Solving Problems Through “Stealth-Designed” Solutions

Would you believe my new favorite philosophy for experiences with college students, was actually introduced to me when addressing a population that is considerably older?

It happened at Design Museum Mornings a few weeks ago, a program created to connect design and creativity enthusiasts in the Boston area, with professionals doing thoughtful or unique work in the field. This lecture featured IDEO’s Jose Colucci, whose designs shone a light on design for our growing aging population.  In addition to highlighting projects that showed younger individuals their “future age,” and reminding those in the room that the elderly population has far more buying power than we generally consider, he introduced a concept that was new to me: stealth design.

In the interest of full disclosure, a secondary definition I have for stealth design: design which is done while wearing a tactleneck. IMAGE CREDIT: Pinterest

As he explained it,

stealth design goes one step beyond universal design by incorporating design elements that service the needs of all, but without being explicit about the incorporation of design elements targeted at supporting the needs of a specific group or user. He used the example of developing a new dashboard design for Ford that incorporated color schemes and displays that are more easily read by people who have reduced eyesight.

Stealth design sounds a lot like what many know (primarily in reference to compliance with accessibility standards set by the ADA) as universal design, “a movement that evolved from accessibility requirements that champions the incorporation of design elements that go beyond accommodating users with disabilities to making spaces easily usable by anyone.” But rather than providing options for populations that need something different, stealth design seeks to be useful for all without pointing out that an accommodation is being made.

IMAGE CREDIT: Michael Giangreco

A new architect friend I made at the lecture helped me understand the difference a little more clearly- presently, universal design means having features that make a space accessible for all using it (like the quandary of the illustration shown here). Stealth design’s solution to this quandary would be to slope the ground surrounding the building downward– easily traversed on foot for those with the capability, but also easily navigated via wheels or crutches for those who use those aids. Thank you, Christy, for helping me see the difference!

I love the idea of this concept, because it helps me to more easily describe some of the recommendations I make to students, faculty, and staff that can help them reach everyone they work with, not just the introverts. As an example, those who have been to any of my sessions on temperament know that I like to start them with 2-3 minutes of quiet time. Participants are encouraged to take that time for themselves, and even sit or lie down to really relax and release tension that may build up in the days or week leading up to their time with me. The feedback I get from starting sessions in this manner is nearly universally positive; in facts, students who know me well will sometimes ask for it again at the end of a session, or even request it in sessions that have nothing to do with temperament!

This time is designed to provide decompression for introverts, who may need to ease into a highly participatory session; however, it is also helpful for extroverts to take that time to decompress- either because of a particularly overextended earlier part of their day, time to let their minds clear before focusing on new information, or even just to help them practice spending time with their own thoughts, something we all need more opportunities to do. The benefit is universally felt, albeit for markedly different reasons. And in fact, I try to frame any recommendations or adjustments to processes, activities, or traditions, in such a way that they are beneficial for all who fall subject to them. I say as much in the introduction of Light It Up:

You’ll notice, several of these summaries speak both to introverts specifically, and to all students irrespective of temperament. And it’s important to note before we begin- none of the approaches mentioned here should be considered special treatment for introverts. Attention to the needs of these students should not be tantamount to coddling or special treatment; rather, it’s an opportunity to provide an environment where all students are able to truly flourish.

In a time period where students are feeling increasingly empowered to point out areas in which specific populations are shortchanged, I love the idea of stealth design as a way to address their concerns not solely to “boost” the group in question, but instead framed with a goal to make the experience of all students better.

For example, a frequent call in recent student protest demands is an increase in representation of faculty and staff of color on campus. Viewed one way, this is an excellent opportunity to “stealthily” design a positive learning experience for all students, not just for the students who initially identified the deficit. As these changes are made, use this opportunity to let these faculty and staff share their experiences and lessons learned. This is unquestionably beneficial and fortifying for students of color, who are in dire need of the example they can set (allowing them to “be what they can see,” as it were). There is also a responsibility to create opportunities for natural, meaningful interaction (no tokenism, please!) with students in the majority- who may have knowingly or unknowingly made assumptions about who can ascend to such positions. To address these concerns on campus meaningfully, the impact of the solutions should reach as many students as possible. All students will benefit, but possibly for markedly different reasons.

