Atoms vs. Bits - Making Matters

Students working on projects in the  Brown Design Workshop

Students working on projects in the Brown Design Workshop

We live in a world infatuated with bits (tech).  We value, encourage, praise bit-making over atom-making.  Creating with atoms doesn’t have the cache or import it once did, and we’ve lost something precious by doing so.  Our hands* were not made (just) for typing, they were made to be sources of input to our brains to learn about our world – and learn by creating.

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Making, physically making, with atoms, not bits (or at least not just bits), is powerful!  Numerous studies have shown the power of physically making for muscle memory, learning new cognitive skills, and much more.  Making helps us develop empathy, helps us learn to iterate and prototype, to try stuff

Making with atoms usually involves almost all, if not all of our 5 senses – we use sight, touch/texture, hearing, smell and even taste, think cooking!  If you ever created with wood, do you remember the constant touch & texture of sanding an edge? Eyeing a joint? The amazing smell of cut wood (ahhh!)**? the sound of a planer or saw so you knew it was working perfectly? Making builds a sense of self-confidence and self-sufficiency, of knowing you can be ok, you can rely on yourself if need be.  And, making is a source of peace, calmness, harmony in our very hectic anxious lives.

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Making is how we learn about our world, both in reality and as a metaphor.  For instance, if you build a drawer by just nailing the sides together, does it have the same stability, endurance and resilience as a dovetailed drawer? By building both types of drawers, what could we learn, extrapolate about systems-level thinking vs. discrete parts? Doesn’t this resemble our healthcare, education and other failing systems - as a bunch of parts nailed together instead of dovetailed? By making, we can see why systems matter and how to design them.

As you go through the rest of this month, what can you make – out of Legos, Play-Doh (yes, it’s for adults too), food, wood, glass, paper and pen? It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be profound, it doesn’t need to be auctioned off by Sotheby’s.  Just make something – for yourself or with someone.  With someone is even better.  Because, remember – we’re made of atoms, not bits.

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*The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture

**If anyone ever wonders why I love doing my office hours in the Brown Design Workshop, just come in and smell the wood!

It Isn't Home Runs! More At Bats = More RBIs

Hank Aaron ~ All time MLB RBI Hitter (2,297) Picture Credit USBData

Hank Aaron ~ All time MLB RBI Hitter (2,297) Picture Credit USBData

Opening day is March 28th. The media, fans, and managers will be focused on key stats like on-base and slugging percentages, defensive runs saved, walks/hits per inning pitched and ERA … and of course Grand Slams and Home-Runs! Guess what, companies love those big sexy stats too - especially for innovation.

I like RBIs - Runs Batted In. It’s not sexy but it’s a great leading indicator of success (or not). The more times you’re at bat, the more times you’ll hit the ball, the more times a runner will get to base and the more times a runner will get home. Innovation is a numbers game - the more you try, the more you’ll fail AND the more you’ll succeed!

The more at bats, the more you get to home!

So, just remember, the more times you’re up at bat, the more times you try, the greater the chances you’ll get to home base.

Reflections ~ One Month Post-BIF

Saul Kaplan  Starting Day 2 of  BIF  - Photo by  Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Saul Kaplan Starting Day 2 of BIF - Photo by Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Every year, the crew at BIF lets me bring a bunch of my Brown University students to BIF. My students are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, years and concentrations - #STEAM. This year, I asked the kids to share their reflections. Profound, personal, hopeful, cautious. Here are their thoughts.

Everyone is special and has something to offer the world and to teach each of us

Too often, too many people go unnoticed and unappreciated by society and by even by themselves. Miraculously, people find and activate their potential, even when they didn’t think they had any. That potential, when realized, impacts others - helping them see their potential and getting and giving second, third plus chances. Despite what we hear from the media, our world is filled with good people. Everyone has something to teach us … and everyone is magic.

LISTEN! Stories matter!

LISTEN! It’s important to let stories soak into us and to find ways they can inform & improve our own lives and experiences. Stories are how we learn from the very beginning. They are examples, not instructional guidelines (which are 1 size fits all). Stories aren’t a “do this, do that, then this happens.” They require us, the listener, to do the work of weighing that story against our own values and decide how and what parts to apply to our own lives. Stories can make magic happen.

Use the Network for Good.

The network, along with many of our privileged lives, has the potential for doing good. Our networks and advantages can and should be used to open opportunities for others. There are so many great people in the world. You have to be open to finding them, willing to meet them and to expand your network with and for them. The network spreads magic.

It seemed that, in particular, this year, BIF invigorated my students to make a difference (which is saying a lot since these kids are wired to have a positive impact by default!). They left with Darden Smith’s words - Know where you are starting, what you stand for, who you’re not, and be willing to wander and wonder! Then, think big and run with it!

Trinity Rep Dome. Photo by  Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Trinity Rep Dome. Photo by Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

A very special thanks to BIF for letting my 20+ students attend and to my students for sharing their thoughts (Samanee, Salko, David, Eric, Kyra, Stefan, Manny and others).