In one of my recent newsletters about the value of f2f interaction, I mentioned how the first thing Vijay Saraswat said to me when we met at the door of his office at AT&T Labs Research was, “What you have in that manila envelope in your hand will expand my knowledge of the universe.” It was a heady thought and as I prepare to welcome 60 new students to my Fall classes, it made me consider how I was going to greet them in as impactful a way.
The thrilling thing about a new class lies in these initial moments — a dance of opacity and transparency. They look at me as the (unlikely) tour guide on an innovative journey :) I know nothing about the students, and they know little or nothing about me. But the first thing I tell them is, within a couple of weeks I will know more about them than in almost any other class they’ve been in.
But, how can I make such an audacious claim? I don’t view my class as mere knowledge transfer. It’s a journey into discovering who my students are as innovators and what impact they’ll make in the world. My first request is that they share out an earliest defining moment that has shaped the journey to where they are today. The journey I’m looking for didn’t begin with their acceptance into university. It began much earlier when they were first leaning to navigate in the world. So, this requires quite a great deal of reflection. I also tell them that this little sketch and the broader passion map they fill out will matter more than anything else they do in class. It is through assignments like this, including tasks that require students to draw, a skill they may not have used since childhood, that I gain insight into who they are and where they are going. When I review their idea sketches for application concepts, for smart city solutions, their ideas about saving the world, I always look back on this earliest of assignments. Why, you ask?
An investor will listen to their pitch, see their demo, review their business model, and then turn their eyes to the messenger. The question they ask themselves will be, “Is this the person (or team) that is meant to bring this idea into the world?”
In my own case, I served as CEO of WordsEye for 4 years. I had a curious relationship to the novel 3D text-to scene product called WordsEye that I was pitching — a technology that lets anyone create 3D scenes by simply describing them. Why was I the right person to be in the room? Prior to playing this role, I had served as both a graphic facilitator for corporate ideation and as a chronicler of thought-leading ideas in the AI space at Cornell Tech. Both of these roles involved listening to the words of experts and participants in sessions and translating the ideas expressed into visuals that made their value explicit. Wordseye is a technological doppelgänger for a similar interaction, but one that now results in 3D worlds and experiences envisioned by anyone. So they understand that I’m a guy that gets this.
So, as I meet my new crop of students this week, my goal is clear: I want what they hold in their manila envelopes to ignite the same authentic connection to their work that I’ve experienced.
I’m thrilled to embark on this journey with my students. Stay tuned for updates and insights, follow my Zamchick Group LinkedIn page, and explore our workshop offerings at www.zamchickgroup.com. 🐸