MY MACE JOURNEY (TO THIS POINT)
I wanted to avoid opening this reflexion with the word “final” so that is my way of doing it, starting from the beginning. The first “Mace Friday” was a very interesting experience and something that I will cherish for a long time. The morning was gone, and in the afternoon I was to have my first Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice class. To be honest, at the beginning I felt a little lost because everyone was very excited, talking about some kind of “toilet” experience they all had, and also they were already familiar with the User Model. I come from a Journalism background, so in my mind I had no knowledge of design whatsoever. Thankfully, my opinion was later to change when I really understood the concept of design thinking.
Reflecting on this notion, I would like to highlight the importance that Tim Brown’s vision had to me. Here is the first lecture I heard from him, besides TED videos. We needed to comment about it on our blogs for this module. It is a one hour talk, but as soon as he started speaking about the concepts, and practical examples, I was staring at the screen until the end. After that, I started checking his blog regularly. It is a very interesting source, where he publishes, usually once a month, an article or comment on something that is happening on the design thinking field. Brown’s deconstruction of the idea that design is only related to objects, and making their aesthetics more attractive, was very important to me. It clarified my understanding of the idea that design is in everything: from services, to communication and user experiences. The Mace course was yet to demystify many other abstract concepts usually incrusted in people’s minds, such as creativity, innovation and leadership.
Another notion that was to become defining for me, and the way I see basically everything from then on, is the idea of empathy. It can seem obvious at first, but we needed an overview on how it works businesswise and its consequences. This was the first time I watched an RSA Animate video. I confess I became a frequent visitor to their website, as the animations bring a very captivating aspect to interesting lectures, either if you agree with their point or not. With the empathy concept in mind, we started on one of the most interesting parts of the module in my view: prototyping!
I like the idea of “visual thinking” present on the Business Model Generation where it says “Like visual thinking, it makes abstract concepts tangible and facilitate the exploration of new ideas” ( Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2010, p.162). Prototyping classes were guaranteed fun! My favourite was the elevator one, where we had a few bits and pieces (and a lot of post-its and rubber bands) to build “something” for elevators. This was my first practical experience with prototyping, and I assume also for a few of my colleagues. Besides that, I really enjoyed learning about digital prototyping, and how doing something like this video, simple and just requiring pen and paper, would really improve and help on the development of a website.
Back to empathy as the starting point, we had to do two things: the first was to write about passion. I have chosen a Steve Jobs talk called “How to live before you die”. For me, the main message and what made me choose that video, was the idea that one day “the dots will connect”. So if I did not know (or I thought so) one specific passion to select, I should let my intuition guide me and results would come. Now I can clearly see that, independent from what I do, my passion for media is still there. So, without realising back then, I connected it with our next blog assignment and the idea of going out and doing things.
The other task was to analyse a system, using the User Model. We were given the advice of going out and doing, rather than just being on our computers. So there I went, to explore the process of moving houses and understand the dynamics involved, as well as suggest any improvements that could be made. Making this video allowed me to understand much better all the concepts around the User Model that we were discussing in class. Therefore, I can say that I left the comfort of my PC and I liked it very much!
Storytelling was another notion that became very significant during the first semester. I remember we watched a few videos in class, to illustrate the various different ways of storytelling. My favourite example was this video, where one baby bear runs from a horrendous feline. I share the view of Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010), that storytelling is a way to overcome people’s initial resistance to something that is unknown for them. That is done by communicating what your business is about and engaging with the listener.
So we have had several concepts clarified, and a set of tools that would help us to move to the next level of the “hands on” entrepreneurial experience of setting our own businesses. That should be done in groups, and therefore we needed to select our partners. At the beginning of the module we had a few experiences, such as the speed dating class that intended to help us to get to know each other and understand more about abilities, likes and dislikes, and of course experiences.
By the time groups were formed, we started the brainstorming process. We learned how to not kill each other ideas, how to respect different points of view and thinking styles. Further down the Mace line we would have a great lecture with Piers Ibbotson that would show us the effects of the “Yes, but..” and Yes, and… attitudes in practical activities and in a very engaging way. This notion means having a positive attitude towards the others and their different ways of thinking. That exercise made me realise I needed to improve some behaviours too, in order to become a better team player. After reading Ibbotson’s book The Illusion of Leadership (2008) the concepts, environment and behaviours needed to enhance creative group work would highlight what we were already experiencing in our businesses.
