Newsletter Intro 02-2017

February 16, 2017

The robotics competition I mentioned in the previous newsletter is behind us. An exciting update is that I was invited to be one of the judges. More like “volun-told” since it happened at a booster club meeting when the robotics teacher looked at me and said, “I was planning to contact you since I figured you would volunteer for one of these spots.” I had the choice of referee or judge. I chose judge, since I knew what referees had to do and had no idea what judging would involve.

It turned out to be very cool. Judges review the teams’ engineering notebooks and interview the teams. The focus of the exploration is to learn how the teams employee Design Thinking! It’s about their process from the very beginning, when they learned the rules of the competition and had to start deciding how to build a robot that could be successful. It’s about how they have conversations, how they generate and evaluate possibilities, and how they rule out and rule in options. Did I mention how cool that was?

It was incredibly encouraging to hear so many teenagers talk about analytical processes and explain in detail how they moved as a team from decision to decision. And it was refreshing to hear some of the teams be candidly open about their struggles when things didn’t go well.

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?
These conversations gave me additional insight when talking with my son about his robotics team and their robot. But something fascinating showed up in those conversations. After the tournament at his school and during another tournament the next weekend, he talked less about how they redesigned their robot to meet challenges and more about how luck was on their side. When going up against some of the strong robotics teams, they came away with a win because a robot malfunctioned, fell over, or quick working.

Expectation Aims Your Focus
My son is a pretty hard-core optimist so he expects things to go well most of the time. I, on the other hand, am very adept at seeing the things that can go wrong. Researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about this difference when she references the “promotion mindset” that is looking for the way forward and the “prevention mindset” that is looking to prevent catastrophes.

But Some Expectations Are More Helpful Than Others
My son’s optimism boosts his effort sometimes because he is confident he’s going to get a good outcome. But at other times his optimism inhibits his effort — because he’s confident he’s going to get a good outcome! With detailed, demanding projects he has postponed things until it’s almost too late, certain that he can do it and do it well. And his optimism prevents him from learning quickly whenever this belief is not helpful!

Optimism is a tricky thing. It takes many forms and shows up in different styles. I’m not an expert on optimism so this is more about me sharing my exploration of a topic than offering tips or pointers. Let’s get curious together.

Click here to continue to the article on Optimism Styles.

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