Jose’s talk was a reminder of many things- to have fun with design, to not sell short any individual population- but it was also an important call to action to ask ourselves as we create change: how can we frame this as something our full population can benefit from? While it may be different depending on the group, where is it for each subset of our constituency? And what will you do to ensure that all have the opportunity- not just student leaders, first year students, students of color, or students at risk (easily isolated populations, but far from the only students we may encounter)- to be better for these experiences? Slip into your tactleneck and start working on it; I’ll be doing the same over here!

Fighting Fun, with Lessons from the Roast (Battle)

Hannibal Buress is having one hell of a moment when it comes to speaking truth to power. While most of the world now knows him as the comedian who reigntited the fire around Bill Cosby’s storied rape allegations at a time when they could, at last, mature into the present inferno, he has another moment of note to his credit: his appearance at last year’s Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. Invited to roast the musician, Buress instead said this from the podium:

They say that you roast the ones you love, but I don’t like you at all, man. I’m just here because it’s a real good opportunity for me. Actually you should thank me for participating in this extremely transparent attempt to be more likable in the public eye. And I hope it doesn’t work.

That moment came to mind this past week as I laughed through the second edition of Boston’s Comedy Roast Battle– not because the atmosphere was so similar, but because it was so different.  This take on the roast formula, brought to the area by local comedian Matt Kona, felt considerably less like the present-day idea of a roast, and more like the classic Friars Club or Dean Martin roasts (never seen one? Tune into your network stations around 6pm on a Sunday, Time Life will try to sell you the complete collection on DVD). For the unfamiliar, these older roasts are full of laughs at the expense of the honoree, but are done by people he or she knows well. The jabs are grounded in truth, even when they elicit groans or winces, but are also backed by respect and love. Had Twitter existed back then, you’d know the material delivered from the dais wouldn’t spark subtweets or extended ordinal rants. It all came from a good place, a fun place.

comedy roast battle

That energy was evident in the room, as comics faced off with tit-for-tat trades of barbs and roast-style jokes, the winners of each “bout” being declared by the audience for preliminary face-offs, and by a panel of judges for the main ones. The jokes were about…well, anything. Haircuts, kids, defaulted mortgages, failed marriages, roommate habits- nothing was off limits (not even Muppet jokes, of which I counted three!). But you never really worried that a comment would ascend to the point of true pain, because no one in the room wanted it to. No move exemplified that more than comedian Mike Pincus ending most of the jokes during his bout with “Sorry.”

As is my way, my mind always comes back to: what can we learn from this? I think about the Comedy Roast Battle format, and the roast concept as a whole, as instructive for conflict. I think about the conversations we’re all afraid to have with coworkers or friends when we feel undermined, unsupported, let down, or just plain angry. What stops us from confronting those worries head-on? Odds are, our imagined horror stories in some ways look a lot like…well, Comedy Central roasts: deeply personal exchanges designed to shock at best, and wound at worst. This fear can be worsened if you don’t know the individual or group well enough to gauge how the criticism will be received, as Buress clearly stated was the case for this new breed of roast.

But the kind of roast I saw Thursday night- especially in its “battle” format, where both parties get to participate- seems like a fun alternative to the tense exchanges that we all fear. Consider a tense departmental issue that needs to be talked about, but no one wants to hurt any feelings or put things out there that can’t be taken back. Call me silly (I’d understand), but…couldn’t this format work for that? I imagine “fight” posters circulated through email to invite interested parties to the conversation, the opportunity to submit issues to the “ticket” (beats the hell out of a bulleted agenda), or other ways to heighten excitement and amusement about something that could otherwise seem too overly confrontational to address.

I often shy away from the present day iterations of roasts because they felt like coordinated attacks on easy targets (how else do you explain a slate like Bob Saget, Charlie Sheen, and improbably-possible-presidential candidate Donald Trump?). And I’m appreciative to Hannibal for affirming my instincts on that assessment. Comparatively, trying to settle concerns with the principles of the classic roast or the roast battle in mind- poke fun, but laugh, and do so with people you know well- feels like a constructive way to lessen the stigma that can come with addressing a tough issue. Ground your concerns in respect for the individuals behind the words, allow people to respond, and find ways to laugh if you can!

And if you’re in Boston, LA, Toronto, or another city that hosts Comedy Roast Battles- GO! It’s a silly, hilarious, blast :)

Monthly (next show is February 18th)
Davis Square Theater
55 Davis Square, Somerville

Season 3 Premiere of Student Affairs Spectacular Podcast is Here!

This week, I want to amplify the signal of the Student Affairs Spectacular podcast, which was kind enough to have me on for their season 3 premiere!

