Placing Stakes

There are many open questions as I navigate this world of uncertainty and complexity. Today, I had a meeting with David Kelley, one of my advisors. He taught me two things: put a stake and bias towards action. Without constraints, one can keep thinking about all the possibilities in the world – how should I use my time at Stanford, which narrative do I want to devote years of my life to, what does my next form of impact look like? He told me that one has to put stakes in life. That could look like settling down with a partner, deciding consulting is the desired career, etc. Once you decide on one thing, then that narrows your life choices. He told me that he has seen this happen to all the people in his life: this act of putting down stakes and having that shape their lives, otherwise it is too complex and paralyzing!

Some good news, I am slowly articulating the stakes I want to put down. I talked to Naomi Baer at the Center for Social Innovation. She walked me through all the social entrepreneurship resources at the Stanford Business School. Being a ‘social entrepreneur’ has always been a pipe dream of mine which also means that it feels like a far away dream. However, there is an incredible opportunity to take classes on strategy, decision making, finance, scale models, soft skills, and developing economies from accomplished executives of large companies and nonprofits. My conversation with her was energizing and inspiring.

I am still figuring out to what extent I want to spend my credits in the classes offered as part of the E-IPER track (an interdisciplinary program for environment and resources). Do I want to be an environmental leader? That’s a different spin on how I viewed my life!

My main priority is still to become a master at design, specifically the process of finding needs, navigating ambiguity, and creating impact. I am still determining where I can put a ‘stake’ in the d. School. Now that I’m here, I want to be shaped by the people there. I am thinking of reaching out to Thomas Both and Nadia Roumani of the d. School’s Designing for Social Systems program.

The second thing David Kelley taught me today was the design principle: bias towards action. He illustrated this with an example of when he was a graduate student in my shoes. At the time, he started his capstone project on the area of home pregnancy kits (back then it wasn’t a thing). As he kept interviewing people, he met this guy who worked at the hospital who had a major problem with medical records. The hospital worker showed David the medical records room, that was filled with papers. The worker said, “If a paper gets misplaced, it’s gone forever.” David decided to pivot his capstone and ended up creating what he calls a ‘medical passport’. This story illustrates a trait of David’s that I am aspiring to become better at, which is just to get out there, keep doing things tangibly, and that has a really good chance at leading you towards somewhere. David told me, at least, in his experience, that seemed to work out pretty well. That is quite the understatement coming from him!

I am thinking a lot about what my capstone project will look like next year. Peter, my design mentor, has been pitching me project ideas and it will have to come down to scoping an appropriate project for a year’s worth of work.

On the side, I have been sketching more. I’ve gotten through a large portion of the perspective chapter in the Rapid Viz book. I’m really happy that I’m getting just slightly better at visual communication. ‘Design’ is a new practice to me. I never saw myself as ‘creative’ but perhaps I’m discovering a part of myself I never knew I had. That’s exciting.

My brain feels good these days. I feel incredibly lucky to learn from so many brilliant minds. More to come on this journey of creating, making, and impact.