“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Leadership is about learning, so much more than teaching

IxDA has been an honor for me to be a leader of since the very first moment I joined the Yahoo group August 2003. It has always been about learning. Whether it was learning about group building from Challis Hodge, speaking from Robert Reimann, teaching from Jared Spool, leading from Dirk Knemeyer, designing from way too many people to even imagine, IxDA has always been about putting myself in proximity to people I can learn from. Often as in the case I’m about to describe, the decision to lead was not purposefully about learning, but through design’s best tool, serendipity, it most certainly turned out that way.

A few months ago Bill DeRouchey, one of this year’s co-chairs, reminded me that I wanted to lead a Student Competition as part of IxDA’s Interaction 10 | Savannah conference coming up this February. It wasn’t so much that I had forgotten as I was actually hoping someone else would step up and take it over. I’m SOOO glad no one did.

I immediately sent out feelers to people I wanted to be on a jury. I sent some 15 invitations out and assumed that many would say, “I’m sorry, I’m too busy, but thanks for thinking of me.” What I got back were 14, “SURE!”. And more than that, I even got about 5 people at different times and for different pieces who were incredibly energized and worked really hard.

For each piece we’ve worked on, 1 person though has stood out to me as my mentor for the project. This just reminding me that the person with vision and leadership is not the smartest person in the room, but best capable of knowing who is and how to utilize them. Jonas Löwgren from Malmö University in Sweden has worked almost as tirelessly as I have. But more important than his work ethic has been his contribution to the content of the competition, and his availability to me as a reflecting board.

From Jonas, I have learned so much in this process so far, but I have to say the thing I have been trying to internalize with me the most is Jonas’ ability to synthesize and facilitate through criticism. As someone who comes from a more, let us say, direct culture, I have found that I have struggled the most at learning how to give criticism of students and peers in an approachable way.

I have noticed that Jonas’ discourse style even in his second language is one of synthesis and facilitation. What this manifests itself as is to be that person who restates with innate sensitivity what a group of people are trying to say. But it isn’t just restating, it is contextualizing and purposefully giving higher relevance to some points more than others. Then he reacts in a way which produces the “next logical step”. It is a brilliant teaching technique and one that I both appreciate as a teacher, but more importantly appreciate as a peer and student.

Of course, I have other more direct lessons through this process from all of the participants on the student competition jury and I appreciate every opportunity from all. Working closest with Jonas though has been a true pleasure and I wanted to give this public shout out.

To see what all this good leading & learning has led to, please feel free to go to http://interaction.ixda.org/student-competition and encourage all students to put themselves out there. Jonas, myself and the rest of the jury are some of the best educators and practitioners out there today and our feedback and review regardless of your likelihood of winning will be a source of review you will not have too many chances to receive.

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