In it, I talk about my journey to “free agency,” what I’m hoping to do for the students, faculty, and staff I work with, and where comedy and creativity fall in all of that. Thanks so much to Dustin and the SAC team for a great opportunity and even better conversation- wishing you a fantastic season!

My Wishlist for Networking 101

Step into the role of an educator, for just a moment. Many of us serve in this role each day (or at least, that’s what we tell our aunts and great-uncles over the holidays when they want to know what we’re up to), but humor me for just a second.

If there was something that you could be reasonably certain half your students would need to know upon leaving you, would you teach it? What about seven in ten? Or eight in ten? I’d imagine the higher that number goes, the more likely you are to want to include it in your lesson plans.

This notion was one of the first that came to mind as I read Paul Gordon Brown’s recent post about networking, and the high percentage of opportunities that arose from engaging in this critical practice for success in yes, student affairs, but also any field that doesn’t have formal placement (e.g. medicine):

When I reflect back on the jobs I have held and on the speaking and consulting engagements I have booked, almost all of them have come through personal connections I have made with others.  Although I didn’t intentionally seek to create a strong network when I started as a new professional, I have nevertheless come to appreciate the fact that I took the time to create and maintain these connections.

Most other skills essential to professional success – resume and cover letter crafting, writing skills, and a broad base of knowledge – feel like a natural fit for the classroom, and we treat them as such. However, networking is of rising importance when finding our places professionally (in some circles, it may have even eclipsed some of those elements) and should be something students are equally competent in. But the fact of the matter is: we don’t teach people how. We need to. And if 50%-80% of our students will need these skills to be successful in their chosen pursuits, it’s irresponsible not to.

IMAGE CREDIT: TVFiends.com

Networking isn’t a skill that comes naturally to most people, likely because of its stigma as inherently unnatural, shallow, and ill suited for most (especially introverts). But, like Paul, many have found ways to make it work without submitting to robotic interactions or alternating conversations about weather, appearance-based compliments, and obligatory exchange of business cards. And if we want to ensure that the students we work with have the tools to succeed in this increasingly essential professional success strategy, we have to help. I wish we had more space to have these conversations- in classrooms, internship and practicum courses, meetings with advisees, anywhere we can.

If it were up to me, there’d be an entire class on this- I believe it’s that important. However, I can settle for creating an abridged wishlist of the important elements (in this instance, I’m speaking with student affairs and higher education in mind; I’d hope these tips would be useful in other fields as well).

What would my wishlist for networking competence look like?

Overview of Conferences (Regional + National) in the Proposed Field of Study
There’s more to networking than major professional organizations and national conferences. There are professionals that may benefit more from regional networks, state associations, or knowledge communities and affinity groups based on ethnicity, functional area, or other areas of professional interest. If we are going to present support organizations as a key to networking success, I’d like to see a more nuanced conversation about what these organizations have to offer- allowing emerging professionals to select their affiliation from a full slate of options, and not perceptions of which one is “better” or “more prestigious.”

Examination of Virtual Spaces the Field Occupies
As Paul mentions in the post that inspired this one, there is tremendous networking power in online networks that bring together professionals that may not otherwise meet. And yes, I do mean meet- these relationships shouldn’t, and don’t have to, stay online- just like with romantic relationships that start online, they have to come out from behind screens sometime!

Are classroom conversations about how to meet people and connect including online spaces that exist to bring emerging and established professionals together? And if the instructors are unaware of these opportunities, how are students being made aware of them? Alongside larger organizations like NASPA and ACPA, communities like The Student Affairs Collective, Student Affairs First Years, and Golden Higher Ed could be equally impactful for new professionals.

Where a lot of my friends “live.” IMAGE CREDIT: Playbuzz

 

Networking Out of Frame
By “out of frame,” I mean beyond the bounds of your degree. There’s a great wide world outside of higher education- by interacting in it through professional connections, two things can be achieved. First, we can build connections that allow us to approach challenges in our offices and on our campuses in new ways. Has an engineer, artist, financial analyst, or even professor already solved a problem that’s currently plaguing us? Without a connection to these people and an understanding of how they think, our work could feel incomplete.

