Marie Aquilino is a respected specialist post-disaster reconstruction and contemporary urban development. She is the founder and president of Problem Wisdom. In 2014 she co-founded and became director of the Haiti Water Atlas Consortium, a diverse team of specialists who worked at the intersections of water science, big data, public health and cartography to develop a platform of shared water knowledge for Haiti.
Marie is also the author and editor of Beyond Shelter: Architecture and Human Dignity (Metropolis Press, 2011), which informs, educates, and sensitizes architects to the best practices of reducing disaster risk worldwide. Marie was repeatedly honored by the French government with a Competences and Talents Visas to develop programs that educate and train architecture students to work in the contexts of extreme need and crisis in the developing world. And she is former laureate of the Partner University Fund for her work there in Titanyen, Haiti.
Marie speaks frequently at conferences and universities around the globe. From 2008 to 2015 she was professor of architectural history at Ecole Spéciale de l’Architecture in Paris, where she led seminars on The World At Risk, Future City Lab, and Makers In Development. Marie holds a Ph.D from Brown University in art and architectural history (1989) and is fluent in French. Her latest book, Abiding Architecture, is available here . Marie lives in Paris with Dash and is learning to paint.
Fabio Fidanza is an engineer, cross-disciplinary designer and an artist. He is the engineering and technology strategist at Problem Wisdom. He started his own consulting business in 1997 and began launching products and enterprises in the same year. Seth Godin praised Fabio’s Stripe Generator, saying that “A few people will have their lives changed by it (in a good way).”
Fabio has worked for a wide range of clients, including the United Nations World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Wildlife Fund, Future Earth, the CGIAR, as well as private companies like MonoType and EnLabs incubator. His work reaches into several fields including digital design, software engineering, music, video production, photography, cooking, event design, and teaching.
As the founder of the Fidanza Jazz Combo, he explores the cross-cultural connections between American swing and Italian music.
He developed a tactile/audio system to enable bi-dimensional web navigation for the blind for his Master’s Degree in Computer Science Engineering and Automation. He’s a learning addict and a scrappy demo fanatic.
I loved hanging upside down from the next to highest branch in the huge apple tree that lived in our yard on Long Island. I preferred the view from there. When we moved west and cactus replaced trees, I would run, ride horses, skateboard, build forts with my cousin, and search for life in neighbourhood canals. I broke my shoulder and had stitches in my head and chin.
I was shy but my body was outgoing.
My tomboy days taught me to change my perspective. I learned to see the world swinging upside down or flying through a triple jump. I stood on my hands and saw the world with my feet over my head. I grew up with the freedom to hold these strange and wonderful vantage points deep within my heart.
My tomboy days also shaped my physical sense of life and would give me the strength to be present and hands on. I would become an intrepid ally for students and colleagues. My physicality gave me confidence in my competence and aspirations.
What I learned:
Never be afraid to shift your perspective. Zoom in and out often. Get a better view, a different look at your questions and assumptions.
Look for your strengths in the projects you undertake or support. These will drive and magnify your impact.
I loved school. As an undergrad, I tried on several careers. Theatre major: Too shy. Oceanographer: Seasick. Art Historian. Hmm. Throw in art, politics, sociology, anthropology, and creativity. Perfect.
For me history is a big baggy monster meant to set us straight and inspire our best ideas. History is alive, breathing. It teaches me to stay interested and open, capable of talking about a broad range of subjects with intelligence. History fuels my curiosity.
I taught university students for more than two decades: undergrads, graduate students, and post docs. Teaching remains my great pleasure. This is where I learned to listen, develop good questions, and inspire my students to move from thinking well to acting on their decisions.
What I learned:
Learn to be curious about the problem. It’s history and language are your allies.
Listen, Learn, Think, Do, Test, Repeat--because your problem lives in a circumstance.
I’ve lived in Paris since 2001.
Living abroad is different than taking an extended vacation or just passing through. It’s committing to the boat instead of the plane. Staying on brings insights, frustrations, foot stomping, and swearing (especially during the first ten years).
But it also invites monumental victories.
