Wednesday, November 26

Figuring It Out

In education, we talk a lot about hands-on learning, productive struggle, critical thinking and problem solving. Come to think of it, we speak of many of the same things in the corporate world even if we don't use exactly the same terms. We are, in general, speaking of being able to work through a problem or situation to figure out the best possible or most reasonable solution.

Eons ago, when Prodigy Services was Trintex, we were just figuring it out, including what we could possibly be if the company survived start-up. The online world was still emerging. AOL was green letters blinking on a black background. Graphic interfaces were clunky and limited. Graphic designers were morphing into an entirely new field.

I remember my director returning to the office and talking about how he had been exploring the system we had when he did something that bumped his mouse and something unexpected occurred. A good something, but an unexpected something nonetheless.

I remember working with one of our two largest retail customers that wanted potential customers to be able to purchase online from their print catalog. Of course they wanted their current process--mail, in person, and phone--replicated as much as possible. We had to figure out how our system could talk to their system and we could replicate that customer experience, and maybe even improve upon it.

I remember having meetings with a large grocery chain that was curious about the possibility of online grocery shopping. We eventually were stumped by picking and packing process as well as the warehouse process. It was harder than they imagined to try to replicate the typical grocery shopping experience and we all struggled to imagine how that might work any differently. The real challenge for us was produce because one person's perfect banana might not be the same for someone else.

Figuring it out. Sometimes it's hard work. Sometimes it's a lot of fun and filled with opportunities for random and unexpected surprises. But it's what we've been doing since someone figured out how to make fire or create the wheel or solve whatever problem or manage whatever situation.

Figuring it out seems to be intrinsic to human nature so it should be commonplace to the learning experience just as it so often is simply part of what people do in the work place. In the work place, figuring it out becomes a new or revised process; figuring it out becomes a better or safer or less expensive or more efficient way of doing something. Figuring it out means that the new method or process or way of thinking becomes part of the culture which, in turn, influences more experimentation and thinking to figure out something else that could be better.

Figuring it out isn't just about constructing knowledge for further learning, though that is invaluable. Figuring it out is also an opportunity to explore an individual's capacity for ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance. And who knows what great things might come of individuals learning to figure out just how far they might be able to go?

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