My group’s idea became a service to international students coming to London. Then International Student Toolkit (IST) was created. We all, as international students, had a strong feeling about the need for a platform where updated information would be available for students, and written in a clear and easy way.
The first time we shared our idea with someone out of the company was in November, when we had to pitch it to Corrine and Rob Fitzpatrick. The comments were positive, and that boosted our confidence to stick to our idea and keep developing it. At the time, we were also using Fitzpatrick’s Startup Toolkit to create what would be our business model. He became our mentor, giving us precious advice on a few processes such as recognizing the key people to contact, networking and how to follow up with them.
The two Trade Fairs we had to attend were also of great importance for the business. The first one in February represented a time constraint for my team. We were excited and wanting to show our website up and running. It means that by then we had already articles (and translations) online, as well as a few videos. The event was a thermometer for the response on our business idea, not only from students but from everyone attending, for example, the representatives of Young Enterprise. Winning the best pitch was, in my view, a reward for our hard work, as well as an energy boost. I think the strong point of the second fair was more related with finding prospective customers for International Student Toolkit.
Moreover, there is no way to talk about our business and not mention the Dragons experience. The first one, back in November, was crucial for us to see our strengths (the idea itself and the logo were mentioned), as well as the weaknesses (we needed to develop further our cash flow). On the same day, we were given the opportunity to network with the Dragons. That for me personally meant getting out of my “pseudo shy” shelf and actually talking to them. That particular moment was very important for all of us, as we were beginning to learn how to sell our ideas.
In the whole process with IST, we had to be both: “creatives” and managers. Therefore, we could see in a practical way that the idea of these two worlds needing to be apart must be demystified. Creative individuals can performance as great managers, and vice versa, as presented in Management and Creativity (Bilton, 2007).
Now looking back at the whole project of developing and idea from scratch and creating an actual business, this was the best practical experience Mace could have provided me with. As I said when introducing myself in the first class: “- I want to be an entrepreneur and have my own business”. By that time, I did not know about what my company was going to be, and that is something still to be figured out. There are several paths I can follow. I know my future is back in Brazil, and therefore the actual business will be opened over there. However, in the meantime, I am very keen on doing something internet related while I am here in the UK.
As I mentioned above, the fact that we had the practical side, as well as the theoretical knowledge, made the whole experience much more enriching. The International Student Toolkit was, and still is, a very cohesive group. We all have extremely different backgrounds, thinking styles and opinions. That surely made our journey as a team much more interesting. However, we all get on really well and more than that, we became very good friends. That made the work more enjoyable and definitely had an effect on the outcome of our business.
So my future goal remains the same as when I started Mace. I am still determined and hard working, but now that will be enhance with everything I learned in this module and with the development of IST. Before, I had only my goal and my willpower, but now I am able to see the operation as a whole. By understanding the journey, I mean the overall process: from knowing how to translate my business idea on a logo, to which colours I should use for my website and what they mean, to the importance of thinking about the user in the first place, to prototyping the idea and the significance of social network as a marketing tool.
Another thing that this module showed me is that is ok to fail. There will be several business ideas crossing my mind until I spot the right one. When that occurs, I will have to “make it happen”, and of course use all the skills acquired to understand my user, empathise with them, test my idea and prototype it, going through all the stages I learned are needed before implementation. And from there, maybe a few will fail on the way and that is healthy and very important feedback for any entrepreneur.
As I still have one more year in Mace to go, this means that my project is a long term one. In the meantime, while in London, there are two things I would like to do. First would be being able to start a small business in parallel with a “paying job”. Another possibility would be working in a place/position where I could also have an entrepreneurial attitude. The reality at the moment is that I am going through a period of changes, where I am putting my priorities back into place and now my focus is back to where it should be. The outcomes, well…they can only be positive: I am much more open than before, to new ideas and opportunities; and that I am sure is going to help build up the bridge between where I am now and where I want to be.
- Corrine Beaumont: The user model
- Tim Brown: Innovation through design thinking
- RSA Animate: The emphatic civilisation
- Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur: Business Model Generation
- Jane Austin & Chris Neale: sketching
- Steve Jobs: How to live before you die
- Piers Ibbotson: The Illusion of Leadership
- Rob Fitzpatrick: The startup toolkit
- Chris Bilton: Management and Creativity
- Clayton M. Christensen: How will you measure your life