Becoming a Knight Fellow feels like winning the lottery. But soon enough, you have to decide to spend your Golden Ticket on a house or a fast car. I arrived at Stanford determined to make the most out of this unique year that felt too short before it even started.
This translated into me arriving in California ready to avoid anything too flashy and concentrate on something solid. I wanted to start building my “house,” that is my project — and sooner than later.
My mind was pretty made up, with a rare determination to get as much as possible done while I’m here. I felt I had done my homework. Paper prototypes – as I discovered they are called here – of what I believed my project should look like crowded my shelves as well as my head, before I had even set foot on campus.
Soon however, thanks to the classes I am taking here, I realized that I was on the verge of confusing “focused” with “narrow-minded.”
At Stanford’s design school, I was introduced to the concept of “need finding.” It requires would-be designers of products to interview users in order to find out about their frustrations, hence, their needs that one will design for.
My project was born out of a very personal frustration. I had been away for three days on an island in the Mediterranean Sea and hadn’t read any news during that time. When I travelled back to Paris, it struck me how hard it was to understand an unfolding story being reported live on French TV since I had missed two or three previous stories. I thus came up with the idea of building a tool that would help people catch up on information in a time-efficient way — as, of course, I couldn’t spend hours catching up on three days of events.
“Reverse engineering” my project and applying this method, I found out that depending on whom you talk to, the same issue evokes different solutions. Heavy news consumers and very occasional readers are both “extreme users” but on opposite ends of the same spectrum. My project could offer solutions – but different ones – for both.
Thinking of alternate forms of execution was also the core lesson of a Human Computer Interaction class I took at Stanford. We were asked to design different prototypes for the same tool, and later to design another prototype for one precise function of one of those prototypes.
My group prototyped an app for a causal follower of the news that would break up content into small pieces delivered via alerts throughout the day. The other option we designed, for a heavy news consumer, would provide news of interest to the user during chosen increments of free time — 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 60 minutes, for example, during a commute, in a waiting room, at home, etc.
It is very helpful to think of all the different ways one can try to solve a problem. Suddenly, I don’t see three doors open but seven or eight. I now see my project as a concept that can be broken up into several problems. Thinking of addressing these more easily solvable problems makes the general task of getting things done much less intimidating.
And having such a pool of opportunities is a good thing, as entrepreneurs who are happy to “pivot” and “iterate” keep telling us at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
More surprising to me was the feeling of comfort not confusion that all these new doors brought me. Rather than being overwhelmed and wondering, “Where do I start?” I feel oddly reassured to see all these opportunities in front of me. The more I think about my project, and rework my general idea into smaller problems, the more I feel I’m narrowing down into actually solving the “big problem” I came to Stanford with.