I know the French language from its interior. My best friends are Argentinian, Italian, Moroccan, French, Canadian, English, Russian, and South Korean. I’ve worked with wonderful people from around the globe. And though I miss my family and sometimes feel pangs of loneliness, one thing is certain: discovery, discovery.
I came to Paris for love and ended up teaching young architects about their role in social justice. I ask my students to design the first step, maximize their impact by 10, and use the REs: redo, remake, rethink, rework, reimagine, repurpose, reuse, refit, replace, redesign research, reassure.
We responded to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and to the disasters in Fukushima and Nepal. I learned that success in an environment of crisis depends on asking and answering two critical questions:
1) Am I working on the right problem?
2) Am I reaching enough people?
These two questions became increasingly critical when I co-founded the Haiti Water Atlas Consortium. I helped water and data scientists, cartographers, government officials, international NGOs, and community boards forge common ground to manage the country’s vital water resources. The Consortium proposed the first ever open-source platform in Haiti devoted to water knowledge for everyone.
It was an extraordinary experience.
I worked in complex and shifting circumstances with myriad stakeholders and competing agendas. And I discovered: To help people flourish we need to offer them good choices, and this requires getting the problem right.
What I learned:
Maximize your impact by tenfold. Know when and where to innovate and when to rely on the REs.
Collaborate effectively – with respect – to forge common ground for all parties.
Then three things happened.
My back collapsed, my thyroid plummeted, and pneumonia with an abscessed lung kept me in bed for nearly three months. No more travel. No more fieldwork.
I tried relying on grit and my famous high level of energy. That didn’t work.
I turned to my family. I learned to draw, started making crazy, colourful collage, wrote short stories and studied Qi Gong, Martial Arts Yoga, and animal locomotion.
I reincorporated the parts of myself that I had neglected for years, in particular my creative self. I realised I would need every bit of me to meet the medical challenges and start again.
I discovered that resilience is harmony and harmonic resilience is built from the inside out.
What I learned:
To meet colossal challenges, we need to step out – beyond ourselves – armed with new skills and a different mindset, one that helps us craft and act on breakthrough problems.
PS: Books I wrote
Beyond Shelter: Architecture and Human Dignity (Metropolis Press, 2011)
Abiding Architecture: Haiti, 2011-2014
PPS: I once let chameleons go on the popcorn ceiling to scare my mom. That changed her perspective. I still love discovering a vantage point that surprises and challenges me.
I love to eat great food.
I thought I'd have to make a fortune and eat in fancy restaurants.
Instead, I learned to cook wonderful meals.
For example, here's a trick that's going to change your pasta experience forever.
Subtract 3 minutes from the suggested cooking time. Drain. Save cooking water. Put the pasta in a pan with your sauce, and keep adding cooking water until the pasta is done.
You'll have delicious, flavor-infused pasta with a silky texture.
What I learned
The right small changes in your plan can result in terrific outcomes.
Be open to improvisation.
I was never really interested in the barriers that separate disciplines.
I preferred to shift, overlay and repurpose patterns from one field to another.
As a software engineer, I used my Master's thesis to help visually impaired people use the web. My findings demostrate the power of looking for patterns at the interections of disciplines.
What I learned
New paradigms emerge from these intersections. This requires the willingness to shift your perspective.
I started playing guitar at twelve years old.
Now I have two bands. Well, we have two names for the same band with the same people and we play American Folk with one and Italian Swing with the other.
Having a great rhythm section allows me to find greater freedom within constraints.
What I learned
Listening with care and respect transforms several musicians into a single harmonic moment, when we are able to support and respond to one another.
Great collaboration is invaluable.
We always talk about thinking outside of the box. What if we use the box to build a new tool?
What I learned
I led projects for clients such as FAO, Save the Children, Monotype and the Vatican. This experience taught me to how to use and integrate tools – programming languages, softwares, models, analytics platforms – to build quick, scrappy demos and inexpensive prototypes that are flexible enough to simulate and guide your scaling process.
This is how I get the problem right. And it makes it possible for me to lead my clients through a process to a successful conclusion.
I truly believe that being in control of your tools and processes is key to making a broad and sustained impact.