the individual becomes institutionalised which essentially means dependent upon the organisation for comfort, support and, at the deepest level, their self identity.  The spiritual approach tends to encourage a greater sense of non-dependence and a sense of identity that is not invested in anything outside oneself.  Perhaps the sign of a healthy religious/spiritual organisation/community is that when people come they are allowed to take support and what may be a new sense of identity, but as they learn and ‘unlearn’ they are encouraged to grow out of their need for that support and to rediscover their true identity for themselves.  All at the pace that suits the individual.

Religion tends to emphasise the need for hierarchy and position, sometimes unaware that the traps therein can sabotage the spiritual growth of those who come to occupy those ‘apparent’ positions.  Spirituality tends to encourage a vision of equality ‘even when’ some are obviously a little further along the path in the awakening of their self awareness, perhaps a little deeper in their wisdom and perhaps a little more powerful in their capacity to deal with life around them.

We would tend to ‘join’ a religion, declaring to others our alignment with a fixed set of beliefs as the mark of our ‘membership’.  Whereas the spiritual individual tends to steer clear of joining anything seeing it as a limitation or block to their inner spiritual growth and the restoration of their spiritual power.

Perhaps this is why religion tends to create a culture where people ‘expect’ to be externally guided, where there is one authority or perhaps several senior authorities.  This can be another encouragement towards dependency and perhaps a sense of being controlled and possibly misled.  This sometimes ‘triggers’ some people’s resistance towards anything that smacks of institutionalised religion.  Spirituality on the other hand,  tends towards the liberation of the individual from all external authority and the gradual re-emergence of self-mastery so that ones authority arises from within as a personal realisation of what is true.

Religion tends to indicate that this is in itself a trap that leads to many mistakes, all of which can be avoided if the words, beliefs and commandments of ‘others’ are obediently followed.  Spirituality tends to encourage this self-awakening indicating that if the individual is ‘earnest’ then they will recognise any mistakes and learn from them naturally.  Religion sometimes says this is the road to …not a very nice place!

By virtue of the cultivation of a ‘religious identity’, religion tends towards an exclusive outlook on life, an exclusive relationship to others, and a sense of exclusivity that tends to ‘separate’ from others.  Whereas spirituality tends towards an inclusive perspective, an equalising and an ‘all are one’ vision that unifies as opposed to separates.

Outside IN or Inside OUT

And while a ‘religious member’ tends to deny the validity of the beliefs and ways of other religions, the spiritual aspirant tends to accept and respect everyone’s ways and beliefs regardless of whether they agree with them or not.  Here is one of many areas where religion and spirituality do come together as many ‘religious people’ do tend to accept and respect the beliefs of others, even though they may not agree.

And so it is that an individuals ‘religious life’ can tend to be lived from ‘outside in’, tending towards ritual, costume, custom and tradition.  Whereas, by and large, the spiritual practitioner tends to live from ‘inside out’ as they seek to strip away their attachment to any old habits and all traditions so that they may restore a truer awareness of the self as the naked and free being within.

It is perhaps in such an inwardly naked state that the spiritual practitioner tends to believe (and seek to practice) that the mind can only be truly at peace, the intellect can only see with true clarity and the heart can only embrace ‘the other’ with the truest love. Perhaps that is the point at which spirituality becomes truly religious in its capacity to ‘openly and transparently connect’ with all life at all levels, including a direct personal connection to what is sometimes referred to as ‘the divine’.  Who knows…exactly?  Words seem inadequate!

Perhaps we can only know personally when we are ready to explore for our self, fearlessly and courageous, humbly and earnestly, that fork in the road that seems to split and offer a choice of religion or spirituality.  And perhaps we may discover there was no fork in reality, no split in actuality, simply us walking and waking, walking and waking, walking and waking!

Question: What does spirituality mean to you?

Reflection: What does it mean to be religious?

Action: Ask five people this week the above two questions and research the insights and opinions of others around you.