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.”
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.
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.
I hosted a “tiny robot” build at an art opening last night. This was a first for me and I have to say, it was a good pairing – the art opening and the build. Artists are makers and so they participated fully and iterated with enthusiasm. I had a blast working with them.
Times like this I wish I had a voice-activated camera mounted to my head because the image above was the only picture I was able to snap. Right at the end of the night. Good picture though. Happy family!
There was another moment in the evening when a young mom with a baby on her hip saw our build and said to her friend, “Here, take this,” handing the baby over, “I want to make one of these.” And when she finished, she ran over to her friend and baby, held up her tiny robot and exclaimed, “Look what I made!”
Additionally, I had several artists chat with me about adding motors to their work. One had a motorized piece in the show – a first for her and it looked great. And another artist said to me proudly, “I just got my first Arduino in the mail today. I want to make my work more interactive.” Both of these artists were in their sixties, by the way. Lifelong learners!
TAKE IT FURTHER
If you are in the area, check out the Cayuga Arts Collective spring show. I had a chance to walk around the room before the doors opened. Beautiful work. Affordable, too.
Designing for individuals is a deeply rooted practice in our culture. When Keeping up with the Joneses is a major concern for customers, designers and advertisers exploit that. And while it’s certainly necessary for some products, it should no longer be the default.
Media theorist Douglass Rushkoff tells an interesting story about urban vs suburban design. When he was a kid growing up in the Bronx, folks in the neighborhood would gather on the street every Friday evening for a bbq and a block party. Each person would bring a dish or something for the grill. They’d bring music or games and it was a great time. But when his folks moved the family out to Long Island, no more block parties. Each house had a fenced-in yard equipped with its very own bbq cooker.
“Design for individuals” influences how we connect with one another. For example, I have a newish car with a real-time average MPG gauge on my dashboard. I track it and lighten my foot on the gas pedal to burn less fuel. It’s kind of fun, like a video game. But the driver behind me has no idea what I’m doing. They think I’m just driving slow and they are annoyed with me. But what if the design of my MPG gauge weren’t for my eyes only, but for the cars and drivers around me (displayed on my rear window or something). Then they’d be in the game too. The could use my gauge to burn less fuel in their cars. This public visualization of real-time behavior would help us work toward a common goal.
More consumer technology should be designed for community. More design should help people engage in, and get feedback on, collective positive impact. We have the technology. Let’s use it to its full potential.
Check out this impressive body of work from artist and inventor Philipp Stollenmayer. He’s got beautifully designed, physics-based games here. Wonderfully playful paper-craft projects here. And a collection of youtube videos that span both genres here.
If you are an artist or inventor, managing fear is part of your daily routine. When your job is to create something out of nothing or explore unknown territory, fear has to be a part of that.
Fear shows up in many forms. Its goal is to keep you from doing the work that you are supposed to be doing. World-changing work. Fear doesn’t want you to change anything. It’s busy trying to maintain the status quo. So your first task is to recognize it in its many forms:
Self-deprecation. That voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough to pursue your dreams? That’s fear telling you that. It’s trying to scare you into inaction. And it’s really good at doing that.
Worrying. That habit you have of worrying about things so much that they paralyze you? That’s fear. Again, trying hard to scare you into inaction.
Resentment. The stories you tell yourself about how other people are ruining your life by the demands that they put on your time. That’s a form of fear.
Busy Work. If you find yourself spending most of your energy on tasks and putting little to no energy into higher level discussions or projects, that’s fear.
Advice. If you find yourself giving advice to a lot of people, that’s a symptom of fear. Fear to face your own life. So much easier to focus on others.
Oo. Shiny. If you are constantly taking on new projects, that’s fear. Fear of finishing something because if you finish it, it might fail. Better to never finish it at all.
So what do we do about it?
Learn to recognize it. Even if changing your behavior feels impossible, just recognizing symptoms of fear is incredibly valuable. It puts you, and not your fear, in the driver’s seat even if you just sit there for a while listening to the radio and not going anywhere.
Commit to changing your habits. Succumbing to fear is a habit. We perfect this habit over the course of a lifetime. Changing it is hard and you will stumble, perhaps for the rest of your life. But committing to change isn’t too hard. Just say yes and when you stumble, say yes again.
Distinguish what you can and can’t control. Then take those things that you can’t control off of your plate. Yes, bad thoughts about them will creep up, perhaps even daily. But if you have identified and named the worries that you can’t do anything about, you will spend less energy worrying about them.
If artists and inventors talked more openly about fear and how they manage it, perhaps more people would be able to see themselves as artists and inventors. They wouldn’t be scared off by the illusion that artists and inventors are confident uber humans. The truth is, artists and inventors are filled with fear just as much as the rest of us. The only difference is that they have accepted that managing fear is a part of their work.
TAKE IT FURTHER
In this twitter thread, @suhail calls on CEOs to talk more openly about fear
1/ I became "CEO" at 20. I dropped out of college. I had only interned somewhere prev. Looking back, I couldn't imagine the journey that would occur from writing code all day to scaling to 300 people. I got lucky, I screwed up a lot, & had a lot of help. Here's what I learned…