The Value of Scale

April 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I met with Sam recently after working for half an hour or so with her group on their studio project. It was apparent in their meeting that they were feeling like they were spinning their wheels without getting traction and getting anxious about the amount of time they had left in the semester to get through their process. I attempted to help them move forward and make them feel better about the amount of work they could do in the remaining time.

After sitting in with them Sam and I broke off and had our 1-on-1 meeting. It was apparent that she wanted to continue the group conversation in our discussion with the remaining time for the project being her main concern. After trying to boost her confidence by talking about the anxiety that all or most people and teams feel as large projects come to conclusion and explaining that the project is (shhhh…) more about the experience and journey than producing a groundbreaking solution to the challenge. Finally, I gave some advice, all based on the same concept: SCALE.

First, you have to scale the process to your time frame; it would be nice to spend weeks and weeks in each step, ensuring that due diligence was performed. On some projects you do not have that luxury though and you must move forward with imperfect information and/or intuitive decisions.

Next, scale your challenge to fit the available time. If you were given three weeks to address a problem involving pollution it would be unrealistic to start at the global, national, state or even city level. The neighborhood or a workplace could be a better fit. Similarly, tackling industrial pollution in a few weeks would be nearly impossible but addressing littering amongst a group of people feels much more possible. Choosing an appropriate scale for your problem can ensure that you can move through the process as required.

Lastly, we should scale the solution to fit the remaining time. If you have to choose a solution and have two weeks to attempt implementation, you should use time as a criteria when making your decision. With two weeks left it would be more reasonable to choose the strategy involving a small group rather than one involving many players or one requiring six steps as opposed to 66 steps.

The Flower Exercise

February 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

“A way to clarify what one wants to do.” – Dick Bolles

The Flower Exercise prescribed in Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute?” is designed to help those seeking career guidance with an inventorying system of their skills, traits, personality and other elements. A number of us in the studio have been working through the exercise and have found it valuable. The process helped me identify an area in which I have (some) expertise and a big interest in – sustainability. I’ve educated myself on sustainability issues, having attended conferences and seminars in addition to implementing several projects in my home. My interest lies in helping individuals, organizations and even communities benefit from designing and implementing sustainable practices, affecting large systems down to the components of a personal product or individual process. Working through the “flower” exercise allowed me to recognize this alignment of my personal values and interests and my skills that I might not have seen otherwise.

Click here to download my flower.

After working through the exercise and feeling enthused by the results, and hearing positive comments from others that had done it, I decided it would be a good move as a mentor to talk with Sam about the exercise. It was not assigned to her as part of a class but I knew that she had started the exercise to prepare herself for securing a summer internship. When we sat down to talk about it she had not yet finished but was interested in my results. I shared my insight from above and suggested it was a positive process that could help in fine-tuning a resume. Our talk then turned resumes’ and their contents as well as what type of job she was seeking. I had this same concern last year regarding how to craft my resume’ in light of my new educational experience and was able to share my most recent resume’ with Sam and direct her to a section of the “parachute” book that offered useful advice. I also shared my  previous summer’s experience of attending a design education fellowship, making local innovation connections, and reflecting on the first 2 semesters of the MFA program. Samantha hopes to secure an internship in design research or innovation outside of Indianapolis and I think that would be a great experience in a number of ways for her. She best get to work on her flower exercise.

Research Methods Consultant

February 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

I sat down with Sam(antha) and (J.) Brian today to discuss a research project that Sam is working on for a class. A goal of the class is to implement and experience qualitative research methods in a new-to-you context, getting the students out of their comfort zone, which is where most research takes place. Brian and I took the same class last year  (kind of) and were able to offer our advice and experience to her.

I had a meeting and missed Brian’s solo input, but my main point was that she needed to be intentional and purposeful with her methods. There are many options available but to best utilize her short amount of research time (2 weeks for tool development and implementation) she needs to have a clear research goal and idea of how her methods would help her arrive at that point. That said, Brian and I also noted that being focused and purposeful needs a portion of being open to the unexpected. While conducting her research she may come across something unexpected that either changes her thinking or needs to be researched itself. So, be focused and intentional with your qualitative research methods, but be prepared to be flexible and possibly rapidly develop a tool to research an aspect that was hidden before but now has your gut pulling you towards it.

PS – Brian (or anyone else), if you read this, please share your qualitative research advice.

Brainstorm Consultant

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I met with Sam briefly to discuss her, at the time upcoming, brainstorm session. We talked about potential topics and things to consider while facilitating. I was also able to share two books that I sometimes refer to when working on an ideation session – Thinkertoys and the Getting to Innovation. Both books have provided unique insight and help with ideation and the creative problem solving process.

One thing that I’ve been able to do while at grad school is to find outside books and articles to broaden my exposure to design thinking, process and leadership. The books above are some of the outside sources I hope to be able to share with Sam.

