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Month May 2014

“Challenge the Known & Embrace the Unknown” – Advice to Your Younger Self (That Your Present Self Can Put Into Practice) …*

"Challenge the Known & Embrace the Unknown" - Advice to Your Younger Self (That Your Present Self Can Put Into Practice) ...* | rethinked.org

LinkedIn is running a series of articles entitled If I Were 22, where they ask various influencers to share the advice they would give to their younger self. I’ve gathered some of the ones I like below. What about you? What would you say to your 22 year old self? I was thinking about what type of advice I would give to my own younger self and this is what I wish I had known at 22 (and wish I would reliably put into practice now):

Don’t fear or resist change, it will happen every single day for the rest of your life. Learn to be adaptive and nimble. Be open to learning from new situations—realize how much power you have in how engaged you are in something or not. Learn to reframe uncertainty into opportunity. And when you are afraid, know that it generally means you need to take a risk.

Be kind –in thought and action. You will jump to conclusions, you will make assumptions, your brain will try to find and create meaning in all situations—it’s human and you have no control over that. You do however, have the choice of selecting the kinder assumptions, the kinder conclusions. Choose kindness, you will have a happier and more fulfilling relationship to the world and to yourself.

My final and perhaps most practical piece of advice is: hey, take it easy, Martha Stewart! While I applaud and cherish your untarnished enthusiasm in the face of enduring and repeated cooking disasters, take it easy with the million cooking and baking ware. That pan you don’t have that’s for a very specific dish? Adapt! (see point number 1). Don’t go out and buy the bloody thing. You will move in and out of many apartments over the next decade, and when you find yourself sitting in the center of a room with boxes surrounding you, packed floor to ceiling and stuff still everywhere, know that this is in large part—my dear–the cooking and baking. Remember: nomad.

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When you’re just starting out, it may seem tempting to settle quickly into a career path, just because it seems reasonable or stable. But I encourage all 22-year-olds to do the opposite. Go out and explore. Start figuring out what you’re really passionate about, what really makes you tick. Hone your talents and pick up useful skills. And if you find yourself in a place you don’t really want to be, go out and look for something different.

Mike Feinberg, Co-Founder at KIPP

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Looking back, there are a few things I would have told my 20-something self to do differently.

Connect with people outside your major or discipline. I was so focused on being an industrial designer, I didn’t hang out with engineers or business students or artists or writers. I didn’t know what other opportunities were out there for burgeoning design thinkers. Thankfully, the Internet means today’s grads have more context and greater chances to collaborate with people from different backgrounds. Seize every opportunity.

Know that the culture of where you work is as important as the work you do. During school, I had an enviable internship at one of the trendiest design studios in London. Known for its cutting-edge product designs, the studio leads were brash, macho, live-on-the-edge types who believed in the lone creative genius. I was wowed by their work, but didn’t find my time there creatively rewarding. I craved collaboration and teamwork. It wasn’t until I started to work with Bill Moggridge that I learned just how critical the culture of a workplace is to one’s creativity. It’s one of the main reasons I’m still at IDEO.

Make time to travel. I went straight from undergrad to grad school. I wish I had had the confidence to take a year off and explore the world, to add some life experience to my academics. It was only after I graduated that I started to travel. It might be a cliché, but getting out of your own culture makes you more mindful and observant. You question everything you once took for granted. When my own children are trying to figure out what’s meaningful to them, what direction to take their lives next, I tell them to take out their passports. It’s time to book a trip.

Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO

 …*

Challenge the known and embrace the unknown. Accepting the known and resisting the unknown is a mistake. You should do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown. Now is the time to take this kind of risk because you have less to lose and everything to gain. Great things happen to people who question the status quo.

Be brief. Contrary to school, in the work place there are few minimums. In my entire career, I can count on one hand the instances when an email, presentation, or report was too short. The perfect length for everything is when it is “complete”—more is less, and “shock and awe” doesn’t work in business or war. Here are guidelines: email—five sentences; presentations—tens slides and twenty minutes; report—one page.

Tell stories, do demos, and use pictures. The most enchanting people tell stories, do demos, and use pictures to influence and persuade others. They do not belittle or berate. They paint a picture in people’s minds whether the medium is social media, email, in-person presentations, phone calls, or video conferences. There is only one Steve Jobs, but if you want a shot at being the next Steve Jobs, learn to communicate using stories, demos, and pictures.

Continue to learn. Learning is a process not an event, so you should never stop learning. Indeed, it gets easier to learn once you’re out of school because the relevance of what you need to learn becomes more obvious. Indeed, the day you graduate is when the real learning begins.

Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Canva

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So the advice I’d give to young people today is this: don’t just climb the ladder of success – a ladder that leads, after all, to higher and higher levels of stress and burnout — but chart a new path to success, remaking it in a way that includes not just the conventional metrics of money and power, but a third metric that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, so that the goal is not just to succeed but to thrive.

– Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief at The Huffington Post Media Group

{ A Theory of Positive Emotion } Building Friendship, Love, Better Physical Health & Greater Achievement …*

{ A Theory of Positive Emotion } Building Friendship, Love, Better Physical Health & Greater Achievement ...* | rethinked.org

I finished reading (one of) Martin Seligman’s book on Positive Psychology, Authentic Happiness, which was a fascinating, highly applicable and, at times, uproariously funny read. In a nutshell: Seligman outlines an evolutionary theory of positive emotion; identifies three types of happiness: happiness in the past, present and future; he lays out various ways to enhance happiness in each of these three dimensions: using gratitude and forgiveness to create positive emotions around the past, cultivating hope and optimism to increase happiness about the future and differentiates between the pleasures and what he terms “the gratifications” in the present. After reviewing some of the ways in which to enhance the pleasures in one’s life, he devotes the last few chapters of the book to finding ways to enhance the gratifications in the big arenas of life: work, love and parenting. Authentic Happiness is a treasure trove of intriguing findings and applicable insights on how to raise one’s happiness level, so I figured I would write about his findings on the blog over the next few weeks while I experiment with the many interventions he suggests and I’ll report on that after I’ve had a bit of time to reflect. Since there is so much I want to cover, I will now be posting about rethinked*annex twice a week–Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’re interested in experimenting with Positive Psychology in your own life as well, please be sure to email me (elsa@rethinked.org) I would love to create a ‘support group’ to exchange ideas, insights and resources.

For today, I thought I would start where Seligman does, by laying out the theory of positive emotion through which he frames Positive Psychology. You will recall that Martin Seligman defines Positive Psychology as:

Positive Psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions. 

The first question to examine when thinking about a field of study focused on happiness is to ask where these positive emotions come from and whether they serve a higher purpose than merely making us feel good.

Why has evolution endowed us with positive feeling? What are the functions and consequences of these emotions, beyond making us feel good?” (6)

DO POSITIVE EMOTIONS HAVE A PURPOSE BEYOND MAKING US FEEL GOOD?

The short answer is yes, they do:

“Feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.” (43)

Drawing on the work of Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredrickson, Seligman highlights an evolutionary purpose for positive emotion:

Fredrickson claims that positive emotions have a grand purpose in evolution. They broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself. When we are in a positive mood, people like up better, and friendship, love, and coalitions are more likely to cement. In contrast to the constrictions of negative emotion, our mental set is expansive, tolerant, and creative. We are open to new ideas and experience.  (35)

BENEFITS OF POSITIVE EMOTION – A REVIEW

Seligman devotes the rest of chapter three to reviewing various studies done around the physical and mental benefits of positive emotion, here are some of them:

There is direct evidence that positive emotion predicts health and longevity. In the largest study to date, 2,282 Mexican-Americans from the southwest United States aged sixty-five or older were given a battery of demographic and emotional tests, then tracked for two years. Positive emotion strongly predicted who lived and who died, as well as disability. After controlling for age, income, education, weight, smoking, drinking, and disease, the researchers found that happy people were half as likely to die, and half as likely to become disabled. (40)

Positive emotion protects people against the ravages of aging. You will recall that beginning nuns who wrote happy autobiographies when in their twenties lived longer and healthier lives than novices whose autobiographies were devoid of positive emotions, and also that optimists in the Mayo Clinic study lived significantly longer than pessimists. Happy people, furthermore, have better health habits, lower blood pressure, and feistier immune systems than less happy people. When you combine all this with Aspinwall’s findings that happy people seek out and absorb more health risks information, it adds up to an unambiguous picture of happiness as a prolonger of life and improver of health. (40)

Research suggests that more happiness actually causes more productivity and higher income. One study measured the amount of positive emotions of 272 employees, then followed their job performance over the next eighteen months. Happier people went on to get better evaluations from their supervisors and higher pay. In a large-scale study of Australian youths across fifteen years, happiness made gainful employment and higher income more likely. In attempts to define whether happiness or productivity comes first (by inducing happiness experimentally and then looking at later performance), it turns out that adults and children who are put into a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of laboratory tasks, such as solving anagrams. (41)

Positive Emotions Help Cope With Adversity. The final edge that happy people have for building physical resources is how well they deal with untoward events. How long can you hold your hand in a bucket of ice water? The average duration before the pain gets to be too much is between sixty and ninety seconds. Rick Snyder, a professor at Kansas and one of the fathers of Positive Psychology, used this test on Good Morning America to demonstrate the effects of positive emotion on coping with adversity. He first gave a test of positive emotion to the regular cast. By quite a margin, Charles Gibson outscored everybody. Then, before live cameras, each member of the cast put his or her hand in ice water. Everyone, except Gibson, yanked their hands out before ninety seconds had elapsed. Gibson, though, just sat there grinning (not grimacing), and still had his hand in the bucket when a commercial break was finally called. (41)

