Practice, Practice, Practice

We do lots of different things in our department (often all at the same time). While this sometimes can leave all of us feeling like we are professional plate spinners, there are also real benefits to having all of those plates spinning all the time– I can honestly say that I’m never bored.

It does sometimes make mastery a challenge, though. Mastery takes time and focus, and both can be in short supply. It can also be a bit daunting when you start doing new things, because the first few times you do something (or the first twenty times, or maybe the first fifty times, depending on how complicated the task is), the results can be sort of disappointing. The first time you do something isn’t actually all that hard. It’s usually frustrating. You read the instructions. You watch a couple of YouTube videos showing how to do it, you think, okay, I’ve got this. I can do this. And then you do it and it looks nothing like you thought it was going to. For me, I leave it alone for an hour or two, go back at it again, mess it up again, leave it alone, go back again… repeat seemingly ad infinitum.

The scary thing is making the second one of anything. Having made the first one, you now know that you only sort of know how to do the mechanics of it. Probably more importantly, you also know that, while you have figured out how to make that thing, you haven’t figured out how to make it as good as you want it to be.

Ira Glass has a great take on this:

A friend of mine and I have been talking about a project for the last year and a half. It’s a personal project. It’s an idea that I’m excited about and interested in. It’s also only one of a dozen projects, some personal, some professional, that we’ve talked about doing. I sent him the Ira Glass video right before one of our planning meetings for one of the more complicated projects we’re working on with a note that I thought we should take Glass’s advice.

Step One: we’re going to do a lot of work.

We started collecting pieces for the first project this weekend, including spending some time figuring out how to use the GoPro camera I just picked up. These things are supposed to be waterproof, right?

 

Plan A and The Year of Living Experimentally

After a very long winter (we just had a snow storm that was almost six months to the day after the first snow of the season), there are birds chirping, daffodils blooming,  and it’s finally starting to seem like spring might actually come. Which can only mean one thing.

Budgets.

Actually, it means two things, because with budgets comes planning, and planning is the exciting part of budgeting, even if you have to make two plans for everything (the with and without funding plans). This year I wanted to try making a small change to the process: flip Plan A and Plan B.

Often, Plan A is With This Many Dollars We’re Going To Do This Awesome Program/Project, and Plan B is With Fewer Dollars We’re Going To Do What Could Have Been An Awesome Program/Project, But Is Now Going To Be Less Awesome By The Power Of X, In Which X Is Correlated To The Size Of The Cut In The Budget. (Or sometimes Plan B is With No Dollars We’re Going To Weep Mightily At The Funeral Of The Awesome Program/Project That Never Had A Chance To Live). So this year we’re going to try starting with what we can do without funding. Here’s what I’m hoping will happen:

We’ll devise Plan As that are Awesome Programs and Projects, and Plan Bs that will expand the awesomeness of the Plan As through the wonders of funding for things like printing and supplies and outside services. And when our final budget is in place we’ll have funding for some (dare I even hope for many?) of the programs/projects, but because we started from unfunded awesomeness, all will be awesome.

Okay, that maybe isn’t exactly what will happen, but having experienced budgeting at a variety of institutions (the thrill of victory! the agony of defeat!), I wondered if a turn of mind would have an impact both on the experience and on the plans that come out of it. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Interestingly, something has come out of it. We’ve started thinking about what to do in the next fiscal year and the big things that have bubbled up have been experimenting and evaluating. Which is not to say that neither of these were part of what we were doing before– they definitely were– but rather that one of the big themes for the year will be iterative experimentation– including documenting what we tried, how it worked (or didn’t), and what we learned.

photo 2

Welcome to The Year of Living Experimentally.