• LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+

Solving the tough problems together

Get PDF file

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Bruce Ankenman leads a Northwestern University course that teaches engineering students to work together to solve tough problems. His students learn lessons that make them better collaborators.

In the course, Ankenman assigns a project to a small group of students. For example, they may try to design a better walker for patients with spinal-cord injuries.

Before they set out to create a walker that’s easier to slide and has more resilient shock absorbers, they meet with a real patient. That gives them insights into the real-world benefits they aim to deliver.

Better yet, they come away with em­­pathy for the people they’re trying to help. This becomes an ongoing source of motivation for the group.

Then they work together to build prototypes. Sharing ideas and divvying up responsibilities, they learn to harness each other’s strengths to advance toward their goal.

When they get stuck, they circle back to previous ideas—even ones that they initially rejected. Sometimes, discarded suggestions suddenly make sense.

The process forces them to ask for help from each other—and from outside experts. They learn to incorporate wide-ranging input rather than feel that they must have all the answers themselves.

Due to the challenging nature of the problems they’re asked to solve, the teams also develop resiliency. They need to maintain their composure and keep trying—again and again—even when exhausted or hopeless.

Most importantly, students develop humility. They’re bound to fail at first, and the frustration that flows from these experiences makes them more receptive to listen and to learn.

— Adapted from “Why Solve the Unsolvable?,” Sue Shellenbarger, www.wsj.com.

Leave a Comment