Last week, I’ve had the chance to attend the Edinburgh Local GRAD School among other PhD students from all over Scotland. The aim of this training was to give us some space so that we can become more aware of our personal and professional transferable skills.
There were a lot of group activities, some workshops, and plenty of opportunities to meet other PhD students to discuss our research or chat about PhD lives. The program was intense and challenging, and not much time was left on our own to reflect on all the activities we were involved in. However, there are a few lessons learned that I would like to share here, by sharing the insights of one particular exercise.
Just a widget
The very first activity we were asked to do consisted of creating an innovative widget, starting from the scratch. The only guideline we received was to create something which is useful to the society. Each group had 1 hour to create a prototype, that would be then presented to the rest of the entire group, allowing us to explain the concept (technical challenges, management issues, overall purpose, etc.). One hour is not much time when you need to create something new with people you hardly know and who come from different scientific fields.
Where do you start? How will you proceed? And how will you organise yourself?
Within a few minutes, we somehow all agreed that it would be more simple to focus on one problem that needs to be fixed (rather than creating something ‘out of the blue’).
- Lesson 1: Defining a problem will help you discover the potential solution.
Instead of starting something too big (worldwide), we thought it might be easier to create something helpful for the (local) citizens of Edinburgh. One of the problems quickly identified was the issue related to lack of cycling routes in the city, and the danger it represents for all the cyclists.
- Lesson 2: Think big (global), but start small (local). If an objective must be SMART, then it seems more realistic to start with something feasible within your own environment (even if it is virtual). If the product if successful, it will become global.
We were asked to think “out of the box”, so we have. As none of us had a background in urbanistic studies, we simply came out with the idea that bikes should be able to fly (above the cars and crowded roads).
- Lesson 3: Dream, and stick to your dream. No great inventions were ever made without dreaming, even if it looks crazy to the eyes of others. We are creators, therefore free to invent what we feel inspired by.
Somehow, our group split into two sub-groups: one that worked on the prototype (with the material provided by the tutors), and the other one on the presentation (explaining the benefits of our concept).
- Lesson 4: Trust that each member of the group will eventually find its place to contribute in some way. Don’t let anyone isolated, each one has a precious gift to share. Let go of any egoistic personal desires. It is a group project, not a solo one.
We had only one hour, and therefore no time to make our prototype “perfect“, but the result was “good enough” to be presented to the rest of the main group.
- Lesson 5: Always aim for the best, but remember that a product that is finished will always be better than an unfinished one, as perfect as it might be.
The presentation of our widget was clear and well spoken. Our bike prototype was rather clumsily cute and totally hand-made (with tapes, plastic cups, paper and wires). We gave it a name: Fly High. It won the 1st price.
This exercise was a wonderful example on how knowledge is co-created through social interactions, providing the perfect ground to enable collective intelligence. This was also a beautiful demonstration of the explicitation of tacit knowledge shared with one another, with the common aim of creating something new and useful to the society, with limited resources, and a lot of solidarity, essential to the success of any project.