The Secrets of Writing DI Challenges

Reposted from Tennessee Destination ImagiNation Blogger Rick Wimberly

Well, here you go.  With great threat to my well-being as one of the chosen, I’m about to reveal some long-kept secrets of the mysteries surrounding the development of Destination Imagination challenges.

On a mysterious summer weekend in a secure facility in an unnamed city so secret that the first letter of its name is silent, people from around the globe quietly gather.  They were carefully chosen, and warned to keep the secrets to themselves.

When they first arrive, they are split into two groups – the experienced elders and the rookies.  Rookies are hazed.   Then, they are all told to sign documents that prohibit them from discussing their work beyond the chosen few until the challenge is officially unveiled by some unknown power. The documents state that, if they do their jobs properly, they’ll be paid only one dollar.   They’re not here for the money.

The writers are then broken into smaller groups.  Rookies and elders are mixed.  They’re sent to a small, cold room given little more than big pieces of blank paper, some sticky notes and an occasional piece of chocolate.   They’re told they are not to come out of the small, cold room until they come up with a challenge that will help legions of students learn and experience creativity, teamwork, and problem solving.

Hours later, when they feel like they have a good idea, they are led to a large room where all of their fellow writers and DI staff wait.  They present their idea.  That’s when they are told for the first time that their idea stinks.

They’re sent back to their small, cold rooms.  The rookies are heartbroken.  The elders assure them that this is typical, that it only gets worse.  They write some more.  Then, they present to the big group again, sometimes with totally new ideas and sometimes with tweaks to their originals.  Again, their creations are scrutinized and criticized.  The rookies are disappointed.  The elders are used to it.  Back to the small, cold room.  This is clearly tougher than it looks.

Finally, the long tiring weekend is coming to an end.  One more time, they present their revised challenge ideas to the big group.  The group applauds.  Victory, at least, it seems….but, not really.  This is when they all get the lecture that the grueling weekend is only the beginning of the process.  They will now be sent back to their own hamlets to very discreetly start developing their challenge in earnest.  The weekend was just the beginning of what would become four long, painful, often lonely, months of on-line writing.  They write diligently for week after week, often thousands of miles apart.

If they thought presenting to their fellow writers was tough, they couldn’t imagine what was ahead.  There’s yet another group of people…much more secretive than the first.  They hide behind code names, and all contact is through a cautious handler. Their job is to dissect every nook and cranny of the challenge-to-be, finding flaws and raising obnoxious questions.  They’re a brutal bunch, whoever they are.

The writers and dissectors volley back and forth.  Change this.  Don’t change this.  Change this again.  Why didn’t you change what I said change?  Oops, you need to change this, too.  I still don’t get it.  Why did you change that?  It’s a hard-fought battle.  Many changes are made.  Everyone is weary.

Finally, someone somewhere declares the challenge is ready for the world.  The writers never really know who this person is…but are in awe of the power.

Still the secrets continue.  The writers are reminded that they are not to disclose their identities until a ceremony before thousands in that city so secretive that its first letter is silent.

But, if you are really curious about who these secret writers are, I’ll tell you how to spot them.

Watch the first team of the first tournament complete the challenge.  Then, scan the audience.    If there’s someone sitting very quietly, hiding a single tear that has just rolled down their cheek, and trying to hold back a big smile, you’ve found one…a DI challenge developer.

Now, I beg of you, please keep these secrets to yourself.

Anonymously Yours,