Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Learning to collaborate

I attended Chatham Nursery School in Oakland, California. Back in 1970, it was acceptable to allow four-year-old kids to play with wood, hand saws, hammers and nails. One day, I decided to build a dog. I recently rescued this relic from my parent's basement.

Before Minecraft, kids had access to wood.

Although this "sculpture" was created 45 years ago, I remember the process clearly. I found two pieces of wood; the main body and what would become one leg. I imagined three more legs and a head. I used the first leg to measure and saw off the other three legs (the rest of the head and two square ears have been lost over time).

The daycare workers were quite excited that a student had built something like this without being prompted. I felt the neck was a bit too deep, and remember thinking, "my next wooden dog should have a shallower neck." Otherwise, I remember being happy with my design and implementation. 

A daycare worker took me under his wing and instructed me that my "dog" needed to be painted. Apparently, all art projects must be painted in nursery school. I was probably handed a bottle of brown paint. After a few brush strokes, there was no turning back, and I started warming up to the idea. The white spots were also not my idea, but I forged ahead.

When it was time to leave for home, I was told that my dog also needed a leash. I clearly remember imagining a collar and leash made of paper (to emulate leather), but I was given red yarn instead. I had never seen a dog with a leash made of yarn or even rope, so this was an absurd idea to my four-year-old self. The yarn was most likely attached without my involvement. I was asked to hold the leash and pose with my dog. I'm sure my parents have a photo of me posing with my dog, holding the leash.

I found some wood and imagined a wooden dog, building the dog was easy. When others saw what I created, they imagined something else... something more. Allowing yourself to let go of your original idea and embrace someone else's idea is an important skill for engineers. Without collaboration, you'll only ever be exposed to all your own best ideas.