Oh How Far We’ve Come

C4y7nuiWMAMPqgN.jpgI always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.

C4zAo-fWYAEiFFd.jpgThe Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.

These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.


screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-12-14-06-amIt was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.

What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:

  • Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc. 
  • The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
  • Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
  • Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
  • Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.

These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to C3xAbL6W8AEW556.jpglearn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.

The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.C3xAbK4WQAALlIX.jpg

When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.  

“I’m Fine” Live Read Through

At the end of Junior year I had an idea about how I wanted to end my last theater season with the MVPAllstars. For my last year I really wanted to do a powerful show that left the audience contemplating life as they walked away.

A show like this requires a certain type of experienced cast though, so who better to perform it than all of the senior members of the Thespian Society?

I then talked to each of the other five senior Thespians at the end of last year about this idea of mine and everyone agreed, so to make sure we got this last theater moment, we formed “The Senior Theater Project.” Since the end of our junior year, the six senior Thespians have been working on writing, directing, and performing our own show and with first semester now over, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the progress so far.

Semester one was really focused on writing the script. We knew that we wanted a theme around identity, and after some summer interview work we were able to develop a clearer vision during our first semester meeting. The show is about the struggles that students face that don’t really get discussed at school or on social media; the idea is to demonstrate how much goes on in students lives that we don’t always know about.

At the end of first semester we had a live read through of our script in order to gain feedback about our story thus far. This was a hard goal to meet-having an entire script done to a point where we could share with an audience-and we even knew that it wasn’t finished when we presented; however, I’ve learned over the years how important it is to get feedback early on if you want the best possible final product.

Our team was working until the last second, literally creating the title, “I’m Fine,” for the show about 30 minutes before going on stage. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a complete story that made sense, and the feedback was amazing!

Everyone in attendance seemed to really enjoy the show and where it is headed, and on top of boosting our confidence, they also provided helpful feedback about things that they still didn’t quite understand and suggestions for our next edits. It was useful having outside people give feedback on our show, because those of us who have been writing the script have been so involved in the world of the show that we don’t know sometimes if we are showing enough backstory on parts of the story and characters.

Since then we have been continuing to meet and plan because we officially have less than 20 days of rehearsal left before we perform the show in full! It’s been a crazy process so far, and it’s insane to think how little time we have left. While the show doesn’t go on stage until April, we only meet once a week until two weeks before preview night so we’ve been trying to think through everything from blocking to set building to our photo shoot. (Sometimes I forget just how many little things have to happen for a show to be put on stage, but being the director and co-writer of a show makes that impossible to forget…)

However, despite how stressful it’s been at times to try to work on our show on top of school, college, and other theater productions, we all know that come this April when we take those last bows, it will all have been worth it. To be able to say that we created our own show and it actually went well, will be amazing! It’ll be even more amazing knowing how much work we have put into this brain baby of ours.

Improv Rules for Life

I’ve officially pushed submit on all of my college applications!!!!!!!! Technically this happened a few nights ago, and I still have a few portfolio pieces left to submit, but everything required is finished which is exciting!! I didn’t blog about CxWb-RGUQAEV88c.jpgit earlier because I’ve been on the road since Thursday night in order to interview at 3 of my 5 schools which are all in the north east… Currently I’m in Pennsylvania with 1/3 interviews done. (And I must say I think the first went rather well.)

Even though I’ve already hit submit, over the past few years I’ve come to learn my strengths and weaknesses well and I know that I’m much better at talking than CxbPibbWIAAzx1w.jpgwriting .(Even though my writing has improved tremendously since I started blogging.) However, despite knowing myself better, I still don’t know where I most want to go to college yet. There are just so many options and different factors, and it’s so hard to really know the culture of a school without immersing yourself in it first- a luxury I don’t have when looking at colleges.

It’s times like this- when I feel completely lost in a situation- that I feel grateful for being in drama and thus constantly learning about improv. In fact, last week was show week for our 2nd theater production of the year which was an improv meets comedy sketch variety show called “A Night of Stars.”

There’s a lot we can learn from improv- no matter who you are. I like to call these key learning moments the “Improv Rules for Life.”

  1. Jump In & Have Fun: Improv, like life, can feel scary and uncomfortable, but the only way to stop feeling uncomfortable and move past the fear of the unknownCwNYjOcWcAEPQ5n.jpg is to jump in and try it out. Put yourself out there and over time it will stop feeling so scary. One of the hardest parts of taking the first step is often just standing up, but once you’re up it’s a lot easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep having fun and you’ll be fine.
  2. Go All Out / Believe in Yourself: Make big choices and commit to them! If you are going to use a toy horse as a tennis racket, then you have to do everything in your power to really make that horse seem like a racket. You have to convince yourself of your choices before your audience will ever believe you, so if you start swinging a toy horse around like you truly believe it’s a racket then you’re audience won’t even think about calling it a horse.
  3. Listen and Respond: Help you’re partners out!!! It’s hard to constantly come up with ideas all on your own, so listen to the people you are working with and work off of each other. Listen to what they suggest and respond to it with a new suggest that adds to what they said. When everyone helps each other out, things get most exciting.
  4. Think Positive / “Yes And…”: Saying negative words like “no, but, death, etc” is the fastest way to kill a scene and put your stage partner in a really difficult CxdYOfFVEAA9OUe.jpgposition. Keep conversations light hearted and agree with your partners; it will make for a much more interesting conversation with some crazy ideas being easily generated.
  5. Fail-Up : Push the editor off your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it’s inevitable that you’ll mess up at some point in time. Just keep trying your hardest and commit to everything you do, that way when you fail, it’s a spectacular failure that you can later laugh about because it was just that horrendous. The best improvers still fail, but when they fail, they laugh it off and keep moving forward- sometimes it even becomes a part of a later sketch. It’s true that if you don’t try you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed that way.

