What breaks your heart?

There are some questions that change the way you think about purpose. I heard a new one yesterday:

What breaks your heart?

What do you see happening in the world that you just can’t bear? That’s a good trail to follow. That’s a project worth working on.

For me, it’s seeing that people aren’t empowered to make change. It breaks my heart to know we have amazing solutions locked up in young people who don’t feel they can do anything about the problems they see. My solution is to apply ideas from entrepreneurship and design to help people take their first steps.

What breaks your heart will probably be completely different that’s why there’s hope. We all have passions and together we can amplify our impact beyond that of any individual. But the first step is to ask the question and start moving toward an answer.

Moving forward with meaning

Does anyone read a blog post because it has no typos?

No, they read it because it touches them or moves them.

I heard Seth Godin make this point on a podcast this morning and it really resonated with me.

Perfectionism can be debilitating, but we need to leave it behind if we want to make change happen. The user interface doesn’t need to be perfect for people to love it. Your website doesn’t need to be finished for you to teach someone a new skill. You don’t need a logo to make an impact in a personal interaction.

You need to be honest. You need to be generous. You need to be real. None of those things require perfection to work.

So let’s stop worrying about perfect and start moving forward with meaning.

Dream. Do. Learn. Repeat.

Four words that make a statement about the way education should be.

When we think about how school actually works, we’re left with the structure of learn, repeat, learn repeat until you finally get to do. There isn’t much dreaming in there and the doing comes much too late.

It’s subversive to tell someone to do something before they’ve learned about it. But I think that’s the way it should be. Dream of being a chef? Make eggplant parmesan. Bake some cookies. Try it out and you’ll learn from the process. Rapid learning is the way education should work.

I think the order of those four words matter. They all need to be there, and they need to be in that order. How do your experiences stack up?

Being right vs being generous

There’s a huge difference between wanting to be right and wanting to be generous.

One of them is self serving. A path where you put on blinders, and only look for information that confirms your original beliefs. A journey where you’re not looking for new insight. The end result is that you go nowhere new. You learn nothing interesting and you further cement yourself in one, narrow minded place.

The other route helps people. It’s a path where you’re open to possibility. Searching for new information to change your mind and improve your ability to serve. The end result is that you show up with empathy. You can look people in the eyes and see where they’re coming from. You become an expert in understanding.

I think we can all agree we need more of those right now.

Beyond light bulbs

Certain moments are the gateway into the more complex understanding of a problem.

Light bulb moments are better described as rich learning moments. They’re not always positive. Calling it a light bulb assumes that it’s a good realization. What we’re really striving for are productive realizations.

When a student makes a phone call and they learn they’ve been making a false assumption for the last four weeks, that’s a light bulb moment. The assumption was wrong. It sucks. She’s back to square one. But it’s a transformative moment because her eyes were opened and she made a productive realization.

The moments also look like a student who is lost and not sure what to do until he has a conversation with an expert in the field. The expert connects him with a meaningful project in a matter of minutes. That connection leads to action and a high potential for impact.

Those are the moments we’re going for, also. The common thread is that the student is in the driver’s seat. They need to make the realizations for themselves. They need to have their own experience. Our job is just to create an environment where having that experience is as easy as possible.

It’s deeper than a lightbulb moment. It’s more than an idea. It’s action.

Expanding the idea of prototyping

Most people think of a prototype as a rough version of the final product. If you’re building an app, the prototype is an app that is not fully polished. But really, that definition of a prototype is WAY too narrow.

A prototype is a test. Let’s look at a couple common examples and think about how we might prototype them quickly.

“I want to build an app for people to talk about ____.”

Make a Facebook group, a blog or an email list, draw your app on paper to map the interface

“I want to teach people how to do ____”

Host a workshop, write a blog post, make a YouTube video, compile a list of resources in Google sheets.

Just because you want to build a widget doesn’t make you a widget building company. Think about the essence of your product. Drill down to the core of what you’re trying to do. Once you have a guess about what that essence might be, build something as quickly and cheaply as possible to test it out.

Divorce yourself from the solution. Fall in love with the problem and prototype it quickly.

Changing the world

How can you change the world if you can’t first change one person?

Sure, you can invent some widget that touches every person’s life, but is that really world-changing? I think world-changing is much more personal than writing some code, creating a typeface or inventing new technology.

I think world-changing is about looking someone in the eyes and understanding them. Pushing them to be better and supporting them on the journey. Enrolling them on a trip from which they emerge a better person. Changing one person in a way that they come back to you in five years and say “you changed my life.”

Changing the world isn’t about being a marketing whiz or a business development guru. It’s about seeing people and being generous. It’s showing up and saying “I see your problems, and I made this for you.”

The thing is, it’s way harder to change one person than it is to “change the world.” You can show up and build something big without ever facing the hard part of having empathy and taking a risk for one person.

So before we set out to change a million people, let’s pause for a second and think. How might I change one person?

Design isn’t about you

I think design is such a powerful discipline because it’s fundamentally not about you. At its core, you are building something for a user. Thus you need to understand that user on a deep level.

Same with entrepreneurship. You need to know your customer, their tendencies, their hopes and desires. It’s not about you.

The practice of understanding that it isn’t about you is powerful. It opens up doors. It forces you to empathize. It changes the world.

Who is your who?

When you tell the story of your project and the change you made, who will be the main character?

Who will come back in 5 years and say “you changed my life”?

Who can you look in the eyes and say “I made this for you.”

Until you get specific about who that person is, you won’t feel as connected to the work. There won’t be a driving force pushing you to finish the project and get it in their hands.

Once you know who that person is and you know they need your work, it’s selfish to wait. It’s selfish to keep working on the perfect product when really you just need something good enough. But before you know the who, you’ll be stuck spinning your wheels. Developing an idea, rather than developing an impact.

Find the who and rest will start to fall in place.

Learning starts with a spark

Adults can handle the promise of “I know this is boring, but trust me it will be helpful in the future.”

Young people don’t respond to that promise because it’s been made to them for a decade and it still hasn’t come true.

True learning has to start with a spark. It has to start by asking “what do you care about?” and building an experience around that. If you can’t start there, you’re already lost.

But, if you step down that road and leave your preconceptions behind, you’ll end up in an amazing place.