I’m working on this project that is giving me a hard time. Actually, I am working on about 12 projects that are all giving me a hard time. I really shouldn’t blame the projects. It’s not their fault. It’s not like they all get together in the project lounge after work, split a six pack and plan ways to make my life miserable.
I could say that I was the problem. The one thing all of these projects have in common is me. I start the work day in blessed silence with a nice cup of coffee on my left. I sit in my pleasant office and reach for the mouse. Suddenly I realize that my shoes are too tight. Also, my office is cold, but my warm sweater is really itchy. My glasses need to be cleaned. I forgot to buy my niece a birthday present and there is an expired sour cream container in the fridge that really must be thrown away. Immediately.
A half an hour later, I am back in front of my computer with flip flops, wearing shorts and a tank top but wrapped in a slanket, and my glasses clean but discarded. I sit there watching the clock tick, chewing on my hair and hoping… praying that one of those lovely exclamation point emails comes through with an emergency ANY emergency that requires me to abandon the project at hand and immerse myself in blessed distraction for a solid eight hours.
A few weeks ago, there were some emails going around the office about this TED talk called Build a Tower, Build Team. He talks about an exercise where you build a tower using some spaghetti, string, tape and a marshmallow.
Tom notes that some of the least successful towers are created by recent graduates of business school, while some of the most successful towers are created by recent graduates of kindergarten. You can learn more about the project at www.marshmallowchallenge.com
Tom says that business school grads are trained to come up with one perfect plan then execute on it, while kindergarteners aren’t hindered by the planning process. They immediately get down to business and build prototypes.
They try something, see if it works, refine it and try again. It reminded me of the observations I made in August of 2006 when teaching two groups of students how to use Civil 3D. The first group were some talented but seasoned project engineers and draftsmen. The second group was a pack of whippersnappers fresh from engineering and tech school. I remarked:
Group 1 had their site fully DESIGNED then began creating a MODEL.
Group 2 had their site fully MODELED then would need to iterate and seek feedback before their DESIGN would be complete.
I was in Manchester, New Hampshire working on a few things in May. A bunch of us went out to play team trivia one night, and the “physical challenge” happened to be a modified version of the marshmallow tower with just spaghetti and small marshmallows. It was… interesting.
I promised my teammate and former colleague, Kyle Herring, that I would write about the marshmallows. I’d also like to note that his MBA did not hinder our team’s success. (I got too greedy there at the end and our tower fell over.)
Since I had tried it with an MBA, I figured I should try it with a recent kindergarten grad.
And also this guy.
It was fun. It was just what I needed to remind me that any project- especially design projects, writing projects, and other creative endeavors really require you to do the work. Spend time with the mouse in your hand trying something. Do it. Play with it. Analyze it. Adjust it. If you have to- start over.
It’s OK to build something over again from scratch because the mental and physical lessons learned from the drafts are what make the final product better.
As soon as I run out to the store to swap my slanket for a snuggie, that is exactly what I will be doing.