It’s more often than you think.
Now, if you are building a bridge that can hurt people if it fails, take fewer risks. But if you’re given a prompt or an assignment in which you don’t have to actually build the outcome, you should take risks. And if you are tasked to make an art piece that challenges the status quo, you should do it. Taking creative risks helps you build creative muscle.
However, too often our blanket response to a challenge is risk aversion. We don’t stop to evaluate the situation and ask ourselves: “Is this a good time for me to take creative risks?” Too often, we default to conservative without giving it any thought.
Taking creative risks helps you get over the fear of looking stupid in front of other people. A fear that we all need to get over. A fear that is holding us back.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a category of products and systems that use computation and web connection. It’s a tough category to describe because computation and web connection enable so many different things. One thing is for sure, these aren’t the products of the 20th century. They are something new. And they behave differently. Whereas many products of the 20th century were stand alone and kind of static, 21st-century products work in systems and get smarter over time. Here are a few forms that you might see or imagine:
SOCIAL. Some IoT systems allow you to coordinate tasks with other people. Uber is essentially an IoT system: it allows drivers and people who need rides to coordinate their goals. Another social IoT system that does this is FitBit. They have a “challenge” feature that allows you to set competitive goals with the FitBit community.
GEO-SPATIAL. For some IoT systems, location really matters. If you are tracking air pollution with on-the-ground sensors, for example, you are going to want to see that data on a map. Autonomous vehicles need to sense and respond to geospatial data too.
HUB and SPOKE. Not every single object needs full computing power on board. That would be a waste of money and energy. Some systems work better in a hub and spoke model. Philips hue, for example, has a hub that communicates with multiple light bulbs throughout a home. Yesterday my students imagined a cattle tracking system that had a light sensor device on each animal, and that data from those sensors would be gathered by a mobile hub (a drone).
BIO-SENSING. We have sensors that can sense and track living things. Fitbit, mentioned above, is one. Other systems for human patients or herds of animals are emerging and enabling easier, and more effective tracking of vitals. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” wearables ought to be IoT enabled by now, yes?
SENSE and RESPOND. Mentioned above with autonomous vehicles, some systems not only gather data through sensing but enable the system to act on that data in real time. You could imagine a hydroponic farming system that can sense the temperature of the system and actuate heating and cooling as needed. If only the HVAC systems in office buildings worked as well!
What other forms of IoT can you think of?
When technology is taught out of context, it can only get us so far. But when we pair it with disciplines that teach effective methods for intentional change, then we can make the world better. Here are a few pairings:
- Technology + Design. Students learn to empathize with users and to employ design processes to develop solutions that give their users super-powers.
- Technology + Sustainability. Students learn models for human, biological, and ecological systems and to identify and leverage points in a system for positive change.
- Technology + Entrepreneurship. Students learn how to create and test business models and use that knowledge to inform their product development process and launch.
- Technology + Leadership. Students learn how to navigate fear, set goals, build highly functional teams, and develop trusting relationships as they work on technology projects.
What other pairings might we explore?
About 500 years ago I gave a TEDx talk called “Make Better Stuff.” It was set in the context of the rise of digital fabrication. My talk was a plea to seize the opportunity, to push beyond making 3D printed key chains and arduino controlled toy cars and really engage in using this technology to make the world better. The focus was on the stuff that people made and the call to action was to make it better.
But over the years I’ve come to realize that if you want people to make better stuff, you need to have more diverse people making stuff. You need to have more diverse people studying STEM disciplines at university and participating and leading in the STEM workforce.
The problem is, most of our tech programs attract white boys and men. It’s hard to know why. Is it because white boys and men have more confidence and thus enroll in these programs? Or is it because these programs are written with language and filled with signals that tell them “You belong here.”
So what do we do about it? How do we encourage more women and people of color to shape the present and future course of technology, to make better stuff?
The answer is complex. We need to teach women and people of color how to navigate the status quo while at the same time, teach them to identify and leverage the qualities that make them unique. We don’t want and need more diversity in STEM programs for the statistics of it alone. We want more diversity in STEM programs because we want more diversity, more creativity, more creative tension, more skill in working through creative tension. Because if we do it right, on the other side of that tension, we’ll have a diverse group of inventors challenging the status quo and making better stuff.
I don’t normally promote products here, but this is one that I truly believe in. The “Ship It Journal” by Seth Godin. The prompts in the journal are the perfect balance between focused and open which creates an ideal space for you to explore, evaluate, plan, and ship a project.
This is an expression from my husband’s late father. An Oklahoman, WWII veteran, and dairy cattle auctioneer. Wise words.