Positive Emotions Undo Negative Emotions. Barbara Fredrickson showed students a filmed scene from The Ledge in which a man inches along the ledge of a high-rise, hugging the building. At one point he loses his grip and dangles above the traffic; the heart rate of students watching this clip goes through the roof. Right after watching this, students are shown one of four further film clips: “waves,” which induces contentment; “puppy,” which induces amusement; “sticks,” which doesn’t induce any emotion; and “cry,” which induces sadness. “Puppy” and “waves” both bring heart rates way down, while “cry” makes the high heart rate go even higher. (41)

Happy People have more casual friends and more close friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. Routine psychological studies focus on pathology; they look at the most depressed, anxious, or angry people and ask about their lifestyles and personalities. I have done such studies for two decades. Recently, Ed Diener and I decided to do the opposite and focus on the lifestyles and personalities of the very happiest people. We took an unselected sample of 222 college students and measured happiness rigorously by using six different scales, then focused on the happiest 10 percent. These “very happy” people differed markedly from average people and from unhappy people in one principal way: a rich and fulfilling social life. The very happy people spent the least time alone (and the most time socializing), and they were rated highest on good relationships by themselves and by their friends. All 22 members of the very happy group, except one, reported a current romantic partner. The very happy group had a little more money, but they did no experience a different number of negative or positive events, and they did not differ on amount of sleep, TV watching, exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol, or religious activity. Many other studies have shown that happy people have more causal friends and more close friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. (42)

Happy People Are More Likely To Demonstrate Empathy & Altruism. Before I saw the data, I thought that unhappy people—identifying with the suffering that they know so well—would be more altruistic. So I was taken aback when the findings on mood and helping others without exception revealed that happy people were more likely to demonstrate that trait. In the laboratory, children and adults who are made happy display more empathy and are willing to donate more money to others in need. When we are happy, we are less self-focused, we like others more, and we want to share our good fortune even with strangers. When we are down, though, we become distrustful, turn inward, and focus defensively on our own needs. Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being. (43)

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Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

{ Rethinking Technology } Charles Fadel on Our Algorithmic, Automated Future

dorco-six-blade-razor-web

If you ask experts, How do you see the future evolving?, they come up with an acronym that summarizes their view:

VUCA — Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

That in a nutshell is the future. Actually, we’re already in it.

Perhaps the most surprising presentation at the recent Learning & the Brain conference was by Charles Fadel, the founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign.

For me, Fadel’s talk completely realigned the conversation on 21st century education — by presenting a more accurate understanding of the breathtaking pace, direction, and implications of technological innovation.

What Fadel made especially clear is that the true nature and impact of this innovation tends to escape us for the simple reason that much of it evolves out of public view.

A very similar version of his entire 50-minute presentation can be seen here. It’s worth viewing in its entirety, but in the meantime, here are some key highlights.

on technological acceleration

In the first part of my career, I was in semiconductor technology… so I’ve seen what geometric progressions can do. When things double in capability every 18 months, it’s quite unfathomable…. We’re wired to understand the mathematical world in a logarithmic fashion rather than in an exponential fashion. Our perception of numbers is not preparing us to understand what happens when things double every 18 months in the case of semiconductor technology, or 12 months in the case of storage, or doubling every nine months in the case of bandwidth. We just cannot fathom what happens from one generation to the next.

tech-acceleration-Charles-Fadel

In current trends, you will have the latitude to buy an iPhone with 40 Terrabytes in 2015. What would you do with 40 Terrabytes? What would you do with 40 Exobytes in 2025?.. You will be able to record yourself, from birth onward, and store it. You’ll never have another argument with your significant other: Rewind, and — I told you so! 

Here’s the discontinuity: [This storage] is already possible in the cloud… It’s actually quite doable and affordable. And it’s only going to get more doable and affordable — on an exponential basis.

“The future is already here — it s just not evenly distributed.”
— William Gibson, 2003

[Technological innovation] is all around us, we just don’t see the point at which it’s going to scale up and become profoundly impactful. The internet was around for 25-odd years, virtually invisible to most people. And then all of a sudden it popped up because it passed the “knee” of the [S-] curve of exponential [growth].

ON COMPUTER-DRIVEN ALGORITHMS

What the hardware progression [over the past few decades] has been hiding is how fast the software is progressing… Kinks and bugs give us the impression that [software] is doing very poorly by comparison [to hardware].

