An Everlasting Snowball

be ready to grab the moment before it melts away

After it was almost 70 degrees during Christmas, who would have guessed that two weeks into January we would already have some snow (with a real storm on the way this weekend?) and regained that annoying familiarity with chilly winter mornings?  Perhaps the world is trying to show some commitment to its own New Year’s resolutions (hooray for resisting climate change)?  The Hub has been off to an exciting start to 2016 with current projects firing on all cylinders, new ones starting up, a refreshed website (check it out), and our next d-team training right around the corner!  Email SibleyHub@jhmi.edu with any thoughts!

This past week, the patient gown team reached the challenging step of prototyping—it is the first stage where one starts to think about some of the barriers between you and an idea, it is the first time that you as a designer are vulnerable to your end-user by asking them for direct feedback on your own ideas, and it is the first time choosing which ideas you want to make tangible.  The nice thing about the first prototype is that it is still closer to a continued search than it is to the final solution.  Early prototypes seek to find those few identifiable aspects that just “stick” with anyone that you talk to about your idea.  From there, it is about mixing and matching to put all of these important features into the final product, but this is all a bit of a challenging process.     

When I am in the face of a challenge (like in this tough part of the design process), I look for inspirational stories that remind me of the bigger picture.  Since joining the design team at Sibley, one story I have found quite effective is a tedtalk presented by a palliative care physician who was struck by lightning when he was younger, resulting in the loss of multiple limbs.  In the talk, he reflects on many ideas, but there is one that strongly resonates with me.  Through his near-death experience, he came to realize the proximity of his own (and all of our) mortality—that death is not something that we can avoid or get out of.  However, he explains that for most people the fear of suffering is actually greater than the fear of dying.  With this knowledge, he argues that, while the end-point is non-negotiable, suffering is quite variable and is in fact the thing we fear more!  There are controllable variables that affect suffering like the chosen treatment pathway, the institution in which one resides, or the ability to continue connecting with the feeling of being human.  He explains how all of these variables are opportunities that we all have to “redesign how it is that we die”.  Think about that.  Designing towards death instead of trying to design around it.  Wow.    

As an example of where his own journey (not the end point) changed, he describes one memory from his multi-month stay in a burn unit after being struck by lighting.  He recalls one night where it had just begun to snow, but since he had no window in his room and could only sit and imagine what it looked and felt like.  Luckily, the next morning a nurse snuck a snowball into the unit and gave it to him.  He recalls how holding that snowball—watching it melt, feeling the burning sensation on his skin, seeing one of these miracles of the universe—conjured his realization that it was not about when he died but how he spent his time that mattered.  At that point, he began designing towards death instead of thinking about designing around it. 

I have only scratched the surface of his story, so I encourage everyone to listen his story by clicking here, there is a lot more to it than I have been able to describe in the blog. 

As a final thought about the patient gown project, I feel that we are seeking that snowball.  We are hoping to find that small hidden gem that exists somewhere within our prototypes and will resonate, having a lasting effect.  As my own addition to the meaning of this snowball, I think about how it only takes a little snowball and the right push down a hill for the ball to grow and quickly emerge as something quite spectacular.  As we continue navigating our journeys towards the end, lets be attentive to finding that snowball and be willing to give it the right push.  Be ready to grab the moment before it melts away.               

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Andrew Yin

Feel free to come by the Hub to find me!  

Please email SibleyHub@jhmi.edu to share your feedback, experiences, feelings, comments, or ideas.  Also, send an email if you want to join our feedback team and are willing to be interviewed for our future projects!