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{ rethinking mentorship …* } How Might We Change Traditional Learning Scenarios & Completely Decentralize Learning From Its Current Form?

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Image: Akarsh Sanghi

  “In the 21st century when we are surrounded by digital devices and are occupied by a screen most of the time for every possible activity, I wanted to explore how can we break away from this cycle to learn something in a more organic and natural way.” – Akarsh Sanghi

I discovered Grasp yesterday and was immediately charmed by this “wearable tool to assist learning” created by interaction designer, Akarsh Sanghi. Grasp is a design provocation aimed at questioning our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments–

“The scope of the current version of the project was to spark a debate on how traditional learning scenarios can be changed and learning as we know it can be completely decentralized from its current form. [….] The idea was to learn new skills which are more physical in nature-like craftsmanship and require step-by-step instruction assist learning.” –Akarsh Sanghi

As our lives, learning, work and communities become increasingly decentralized, online and interconnected, Grasp raises some urgent and important questions about the future of learning and mentorship. Head over to Sanghi’s website to learn more about Grasp and check out his other projects.

“Learning new skills which are more physical and instructional in nature has always been limited by the constraint of a mentor and the learner being present in the same physical space. Grasp is a wearable device which attempts to overcome that constraint by connecting the mentor and the learner across distances. The tool provides the mentor with a real time insight into the learners environment through the coupling of a first person point of view and an instructional laser pointer. Therefore, the mentor can communicate to the person learning via the device and instruct using the laser pointer. It is the idea of having a companion looking over your shoulder and instructing you while learning something new irrespective of distance.”

question & rethink . . .*

Source: This Robotic Wearable Is Like Having a Teacher on Your Shoulder

Grasp_Concept-Sketch.001

Image: Akarsh Sanghi

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* | rethinked.org

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink

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“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977

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“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987

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“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970

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“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

Staying With the Question When We’re Lost In the Space Between Potential Futures …*

Staying With the Question When We’re Lost In the Space Between Potential Futures ...* | rethinked.org

When we’re lost in the space between potential futures, it seems, we can’t help but torment ourselves with impossible questions. Our ruminations tend to focus on what we are missing, what we may or may not get, or what we fear giving up.

These days those sentiments go by the popular acronym FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out.” Back then we called it escapism. Most of us make sense of it as either cue or cowardice — either a healthy reminder to look beyond our current horizon, or a neurotic fear of commitment because there may be something better elsewhere.

Once we reduce those feelings to a binary choice, however, we become too focused on yearning and too little on learning. The preoccupation with picking the right future — whether to follow or forget the temptation to make a change — obscures the question of what the temptation may be trying to teach us.

It is often when we yearn for an answer that we stand to learn the most from staying with the question. It is neither resolution nor fulfillment that we long for in those moments, I suspect. It is desire. (We remain suspended because desire feeds on distance and possibility). If we can’t figure out which option is better then it may be worth examining what those options mean to us.” – Gianpiero Petriglieri

Source: Getting Stuck Can Help You Grow via Harvard Business Review, published February 6, 2013.

I absolutely love this quote from Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, Gianpiero Petriglieri. “It is often when we yearn for an answer that we stand to learn the most from staying with the question.” Of course this is much easier said than done. We are fragile beings after all and it is in our nature to seek comfort and avoid uncertainty. How might we learn to stay with the question? Seems a worthy question around which to organize one’s life.

question & rethink …

Empathy, Perspective, & the Perils of Design Thinking Dates

THAT TIME I WENT ON A DESIGN THINKING DATE

I have experienced the design thinking process several times over the past few months and each time, the overwhelming feeling that I was left with was a sense of playful wonder and discovery. Design thinking is fun, lively, fast and in each of my experiences with the process thus far, it has a contagious childlike component of sheer excitement and possibility. But as my month of discovery is quickly coming to an end, I decided a little extra practice would be beneficial. So I decided to make use of the great resources over on the Stanford d.school website and take their 90 minute virtual crash course in design thinking. Wanting to really ‘live’ out design thinking in my everyday, I enlisted my boyfriend, Matt, to be my partner for the course and attempted to make a date of it.

AND IT WAS A MASSIVE FLOP….

Two Saturdays ago we gathered arts and crafts supplies and other oddments accumulated around our apartment, poured some wine and settled into the couch ready for a fabulous DT date. Except that it wasn’t fabulous. It wasn’t even fun. In fact it was unnerving, boring and left me in a bad mood. I had to sit on that observation for a while before being able to make some sense of these strange (given past experiences) feelings. And the conclusion I came to is that we know (and think we know) each other too well. Instead of really listening to each other and trying to draw out information that would reveal the true tension at the heart of the challenge for our partner, we were both filling in the blanks ourselves (those blanks we assumed were important) with what we knew and supposed about each other.