But actually, algorithms, which are themselves are powering all sorts of industries…, are progressing at an amazing rate. So [the time required to complete one linear programming task] has dropped from 82 years to one minute [in just fifteen years], which is an improvement of 43 million. Of which a factor of 43,000 is due to algorithms. That’s 43x times more than the increase due to hardware.

ON INCREMENTAL VS. RADICAL CREATIVITY

Invention Machine [a Boston innovation company] cataloged thousands of patterns, and started noticing [that] very often Innovation occurs following patterns.

[Fadel gave the example of propeller blades increasing from one, to two, to three, to four blades, and then to “double-four-blade” propellers.]

Charles-Fadel-innovation-patterns

There’s an object you use in your daily life that has followed the same progression: the razor blade. One, two, three, four — six [blades] now. You can literally predict that at some point, Gillette or someone will say, Hey, I can have this thing move in the middle, and that will be a double-four blade. That has happened with cameras, albeit digitally, not mechanically….

So inventions follow patterns, and if it’s a pattern, it can be automated. You could literally launch a computer program, then go in and patent the next three-blade, four-blade… It’s so incremental, it’s almost mindless. What’s amazing to me is we actually do buy six blades.

Incremental Innovation = improving the existing ‘state’
Radical innovation = inventing a completely new ‘state’

There’s a difference between incremental innovation, which can be quite readily automated, and radical innovation, which isn’t.

So, the good news is that computers aren’t quite yet capable of radical innovation. You’re not going to have a computer coming up with a Bach piece by [itself].

But the bad news is that most innovation is actually incremental. So when we say we’re going to teach our kids creativity — yes, incremental creativity and invocation is important but we also have to realize that we have to somehow push them to the radical side as much as possible. Because the Incremental side can be automated.

 

SO WHAT DO WE TEACH IN THIS AGE OF INNOVATION?

Wisdom
Ethics

Fluidity with technology 
Adaptability
Resilience
Curiosity
Asking the right questions
Synthesizing/integrating
Creating

They’re not so much about knowledge — traditional knowledge that we all love and nurture — but about higher-order skills of all types, particularly skills and character traits.

To learn about other incredible examples of existing technology — such as augmented-reality contact lenses, cancer diagnoses made by offshore computer, and robotic prison guards, to name just a few — I encourage you to watch Charles Fadel’s entire presentation, made available by the Ross School.

Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding …*

Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding ...* | rethinked.org

You may find the confession I’m about to make a bit strange given how central design thinking is to our team’s work as well as my rethinked*annex side project. But here it goes: I am sick and tired of talking about design thinking. As you know, design thinking is a huge buzzword right now in innovation and management circles. Unfortunately, most conversations and articles about the discipline center on either embracing it as a cure-all methodology for every single one of our innovation and creativity woes or decrying it as a depthless, overhyped, passing fad. I find these two binary views to critically miss the point about what design thinking is and what it can offer.

Just yesterday, browsing LinkedIn’s “Management Consulting” news tab, I found two separate articles detailing the woes of design thinking. In “Design Thinking” Destroyed Us, Brian de Haaff  writes:

The problem is when this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges and delivering great customer experiences. And this is where it all went wrong. Everything looked like a problem that we could “design think” our way out of to the UX teams.

Even problems that no one on the product team thought were customer or business problems became ripe for long design-centered studies by people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product.

I see three big problems with the above passage. First, nothing about design thinking mandates that it should be embraced as a step by step recipe. “When this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges” –who is doing the fervent, exclusive, adoption? That is a result of the company’s culture and management, not the discipline of design thinking itself. The second issue is the “long design-centered studies” that he describes. As IDEO’s Kelley brothers like to say, “Fail faster, succeed sooner.” Design thinking is about rapid prototyping and iteration, not months of market research. Also, and perhaps more worryingly, why are these studies being conducted by people who are not at all plugged in to the environment of the challenge they are trying to solve–those “people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product”? If there were a design thinking mandate it would be to empathize. Design thinking is, above all, human-centered–meaning the solutions focus on the actual perspective and experience of the people invested in the challenge, not on unexplored assumptions of what that experience might be.

The third big issue here is “everything looked like a problem that we could “design think”.” I think this statement reflects a serious misunderstanding of the design thinking process. It is not simply a list of steps to problem solve, it’s a way to explore and redefine the problem landscape to uncover more holistic and potent solutions. One of the major benefits of design thinking is how richly it allows one to explore and reframe the problem one is trying to solve. In design thinking, teams use an initial definition of the challenge at hand as a springboard for further exploration. I have never participated in a design thinking challenge where the initial statement of the problem wasn’t later reframed and recrafted.

de Haaff goes on to list some of the specific reasons why his company’s “application of design thinking destroyed progress and fractured the UX groups from the product and engineering teams“:

“The core issue was that design thinking fundamentally requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions must be created for consideration and testing.” 