Secondly, and arguably of more importance: connections outside our walls help us to understand the world where we’ll be sending the lion’s share of our students. Like it (philosophically) or not, we are preparing the majority of our students for an industry that we don’t work in. As such, we should be equipped with the tools to help them do something other than what we do. Is it exciting when students show potential for student affairs work? Of course. But if a student doesn’t want to do that, or is ill-suited to do so, we need to be able to provide more than encouragement when sending them off to do so. Seek out relationships that could be beneficial for you, but also beneficial in understanding the target audience that passes through our doorways, programs, and consciousness each day.

Rethink “It’s a small field.”
Let me first air a frustration: I don’t like the idea of the phrase “this is a small field” thrown around in a threatening manner. Most of the time it’s used in the same breath as an admonishment or warning about behavior or perspective. I believe any conversation about networking needs to first examine this phrase, how it’s used, and what we could elect for it to mean.

Your colleagues’ friends shouldn’t be a threat like the Boogeyman. IMAGE CREDIT: Disney Blogs

The fact of the matter is, the field is small because we make it small.  That is to say, the “incidental” nature in which people find this work is driven by people. How many times have you heard someone say that a mentor, advisor, or other staff member identified their potential? Unlike fields like business, journalism, or even teaching, where aspirations far precede the time we spend with students, interest in student affairs is generated through experience with it. That means the people involved hold a disproportionate level of power over who pursues it.

With that said, this can be a good thing! Creating a combination of strong and weak ties (see Adam Grant’s outstanding Give and Take for more details on this principle) is easier when the degrees of separation are fewer- and in student affairs, these lines are short. Want to meet someone to learn more about their research interests or learn something that they’ve pioneered or perfected? The odds of knowing someone who knows them are high- and with good networking skills, the connections you make to these individuals can feel organic and genuine. My first wish would be for the status of a small field to be not a threat, but an asset.

How to Create These Spaces for Others
As a chronic creator, so much of me wants to include in this conversation about networking, discussions on how to create new spaces for networking if you’ve sought your own place in the field and haven’t yet found it. I think about the communities listed above, as well as the establishment of the Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education (S&CIHE) Knowledge Community, as outstanding examples of well-networked and thoughtful individuals, filling gaps that emerge within the field. In many ways, the creation of these spaces is the culmination of all the tips listed above- recognizing the power, and not the ominous nature, of networking; seeking out diverse opportunities to meet like-minded individuals; and combining the power of in-person and online networks.

What other tips would you share for those seeking to build strong networking skills, either those working alongside you or those you wish to influence?

Announcing…Light Up Your Search!

Search season is nearly upon us, and I remember the flurry of feelings associated with it quite well. The job search season can be a trying one for anyone- it feels as though your future is on hold until these crucial details can come together.

For introverts, creatives, and others seeking something particular in a new position, the process can be additionally taxing; so many elements work against the temperament we naturally operate within. Where and who do I have to be, when? What should I look for if I’m creative and want a role that embraces that? How do I balance sounding accomplished and feeling cocky? What do I say?!

LIGHT UP YOUR SEARCH (1)

This job search season (February-April), I’m opening up my schedule to create time for one-hour calls to chat about the process. These are not career counseling calls, or job search coaching, but insight calls designed to give you a second look at who you are and how you can present your skills and abilities best in the search process.

Whether you identify as introverted, are prioritizing creativity and humor in your next role, or just need a second opinion as you embark on this journey, I hope I can be of help to you.

BOOK EXCERPT: “The Introverted Interviewee” (from The I’s Have It)

Are you an introvert struggling with how to attack a cover letter? Let’s chat.

Are you looking to move on from your first role, and need help deciding your next move? I’d love to talk!

Trying to decide how to best highlight your strengths? I can help with that!

Just need a sounding board, someone objective to answer these questions? Happy to help :)

PREVIEW: The Introvert’s Guide to Nailing a Job Interview 

You’ll notice I’ve provided a pair of resources above, and that may be all you need. If so, awesome- glad I was able to be of help! There is a cost associated with the calls – $29 – but that will give you access to resources and recommendations beyond what I’ve shared above, and dedicated time with someone invested in your success, a voice beyond the pages/code.

Additionally, you’ll receive:

  • Signed copies of both The I’s Have It and Light it Up;
  • A customized summary of our time together, with recommendations for your search and highlight-worthy points noted; and
  • Advance access to any job search content I publish this job search season delivered directly to your inbox (3 days before the general public sees it on ammamarfo.com)

If you have any questions ahead of the sign-up, please don’t hesitate to get in touch; I want to make sure what I can offer is right for you.

Ready? Sign Up Here and Pick Your Time.

Questions? I welcome them! Shoot me an email and we can chat.

