What we need to get right

I think AI, Blockchain, and other high tech are all important things to get right, but I think community is what’s the most urgent.

If we can’t get it right, we’re going to leave too many people behind. It’s already happening in San Francisco. An enormous rift between classes and races. Skyrocketing company valuations matched with staggering homelessness rates.

The same way we find great models for building startups, we need better models for building truly inclusive communities. It’s urgent and we need it yesterday.

Doing as thinking

“When I stopped trying to describe what I was going to do and started doing it, things got better.”

-Elif Batuman, author and journalist

I heard this profound quote recently and it immediately resonated with me. For years I was trying to describe what I was good at. I was trying to put a job title on it, and package it into the neatest possible box. I couldn’t do it. I got frustrated and felt like I had no direction.

In reality, I knew what I was good at. I felt it in my core. I just couldn’t put words to it.

Things got better when I just followed the spark that lit me up in the first place. It’s never clear where you’ll end up in ten leaps, but it’s usually obvious where the first one should be.

You don’t need words to describe your magic. Feel it inside yourself and follow it.

The education system is too binary

We’ve drawn a systematic line that most people only cross once in their life time.

You’re either being educated, or you’re working. Oftentimes you do the former for 16 years, then do the latter for 40+ years. Oftentimes the first 16 years are boring. You’re excited get out there and start doing! And, the last 40+ years are quite uninteresting because you fall into the monotony of doing the same thing repeatedly.

There’s a fundamental problem that when you’re in school you don’t appreciate what the working world is like and when you’re working, you don’t have time for education.

Why not do 8 years of education, then 2 working, then 4 more years of education, then work some more? Or, why not have some sort of half and half model where you spend half a week working and the other half learning. Why not make education more modular? Adding on components as needed and when interested?

The key idea here is that no system will be singularly perfect. But if we can increase the number of choices, we can create flows that optimally serve more people.

Human Centered

The fourteenth and final post in a series about design mindsets.

Humans are inextricably linked to design. You can’t develop a product for a “market.” You have to focus on a real person first. Then, you’ll find that there are similarities between humans.

But if you focus on building something for average people, you won’t come up with anything interesting. It will be too generic. Not informed by the quirks of the human experience.

On paper, your app might be a great idea. On paper there might be a HUGE market for your idea. In reality, it’s a hard to navigate website. People say they would use it, but in the bust blur of every day life, no one has enough time or energy to overcome the learning curve.

When designing an airport arrival gate, a human centered designer pointed out how magical it is when loved ones reconnect after a long time apart. BUT in the airport, the board that displayed flight arrival times was positioned in the opposite direction from where arriving passengers would appear. Thus, if you were an excited parent waiting for your child to come back from their first semester at college, you might have your back turned and be too busy studying the screen. Thus, you miss out on an opportunity for a magic moment.

Moving the screen to the other side is a human centered design decision. That insight wouldn’t come out unless there was a deliberate focus on real people. Never forget that humanity is the key ingredient for any magic moment.

Divergent Mindset

Post thirteen in a series about visualizing design mindsets.

Your first idea idea is rarely your best. Yet, too often the first idea is the one we settle for.

To think divergently is to push yourself beyond the obvious ideas. To defer judgment long enough to go crazy, and push the boundaries of what’s conceivable.

Without divergence, we wouldn’t invent anything new.

When you have one idea, push for ten. When you have ten ideas, push for one hundred. The best ideas are usually buried, and a divergent mindset is the only way to find them.

Post twelve in a series about design mindsets with accompanying visuals.

The best ideas come from the intersection of multiple fields. Someone steeped in their own discipline rarely possesses the beginners mindset that is so crucial for innovation. That’s why projects need to involve people who come from different lines of sight. Entrepreneurs, policy makers, engineers, and community leaders all think differently. If you’re able to harness all of their brainpower, you will create something that is exponentially better than what else exists. IDEO, perhaps the most well-known design firm in the world, famously employs people from all kinds of different disciplines. Marine biologists, mechanical engineers, anthropologists, and more! They’re not experts in any one discipline, but they all share a common process for innovating. How might you bring in people with unique skillsets to take your project to the next level?

Explorative mindset

Post eleven in a series about design mindsets featuring custom visuals.

Designers are explorers and like they say, explorers are never lost.

What a magical reframe. From a place of harsh, self judgement that you don’t know what you’re doing, to a child-like sense of wonder. It takes a simple phrase like this just to realize how silly our quest for feeling “found” is.

There will always be uncharted territory out there waiting for you. Keep exploring.

Collaborative Mindset

Post ten in a series about design mindsets.

Design is collaborative! Creation is all about sharing ideas, testing them with users and building teams around them.

How might you partner with other people and organizations to launch win-win collaborations? Whether those come in the form of internships, jobs, programming synergies or just shared brainstorming, collaboration adds texture to our work.

I recently launched the Facilitation Academy, a 2-day boot camp to help others learn how to facilitate. It was intended for Dual School alumni to participate, but as I thought about it, the workshop became more collaborative in nature. It’s now going to be attended by half Dual School students and half college students from UD, Minerva and Yale representing nearly a dozen organizations.

Open-source, collaborative work is the future. How can you welcome others to join your movement and take it to the next level?

Integrative mindset

Post nine in a series about visualizing design mindsets.

An integrative mindset strives to marry two seemingly opposed goals into one solution.

For example, AltSchool’s goal is to deliver personalized education at scale. Personalization usually takes a lot of manpower, whereas scale makes it unreasonable to personalize. Using artificial intelligence they are able to integrate the two goals into one solution: a platform that learns student preferences and skill level to deliver the perfect next task.

In a less technical example, imagine you run a program to help young people become better public speakers. You have an upcoming presentation to important stakeholders. An integrative mindset might encourage you to have the students present so that they get valuable practice AND so you can prove your point in a tangible way.

Designers are always looking for win-win scenarios. Ask the question, How might we integrate multiple goals into one common solution? Using the power of “and” there’s always a way to make it happen.

Design Your Design Work

Post eight in a series about visualizing design mindsets.

How you work is a challenge to be designed.

Jake Knapp and the Google Ventures team run one week sprints. They are constantly iterating on their process because they get to test something new 50 times every year.

Seth Godin doesn’t use social media. He blogs every day and that’s it.

Tim Ferriss automated his business so that he only needed to work four hours every week.

Work is not something that’s handed to us with a how-to manual. We can play an active role in how we accomplish tasks and tackle our work.

Take the time to understand your mental cycles. I find I do my best focused work in the morning. I love to write and develop programming between 9am and 12pm. In the afternoon, I have trouble focusing on something like writing, but I love to talk with people and brainstorm new ideas.

The first step towards designing your design work is understanding your personal habits and preferences. Next time you have a project, take a step back to self-analyze. You’re the user and the designer of your own life.