Again, design thinking doesn’t fundamentally require anything–it’s a tool. If you had to mow your lawn and you had at your disposal a lawn mower and a pair of scissors and decided to use the scissors, when you found yourself exhausted and discouraged at having wasted your afternoon cutting only a small patch of grass with your scissors instead of finishing the job in an hour with the lawn mower, you wouldn’t blame your scissors for the poor outcome, would you? Tools are just tools, their impact and effectiveness depends on how we choose to use them.

I do not mean to pick on Mr. de Haaff, but I think his article illustrates a lot of the problematic ways in which design thinking is being framed and experienced. Design thinking is a human-centered problem solving methodology–it gives us a framework and a set of tools to problem solve. It is neither a miracle nor a curse, it is what we make it. Which is what makes Tamara Christensen‘s interview on think jar collective about Demystifying Design Thinking such a refreshing and important read:

Buzzwords can be dangerous if they don’t promote sustainable changes in thinking and doing, and shared understanding. They can be easily dismissed. Ironically, I find that most designers have trouble clarifying exactly how they think and making their own process explicit for others. The most simple definition of design that I use is by Herbert Simon, from Sciences of the Artificial (MIT Press, 1969) where he describes design as “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones”. Design thinking, therefore, is basically about the kind of mental activity that facilitates this transformation. Fortunately IDEO and the d.school at Stanford (among others) have done a great job of promoting the process and providing a wealth of information about how it’s done and why it’s valuable.

I think the biggest obstacle to understanding Design Thinking is to treat it as a rigid process, a series of steps that must be followed in a particular sequence. I have seen this happen time and again when a team tries to apply Design Thinking with questionable success and then decides “Design Thinking doesn’t work.” In reality, what doesn’t work is treating Design Thinking like a recipe that must be adhered to. It is more like a mindset, multiple modes of thinking and doing that are iteratively utilized as the project requires. Design Thinking is first and foremost about people and keeping them at the center of the process.

The most common modes are Empathize (with humans), Frame (an opportunity from the perspective of a human), Ideate (about how to address the opportunity), Prototype (possible solutions) and Test (your ideas with people using the prototypes).

IN MY EXPERIENCE THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL THINGS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT DESIGN THINKING (AS A PROCESS AND A MINDSET) ARE:

  1. It is human-centered and people-powered, keep stakeholders engaged as much as possible.
  2. Empathy is an essential and transformational experience for fueling creativity.
  3. Prototyping is about building to think and test ideas. The faster we fail, the better.

Source: Demystifying Design Thinking: Interview With Tamara Christensen via Think Jar Collective

“I Subject Myself to Change Because it Forces Me to Remain an Active Thinker About My Relationship to the World”

"I Subject Myself to Change Because it Forces Me to Remain an Active Thinker About My Relationship to the World" | rethinked.org

“Many people I know live in very creative environments; their houses and offices are like galleries. I don’t do that. I seem to live in chaos. I’m not an environment person; if anything, I prefer to be in changing environments. I subject myself to change because it forces me to remain an active thinker about my relationship to the world. That sounds very highfalutin, which isn’t me. Maybe it’s as simple as I like to learn from all different situations, and that’s more important to me than holding on to my own taste in how I live. It’s like Type O blood, which can bond with any other type of blood. I like figuring out what I can from different situations. That’s how I’ve been, although I’m not saying it’s a better way to live.” – John Maeda via The Great Discontent

Here’s a lovely thought from the great John Maeda on the function of change in keeping us active thinkers. Hope everyone is enjoying a gratitude filled Memorial Day.

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{ 8 Tips for Making …* } When You Make New Things, You’re Joining In the Most Ancient Dialogue That Humans Have Ever Had

{ 8 Tips for Making ...* } When You Make New Things, You're Joining In the Most Ancient Dialogue That Humans Have Ever Had | rethinked.org

Right in time for all your weekend projects, here are eight of Mythbusters’ Adam Savage‘s ten commandments of making, which he shared at this year’s Maker Faire. I’ve transcribed my favorite eight below (the last two being rather technical — measure carefully so that you know when to use high tolerance versus loose tolerance and use more cooling fluid.) These are some great tips that apply across most creative endeavors, whether you are making a tangible object or ‘thinkering’ out an idea. You can view the full speech here, Savage shares his ten tips on making in the first ten minutes and spends the remaining forty minutes answering questions from the audience.

What will you be making? Send us some pictures!

make & rethink …

MAKE SOMETHING – ANYTHING }

“The first rule of making, I will say, is make something–anything: cook, weld, carve, sculpt. Anything that you need to make, it’s important that you make it. Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals: we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once–you’re telling a story about your desire, you’re telling a story about something that you want, you’re telling a story about something you see needs to be made and you are using your tools to improve yourself and improve the world around you. When you make new things, you’re joining in the most ancient dialogue that humans have ever had.”

