My experience at Reese News Lab has taught me how to be honest with myself, my teammates, and outsiders in a constructive and even energizing way. At every stage of the development of our project, I have to be honest with myself in order to identify what I know, what I don’t know, and what I need to know. I have to separate my personal opinion from our potential customers’ feedback in order for our team and our product to move in the right direction. I have to admit when something confuses me in order to gain perspective from my teammates and receive help from them. What’s cool about Reese is that it’s okay to not know here, it’s okay to ask others for opinions and advice, and it’s okay to pursue a new angle when the old proves to be fruitless.
Following every pitch, there’s a Q&A session where our boss and coworkers throw questions at us, and it’s tempting to come up with an answer that sounds logical but is not based on expert feedback we’ve received or research. It’s harder to admit we don’t know the answer and need to do more work or that we simply can’t find the answer than to simply answer based on our assumptions. However, we are encouraged to answer, “I don’t know,” when that’s the truth. That is not to say we are expected to stay that way afterwards. Instead, once we identify what we don’t know, we can quickly move on to find the answers.
Of course, nobody wants to be dishonest. In fact, we all tend to think we are honest people but even unconsciously, our minds can tell us things to make us feel better temporarily. In those moments, we should push ourselves to reach a more radical honesty and trust that it will lead us to something better. Also, as storytellers, we should always know that without honesty, no story can be truly beautiful.
Ask for help
We ask for help a lot at Reese. In fact, every person we’ve talked to has helped us get where we are today. Despite what you might think, the truth is that most people are very nice people, so talk to them: ask for their opinions, get them to think about your problems, and of course, thank them for their help. I’m surprised at how many people are willing to sit down with us for an hour to talk about public discourse and our education game. We’ve met with engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, administrators – and their willingness to make time for four undergraduate students is overwhelming. Some offered to chat with us again for follow-up meetings, some wanted to test our product with their students, and some emailed us with lists of resources that could help us as we progress. It’s amazing how many people are willing to help out even though we might not always sound like successful entrepreneurs with a promising project.
So to all the entrepreneurs and students out there, don’t hesitate to contact somebody if you need their expertise. Don’t limit yourself by thinking, “This person is probably not going to help us.” The truth is that most people are eager to help you out. They are happy to see young people thinking out of the box and challenging the status quo. So ask for help. Help them help you.
Embrace the mess
Early in the internship, I realized I’ve never worked on something with a such a clear goal but also such an unclear path. The unknown is what makes the experience interesting and exciting. But with the unknown comes the messy: receiving feedback from different people, doing lengthy research that shows opposing views, balancing between an incomplete product and a brainstorming trap called feature creep, and managing a team’s internal communication. All of these things can get messy, annoying and even make you feel incompetent and frustrated. We aim to avoid them because ideally everything would just be clean and neat, every decision would be black and white, but that’s not reality – not even close.
I’ve learned to embrace the mess, to be okay with postponing a decision, to explore two separate routes, to find the truth in mixed opinions and to accept that things are not clean and neat, and are probably never going to be.
It’s not always easy to embrace the mess. But only after embracing it, you can dig through the mess and find the treasure you’ve been looking for.