Seeing other people’s problems, and the solutions to them, is easy. But helping those people see their own problems and solutions as clearly is nearly impossible. Advice is only followed when it’s asked for. You can’t give people unsolicited advice. It’s ineffective and it’s also a little insensitive. While the advice giver has good intentions, giving advice to someone who hasn’t asked for it can easily be interpreted by the listener as, “You’re not good enough and you’re doing it all wrong.”
Coaching someone though a problem is a lot more work but much more effective. Even so, the person has to want to be coached. All you can do is say, “I’m here if you want help.”
TAKE IT FURTHER
The Coaching Habit
The management book, Radical Candor is often interpreted as, “Be blunt when giving feedback.” But it’s more nuanced than that. One of the most useful tips in the book is, “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.” For example, if someone on your team sends out a group email and there is a mistake in it, let them know in a private message, not in a “reply all.” But if they share good work in a group email, “respond all” and praise away. Common sense, yes?
But what about a workshop or critique situation? If you read this blog, then you know I went to art school. And art school is tough, especially critique.
Critique is a group meeting in which you hang your work on the wall and your professor and peers rip it to shreds. It makes you tough. If managed correctly, the public criticism is all about the work, not about the artist, and it ultimately makes the work better. An artist that is practiced in crit eventually internalizes this kind of feedback and can call it up while they are working to make good decisions.
On the other end of the spectrum from critique is radical empathy, the practice of helping people feel seen and heard. This is especially important when teaching women and people of color who tend to hang back in group critique settings. First generation college students might have this challenge too. It can take them a while to speak up at all. And when they finally do, is critique the best environment help them build confidence? Do they need to be toughened up or have their lives been tough enough already?
I don’t know the answers here. But it’s good food for thought. Something to hold in my heart and continue to think about.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Radical Candor blog
Is “Grit” Racist?
When you are introducing a new idea to people on your team or to potential partners or customers, right at the start you need to connect your new idea to something that your listeners are already familiar with. If you don’t do this, your listeners will be distracted, skeptical, and they might even question your credibility.
But if you come right out of the gate and introduce your new idea by drawing an analogy to something that your listeners are already familiar with, you are much more likely to get buy-in. Follow that analogy with some convincing data, and you’ve got even more buy-in. Once you have buy-in, you can spend your energy focusing on the real nitty-gritty of your project rather than spending it trying to convince people that your project should be a project at all.
In progressive education and even in business management, there’s a good amount of talk about the value of play. Let your people play and they will magically become out of the box thinkers. However, if you don’t help your people connect the dots between what they learned during playtime with the processes they use for real work, then the value of play is lost.
If you want your students to use a new process on a project, teach them how to play and iterate with the process on a project that is light and low-risk. Choose a theme that is fun and one that everyone can relate to. If you want them to learn about business models, ask them to generate 50 different models on the theme of food service. Then reflect on the agility they tapped into during playtime and ask them to draw on that same agility for a real project. When they get stuck on their real project because it’s riskier and scarier, coach them to call up the playful experience to help them push through.
If you want them to learn color theory, have them explore color combinations with a poster project about baby animals. Yes, baby animals. They are so cute and fun and they loosen people up. After playtime, reflect on how they explored color. Then ask them to use what they learned and apply it to a real project, something that they care about. When they get stuck, ask them to conjure up the spirit of play that they tapped into when they were working with baby animals. If you do that, you will help your people carve neural pathways from the play and creativity they used in the low-risk project to the creativity they need to tap into for the real project.
If you want your people to play, you need to help them connect the dots.
We have a lot of creative educators out there who are trying to create and teach curricula that bridges the gap between STEM and The Humanities. Why is this an important thing to do? Because the critical thinking skills that we learn in the humanities will help technologists of the future create and scale meaningful solutions to complex problems.
The barrier that these educators face in this important work is that they are still bound to a siloed evaluation system. This system limits their creativity and ultimately, their effectiveness in bridging this gap.
Why is evaluating integrative student work so challenging? Perhaps it’s because educators and administrators might have to evaluate students on something that they themselves don’t have expertise in: true interdisciplinary work.
But if we are to ask our students to do something new in order to build a better future, than we educators and evaluators need to be generous in figuring out the evaluation side of the equation. Maybe evaluation needs to be done collaboratively with stakeholders who have cognitive diversity, who together can discuss how they appreciate the ways in which their students are practicing interdisciplinarity as well as identify and troubleshoot the places in which their students struggle.
Change of this magnitude requires that the leaders and evaluators of it be vulnerable. They are trying to teach and evaluate students on something that they themselves aren’t an expert in. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s what’s required.