MAKE SOMETHING, OCCASIONALLY, THAT ACTUALLY IMPROVES YOUR LIFE }

“From a toilet paper holder that actually works to a toaster that’s slightly improved. When you make something that you use every day as opposed to something that’s useless, I can’t even tell you how good it feels. Even like a handle on a drawer, you make a handle on a drawer and you’re using it every single day, the patina of your use that it gets feels really good. And it’s another story.”

START NOW }

“Start now. Start right now to do the thing you want to do, there is no time like right now and do it with the things in front of you. If you want to weld a car frame but you don’t have a welder or a car or a frame, go ahead and mock it up out of cardboard.”

{ LEARN SKILLS THROUGH PROJECTS }

“I can’t learn any skills unless I have a project to learn with. I need a goal. […] I can’t learn to weld just by someone showing me that it should sound like frying eggs and you set the dials like this. I need to end up with Wolverine claws or a sword or a pair of stilts or something like that. Always try to find a project that will get you interested in the thing that you want to build.”

{ ASK- ASK QUESTIONS, ASK FOR HELP, ASK FOR ADVICE, ASK FOR FEEDBACK }

“Ask for advice and when you find someone you trust, ask for feedback. I’ll tell you, it’s very funny, among adults we rarely actually turn to each other and say, ‘what do you think of the work that I’m doing?’ And it’s because that places us in a very vulnerable spot. But again, if you can find a teacher or a mentor or someone whose opinion you really respect, asking them very specifically about how they think you’re doing can give you incredible insight. I’ve done it a few times in my life and every single time, I’ve gotten a tremendous perspective on what I was actually doing.”

{ SHARE

“That is really important. There is nothing that makes me angrier than when somebody does something beautiful and you ask how it’s done and they say it’s a secret. No secrets! What are you protecting? Nobody’s going to take your technique. Nobody has a monopoly on being you and if you think that your technique is what makes you interesting, you’re being ridiculous. So share your techniques because when you do, someone is going to come back to you with a better way of doing it and you’re going to learn something from them.”

{ RECOGNIZE THAT FAILURE & DISCOURAGEMENT ARE PART OF THE PROCESS }

“Please recognize that discouragement and failure are part of every single make project. Not something that happens every now and then–in every single project you will find yourself discouraged and you will fail at some point. If you recognize that, if you recognize that you’re going to fail, at least when it’s about to happen–when you are getting discouraged because you hit a snag and you don’t have the part and it’s Sunday night and it’s four a.m.–at least then you know that that’s part of what’s going to happen. And that the next morning it may be a little harder to get started but if you know that mechanism, you can actually keep going. I personally, and I’ve said this many times before, whenever I’m making something, about 70 percent of the way in, I actually think I have no idea what I’m doing and I hate what I’m building. And Fellini even said that he knows that one of his films is almost finished when he totally despises it. And frankly, that 70, 80, 90 percent mark–the closer you get to the end, the more scared I get because it turns out that I hate finishing things. I’d much rather keep working on them and keep getting that endorphin rush of the Ebay research and finding that part that I didn’t know existed. Actually getting all the way to the end is a little bit difficult but if you recognize what your mechanism is, where the places you’ll get frustrated, they are your friends. You can welcome them in. This is also part of mindfulness and meditation–understand that those thoughts are going to happen and embrace them. Look, they still are going to suck, I’m not gonna lie to you, it sucks to fail, it hurts to cut yourself, but it’s going to happen in every single project.”

{ MAKE THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE

“I can’t even describe to you, how much pleasure I get when I make something and then I give it to somebody else and they get a story, they get the thing that I’ve made. They get the fruit of a couple of hours of my time and concentration and they get to possess it. It does make you vulnerable when you give your stuff away, you should recognize that. Giving your stuff away does actually place you in a slightly vulnerable position but it is also a really magical one. So occasionally, when you’re making something, give it away. Give it to other people.”

*

[Hat Tip: Adam Savage’s 10 Commandments of DIYing via Lifehacker, published May 20, 2014]

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness?

In times of trouble, does the understanding and alleviating of suffering trump the understanding and building of happiness? I think not. People who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These persons care–sometimes desperately–about virtue, about purpose, about integrity, and about meaning.” -Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness

I am currently in the discovery phase of the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project–reading the books and getting a deeper sense of the discipline. There is a lot of information to unpack, so this is the first of several posts in the coming week about what exactly Positive Psychology is, how it came to be, and what type of impact it might provide. I am deeply excited by the potential of an empirical science that attempts to help us thrive and live meaningful, joyful and fulfilling lives. Positive Psychology was made even more special once I discovered that it started as a wonderful “what if?” and as a challenge to the status quo. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman walks his readers through his thought process leading up to his founding Positive Psychology as an official field of study in 1998. Noting that “psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life” and that, “For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness,” he decided to do something about it.

{ QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO } 

THE PROBLEM – 

For the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only–mental illness–and has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure such once fuzzy concepts as depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism with considerable precision. We now know a good deal about how these troubles develop across the life span, and about their genetics, their biochemistry, and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve these disorders. By my last count, fourteen out of the several dozen major illnesses could be effectively treated (and two of them cured) with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. But people want more than just to correct their weaknesses. They want lives imbued with meaning, and not just to fidget until they die. Lying awake at night, you probably ponder, as I have, how to go from plus two to plus seven in your life, not just how to go from minus five to minus three and feel a little less miserable day by day. 

THE SOLUTION – 

My most grandiose aim […] is to correct the imbalance by propelling the field of psychology into supplementing its hard-won knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotion, as well as about personal strengths and virtues.

{ DEFINITION } 

So what exactly is positive psychology? Seligman defines it thus:

Positive psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions.

I will unpack and get into more details about how Seligman classifies positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions in next week’s post.

{ REFLACTION } 

This week, I am beginning Tal Ben-Shahar’s Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal For Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, which is the companion workbook/playbook to Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and which is a way to put into practice some of the findings and insights from Positive Psychology:

Engaging in reflection and action –what I have called “ReflAction”–brings theory to life. I have adopted the practice of reflaction in my academic classes and public workshops, and I recommend that all teachers and students in any field who are concerned with real learning do the same. 

What a splendid term reflaction is, and it so brilliantly captures what I am attempting to do through the rethinked*annex project. The playbook is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week, and grouped around various themes (see my picture of the table of contents below.) This week’s theme is “Being Grateful.”

Ben-Shahar starts by giving a brief overview of the findings of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s studies on gratitude, which demonstrated that “putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences:”

Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness. 

He then recommends a daily gratitude exercise to be completed every day:

Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or reexperiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with partner,” try to reexperience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner. 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness? | rethinked.org

Tony Wagner on High Tech High’s “classroom of the future”

high-tech-high

“The philosophy of High Tech High is founded largely on the idea of kids making, doing, building, shaping, and inventing stuff.

“The engineers that I know, the architects I know, the artists I know, the great educators I know, the entrepreneurs I know — they’re all perplexed and curious about how they can do it better the next time. And that type of perplexity leads to engagement, it leads to learning, it leads to innovation. We are trying to inculcate that type of perplexity and curiosity in our students in everyday practices.”

— Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High

rethinked...* logo

Tony Wagner — the Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab and a favorite here at rethinked…* — is a vocal champion of High Tech High, a network of 11 charter schools in San Diego County.

High Tech High’s 4500 students are admitted via zip-code-based lottery. Sixty percent of the students are minorities, and 48% qualify for free and reduced lunch.

But as Wagner noted in a speech at the 2013 (co)lab summit, the 11 High Tech High schools are also notable for what they don’t do. They don’t offer AP classes. They don’t offer varsity athletics. And they don’t teach to standardized tests, so, according to Wagner, the schools’ “state scores are average.”

And yet, in many important ways, High Tech High is a school of the future.

Though its name may conjure up images of students immersed in digital learning, a wonderful clip of an upcoming documentary on HTH — which Tony screened at the Learning and the Brain conference I recently attended — reveals that the school’s philosophy of innovation inhabits the wood shop just as fully as the computer lab.

high-tech-high2

The clip (which begins at 2:23 in the video below) features an interdisciplinary physics and humanities project at HTH. Collaborative groups of students developed theories of the rise and fall of the Greek, Roman, and Mayan Empires — and then manifested their theories in fully-functioning mechanical presentations.

The students’ ingenuity, perseverance, and demonstrably hands-on learning yielded astounding visual results.

What’s more, the final stage of the project involved an annual all-school open-house, where students presented final projects to the general public. In this case, the “general public” was literally thousands of people.

One key takeaway?

Counterintuitively perhaps, in the “classroom of the future,” the most profound innovations — making and presenting as integral components of learning — are as timeless as they are transformative.

For the documentary clip, please jump to 2:23.

Sign up to receive more information about the documentary film at learninginnovation.us.