CxQy931WIAA_633.jpgWhen thinking of college, and many difficult and potentially uncomfortable life situations, I try to remember these improv rules for life. I’m never going to feel 100% ready, but eventually I’m just going to need to jump in, go all out and believe in myself, learn to respond in my new situations, think positively and don’t shut down new ideas, and remember that the fear of failure should never stop me from dreaming big and committing to my actions.

Critics Make Me Better

Image result for danceMy sister is one of my biggest critics, especially when it comes to choreography. The funny thing is, I know she makes me better for it. 

Sometimes we need a critic around to tell us that are work isn’t the best and needs work, because that can often be the motivator for us to do better. I know that my work has immensely grown over the years I’ve spent choreographing routines, but I also know it can be so much better. I mean I’m not even a dancer, nor do I have any dance background officially so half the time I don’t even know the real terms for moves I’m asking kids to do.

And as I start to create more routines this year than ever before, my sister has been so kind to point out that some of the routines are repetitive when compared to other routines. Basically meaning that I use a lot of the same poses and similar combinations from one routine to the next, which is something I need to work on.

It’s in this kind of work that I take the book “Steal Like an Artist” to heart. I don’t have the dance background that most choreographers have, so in order to learn I’m constantly watching dance and gymnastics routine searching for new material to mimic. We do what we know, and we know what we’ve been exposed to, so if we hope to do more we must expose ourselves to more.

Next year’s spring showcase may be my last chance for my big choreographed group routines. I hope not, but I want to go out with a bang so I’m already preparing by searching for music and trying to think of new ideas and new techniques I can attempt like involving set pieces and trying to actually tell a story with the dance. I can’t wait to start testing my ideas! So I’m glad for my sister’s criticism because it inspires me to strive for something better.

No More Hesitation

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New faces, new stories, new possibilities; fuse16 day 1 is done and it was such a great hit!

For those of you that didn’t get to join in on the fun this year, here’s a quick summary of today’s flow:

We love to throw people right into the deep end by starting this morning off with a design thinking flashlab, where we went through an entire lap of design thinking in just a few hours. From there we had lots of opportunities to eat, question, and mingle and finished the night with some powerful MoVe (moment of visible empathy) talks given by our 4 non-profit partners and 4 people from MVPS.

One of the things I love most about fuse is the opportunity to meet so many new passionate people in one place at one time. I had so many MoVeing (I crack myself up) conversations with people today about all sorts of things from blogging, to theater, to foreign language, to gymnastics, and then of course many conversations about design thinking and how it’s impacted my life. (Especially after giving my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer— this is actually last year, but it’s the same talk minus one slide and a years more worth of public speaking and natural improv with the audience.)

I love the chance to network with so many people and I’m honored that so many people care about my opinions. What I’ve realized from today is that even in just the last year, I’ve grown to be so much more comfortable with design thinking and the language that accompanies it.

While coaching I’m not always turning to another to ask a million questions about it I’m going about things right; instead I’m being asked questions. In conversations people have caught me saying “design slang” terms like “I wonder” and “what if” and “discovery and empathy work” naturally in response to questions not necessarily about DT directly. Being one of, if not the only student, in the room has become normal to me; in fact, today I was actually pushing my little sister to go join in with the adults since this was her first time in a situation like that. (I also told her to get use to it since she’s joining ID next year.)

In my MoVe Talk I mention how there is no perfect designer, but the best we can do is to continually practice and you will find yourself more naturally feeling and acting like a designer. I wrote up this MoVe a year ago when I had first noticed myself subconsciously thinking like a designer, and now, a year later, I feel this statement is even more true. Last year I was just realizing that I am a designer and everyone else can be one too, and going back to freshman year I was just learning what design thinking even was. The year before that, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what it meant to think like a designer. But now, in just 3 years, I don’t think I hesitate at all to say that I’m a designer. All that’s changed is that I’ve had more experiences to build confidence and competence.

It’s always nice to get a reminder that makes you look back on where you were to make you realize just how far you’ve come.

 

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.

The Hump

imgres.jpgI don’t really understand the expression “moving in circles.” More often I feel like I’m moving in infinity loops. It seems like I’m being productive and making new choices to try and move forward, but in actuality I’m just moving infinitely many times in the same constant cycle.

The last couple of weeks have kind of felt like this. In ID, in theater, in acro, even with class work a little. It has been feeling like not much has positively changed. I wouldn’t say things are bad, but they are just annoyingly constant. I’m a person who enjoys being busy and working fast, and moving quickly to do seemingly impossible things. I get frustrated when it feels like I’ve been spending too long doing virtually the same thing, and yet that’s how things feel lately.

With my acro routines, my theater performance, and my team’s work trying to make the next level prototype of the RISE bin, with all of these things I’ve been working hard to make them better for the past few weeks. However, as much effort as our team has been putting into them, we just can’t seem to get over the hump. We still haven’t done an acro routine with out falling for my hardest group and we perform next week. We still haven’t done a full run through of Shrek (or had everyone off book, or had everyone show up, let alone still working in new props, tech, and costumes), and we perform next week. And after months working on a full sized next level prototype, we still are getting stuck with materials and number crunching with ReSpIn, and we have a presentation/performance/showcase/iFest next week as well!

Everything is next week, and going into next week I currently am a tad worried. Typically everything seems to work out in the end, and the show must go on despite how ready or not we feel, but that hasn’t been easing my thoughts.

We still have a long way to go and little time, and I wonder how in the world we can get over the various humps in our lives.