While You Were Sleeping: #YesWeAfriCAN

Happy first Monday of the new year!

While it’s a groggy time for most, I am back in action- in fact, my first full day as a “one-woman revolution” started today! I have some big ideas and new tools to debut over the next few weeks. For now, however, I am enjoying my last few days in Kenya (albeit, behind my computer) with family.

“While you were sleeping” is my clever name for the idea that keeping up with social media has been difficult from eight hours “in the future”; by the time I want to share my adventures, most are already in bed! But fear not, it’s been well documented. Here, look:

Panel Review: ACUI Live, on Offense + Triggers

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist for ACUI Live in a conversation about trigger warnings and offense on campus. I came to this topic wearing the dual hats of “campus activities talent booker,” and “recreational comedy enthusiast.” But the conversation we had examined the issue through several lenses- programming, relationships with agents, how it manifests in the classroom, and more. Such a broadly defined topic left us a great deal of room to talk about many sides of the issue, and I’m thankful to my fellow panelists (Dr. Brian Bourke of Murray State University, Jeff Hyman of Degy Entertainment, and Tim St. John of Clark University) for the wisdom that they shared.

However, as we looked over the evaluations of the session (yup, we read those!), we realized that we as a group fell short in one area: leaving participants with a feeling of knowing what to do on their campuses, with their students to address these issues. After giving it some thought for a few weeks, I have some recommendations that I’d like to share.

First, draw a clear line – with faculty, staff, and students alike – between offense and trigger. Some of the greatest controversy we encounter when addressing issues like this comes when we mistakenly conflate the idea of offense (borne of discomfort, with the potential to lead to learning) and trigger/trauma (borne of pain, likely to inhibit learning). Despite how they’re often treated on campus and by the media, they are not the same.

This can be as simple as delineating what resources are available to whom. Things like emergency counseling care, 911, and the like are appropriate for those feeling triggered; while resources like scheduled counseling, regularly scheduled support groups, and peer mentors (more on that later) are more appropriate for moments of discomfort. But something else can be more powerful: identifying which is normal, and which is cause for deep concern.

I remember a Director of Orientation that I worked with several years back giving an opening speech to new students that included the advice, “Get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.” I always loved that she shared this note, because it normalized the idea of being tentative, unsure, or just plain icky about things that students do, see, hear, and learn each day.

Contrary to what many of our first time in college students come to us believing, you’re supposed to feel uncomfortable sometimes- that feeling of discomfort often spurs curiosity about why the feeling exists, and that can lead to learning.

With that said, the college experience should be uncomfortable at times, but it shouldn’t hurt. And for that reason, the notion of trauma needs to be explored for what it is- a sensation or experience borne of pain, something relatively common but not normal, and can be dangerous if pushed beyond areas of expert exploration.

Finding ways to share with students that discomfort is okay, but pain is not, is a significant step toward creating a culture that can operate smoothly in the face of challenge and respond appropriately when pain is caused.

Once this distinction is clearly made, find ways to convey that the student experience in the college space will feature challenge. Many students (though, admittedly, not all!) recognize that the level of work they are expected to do will be more demanding than it has been previously. But students are typically less prepared for the mental and emotional challenge that college will present. Remind students, where possible, that these challenges will arise. If you have the opportunity to teach, and have control over your syllabus, include it there. Explain it at floor meetings or in common meetings for commuter students. Let them know that it’s coming.

This warning shouldn’t just happen in the first year, by the way. Classes, informational sessions, and conversations leading up to study abroad trips should include this conversation as well, as should internship or practicum courses, and capstone experiences that are preparing students to head out into the post-graduate world. For it is not just the college experience that will spark feelings of discomfort, but also the world. Any opportunities to prepare students to “leave” us, should include these conversations as well.

Coach student leaders who commonly work with students on how to spot trauma, as well as talk students through moments of challenge. Tim brought up this point during our session, and I’m very appreciative of him for making the point; students can help with this process! Once students recognize the difference between the discomfort of offense, and the pain of trauma, equip the student leaders who they’ll be likely to turn to with the tools to help them cope. If they are leading programs or initiatives that have the potential to trigger, ensure that they state this possibility upfront, and allow permission for triggered students to leave or approach a staff member for guidance.

