I was on a TV show — Here’s what I learned about having a successful dance recital
I was just on set for The Social Movement — a TV show where teams solve social problems. My team was trying to solve for powering the entire world wirelessly… in 4 days. Casually.
Coming out July 2020 on Amazon Prime. Here’s what I learned!
Energy is (obviously) a big problem in the world. It’s also a barrier to solving other issues. If a house has no electricity, children don’t have light do their homework at night. It wouldn’t matter how well-equipped the local school is, without homework and practice, mastering skills is difficult.
If a hospital didn’t have energy, it wouldn’t be able to power the fridges to hold the vaccines.
It’s pretty easy to map out every problem in the world and understand that it requires some principle of energy.
Powering the world [wirelessly] would impact every person and industry.
Like any set of 15–18-year-olds does, we set out to crack wireless energy transfer technology to power the world.
Nikola Tesla began imagining/pioneering this technology way back when, but unfortunately, he died alone and penniless. This guy was a genius. We wanted to get his vision implemented.
Because of the Edison-Tesla rivalry, Tesla left out a lot of details in his patents for the technology, because he didn’t want other people to take credit for it.
And there we were, a group of teenagers, trying to fill in the gaps of Tesla’s brilliantness.
At first, it was extremely ambiguous. The challenge seemed next to impossible. You’ll have to watch the show which comes out in July 2020 to learn about our solution. By the end of the 4 days, we learned that it might not be so impossible after all… 😉.
We had a lot of technical learnings. Before the challenge, most of us didn’t even know what a volt was… yet we left with a strong understanding of Tesla’s vision.
Beyond being a TV star ⭐️, I had so many takeaways, which I thought I’d share, condensed into four meta points. Ready, set, action!!! 🚀
Scene 1: Be Hungry for improvement
I sometimes struggled with motivation during the challenge. Since we were trying to crack a technically tricky problem, with no technical background in it, there were lots of learnings.
We were crunched for time and going into deep habit holes on the internet searching for a tricky solution.
The process felt monotonous, especially after our excitement toned down (around day 2/3)… regardless of where we ended up in the world wide web, we didn’t seem to be making any progress.
This “no progress” loop is the hard part. It’s like getting rejected 9 times, and trying to get the courage to ask another time without getting rejected. You’re confident it’ll happen again, given your past experience, so why bother? But that #10 could be the lucky one .
Turns out, after our little “slump” we did get that number 10 . But we were lucky we were on a TV show, because that really kept our motivation up.
It’s like my dog when she runs for a few meters, then gets tired and walks, eventually we’re far from home, and she decided she’s tired/done for the day. She expects to be carried home. As a 20 pound dog that wiggles a ton, that process is 0% fun. But that moment you let her down, there’s so much relief.
(Side note: my dog’s super weird so this might not be relatable at all!)
TL;DR: we had to push through the monotony and the ‘ugh It’s gotten to a point where I have nightmares about wireless energy’.
During our meals/outings/breaks, we even had to make a rule where no one can talk about the challenge. It was exciting (and we were insanely grateful for the amazing experience, and super cool camera crew — thanks Chris LaVoie! ) but sometimes you just need a break.
Once we started having non-challenge related adventures, and It dramatically improved the productivity of our team.
Introducing Organized Chaos 🤩
The brain needs organized chaos. Our minds need to both focus and wander openly to be innovative; organized chaos is a catchy phrase that encompasses this fancy neuroscience. TL;DR: you need to have work & play.
To do “organized chaos”, you need to let your mind to have a goal, and work towards it. Going after this goal (i.e., the organization), you need chaos (or wandering) for additional exploration. There’s a whole part of the brain that flourishes with turmoil, and this part of the brain lets us robustly solve problems. #neuroscience.
If you’re continually looking at the same dots, you’re not going to find that many new ways to connect them. Build more dots = wander.
During the challenge, what we were missing was the chaos.
Wandering (aka following your curiosity) is a natural way to explore new perspectives and learn random fun facts.
Now, I follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time I’m working on my immediate goals (like solving the world’s energy crisis). 20% I’m either in a youtube, google, or conversational rabbit hole.
Putting on my growth mindset hat, I think I needed to let my brain chill, but also be more “in the zone” during the challenge. I wasn’t 10/10 hungry to learn — on average I was probably a 7. You should always be 10/10 hungry, because excitement powers curiosity, which leads to more motivation & overall improvement.
Everyone should do these two things:
1. Let your creative gaps wander fun parts of the internet; your brain isn’t a machine, it needs creativity
2. Hack your hunger: get into the grind mindset
Scene 2: Optimize your communication & team strength
We were a big group, so we synced up every few hours, and dedicated tasks, spilled the tea, etc.
Through experimentation, we all learned about how we can have better syncs and optimize for time usage and clarity.
General Communication Gold Nuggets
1. Be thoughtful about things you say; don’t go off on redundant tangents (I’m guilty😬)
2. Don’t through in filler words like “Woah, yeahhhhh, amazing!, totally” because it makes you seem impatient (also guilty)
3. When you’re talking, make your phrases structured. I.e., have a 1,2,3 format, or deliver your info answering questions. This helps everyone organize and soak in info — which can avoid questions caused by confusion.
