StartingBloc II: New Orleans Rush

This blog post is a continuation of the last one which outlined the beginning of the StartingBloc New Orleans Institute. We are going to pick up on Day 3.

Day 3

On day 3 the institute moved to a different shared working space, Propeller. Propeller has been tackling the tough challenges in New Orleans by launching socially-minded ventures since 2009. There is an in house incubator and impact accelerator.

Day 3 is partnered with ReWork with a focus on tackling problems through relentless iteration. 

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The group splits up into new teams doing rapid prototyping for the winners of the pitch competition, and multiple local organizations.

So what is rapid prototyping?

Well, let’s start with design thinking. Design thinking is “A human-centered approach to innovation that integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for success” (Tim Brown).

 So for this scrimmage we were using design thinking to imagine and create solutions to challenges these organizations (or our pitch) may face. First you have to discover the challenge (which we did the night before to present to our groups). Then you have to ideate – this is when our creativity workshop from the first day of the institute really came in handy. We each came up with ideas to address the problem and wrote them on sticky notes. Then we put those notes on the wall in related clusters.

From there we decided which ideas we should start with creating prototypes for. The prototypes are made weirdly quickly, with simple cheap materials – the goal is to get it to user testing as quickly as possible to get feedback. The prototype can be a model of a product or packaging, a mock up of something (like an advertisement or website), a diagram of a process, or a role play. 

We were making a mock up of our social network. Once the prototype is done a sample user comes around and interfaces with your prototype giving you a rating of 1-10. Each time you integrate that feedback and try to make a better product.

In the end we got SO MUCH done, it was seriously exhilarating and intense. We had to present what we found again in another 1 minute presentation (those 1 minute presentations could very well be the hardest thing for me!)

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It was a half day so we could spend the evening adventuring around the city. We had been staying in the house attached to the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum, so we invited people to visit the museum with us at the end of the day.

 We had been offered a place to stay in New Orleans by our mentor and friend, Caroline Heldman, but we didn’t know she was the Executive Director of this museum and that the house we would be staying in was attached to the museum. What a lovely surprise! 

We learned so much about the area and the effect of Katrina and the responding policy initiatives.

Day 4

Day 4 was at Propeller again. Day 4 was really about engaging the knowledge in the room, this time we got to learn from each other and explore healthy ways to handle tough situations in both life and work.

The morning was about harnessing the power of inclusion with Michelina Ferrara. Michelina (or Mickey for short) is the Deputy Director of Atlas:DIY – a space powered by immigrant youth. Her experience as an organizer, youth worker and activist connects issues ranging from youth incarceration to immigrant justice to reproductive justice to creating safe spaces for youth—building an intersectional framework that transforms our communities.

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Instead of lecturing at us about diversity, this workshop was really about making space for us to talk to each other about our experiences, fears, and ideas for change.

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My group met to discuss inclusivity, and ended up having a very emotional and intimate conversation. We problematized the idea of safe spaces, and challenged ourselves to think about what a safe space actually entails and how the spaces meant to discuss inclusivity can sometimes end up manifesting the opposite through oppression olympics, and identity politics. We brainstormed how to call someone in, instead of calling them out – and how to tease out the difference between awkwardness and conflict.

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At the end we shared highlights with the room so that we could learn from each conversation, not just our own.

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In the afternoon we designed an impromptu conference. Using an open format, StartingBloc makes space for the vast experience in the room to emerge through mini-workshops, facilitated conversations, prototyping sessions, games, and affinity break-outs led by fellows.

We attended workshops on communication strategies, digital marketing, how to make an app, and time management. 

We also co-hosted a workshop with 2 other amazing fellows about conflict transformation and trauma healing through bodywork and creativity.

David (far right), discussed the neuroscience of trauma; Lea and I discussed the somatic experience of trauma as well as explaining sex, gender, gender expression, and sexuality; while Mythili taught us a tailored yoga practice, indian dance, and partnered activities designed to heal trauma and balance one’s inner feminine and masculine.

We ended up learning so much in that final set of programming that I really wish it was longer – I have so much respect for the other fellows in the program and would definitely recommend attending to anyone who feels like these would be useful tools. You can apply for StartingBloc here.

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