However, it is possible that students who utilize this approach, may actually be speaking of feeling offended rather than triggered. In these moments, leaders should be trained not to dismiss those feelings as less than painful, but to help students sort out the source of their discomfort. Make no mistake- I do not advocate for students to serve as counselors or therapists. Rather, more appropriately utilized helping skills (asking questions about expectations, wondering where expectations may have fallen short, inquiring where expectations may have originated) could help a student come to understand why something feels offensive, and what that offense may be rooted in.

As an additional note, I appreciated Tim’s suggestion that student comedians- members of improv troupes, sketch groups, or stand-up comedians opening for regional or national touring acts- should be taught about this element of the landscape in which they’ll be performing. Many worry about being funny, without recognizing the complicated manner in which their content could be perceived.

I spoke to a comedian and stand-up comedy instructor, Dana Jay Bein, who provides advice on this challenge to his classes as they craft their material. I’ve found that it’s something (a) budding comedians often need to hear, but also (b) many students may need to hear when interacting with one another in their most uncomfortable moments (we’ll return to this shortly):

I encourage students to write material about their lives. Don’t go for shock value. People don’t know you. They want to invest in you. They came to laugh. If you’re deliberately trying to offend them (upset them), you’re breaking the code of why they came.

I’ve been vocal previously about the high capacity that students have to handle complex issues and tasks; involving them in the process of assessing these conditions in their peers, as well as trusting them to use advice on how to avoid it in their own work, is one way to demonstrate that trust.

If we know in advance that programs or initiatives could be deemed offensive, plan pre-emptive or follow-up programming to help students work through it alongside peers and professionals. There are often speakers, entertainers, or campus events that we know will ruffle feathers; agents can be an invaluable resource when determining how potential events or initiatives have been received, as are colleagues at other institutions (so don’t be afraid to ask for references!). Don’t use that potential for discomfort or trigger as a means to dismiss value. Rather, ensure that the psychological resources needed are in place to help attendees or participants cope.

For triggering events or initiatives, do what you can to label them as such (outside and near the space, in advertisements, etc.) and identify or provide campus resources that can assist those deeply troubled after participating.

For potentially offensive or thought-provoking ones, consider pairing them with a follow-up “lunch and learn” or “dialogue forum” to allow participants to talk through their experiences, worries, and feelings. Provide space for these “grievances” to be aired anonymously or in writing, as some students may respond to this better.

And lastly, declare these spaces to be non-judgmental, confidential and kind. Without these standards set from the beginning, the sharing and civil controversy needed to work through these uncomfortable transformative moments, won’t take place.

Finally, create space for challenging conversations in your own offices and departments. Many who work in college unions have the level of contact with students that allows us to recognize trigger or offense up close; additionally, the relationships we have with students necessarily means sometimes it will be brought to our doorsteps (or cubical limits). When these moments arise, treat them with care and respect. Yes, you may be presented with issues or concerns that you don’t understand. But a listening ear, thoughtful questions, and offers of advice or supplemental resources will mean the world to the person who trusted you enough to bring their worries to you. Where you can, challenge colleagues and staff members across the aisle to do the same.

What other tips do you have for those looking to help students struggling with offense and triggering? Any examples of standout programming that has done this well? I’d love to know more!

Thanksgiving Week Book Sale!

As a treat for you all to celebrate my next steps, and to provide a discount at the end of the year when money is tight, I’m pleased to announce that both of my books are on sale this week! Head to Createspace for a 30% discount on paperback copies of THE I’S HAVE IT and LIGHT IT UP!

THE I’S HAVE IT coverThe I’s Have It: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs

Use the coupon code CWJY73KE to get 30% off here.

 

 

 

light it up front cover artLight It Up: Engaging the Introverted Student Leader

Use the coupon code BHZ682KX to get 30% off here.

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy your holiday, and happy reading!

We’re ALL Ambiverts Here…

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.

“Oh you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” asked Alice.

“You must be,” said the cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of presenting for the first time at the Lead365 National Conference, on supporting introverted student leaders through program design and stylistic change. This session went far differently than any other I have conducted on the topic in some very interesting ways, but I know several people walked away with good ideas on how to approach processes like recruitment, selection, advising, and evaluation.

At the close of the session, I received a question that I’m starting to get more and more lately: “what about ambiverts?” For those unfamiliar, ambiversion is very much what it sounds like- the ability to respond well to situations, regardless of the amount of stimulation they provide. In a lot of ways, ambiversion seems like the best of both worlds: social or high intensity situations take little from energy stores, and low-key or solitary scenarios are equally well tolerated.