4. Look people in the eyes!
5. Always have numbers (more in scene 4… but please please please become besties with excel)
6. Ask questions & call people out. If something doesn’t make sense — ASK. Make sure you have clarity.
7. Be aware of other people — their attentions, personality, engagement, comfort with technicality. I.e., if you’re talking to the whole team, you’ll want to keep topics high level, words concise, but really nail down the next steps. If you’re talking to the finance people, they won’t care about the nitty-gritty of the technology. They want to hear numbers. I.e., don’t go on a tangent about materials.
To boil it down, it’s really about being intentional. Everything from your word choice, to pauses, should have been planned.
Recognizing Bad VS Good Communication
For example, given the context of updating your team on your research field (materials for solar cells) which method of communication is better?
“I’ve been looking into solar photovoltaic cells, found nanotechnology innovations. Basically, they’re using different nanomaterials and structures, like nanowires, or Quantum dots. One big problem with solar cells is the reflection of light, which decreases the amount of light absorbed, which reduces the amount of sunlight turned into electricity. Using advanced materials, we can create better light absorption, more efficient conversion of light to electricity, and improved storage and transport of solar energy. Scientists at MIT are working on *insert fancy chemistry terms*, also Stanford has a company working on *bla bla bla graphene* … lots of science words later… so, there are plenty of options for solar, especially if we combine different materials.”
“ I found 3 scientifically feasible options to improve solar panels (so far):
1. Nanowires, which increase the amount of sunlight absorbed The cost is: $X
2. Quantum dots (QD), which can take in electromagnetic waves (EMW) outside of the visible light spectrum. Since the sun gives off the whole EMW range, QD increases inputs. The cost is: $X
3. Combing Carbon nanotubes and buckyballs with graphene or polymer structures to produce new solar cells. The advantage is their manufacturing cost is significantly lower. The cost is: $X
Numerous other materials could be feasible in the next 5–10 years, especially if we combine them. For example, combining QD and carbon contraption would produce efficient, cheap cells.
These are the three areas I’ve identified, I can go deeper into any, and give you any missing/desired information.”
Correct answer: *two*. Why? It’s structured, gives everyone the necessary background info to ask further questions.
Use your resources well
When you have a team of A-players (which we had in Montreal), that doesn’t necessarily mean A team. Because our problem was we weren’t maximizing our A-players.
Team of A-Players != A team
High performing teams hustle, and everyone has their own excelling niche. You have to figure out how to work together.
Think of it as a bunch of dancers in a fancy recital. The dancers individually could be amazing, but if they can’t work together in harmony and rhythm, the performance will be ugly. It’s all about timing and playing to each other’s strengths.
What we should have done during the show was to figure out where our team was lacking, and problem solve how we could have the best damn recital.
High performing team:
Low performing team:
This was a fascinating experience, where I was learning a heck ton about developing influential team culture, companionship, and clear communication. Now I have this super-duper neat analogy to help me continue learning.
Scene 3: The Trajectory is supposed to be fun.
There were some points of extreme stress, where we forgot to kick back and enjoy our trip. Life isn’t all work work work work.
My friends that were on our show’s team are on the trajectory of making a significant impact — and they’re all super smart.
But sometimes we just need to take a chill pill.
Although working on the energy problem was intellectually compelling, all of the most memorable moments were when we weren’t working.
When we were running up 30 flights of stairs, or getting free crepes at the crepe cafe or just sharing vulnerable stories.
What’s the point of what you’re doing if you’re not living life as well? Enjoying people & experiences?
TL;DR calm down and have fun stories to tell. Lecturing someone about Zenneck waves, explaining quantum algorithms and building stand-alone decks don’t make thrilling stories. Bad choices make good stories.
Speaking of good stories… want to read about how I met Satya Nadella, Did a rollercoaster above Vegas & spoke in an arena in front of thousands of people? ☝️click
Scene 4: Probably the most important: have numbers.
Numbers help visualize things, they bring decks & presentations to the next level.
After spending tons of hours on our recommendation, it was clear that our weak spot was the numbers. If I could go back, I’d really emphasize that.
But it’s also a flag for anything I do — or you do- in the future: always always always please please please have some numbers behind your recommendation.
And CUT! That’s a wrap.
When I was in grade 4, my dream was to be an actor. I remember not making the talent show and being very sad. But now that I’ve had my TV exposure, I’m grateful my trajectory isn’t what grade 4 me wanted. But it’s an experience I’ll never forget — Thanks to the Amazon Prime team!
Recap Rewind 📽
1. Have the “Hungry to learn mindset”
2. Intentional about collaboration/communication
3. Have fun
- Practice optimizing your communication
- Become BFFs with excel
- Inject Chaos in your life
As a bonus here are some *super secret* (well not anymore) behind the scenes pictures. 😉
Until next time…