On January 21st, 2019, Bryant University kicked off the start of the second semester with the seventh annual IDEA Program. I was granted the privilege to sit down and discuss this year’s program with Allison Butler, who is the director of the program and a psychology professor at Bryant. She has been on the IDEA team since its second year, and she just completed her second year as the director. I would like to thank her once again for letting me be able to interview her and learn more details about IDEA.
Professor Butler informed me that the program was founded by Professor Michael Roberto, who was the program’s original director. Butler said that Roberto saw a real opportunity to make the students at Bryant well equipped for their lives going into graduate school or into the work force. She said that Roberto and the team knew that not everyone automatically knows how to do things like collaborate with team members effectively, pitch and receive ideas, and apply feedback, which are extremely important professional skills. Butler went on to discuss the fact that design thinking is a cutting-edge methodology for generating innovative solutions in any domain – including the arts, medicine, education, and the business world. It is an asset that organizations desire so much that they send their own employees out to be trained in the process of design thinking. The program is, what she refers to it as, a bootcamp. It is roughly fifty-six hours of engagement time and it is incredibly immersive. The whole idea of IDEA is not for the student to become an expert in design thinking in just three days, but rather to get an introduction to it and a background in it so they can use the methodology in future courses, research projects, and professional activities.
When asked how the design challenges for each cohort were chosen, Butler informed me that the IDEA Leadership Team truly does practice what they preach. The team brainstormed and wrote project ideas on sticky notes and slammed them on a giant sheet of paper. One of the core themes of the program is to be creative and to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone to embrace “wild ideas,” which is one of the reasons Butler gave for why the student mentors decided to present different tasks and ideas by doing activities like skits. She said they wanted to be fun with how they presented the topics, but also provide the students an example of what it means to be imaginative and innovative.
This was a good segue to my next question which had to do with why there were a bunch of activities available for the students while they were working on their prototypes. Butler said that the work space of true and successful innovators is something that is a collaborative and fun place to be in. She said some people fear criticism, and by putting them in a fun and crazy environment, they can open up and be in an environment where they feel safe giving out their ideas. Butler also said that during the design thinking process, people benefit from taking a break, engaging in something fun or relaxing, and then returning to their project with fresh eyes.
We then discussed about one of the exercises that was done during the program. When students were presenting their idea through a storyboard, they were taught that when someone asked them a question that began with “have you considered…”, they were to say thank you, and nothing else. I asked Butler why students were taught that, especially when the judges did not ask those types of questions. She told me the idea of this is to make sure people do not get attached to their idea and try to defend it in the moment. When people get attached, she said that they will not want to listen to constructive criticism. The technique involves having a team member record all of the considerations raised during the pitch; then the team discusses that feedback later in a team meeting and determines how to modify their solution. When it comes to the judges, she realizes that they usually do not ask “have you considered…” questions and they do want the student to present the complete prototype. She still believes in the exercise so that students can learn to accept critical feedback as an essential component of the iteration and innovation process. Ultimately, the result should be a prototype that was made with the consumer in mind, and not the creator.
We concluded our interview by discussing why the song High Hopes, by Panic! At the Disco, was played about ten times throughout the program. Butler informed me that were several reasons as to why the song was played the amount of times that it was. The song was picked by the team as the theme song of the program. The student mentors choreographed a routine with that song on their first night of training for IDEA, and then they performed it as a surprise flash mob dance for the first-year students on Tuesday night. Butler said that the team also enjoyed the message of the song, encouraging students to “manifest destiny” and to always have high hopes for what they can create and accomplish. She said it underscores the experience of IDEA and she hopes that students got that message out of the song.