Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable

There are some things that I’m pretty comfortable with. Meeting new humans, gauging their comfort or discomfort, allaying fears and insecurities, building relationships… and yet, there are many more situations that we’ve experienced during the past three weeks that I’m far less than comfortable with.

The least comfortable experience for me to date has been putting a value upon and “selling” my work… before I’ve even begun to do it. I’m grateful to my group members and fellow classmates who have a stronger freelancing background and are far better at personal salesmanship than I.

I’m also super grateful to be working with some pretty sensational humans both here at AC4D and also within the partner organization that we selected for our first project. I’m learning a lot about myself and it’s thrilling to be working on [first understanding, and then] solving wicked problems together.

Here’s to many more uncomfortable experiences in the upcoming months! 🍻

Blameless Postmortems

On the final day of my first week of AC4D, a friend introduced me to the concept of blameless postmortems. I’m sure that he wasn’t aware just how fitting and timely his article share was for me. Even after only seven days of class, I’m already certain that I will fail many, many times during the course of this program, and it is vital that I understand how an accident or failure occurred in order to better equip myself to prevent it from happening in the future.

“Some of the most valuable learning opportunities exist in the wake of failure, and those opportunities are often squandered.”

Blameless postmortems emphasize forward-looking accountability and encourage the “experts” of mistakes (read: those who have made mistakes) to turn into teachers and help turn errors into investments in the future. When things go wrong, these accidents contains valuable information and should be “seen as a source of data, not something embarrassing to shy away from”, said John Allspaw, Founder of Adaptive Capacity Labs and former CTO of Etsy.

I’m looking forward to having innumerable opportunities to learn from my mistakes over the next eight months and will leave y’all with this equally relevant short video courtesy of Spanx CEO Sara Blakely. “Failure for me became not trying versus the outcome,” Sara said as she fondly recalled a childhood tradition of sharing failures at the dinner table. “If there’s a ‘failure’ or an ‘oops’ in your life and if you learn from it and if you can laugh about it, then it’s all worth it.”

Working on a problem that is meaningful

My favorite moment today was watching AC4D alum Adam Chasen try to find the words to describe why—upon graduating from AC4D a few months ago—he had opted for his current path as a social entrepreneur bringing KeyUp to life, instead of a more cushy role with a corporation. Adam chose these words: “This is a real privilege to work on a problem that is meaningful. I’d never heard these terms combined, yet they make all the sense in the world together.

My most important takeaway was to never get too attached to a design idea until the concept has been fully validated and to prescribe equal weight to that idea’s validation or the lack thereof. I also learned that this process can be a lot more fun with really wonderful teammates, and so I’m offering our Tuesday morning team selfie up to the interwebs. Happy weekend and congrats on completing orientation, y’all!

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It’s not can we build it, but should we build it?

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Even though AC4D faculty member Emiliano Villarreal was teaching us about M.V.P. when he asked the class this question, it struck a chord with me. Much of the reason that I’m so excited about this experience is that we are learning the skills to help solve wicked problems. To me, this means that we’re trying to ensure that the programs, products, or services that we learn how to design will, in fact, do good.

I know Emiliano was talking about how it is important to validate that demand exists before investing in building something, but it reminded me to also consider how the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned product or service could quickly spiral less towards helping and more towards harming. I’m looking forward to getting out with my group and doing more user-testing and interviews tomorrow to help evaluate if we are on the right track towards designing something that actually should be built!

Creation through ideation

Is it too soon to have already found a favorite part of this process?

Today we took our field research data points, debated themes, crafted insights, and then the fun began. Ideation is, effectively, an improv-style brainstorming session where you allow yourself to say “yes, and” to every concept that comes to mind and then either build upon that or spin into another brainstorm.

I’m excited to see what develops out of this mess of green post-its tomorrow!

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Building empathy

During our first day of field research yesterday, it wasn’t hard for our group to relate to the gamut of sentiment expressed by the individuals that we interviewed. We heard perspectives ranging from a deep frustration with the public transit system and some of its pain points, to a goosebumps-evoking sense of pride felt by an interviewee recounting when she brought her nieces (now regular transit users) on their first bus trip. So, when are we called upon to actively build empathy?

I was most aware of working to emanate empathy during our interviews when an individual attempted to describe and justify their paranoia about technology, actively seeking positive affirmation and validation of their views from our group. I was conscious of arranging my face and body in an attempt to make the interviewee feel that I exactly understood, valued, and felt their fears… while secretly having personal flashbacks to a period of life where I worked hard to maintain a positive relationship with a family member whose religious and spiritual beliefs became largely divergent from my own. It felt akin to not wanting to hurt or stymie the individual’s vulnerability and openness — by letting on that you inherently feel differently — in an effort to draw out their most pure perspective and opinion.

Perhaps these moments elicited my most intentional reactions because the stretch to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view felt the most challenging. If I have one goal by the end of this program, it is to master that stretch such that it no longer feels unnatural or constructed to slip into a mindset vastly different from my own… and, perhaps, uncover what it means to build empathy.

Keep Calm and AC4D On

If I had a single takeaway from today’s orientation, it would be that this will be a challenging program and I’m going to need to be on my A-game to make it through successfully. AC4D director Ruby Ku began the day by overviewing the school, curriculum, and program logistics and then we dove into student introductions after lunch.

During the alumni panel that closed out the day, I learned my new favorite word courtesy of AC4D alum Céline Thibault: timeboxing. Since my Google calendar already navigates me through my week, I’m looking forward to adding an even greater level of detail to my schedule to remind myself to do things like call mom, go jogging, and eat my vegetables over these next nine months.

While I am absolutely feeling anxious about my ability to juggle life commitments without dropping too many balls, I’m simultaneously reassured by the energy, honesty, and enthusiasm of the fellow students that I met today and am looking forward to immersing myself in all things interaction design during the course of this program!

Keep Calm and AC4D On
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