THE DESIGN THINKING CHALLENGE

The d.school virtual crash course is based around redesigning the gift giving experience for your partner. You are asked to interview your partner about their last gift giving experience–enquire about the whole process, from deciding to buy a present to choosing which one to get, to giving one and receiving a thank you card. The aim of the challenge is to identify the core tensions at the heart of the gift giving experience for your partner and redesign the experience or relevant parts of it to align more organically with the needs, constraints, motivations and challenges of your partner.

WHERE WE WENT WRONG…

WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH DISTANCE

We had both been present at the other’s last gift giving experience. I had helped Matt pick out an infant tummy turtle for one of his colleagues who had recently become a mother and he was with me when I ordered a wedding gift for my friend off of her Bloomingdale’s registry. That was the first problem. Since both of us had been present the last time the other bought someone a gift, we arrived at the interview with a lot of preconceptions from having been there and thinking we knew, if not the whole story, at least the facts. That was a key (and negative) departure from the design thinking process. By thinking we knew, maybe even better than our partner himself or herself, what the core tension at the heart of their gift giving experience was, we had left the emphatic, playful terrain of design thinking and entered the stifled, user unfriendly ‘focus group’ mentality. We had observed and engaged with the other person during their last gift giving experience and we naively assumed that this meant we understood what the experience felt like for the other person. We were not actually seeking deep, empathic understanding but rather ‘baiting’ each other with subjective questions that would lead the other to give answers we, as the interviewer, had already decided on.

THE PART WHERE I YELLED AT HIM TO ‘BE SERIOUS’

The course is presented as a 90-minute video, where two IDEO designers lead a group of people through the design thinking process and encourage the viewers to do the same in real time. In all my previous experiences with Design Thinking, the organizers’ prompts to move on from one stage of the process to the next have always felt like an interruption. As though you are finally starting to get to what you were reaching for when bam! It’s time to move on to the next activity. Not so for our design thinking date. We were both done interviewing each other at least a minute before the four allotted for each of the partner’s interview were up. Instead of taking a step back and trying to evaluate why it was that the process felt so different this time around, I became frustrated, decreed the experience on the verge of failure and yelled at Matt to take this seriously. And just like that, with three little words, I obliterated the spirit of the design thinking process; I lost sight of the playfulness and empathy intrinsic to the process. Over the course of my few experiences with design thinking, I had come to identify a baseline ‘normal’ feeling for the process and as soon as my emotions deviated from the standard that I had established, I freaked out and felt like the entire process—rather than say, my interview questions—were all wrong. Part of that issue, I think, stems from the fact that we are rarely taught to think about the connection between feelings and processes. We are not taught to be attuned to our feelings over the course of a process and to identify and accept negative feelings when they arise; to see them as real time feedback—warning signs to step back from the immediacy of the project, determine their cause and address them as they arise.

HOW DO WE SEE THE HABITUAL & USUAL ANEW? HOW DO WE UNROOF THE FAMILIAR?

I have spent some time trying to understand the underlying cause to the various points where we went wrong and I have come to the conclusion that it was a perspective issue, in the literal sense—we were too close: to each other and to the experience. There is a famous anecdote about looking at paintings: if you are too far away from a painting you miss all the brushstrokes and the magic of the details but if you are too close you miss the unity and flow of the entire piece. In experiencing life, as in art, one should strive for that middle ground, the perspective that captures both the brush strokes and the big picture. But that is much more easily said than done. We are programmed to think and live in contrasts and binaries. To give salience to our experiences we must parcel reality into digestible portions. There is no such thing as silence, yet it is something that we all agree exists and have experienced. Silence is a necessary byproduct of sound. For us to hear things, we must tune out others. And because evolutionary the new and unknown represented a very real threat (hello frenzied, blood thirsty dinosaurs), we tend to foreground the new and unusual at the expense of the familiar, which we take granted to such a degree that we often fail to notice it entirely.

The challenge then becomes about creating ways of seeing the familiar with new eyes and minds. How do we unroof the familiar? How do we instill discovery and wonder into our every day routine and interactions? This is no easy feat but a worthy pursuit. I am toying with the idea of committing to a rethinking…* the everyday challenge where I would experiment with one idea or activity each day that would help me experience the habitual, familiar and common sensical—all those things that form a ‘given’ part of my life and which I rarely notice—as if for the first time.

Our prototypes for the redesigning the gift giving experience design thinking challenge. I made Matt a Digital Gift Giving Assistant App that would not only track birthdays, anniversaries and other gift giving occasions, it would also help him generate gift ideas based on various variables (such as the recipients likes and dislikes, online wish-lists, character traits, etc.). Meanwhile, Matt made me a tiny reusable camera that can be inserted into a gift box and will notify me when a friend receives a present I have sent so that I can then see her reaction online where the camera is live streaming her opening her present.

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