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To Help Another

(This post was originally published on October 14, 2015, on The Creek Bed)

A bit of background before I get into the meat of this post: There are two cohorts this year in Innovation Diploma. There is the Disney Cohort, who all started last year, and the Jobs Cohort, who all started this year. The names were picked by the cohort and are innovators that we admire.

In this past week of Innovation Diploma, we were split up into our advisory groups and each group was given a challenge based on the ethnography work the Jobs Cohort had done the week before. My group’s observation was on the effectiveness of the set up the cafeteria. To learn more about it, my group interviewed Robert, a favorite custodian among the students for his friendliness and ever-present smile.

Having been at my school for several years now, I’ve seen Robert around for a long time. I haven’t talked to him very much, however, and I think it’s because I always just assumed that Robert wouldn’t care about getting to know me, just one of the many students in the school. This week I learned that wasn’t necessarily true.

Just from our thirty minute interview, I learned that Robert is one of those rare people who cares about each and every person they see in a day, regardless of how much the two people interact. He talked about how he changed the set up to make it easier for people to get their lunch, how he would save a chair for the new kid who always seemed to end up late to lunch and without a seat, and that he goes around the lunchroom picking up peoples’ plates so they don’t have to stop their conversations. He does what he can to make everyone’s life easier and happier, believing that you should always love and enjoy life.

From all of the stories I’ve heard about design thinking, I think there is one common theme: the solution made someone’s life easier and happier. And more often than not, there is more than one “someone.”

One of the things I’ve always found fascinating about design thinking is how much an interview can change the way you think about something. You go from observing one problem to being indirectly told another. And sometimes you end up with a nice neat little package at the end that solves all of the problems and you get to feel good about it, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes that underlying itch of “I solved one thing, but not the other” is left. And I think that itch is what keeps people designing and rethinking and solving. There will always be some problem in the world. And as long as there are problems, someone out there will keep solving them.

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of “Well, there’s no reason for us to solve that problem because we won’t benefit from it,” and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because the automatic thought is, “I don’t benefit from doing anything, so why bother?” instead of, “I might not get to see how this helps the world, but it will help, so it should be done.”

I don’t think we should do things just because they help us. I think we should do things because at the end of the day, it’s a miracle that we even exist (and my thoughts on this miracle can be saved for another post). At the end of the day, we are just a bunch of organic organisms on a giant blue and green ball spinning in a galaxy in a universe we’ve never seen the edges of. We don’t know our purpose, and we don’t know the purpose of the person standing next to us, and we don’t know if there are any other organisms out there, organic or not, but we owe it to the miracle that created us to do our best to not mess it all up. To make someone’s life easier, even if it’s just for a second of a very long day, week, month, year, lifetime.

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