By Michela Hamm
This is the story of how a self-identified technologically illiterate and 26 year old “grandma” (yes, that was my nickname in college) ended up working for a non-profit teaching coding to urban youth. The irony is too real, but so have the lessons I’ve been learning along the way. What follows is my journey and series of lessons learned.
In Hope Tech we have what we call an Innovation Challenge in which our students compete to create a game that can be played on a mobile device. Being challenged to invent something can seem like a daunting task, but Hope Tech desires to teach our students that this is an achievement well within their grasp. One of the first things we teach our students in the Innovation Challenge is the Development Cycle, a formula to guide the students in their innovative process.
This formula breaks down the innovation process to 3 basic steps: Dream, Develop, Deploy. The first step in the Development Cycle is to Dream. Dreaming often begins by asking the questions “why?” or “how come…?”, and with a longing to see change. But if we stop at asking the question and never begin to think about how to create a solution, our longing to see change will remain unsatisfied. Therefore, the second step in the innovation process is to develop. Development is the pursuit to find answers to our questions. Development requires research and practice, a building of knowledge and skill. Finally, we deploy. Once we have come up with a possible solution to our problem, we test and make the necessary adjustments, repeating the cycle as necessary.
As any technologically illiterate person would do, I first restricted the significance of this formula to the classroom or lab. It wasn’t until a few months in to working for Hope Tech that I realized how valuable this formula is, not just for our students competing in our innovation challenge, but for me, a woman in her mid 20s still figuring out life. Follow me on a quick detour as I share how I came to value this Development Cycle in my own life:
Nine months ago, I moved to Oak Park, a neighborhood in Sacramento where the “fireworks” aren’t always fireworks and the parks aren’t always used for playing. One day I was playing basketball with my neighbor kids when one of the boys asked me what my favorite sports were. I told him soccer was my main sport growing up. He said, “That was mine too, but then I got passionate about basketball.”
I was thinking about this later and it struck me that his passion, not his skill, was the main factor in determining what he focuses his time and effort on.
Dang, am I the opposite. As a kid, I took to soccer more naturally than basketball, but as I got older my love of basketball grew. However, I never put much effort into getting better at basketball because 1) I’m vertically challenged and 2) my shooting form sucked. Instead of determining to work at it and increase my skill, I surrendered to the idea that putting time and effort into basketball would only lead me to disappointment.
How often do my fears, instead of my passions, determine the choices I make?
This was the question that burned in my mind after talking to this 12 year old boy. I believed a false perspective that says “If I try to do what I want and I fail then it will all be for nothing, leaving me only with discouragement.” This type of thinking assumes, incorrectly, that there is only value or success if I complete my goal.
But the Development Cycle teaches me another, truer perspective, one that finds value in the process of reaching for your goals, not just the attainment of it.
For example, I dream of being able to do a pull up, even just one. I am in the process of developing different muscles by using different weight machines. I should be able to build enough muscle to complete a pull up soon. But what if that never happens? Is it a total loss? No, because in the developing processes I am still getting stronger.
So it is with life. We all have passions and aspirations. If we are brave enough to dream, and even braver to try to make those things a reality, we will develop strength and wisdom along the way that we otherwise would have lacked, even if we did not complete our goal.
This perspective is so important, and here’s why: It weakens the power of fear.
The values that the Development Cycle instills are vital, not just for scientists in lab coats or students in a computer programing class, but for the woman in her 20s trying to figure out life and the newly retired 65 year old who has a bunch of time on his hands. As we realize the value in the process, it frees us to be bold in our creativity and pursue passions we never would have before.