I spent the past few days in Manhattan, working with an organization called 4.0 schools which works to develop social entrepreneurs in the field of education. It’s been an incredible experience that I was fortunate to be selected as a participant. When I arrived here a few days ago though, I must admit I was nervous. I was getting ready to meet people from across the country who were developing inspiring, ambitious ideas for education reform- everything from new schools, to after-school programs, tech start-ups, etc. I assumed that my idea for engaging families in their own education roadmapping was still undeveloped and less sophisticated compared to what I would hear and learn from my peers.
This feeling of not measuring up by comparison, coupled with the overwhelming aspect of navigating the city that never sleeps for 3 days on my own, all created the perfect storm…or perfect opportunity. Now, nearing the end of my journey on Day 3 of our program I can honestly say that it’s been a growing experience and wonderfully challenging and invigorating in so many ways. So, why was it so difficult at first to wrap my head around the fact that I was in a new space, getting ready to dive head first into a new venture? Fear, plain and simple. That’s what happens when you step out of your comfort zone, you encounter new realities that force you to make a choice: embrace what’s in front of you or shrink back and regret the missed opportunity for growth.
It’s a fun gut check process, though unnerving at times. People who know me know how homesick I easily get. I called my wife the first night as she was wrapping up dinner and bedtime and she seemed exhausted (well maybe I didn’t miss that…). No one has been a bigger supporter than my wife over the years for the work I’ve been doing with families, particularly dads in education. Sharing how amazing this time has been with her was truly rewarding. In the spirit of embracing what’s in front of me this week in NYC, I’ve tried a lot of new things, likely none more risky than Korean BBQ (turns out it’s not that bad).
Back to the start up venture itself, this weekend more than ever has crystalized for me the key question I’ve been tinkering with for years: how to help young dads figure out education for themselves and their kids. We’ve done this by deepening our understanding of our user, building context about the problem we’re trying to solve for, testing our assumptions, and building prototypes of our solutions to also test. It’s been a rigorous process that’s yielded clarity on so many fronts. What I love the most is their motto that they invest in people, not ideas…so when they want us to fail fast so that we can quickly get to the next, better idea.
That’s good for me to hear because I feel like over the years I’ve already tested out a number of ideas, many of which failed, so I’ve developed a pattern of launching small micro-tests to see what works and what doesn’t (this blog grew out of 3 other blogs for example, until I realized after a few years…perhaps I should organize into one singular platform to address dads and dad-related issues). Iteration has been the name of the game, and while it’s sometimes exhausting to see an idea you’ve built get shredded through assumption interrogation or a user-test, it’s good feedback. Our concepts are like jinga towers one of the facilitators told us. Our job this week is to test each aspect of our ventures one by one to see which parts are stable, and which will threaten to bring the house down. Rest assured the house has fallen several times in just 3 days for me, but it’s ok. I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone, and where failure is typically unacceptable in public education, I feel right at home here failing forward at 4.0.
PS- for those interested, be on the lookout for the formal launch of my first incubator…dads for ed. Stay tuned.