Mentor/Protege Goals

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been paired with Samantha Julka in the MFA mentor/protege experiment educational activity this semester. To acquire a direction for this I looked at a few advice columns for positive and beneficial mentorships. I collected a few ideas that felt important and relevant to the context of education and career that we are currently in. In addition to serving as a friend and homework consultant I want to use the time this semester to hit on the following topics:

  • learn about outside-of-school Sam
  • discuss vision and goals for school and career
  • identify 1-3 objectives for mentorship
  • discuss related outside content
  • strengths/weaknesses
  • identify school-related stresses and fears
  • near the end, reflect on lessons learned, directions taken, things left to accomplish

As I meet with Sam I will try to work the above themes into our conversations.

Leadership The Butler Way

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Since we began dating, one of the favorite things for my wife and I to do is attend basketball games at her alma mater, Butler University. It certainly helped our enjoyment of the games and team that during that time they’ve risen to nearly the top of the college basketball world with their near miss in the NCAA championship game in 2010. During their run it became popular for pundits to talk about “The Butler Way‘” as if it was their magical elixir. Intrigued, I investigated The Way and have come to respect the leadership values that it promotes.

Developed by the patriarch of Butler coaches, Tony Hinkle (Hinkle Fieldhouse), to offer guidance for his players and students, The Way demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self. It has developed today into a backbone of their basketball teams, the athletic department and other elements of the school. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the Butler Way as it appears in their basketball locker room:

  1. Humility – know who we are, strengths and weaknesses
  2. Passion – do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence
  3. Unity – do not divide our house, team first
  4. Servanthood – make teammates better, lead by giving
  5. Thankfulness – learn from every circumstance

When I looked into the principles last Spring I immediately identified connections between values that I share as well as those  espoused by the MFA in Visual Communications program at IU’s Herron School of Art and Design. Let’s discuss the way that I envision the principles:

Humility – being honest about our abilities and situations better lets us leverage our talents and mediate and build on our weaknesses, be this individually or as an organization

Passion – having a desire to succeed regardless of the sacrifice necessary has pushed many from good to great

Unity – having teammates to share the load, hold us accountable, talk honestly with, commiserate and rebound with, and to celebrate successes with is vital to many projects, if not life

Servanthood – it is necessary for us all to be servants at times and leading by giving is incredibly valuable and rewarding both for a team and within an individual

Thankfulness – sometimes a loss or critique may hurt, but we should be thankful for the opportunity regardless as there is much to be learned from painful moments as well as those instances when we come out on top

Coaching Reflection

December 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

During the second half of this semester I acted as the project management coach for first year MFA students working through the Simplex creative problem solving process to address an issue concerning Herron. Team KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was given the difficult task of tackling an issue related to smoking in or around the building.

I met with team KISS about once a week to offer feedback, insight or simply to participate in their meetings. As the team was nearing its last week on the project we met to discuss project management. Using three questions — What’s helping our process?, What’s hindering our process?, What are we learning from the process? — I tried to get KISS members to reflect on managing their project up to that point and how they would handle the last steps.

In the last meeting we had a good conversation and the team was able to articulate their learning the project management realm during the course of the project. As the project began they were eager to define a schedule with tight deadlines so that they could be done with the project on time. Working through the project they came to the realization that rather than following a strict timeline, the path they followed was more of a natural, organic route. They stated that there was a need for “soft” deadlines so that they could complete their work in the end and that it could be a hinderance and not in the project’s best interest to make a decision or move forward simply because their schedule dictated that they do so. (Certainly it is vital that the project met it’s final deadline.) The team felt that they spent an appropriate amount of time in each step, not too long or too short, and that being flexible and intuitive on decision making was necessary. I found it interesting that they also identified the possibility of having an official project manager for their next project.

I believe that I worked with the team well over the project term because I was able to build trust and a positive rapport with them. I often asked them how they were doing, inserted myself into the process and took time to encourage and offer positive comments whenever I saw an opportunity. This confidence with each other helped when it was time to talk about serious issues and to give honest comments; I was critical of aspects of their project at times but because we had a respect for one another I was able to share and they were receptive to my thoughts. I tried to keep my comments specific and to the point, in effort to not overwhelm or confuse them with unfocused or too much information. When it came time for our final meeting on project management I used the three process questions, with a focus on their schedule and project management, to frame our conversation and it worked very well and they were able to articulate their thoughts and learning as described above. These questions are invaluable and could be used at any point during a project to gain an understanding of team strengths, weaknesses, and learning. The tips for providing positive feedback are also highly valuable for communicating with others, and have application across many relationships.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoyed acting as an advisor to a project team. It was usually a highlight of my day in the studio when I sat with them to learn about their project and to talk about elements of it. Sometimes I could offer insight and other times I was able to learn something new from them.

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