In 2014, KI to facilitate a Mentoring Strategies Workshop for ASM-Link, during which we used an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach to focus on what worked for participants when they were mentoring others. We came out of that workshop with several stories and an urge to gather more. With a grant from the NSF, we were able to do just that. Over the next year, we set up interviews with academics, researchers, and scientists across the country to gather insight about what works when mentoring underrepresented minorities
This raised our attention to the fact of how much we rely on language to convey meaning, and that if we don’t have a shared understanding, it’s harder to work together and collaborate creatively. Even the creative collaboration has its own language. Just as the scientists arrive with their own lexicon, so do we facilitators. We’ve learned, over time, that the syntax of our métier has been crafted to aide innovation. By using our language deliberately, we can be induce more creative responses.
A 5-day event, like an Ideas Lab or Sandpit, pushes people to their creative and collaborative limits. The experience can be profound and inspiring: identifying new challenges, discovering and developing with breakthrough ideas, meeting and working intensely with academics from other disciplines. But it’s not always easy. An intense workshop like this also has its challenges. It may require navigating a few tricky moments.
“How can I learn to do what you do?” This question usually emerges at the end of one of our workshops, the moment when participants are thinking about returning to their organisations. Often, the interlocutor is a PI who wants to bring some part of the creative process into his or her lab. We get the same question from mentors, research managers, and even some of the funders.
Whether as the mentor or the person being mentored, we’ve all experienced occasions when for whatever reason – timing, chemistry, opportunity – good counsel made a big difference. We also remember the not-so-good mentoring, when we were disappointed by an advisor or by the inability of someone to accept our help, no matter how hard we tried. We’ve known good and bad mentors and because of those experiences we begin to understand what does and doesn’t work.
What if you used an object to do something other than what it was made to do and ended up redesigning the object? That doesn’t seem so far fetched, unless, as a result of your misuse, the object redesigned itself. This is the idea behind ThingTank, a project that came together during an Ideas Lab facilitated by KI in 2013. The project, funded by Skoltech, starts with the fundamental questions: Can things design things?