However, while I don’t want to diminish the very real questions that are coming up about this hybrid of introvert and extrovert tendencies, my response to this is much like the cat’s above: we’re all ambiverts here.

“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” -Jung

From a purely biological standpoint, the determination is made by if your brain responds more favorably to dopamine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in extroverts) or acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in introverts). But the fact of the matter is, everyone has both. Everyone needs both. Even the most social and effortlessly gregarious person you know likely needs to take time at the end of the day to recharge, and even the most retiring or otherwise reserved person you know has moments of seemingly uncharacteristic liveliness.

What’s more, the activities that we tend to ascribe (at times wrongly) to each type, are by no means out of bounds of either type. I am just as troubled by assertions that extroverts are less insightful or thoughtful counterparts, as I am by ones that imply that introverts like people less than their extroverted counterparts. A common refrain from me on this topic: “No skill or ability is out of bounds for either type.” The only difference is energy.

There are activities and circumstances that pull more energy from some people than others. For extroverts, it takes a great deal of energy to do things in solitude or less energizing places, energy stores that are restored when they return to stimulating environments- loud places, places with people, places that they can pull energy from. For introverts, it takes a great deal of energy to operate in spaces that have more going on- often the very same circumstances that give energy to their extroverted counterparts. But at the end of the day, the need for both stimulation and recharge is common…and every person needs both.

So what does this mean for students who are finding their space within what seems like an unforgiving binary?

Regardless of what type students identify as, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel the most focused, productive, and successful. These are likely the spaces that either give them energy, or don’t tax their energy stores as much. Comparatively, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel tired, worn down, or otherwise depleted. These spaces are the ones that are taking energy away from them, ones that tax their energy stores excessively.

Then, help them brainstorm ways in which they can learn to moderate their energy when going about these activities. For example, ask extroverts how they handle expectations of restraint in classrooms, or how introverts  speak publicly if it’s something that doesn’t come naturally. While I write often about managing energy as an introvert, there is also a need to teach extroverts their version of these skills when they’re in spaces that might pull energy from them. Developing these skills is essential for preventing the pigeonholing that can often result from identifying as one type or another. And these practices are beneficial for everyone, no matter what’s going on (literally!) in that head of yours.

Presentation Review: Hiding the Orange Power Cord

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at MCPA, MA-NASPA, and BACHA’s Entry Level Professionals Workshop. I always love events like this, when I and others have the opportunity to share wisdom with graduate students and professionals new to the field of student affairs.

I selected a topic based on a concern I hear often from professionals who have spent a short time in offices: “I thought I’d have the chance to be more creative.” I understand the worry, and have absolutely felt it before. And why not? Many of the new professionals that enter these offices, are leaving graduate programs that praise highly the potential students have to make change in their offices- the difference you’ll make! The change you’ll inspire! The good you’ll do! They come in guns blazing, armed heavily with these platitudes, ready to use the innate gift they have to revolutionize everything around them.

But the reality is, good or bad- this isn’t always what new professionals get to do. Recognizing that this was a relatively common struggle, I wanted to head it off early for those in the room- with the help of IDEO’s Design Thinking principles.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
-Tim Brown, IDEO CEO

IDEO’s design thinking model can help harness this creative impulse, force it through a set of steps that encourage it to slow down and consider external factors that the nature of inspiration often ignores. Simply put, it forces you to consider the “box” from which you’re working, and how to best prevent needlessly punching holes or knocking down walls. As the title implied, I likened this process to the story of the “orange power cord,”(meaning solutions designed to solve a problem that also create new problems in the process) one shared in a 2012 Forbes article that changed the way I thought about weaponizing my ideas as a young professional:

I ask [new hires] to keep a notebook and write down all the orange extension cords that they can see, even if nobody else does. In fact, especially if nobody else does. I want them to point out all the unsightly items, processes, and practices that don’t fit or don’t make sense.

I tell them that is why we hired them. To bring a fresh perspective to make us a better company.

I warn them. Point things out now, write them down, and stick to your guns to fix them or improve them…

Because in 6-8 weeks, you won’t see them anymore either.

Are you looking to solve a problem in your office, but feeling some worries about how the proposal will go? This walk-through of the IDEO Design Thinking process might be helpful for framing your plan of attack.

Stage 1: Discovery

 

Even the best-dressed entry is ruined with a trip. IMAGE CREDIT: Popsugar

At this stage, you’ve seen the orange power cord. You may have asked questions about it and not been satisfied with the answer, or maybe you’ve tripped over it a few times in a meaningful way.

