A look back at Project Breaker

This last Monday marked the conclusion of The Future of Stuff challenge, created by Project Breaker and sponsored by Concordia University. PIE was a facilitator of the two-week challenge; along with senior TED fellow and Breaker founder Juliette LaMontagne and Erin Huizenga, founder of Epic.  We had eleven participants—Breakers—who ranged in age from 17 to 26.

Breaker’s mission is to redefine education, create entrepreneurs, and design change. Some hefty goals for a two week program, but they were indeed achieved. The program was kicked off with an introduction to the challenge and talks by Portland visionaries: Wilson Smith from Nike, Dana Hinger + Sara Tunstall founders of Spooltown, and Lori Heino-Royer of Daimler.

Toward an more empathetic entrepreneur

We introduced the Breakers to the importance of human centered design and the importance of empathy instead of bias. A lesson that is easier said than done.

Case in point, I challenge you to look at your company and the user profiles that you design your product around. Ask yourself how much of your decisions are based on what you think your consumer wants vs. what they actually need. How much user research have you done and in that research how much have you heard vs. inferred? My guess is you’ll be surprised with what you find.

Getting out of the building

The Breakers were sent out to various manufacturing and maker spaces around town and conducted hours of interviews and compiled as much information as they could.  As a group, they presented their findings and looked for similar patterns and or common problems that might have existed.

They were challenged to map their findings and from there create user POVs and “How Might We” statements that would influence the next phase of the process. These POV profiles were a critical point of the process because without having a genuine understanding of whom you’re creating for and why you’re creating it, you’re essentially just creating for yourself.

I’m not here to say that that is wrong, but I am asking you to think about whether or not that’s sustainable.

Putting theory into practice (or the use of 1000s of Post-it Notes)

From there, we dove into the lean methodologies.  Ideas were generated, prototyped, tested, learned from and, well you know the drill… we repeated this process several more times.

We weren’t alone though; during this phase we brought in thought leaders from Ziba, Wal-Mart Labs, Context Partners, Urban Development Partners, Wieden+Kennedy, PIE, Nike and more.  These folks reinforced the lessons of design thinking and the importance of empathy, they  pushed back on the assumptions, questioned the business models and viabilities, championed for failure and iteration, collaboration, and continued to teach and inspire the Breakers to push harder and fail forward.

Bringing it all together

We ended the project with a pitch day on Monday at Concordia University, where the Breakers not only presented three viable business solutions but they shared their process and the impact that the taught methodologies had on them. The audience was made up of the community stake holders, the industry visionaries who inspired us at the kickoff, the folks from the site visits and many faculty and administrators from across Portland Public Schools and Concordia University.

Educating the educators

I mention the last folks, because there is a very important part of Breaker that I haven’t even mentioned yet. A part that in my opinion, really makes Project Breaker stand out from others like it.  During the two-week challenge, there is a Professional Development tract that runs along side the Breakers.

Juliette + Leah Noble Davidson took three separate cohorts of educators, administrators, and various industry folks (about 38 people total) through 3-day sprints of the Breaker process. While their process was identical to the Breakers, their mission was to find ways to implement these methodologies and practices into their organization and class rooms.

A very important lesson I learned from PIElette and that I know other groups have faced after these types of projects is the dreaded and sometimes unanticipated feeling of “ok, so now what.”  Where do we go from here? What was the point of all of this? Juliette’s inclusion of the Professional Development tract is designed to answer that.

Okay. So now what?

We now have 38 professionals who have experienced a different way of  teaching, thinking and doing.  We now have folks on the ground who can not only champion the very mission of Breaker—redefine education, create entrepreneurs, and design change, but they now have the tools to do it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the impact of this program continues to ripple through the educational institutions here in Portland, for both the student and the educators.

Check out some of the work we did here: https://tagboard.com/BreakerPDX

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