Why I’m a DI Manager – Because My Kids Won’t Get the Skills They Need in School

Reposted from Colorado Destination ImagiNation

A story on NPR this morning prompted me to take time from my over-booked schedule to write my first DI blog post.

The story states, “Richard Arum, a co-author of the book and a professor of sociology at New York University, tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep that the fact that more than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university was cause for concern.”

“Our country today is part of a global economic system, where we no longer have the luxury to put large numbers of kids through college and university and not demand of them that they are developing these higher order skills that are necessary not just for them, but for our society as a whole,” Arum says.  http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift

In the last 15 years I have hired over 200 people – most of them recent engineering college grads.  These kids are not getting the skills they need to thrive in an American economy that is fueled by innovation.

Like most DI team managers that are a few weeks away from their first tournament, I’m totally stressed-out and frustrated and wondering why I ever signed up to do this again this year.  Then I ask myself, “Are these kids getting anything out of this experience?”

Here is the list of practical, high-value things these kids have learned from our DI team that they would have NEVER learned by the end of their college education (Keep in mind that I coach the technical (engineering) challenge).

Real-world Teamwork & People Skill

  • When to stick-up for your ideas (central challenge) and when to back down when the leader sets a direction (instant challenge).
  • One bad apple on the team …
  • Why teams/companies often don’t hire friends and family
  • Not everyone on the team does an equal amount of work
  • Accountability to a team
  • Real teams don’t have coaches yelling orders from the sidelines
  • Power of specialized roles (instant challenge)
  • Importance of a good leader – and when it is best to set aside your ego to let a good leader lead.
  • Supporting and covering for a team member when a personal crisis happens.
  • Bickering through the entire instant challenge will get you a score of 4 and nearly last at Globals.  Cooperating will get you an instant challenge score of 87 and in the top 20 at Globals.
  • You can become great friends with Koreans and Chinese without ever speaking a word of each other’s language.
  • Learning by living – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing – and never getting beyond “Storming” is a strong motivation to fix team issues the next year.
  • Setting expectations at the start – and enforcing them.
  • If your team mate missed their commitment last week, then this week….
  • Being a geek can be tons of fun.

Project Management

  • Gantt Charts.  Linked tasks.  Task durations.  Crashing a schedule.
  • Critical Path
  • Work distribution
  • Risk management & schedule – test the riskiest parts first.
  • Importance of assigning small, well-defined tasks each week.
  • Minimizing meeting time – but making sure everything is properly coordinated.
  • Setting goals – and not giving rewards when reward milestones are not met.
  • Recognizing and changing plans fast when something isn’t going to work.

Innovation Skills

  • The difference in thinking from “my idea didn’t work” to “my first idea didn’t work”
  • 90-90 rule – When you are 90% done, you only have 90% to go!
  • Divergent thinking skills.  “That’s a great idea!  Can you tell me 10 other ways you could solve that problem?  Which of those ideas could you try now and have done in an hour?”
  • “That idea sounds like a lot of work.  Can you do a quick test to see if it will work before you invest lots of time?”
  • “That idea is really cool – but high risk.  What is a parallel path a team member can be working on if this idea does not work?”
  • I WILL figure this out.
  • Memorizing Thomas Edison quotes:
    •  “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”
    •   “Most people don’t recognize opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work”.
    •     In other words, Innovation is ALL about hard work, not a light bulb that suddenly appears over your head.
  • The fun is earned from lots of frustration and hard work.
  • Brainstorming
  • Designing something to complex customer requirements.
  • Ask “what can I do that would NEVER work, then try to make that idea work.”
  • Being labeled “weird” is a small price to pay for a really creative, interesting life.

Engineering Skills

  • Having 3 years of experience as a critical engineer on a project with a professional engineering manager mentor – before the age of 15.
  • Designing something when you don’t know how to use tools is like writing a cook book when you never have been in a kitchen.
  • Going from not knowing how to use a screwdriver to being skilled and efficient with power tools –  safely.
  • Make drawings before you start cutting.
  • Realize that the first thing you make won’t be what you take on stage.  Make prototypes understanding that you are just trying to flush-out the main issues with a design.
  • Find things that are similar to what you want to build –and get design ideas from things that work well.
  • Screws – types and how they are properly used.
  • Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.
  • Shafts, sprockets, couplers…
  • Plumbing – pipes, threads, clamps…
  • Hands-on Electrical – AC, DC, motors, solenoids, electrical valves, linear actuators, fuses, wire gage, soldering, crimping, voltage vs. current….
  • Cylinders – hydraulic, pneumatic, leverage
  • Duct Tape and Glue – friend and foe.
  • Springs
  • Structures
  • If you build it in the PVC pipe isle of Home Depot – you will have access to every part you need – and get lots of attention.
  • Literally getting a round shaft to fit in a square hole.  It is really hard to make a square hole.
  • Learning measure twice, cut once – the hard way.
  • How to get a stripped screw out.
  • Discovering, through experience, why screws are better than nails and plywood is stronger than particle board.
  • Researching basic designs that are available on the internet so I’m not re-inventing the wheel.
  • When you go to the hardware store, buy lots of stuff that might be needed if the first idea does not work.
  • Resourcefulness (find ways to use trash) and cost reducing “products” that are over-budget.
  • A skirt made of magazines gets more compliments than an expensive skirt purchased at a fancy store.
  • Find something in the garage (now) that you can make work instead of asking to take another trip to the hardware store.
  • If you do nothing to solve a problem, it will happen again – and be real frustrating.
  • Girls can be the best at using tools and designing technical things.
  • If the tower is standing, don’t try to make it better in the last 5 seconds.

Presentation Skills

  • Getting a timid kid to speak with confidence.
  • Voice projection
  • Improvisation – fake like you know what you are doing.
  • Something colorful scores better than something cardboard-colored – even it more work went into the cardboard.
  • Leveraging humor
  • Storytelling
  • “Selling” your product to your customer.

And MOST IMPORTANTIndependent Learning Skills

  • The skill and confidence that “I don’t need to be taught how to do something – I know I’ll figure it out, one way or another, on my own.”

I’m still a frustrated and exhausted DI coach, but I’ve accomplished my goal of giving my team members a tremendous head-start with valuable, real-world skills that were learned the best way – the hard way.  In 9 years, I can’t wait to hire these kids.  They will be way ahead of their classmates in having valuable, real-world innovation skills.

Hang in there!  You are doing a great thing for these kids.  Keep in mind the real value comes from the process, not the product.

Scott Dalgleish, Boulder CO

My DI blog from last year: http://www.90percentdone.com/destination-imagination-globals/

About Scott (from personal blog):  http://ninetypercentdone.typepad.com/about.html