But more than just noticing the problem, you have decided you’re the person to solve it. I remember hearing back in 2007 at a conference (and I’m very sad that I can’t remember who was speaking when I learned this tidbit): never report a problem without a potential solution. Even if you’re not sure if it’ll work, the prospect of playing a part in a solution moves you from despondence to action. Good employees, team members, and assets are action-oriented, so the “I have an idea” piece is crucial to seeing this process through.

Stage 2: Interpretation

 

IMAGE CREDIT: Funny Junk

Once you’ve identified a problem, the interpretation stage is key because it encourages you to answer the questions: for whom is this a problem? For whom is this not a problem? Seeking to answer this pair of queries can provide insight as to why a problem hasn’t been solved- what roadblocks exist? What procedures would change if your proposed solution is implemented? The answers to these questions may hold some weight as you debate how to operationalize your solution.

The fact of the matter is, even the smallest colleges, universities, or companies are slow-moving ships. They have a lot of pieces that have to be moving in the same direction in order for them to succeed. This is a good thing, because it means that they can do a lot and produce high quantities of work. However, large ships are difficult to turn. If all the pieces aren’t moving toward the same goal, if unknown obstacles or barriers exist, or if members of the captain’s staff aren’t in agreement, disaster can strike. To help change direction, all the parties associated with the potential change need to know to lean into the turn.

New hires are uniquely equipped to answer these questions- a fresh perspective and a need to learn the operations of a new place means the questions you may need to ask, may be received differently from campus veterans. Use this newness to your advantage! Skipping the step of finding and utilizing allies can be the downfall of any collaboration that may have previously been taking place.

Stage 3: Ideation

Armed with not just your perception of the problem, but also the perception of those who may additionally be affected by a potential solution, you can seek to create a fix that is less likely to trip others up. Create a number of solutions, each one aiming to remove tripping hazards for as many individuals, offices, or constituencies as possible.

Novices in workspaces jump to this step from step 1, skipping step 2. Again, I must caution against this. If the interpretation step is skipped, the solution that you arrive at might create more orange cords, or bigger and more disruptive ones. And as an additional word of caution: people are always wary of proposals that start with “at my old school” or “at my undergrad.” Even if there is merit to your proposal, it may be viewed as a short-sighted attempt to replicate your prior experiences. As an alternative, include your institution’s initiative in a broader benchmarking/research effort. This will help others know you’ve explored deeply…and let you know there’s more to change than creating clones of “best” or “common” practices.

Stage 4: Experimentation

IMAGE CREDIT: Letters of Note

How will your solution work in real time? Deploying something that changes how students will interact with a process, or how other staff members will complete their work, will require some experimentation. Can you test the solution under different circumstances? Can you seek out feedback in advance of launch?

Having an idea of where your solution might fail or cause confusion, will help you respond better when struggles do arise. No solutions are airtight, but this process will reveal where leaks are, and how easy they are to respond to. Another way to curry favor with this prospective change: find out what constituents your supervisors and higher-ups most seek the approval and understanding of (e.g. students, alumni, faculty), and ensure that they are consulted as you prepare to launch.

As a bonus, experimenting in daylight underscores a principle Austin Kleon calls “showing your work.” When people are privy to the details behind creating processes or solutions, it humanizes something that otherwise might seem mysterious or impersonal. The result? As mistakes or missteps occur, users have some idea of what it took to get to where you are, and these wobbles are more easily forgiven. Choose which elements of the process you’re comfortable sharing with those that will be affected, and it could ease the reception later on.

Stage 5: Launch + Evolution

IMAGE CREDIT: GIF Soup

At long last, your solution- your means of stowing the orange power cord- is camera ready. Celebrate this launch, and the idea that you’ve made an impact. But watch how the launch goes. Be prepared to address any concerns that may create calls for a return to the old, unsightly way. Practice responding to these worries by reinforcing the strength of the solution, and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged! The reason that the second half is “Evolution” is because tweaks and alterations are expected.

If you identify that change is needed after the solution has been deployed, the end is just the beginning. Enter the cycle again. Talk to other parties about how the change has gone, start creating possible solutions, experiment with them, and debut as needed. Change like this is iterative; a one-time shift will be insufficient to keep you going. But with a spirit of creativity, blended with attention to garnering buy-in, will provide the fuel needed to continue making an impact.

What changes have you made in your office since arriving? What did the process look like for you?