DIY Projects Equal Better Innovation

It’s not an accident the signature line in my personal email says, ‘Katie Charland – Project Addict’. I love taking on lots of different challenges because I’m at my best when I’m busy.

Typically I’ve relied on work and events to keep me busy, but over time I realized I needed projects that challenge other parts of my brain. I needed something to do on weekends not filled with work.

I had already started to solve the problem without realizing it. My frustration with not having matching furniture led me to figure out how to sand, stain and spray paint various surfaces, as well as how to remove drawers, knobs, etc.

My love affair with Do-It-Yourself projects had begun.

DIY culture is about reusing and hacking. Instead of throwing an object away and buying a new one, DIY challenges you to find a new purpose. It’s recycling for everything you own, and a fight against irresponsible consumerism.

But more than reuse, DIY builds better innovators.

Photo courtesy Johnnie Walker

1. Objects are not what they appear

To be successful DIY-er, you train your brain to look at any object with multiple purpose. A bookcase isn’t a bookcase. It’s a wine cabinet, bed frame, desk, bar, child’s LEGO or changing table. Or maybe pieces of the bookcase can be combined with cabinets to create a closet for a startup designer.

This skill is very useful if you are creating a product or service. What else could your creation be used for? How can you market this quality? What could you tweak that would differentiate you from competitors?

2. Build more with less

Necessity is the mother of all invention. The NASA engineers during the Apollo 13 mission had to create a square filter that could fit into a round hole using nothing but what was on the space shuttle at the time. By using socks and pieces of a space suit, they were able to wrap the filter to fit. You create a fix because you don’t have another option.

Few know this better than DIY-ers. No budget for art? Glue some crayons you have lying around to a canvas and melt them with your old hairdryer. Voila.

Focusing on what you can do with what you have makes for better innovation. Limits and restrictions cause you to focus on the problem and less on the tools. More startups are choosing to bootstrap their business in the first few years in order to learn how to trouble-shoot without relying on money to solve the problem.

3. Share & Transform

Openness is the cornerstone of DIY culture. A new project is shared and followers quickly comment with tips, hacks and failures. Following directions isn’t what’s important. It’s sharing the changes you make.

This already exists within the open source communityLINUX being the prime example. Leaders shared their innovations with a community, leading to further innovation from which everyone benefits.

The most common advice you will see in any book on how to inspire creativity is to try something you’ve never done before. DIY, whether it’s crafting, construction or electronics, gets you out of your comfort zone and your brain working differently. You may tease your Pinterest loving friends, but I challenge you to choose a project from the site and give it a shot. You’ll find the experience incredibly frustrating to be sure, but incredibly rewarding as a creative.

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Leap of Faith

I’ve become really good at running Gangplank Chandler. Putting together systems, recruiting leaders and setting programming for a single location came naturally to me. Sure, there have been rough spots and I’ve been challenged, but nothing I couldn’t handle or reach for guidance.

Then came the first mention of me as Director of Global Operations. Pretty sure I’ve laughed it off the half-dozen times it’s been said. I knew in the back of my mind it was a fast approaching reality, but not one I really had time to digest.

Lately however, the concept has been hitting harder every day.

This is what I signed on for. When Derek and Jade asked me to come on staff more than a year-and-a-half ago, I knew I was becoming part of a misson larger than myself or Arizona. This is what I wanted – an opportunity to really challenge myself as a leader, to take ownership and help a local vision become an international game changer.

And it’s scary as all hell.

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I was sitting in a visioning meeting today. The only part of the meeting I felt I could contribute to was creating a story board for what a Gangplank of the future looked like. I got excited about envisioning a day in the life of a collaborative worker, as they travel to neighborhood Gangplanks around the world. As we moved into writing a vision statement, I lost interest.

I couldn’t think of the right words, or contribute thoughts that would explain the ‘why’ of Gangplank. I got asked repeatedly why I was so quiet and I knew if I want to truly be a leader in this movement, this is what people expect of me.

Am I not able to think in terms of the bigger picture? This has always a great fear of mine. As a doer and not a visionary, I fear I’m stunted when thinking in terms of mission. Sure I can think long-term, but in regards to logistics, financial, staffing and viability. Does this mean I shouldn’t be a part of these conversations? Am I capable of developing this leadership trait?

This is the opportunity I’ve been working towards since I left teaching. Nothing you truly want is ever easily obtained and the path is paved with self-doubt. But where do I turn for guidance? How can I train my right-brained way of life to think in terms of global change? There is no standard for what we do. We are paving the way and I’m not sure how to use the shovel.

I’ve got a lot of growing ahead of me and I’m taking a big leap of faith in believing I can do this. But hell, I’ve made it this far. And I’ve got some pretty smart people that believe I can.

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The Great James Archer

Instead of a recap of 2011, or listing off my resolutions for the new year, I instead would like to pay homage to some of the mentors who have shaped my last year.

And what better place to start than with the best =)

When I first started at Gangplank, I was terrified of James Archer. For those who know James personally, or have even seen him, you’d know this is completely ridiculous. Regardless, there was something about the way people described him at Gangplank which made me feel like I couldn’t waste his time.

Yet James has let me ‘waste’ his time over my entire career at Gangplank. Whether it is sharing my scattered thoughts to help put them together, bringing risky ideas for guidance or asking him to mediate difficult conversations, James has been a key mentor in my role as Director of Operations.

The lessons James has passed onto me are one of patience and picking your battles. Some might call James complacent, agreeable or easily persuaded. I know this to be quite the opposite. In fact, James will be quite firm when he is truly passionate…and you can’t say no to him. James doesn’t argue unnecessarily, or hold grudges or believe others to be inferior. He doesn’t follow a zero tolerance policy. James gives due process to each situation he finds himself in – making him a great mentor and business owner.

Perhaps the best example of James’ wisdom is in the letter I asked him to write today for future Gangplankers.

1. You’re smart, and you’re used to being right. You’re in a room full of people who are also smart, and also used to being right. Put those personalities together in a room, and you’re going to have a ton of passionate debates about issues that don’t really matter that much. Choose your battles, and learn to let things slide even when you disagree with them.

2. When there’s rough consensus on something, roll with it, even if you were on the opposing side. Your opposition should exist right up to the point that a decision is made, and then you need to get on board. This is because at that point your opposition no longer serves a constructive purpose; it only slows progress, fractures relationships, and serves as a cancer within an organization.

3. People communicate in totally different ways. You can communicate in yours, but you have to let them communicate in theirs. Try to understand what they’re saying instead of focusing on how they’re saying it.

4. Everyone’s doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Don’t attribute to malice what’s more likely do to a lack of understanding, experience, or perspective. At their core, everyone’s a good person.

Thank you James for taking the time to share your wisdom with a young, wide-eyed professional, setting off on her own path. You are a fantastic mentor and colleague.

If you’d like to receive some of James’ advice gems for yourself, he’s available the third Wednesday of each month from 4:00-7:00pm during his Gangplank Mentor Office Hours.

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