This week, I had the opportunity to attend my kid’s annual holiday sign at their school. During the performance, the audience was treated to songs with the band, orchestra and chorus. It was amazing! Both of my school-aged children are playing a new instrument this year. So, I want to rewind back to the beginning of the school year when they first received their instruments. At that point, it would have been hard to imagine that the collective group could have produced something as beautiful as we were treated to this week. During their performance, there were two students that performed a complimentary solo – one on the piano and the other on the violin. Previously, I’ve heard the violin player and someone remarked that she has been playing since she was 5 years old – very impressive. So, what does all of this have to do with learning to build with technology? In essence, we believe that practice is one of the key muscles that need to be developed under the umbrella of new product development.
Over my career, I’ve been fortunate to have many instances of building with technology. From my 1st project as an automotive engineer at Ford Motor Company where we had to figure out how to design, develop and launch a seat weight sensor for the occupant classification system to building a leading edge education technology platform; there has been so much learning along the way. One of the key learnings that I’ve internalized is that there is always room for improvement. At times, your initial assumptions are incorrect. Other times, you put your prototype through testing and it doesn’t function as intended. However, through iteration you are able to sharpen your pencil, tighten your assumptions and ultimately launch a project that has a great deal of consumer utility. This is similar to the overall mindset and philosophy one should have when inventing with technology; there will be abundant opportunities to continue to improve upon the initial concept.
Confidence to swing for the fences
For those who have worked within the technology industry, you develop a healthy resistance to skepticism. As the head of product management for a new consumer-focused startup within Redbox, SAMPLEit, we were advised by our technology development partner that it would be very difficult to develop a cutting-edge lighting solution. However, our research strongly suggested that given the in-store environment at our retail partners (Walmart, Kroger & Walgreens), that this would be a very attractive solution to attract customers to our sampling solution. As we went back/forth between how we would power the lighting solution and how the structure would be attached to the kiosk, we kept hearing how impossible this was going to be. Ultimately, we persisted in pushing to incorporate this feature into the product and once we presented to our brand and retail partners, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and resulted in a large order that dramatically increased our installed base.
Comfort making mistakes
One of the most essential skills when utilizing technology to design, develop and launch new solutions is the comfort with making mistakes. Not everything that an individual or a team envisions will ultimately work as expected. But, only through the comfort in making mistakes will one enjoy the freedom to experiment with incorporating a novel or unique solution. And even when a solution is technically correct, it may not be attractive from an end-user standpoint. In these situations, one must be willing to potentially scrap or re-work the entire effort to achieve the desired outcome – a solution that is both technically superior and exceeds customer expectations. Unless, you are develop for a sample size of one, then there is a high likelihood that mistakes will be made. However, once there is recognition that mistakes are an essential part of the process and key opportunities for learning is when you can advance in the development of higher order solutions for the end user.
At Digital Adventures, we have designed our education technology platform and projects to leverage off-the-shelf platforms that are easily accessible outside of our learning studios. Similar to how basketball players need to go to a basketball court between practices and games, many of the technology platforms that our hardware and software projects are based upon can be used within the home or school environment without additional licenses. In this way, we provide our students with an opportunity to both develop their skills under the guidance of our amazing instructional team while also practicing on their own time.