{ Inspiration for Knowmads } Celebrating Our Endless Opportunities To Cross the Threshold Into “Real” Life …*

{ Inspiration for Knowmads } Celebrating Our Endless Opportunities To Cross the Threshold Into "Real" Life ...*  | rethinked.org

I think it’s fair to say that we have a collective metaphor of college graduation as a time when we cross the threshold into “real” life–working life, adulthood. The problem with this idea of “real” life is that it structures the notion of both time and living as linear–it presumes an official start to Life and Adulthood that simply do not exist. Having dabbled in said “real” life for several years now, I have become highly aware of the fact that living is anything but linear. Circular at best, but perhaps more zigzagy– lines of flight rather than circles. How one defines “real” life is, of course, highly subjective–financial independence, autonomy, starting one’s family, etc. Our real life is what we make it.

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.” -Haruki Murakami

In a sense, the quote above represents the dangers and consequences of a live lived believing in a single threshold into “real” life. I completely agree with Murakami, that those people who live their lives around imagined certainties, who believe they’ve found The Answer or The Way are truly fearsome beasts indeed. I also understand that it is human nature to try and reduce risk and uncertainty in one’s life. I do it all the time and find I have to be very intentional about staying productively within the tensions that inform my every day experience. I’ve started thinking more and more of myself as a knowmad. Knowmad is a bit of a trite play on words, but it symbolizes something essential in how I want to live my life. The knowmad is a perpetual w[o|a]nderer. Someone who seeks out the in-between spaces, the tensions, someone dedicated to living a life of questions and inquiry rather than one of linear certitudes. It’s about living in such a way that each day brings a renewed opportunity and challenge to create a “real” life.

Which brings me to my adoration of commencement addresses. Commencement speeches deal with some of the important tensions and questions that come up when we are faced with the formidable challenge of creating our “real” life. As celebrated cultural figures share the insights and struggles they have encountered in creating their lives, we are reminded that designing one’s life is an ongoing quest and it gives us the opportunity to check in with ourselves, to question our beliefs and behaviors and challenge the definition and path of our lives. You can therefore imagine my excitement yesterday, when I discovered NPR’s new app The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever:

We are now in a golden age of the commencement speech as a hilarious, inspiring form of popular art. And to pay our respects to graduations past and present, NPR Ed and the NPR Visuals team have built a searchable, shareable database of over 300 commencement speeches dating back to 1774. 

To help you explore this history, we tagged every speech with a few words that express its theme or take-home message. Here is a countdown of the dozen most popular tags — a tweet-length guide to life. Click on any tag to view all the corresponding speeches in our app.

I love the tags that they’ve created, which touch on topics dear to my heart and which I often write about here on rethinked* 

PlayYOLOInner VoiceEmbrace FailureRemember HistoryMake ArtUnplugWork Hard – Don’t Give Up Fight for equalityBe KindChange the WorldTipsBalanceDream

Source: What We Learned From The Best Commencement Speeches Ever via NPR, published May 19, 2014.

explore, question, rethink & create a “real” life worth living …*

{ How might we } develop Ed Tech that teachers and students will actually use? Include them in the conversation!

While the title of this post may seem like a no-brainer, it is shocking how wide the chasm is between research and practice. On one side, we have researchers and ed tech companies developing new curriculum, apps, and tools for the classroom. On the other side, we have teachers and students who are often not included in the conversation until the Beta version roles out and they are asked for feedback.

Classrooms are castles that teachers spend a ton of thought and effort in carefully constructing. Therefore, many teachers are resistant to change, especially new ideas that they haven’t had any say in. On the other side, researchers often have a warped or idealized image of how a piece of technology will play out in practice, and there are many classroom factors that could make their plans obsolete. Additionally, there is a huge issue of ensuring teachers have adequate professional development and training in how to use new tools in the classroom.

A huge focus of the Instructional Technology and Design course I took this past Spring was to include users EARLY in the process and – if possible – make them part of the project teams. Teachers and students should be included in every aspect of the process when designing technology that they are going to use.

When I first heard about he Design Thinking for Educators (DT4E) handbook, I knew this was an important step towards changing how we view the role of the teacher in developing new practices and tools for the classroom. However, realistically some projects are too huge for full-time teachers or schools to take on on their own. This is why integrating them into the work that researchers and companies do is so imperative.

It looks like one state has finally gotten the message with this. Hawaii has brought the teachers’ voices into tech ed integration. In this article from Ed Surge,  the author explains that Hawaiian educators are integrally involved in the decision making process as Hawaii transitions to a 1:1 “device in every hand” state. Additionally, the teachers have been allotted TIME to play with new technology and time to construct their own integration strategies. In fact, they found that teachers ideally need a whole school year of professional development before releasing devices to students.

…*

In my own research project (I am developing a computer based coach for Invention activities), we have teacher consultants who we are working with, and the PI has many years of classroom experience. We will be pilotting in real classrooms by the end of the study, working with teachers and students to assess how they use and enjoy the learning experience

However, I think there is definitely more room for more teacher and student voice in the development of new products. How Might We better integrate technology in K-12 education? Let me know what you think!

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