“Does that make sense?”

Team Member, Caroline Lamb, looking forward to embarking on our new idea with a new empathy map to boot.

Team member Caroline Lamb looks forward to embarking on our new idea with a new empathy map to boot. Photo taken by Mariah Barksdale.

This was me, last Friday, when the esteemed Bob Dotson, from NBC’s “American Story,” came into the Lab to talk to the Reese interns about his experiences and the art of storytelling, innovation and creativity. Everything was great until John Clark, the Lab’s executive director, told us to quickly pitch Dotson our ideas that we have been honing over the last few weeks. I realized in that moment that I did not have a super cohesive grasp of what Whitney, Caroline, and I were even doing at that point. Our journey of “keeping tabs on local government” has taken us down a plethora of paths; first as an insurance against ordinances for local businesses, then as a checklist of stipulations and regulations written to keep bars and restaurants in good favor with ABC, ALE and fire marshals, and then as an ordinance checklist perfectly tailored for any type of business. It seemed that even though we would slowly progress with the idea, the three of us were not passionate about the problem we were fixing and the idea we were coming up with to alleviate it. Although we were going out, talking to local business owners and getting some valuable information, because we did not deeply care about what we were doing, we were not cohesively solid on what our idea was anymore. What were we solving? It felt like we kept going one step forward and two miles back.

So when Dotson came around to our group and was asking what we were doing, Whitney and Caroline both looked at me with an “Uh, you are speaking, go ahead, girl” look. It was actually hilarious to feel the palpable panic among the three of us as I uneasily began to explain the idea. After I had explained how we wanted to make a checklist to ensure that current business owners had taken the appropriate steps to making their business fine-proof from the ALE, ABC, fire marshal and the local government, I shakily and tenuously asked, “Does that make sense?”

With a wrinkled, quizzical brow, Dotson offered some great feedback to us on how we could shift our idea and target those who were constantly building new developments in the area, such as contracting agencies, architects and potential business owners. He provided us with a totally different perspective on our idea, and we were intrigued and grateful to hear his feedback.

That next Monday afternoon when we as a team met, however, Caroline had asked, “Wait, what are we doing?” To be honest, NONE of us really knew.

It became glaringly clear to the three of us that none of us knew and none of us really CARED. Sure, it was a cool idea to help contractors know their rights and help them adhere to local development ordinances, but it was not lighting our fire. We could not move forward on an idea that we were not all excited about. What did we care about that would help a surfeit of people, create better connections with the constituent and the government, enable more transparency AND keep tabs on the local government?

That Monday afternoon while we met for our weekly colLABoration lunch (get it?) at Tru, we three sat there and, I know this sounds facetious, but magic happened.

We opened up discussion on an older idea about a political publication that Whitney and Caroline were originally talking about. This publication would enable constituents to keep tabs on their local government officials by writing to them using journalistic goals and integrity and voicing to them their issues and problems directly. Paired with the publication to local politicians, we would have a website that would make it so that local citizens could enter in their specific issue along with their location and filter these responses so that each complaint would go to the correct politician within the appropriate district and jurisdiction to actually solve said problem. The idea would not only allow journalists to write to politicians and create jobs with a purpose, but it would also create a sense of duty and purpose for these local citizens to actually feel as though they are being heard from their local government.

As we hashed out our vision for the idea over our Tru sandwiches, you could feel this energy within the team. An ineffable feeling of excitement overcame us; a hunger to further pursue the idea was taking over me — we had found our idea.

That being said, the last two weeks have been a real doozy at Reese. It was incredibly frustrating working so hard toward something that we as a team were not feeling. Progressing forward felt so arduous; however, now that we have this new idea, we have regained that spark. We are all on the same page, we have that passion, and we know where we want to go from here.

Now, we just need to get moving.

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