March 22, 2016 – by Adriano
A lot of people talk about the need for establishing more connections between design and other disciplines, such as engineering and business administration. As a result, many schools have put together graduate programs to think about the way in which design can combine the best of creativity, imagination, and alternative approaches to come up with novel ways to make things. Such programs are well received and can be found today at universities such as the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Stanford, Northwestern, and Harvard, to name a few.
When I was doing my doctorate degree, in the early 2000s at the IIT Institute of Design, I was particularly interested in understanding the intersection of design and engineering and how taking a multidisciplinary mindset might improve a project development process involving each of these core functions. Based on the work I was doing at Motorola and the academic literature I was reviewing at the time, it was clear to me that design and engineering professionals were working alone in their own islands, with engineers brought in for one piece of the project and designers for another. Only a few companies, like Apple and Google, were leading a visible effort to leverage the duo of design and engineering to produce meaningful results. Thus, it felt like the right time to ask, “Is there a better way to bring both disciplines of engineering and design together? Can collaboration between these disciplines be better facilitated?”
The answer to these questions resides in the Function-Task InteractionTM method (FTI), initially conceived while I was completing my Ph.D. at the IIT Institute of Design. FTI is a three-step approach that combines task analysis and functional modeling to establish common ground and language between designers and engineers. Task analysis, often performed by human factors and ergonomics professionals, is the process of learning about users by observing them in action to understand in detail how they perform their tasks and achieve their intended goals. Its main job is to break down complex (even simple) behavioral sequences into steps so that the meaning and relation between tasks is made evident. Functional modeling, on the other hand, is typically performed by product engineers during the conceptual design phase and its main job is to provide the graphical tools necessary to develop a complete model of a product. When functional modeling is performed, engineers have at their disposal terminology to describe and experiment with technical functions before any money is spent on building prototypes.
The idea of bringing together the step-by-step goal-orientation of task analysis with the experimental building capabilities of functional modeling was well received by design practitioners who tested this approach. But I really knew I was onto something when my academic paper on this approach received the XEROX-ASME Best Paper Award at the Design Theory and Methodology Conference, which is organized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. I attended that conference with the intention of sharing my early research findings and ended up the grateful recipient of this prestigious award. My Ph.D. advisor, Keiichi Sato, was proud of our work and I was thankful that I had the opportunity to fully enjoy that moment.
Since that time, my research and writings on this approach have been published into a book. The book, “Design Relationships: Integrating User Information into Product Development” includes three case studies of FTI in use. Also specified in the book is a computer-based tool to link technical functions and users’ tasks. Tom MacTavish, who was Vice President of Human Interaction Research at Motorola Labs at the time, said this about the book, “Dr. Galvao has produced a well grounded methodology for making and managing design decisions.”
For me, the most exciting part of designing a unique method is to see it being used in the real world to solve real problems. Clients of Sylver Consulting have received great benefit from using the Function-Task Interaction™ method. Specifically, FTI is a method to consider if you need to:
-Assess how new functions or features of a product may impact, and potentially alter, the mental model for how a user may interact with your product.
-Understand how and where to gain task efficiencies for users. (We’ve found this one particularly relevant in B2B contexts where significant cost savings are being sought by the streamlining of product and process workflows).
-Improve the design of a device or product and identify what other non-efficiency benefits (i.e. health, safety, aesthetics, etc.) consumers associate with each improved design function.
-Increase the levels of collaboration between your staff’s designers and engineers.
Curious to explore if FTI is a right fit for you and your project? Email now to schedule a “Clarity Call.” In this call we assess if your current need is a best-fit match for Sylver’s FTI method.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-239-0346 to schedule your consultation.
January 27, 2016 – by Matthew
Sylver Consulting “the business” has existed at the nexus of Market Research (MR), User Experience (UX) and Strategy (STR) for over ten years. Yet, individual team members do not exist at that convergence. How is this possible?
Brianna Sylver, our founder, has purposefully developed a dynamic team of researchers and designers that exist across MR, UX, STR and other related disciplines. Because most client projects exist at an unfixed and inconsistent point among these disciplines, we are able to leverage the unique combinations of our team and our collective skills to meet our clients’ many needs.
The Sylver Consulting staff is composed of professionals from varied disciplines (i.e., market research, sociology, business, design, UX, innovation, film, theater, political science). These different perspectives offer the opportunity for each of us to grow through daily and project-based interactions with one other. Additionally, our project teams are ever-changing, since every project requires a different collection of skill sets to yield the success outcomes that we desire for that project. This intentional integration of varied disciplines within the staff and across each project team forces each team member to think about a problem from another member’s experience and view, which naturally changes each of us for the better as a result and renders the team more adaptive and flexible over time.
Now, there is often a concern that the constant shake up of project teams might result in some inefficient work practices. This is where the use and development of a share vocabulary comes in. The shared vocabulary used at Sylver enables clear communication across all team members, regardless of discipline. Without it, intent and vision can be confused or lost, leading to friction and reduced productivity.
Bottom line, no matter their skill, individual team members at Sylver are not able to produce the same robust solutions and insights as the collective project team.
Hence, it is Sylver’s goal is to continue to cultivate a team rooted in difference rather than forge a homogeneous “MRUXSTR” staff. An internal shared vocabulary is a key to our success, allowing us to continually integrate, sustain, and leverage diversity amongst our team so that we can ultimately better serve our clients.
At the time of this publication we are closing a large project that was an overwhelming success. Without revealing too much, the end result would not have been achieved if the team were more like Jean, Brianna, Rob, Jeff, Perry, or me. Personally, my view has been broadened thanks to an intense analysis/synthesis session with Jean and Perry—two people with very different experiences and work styles from my own. Likewise, our post-morten project debrief session will be an opportunity for us to grow together as a project team one more time before moving on to the next project and hence project team.
Sylver Consulting has existed and continues to exist at the convergence of MR, UX and STR because our team members do not.
January 27, 2016 – by Brianna
Sylver is uniquely positioned in the innovation industry at the intersection of User Experience, Market Research and Strategy. This confluence of disciplines and best practices ensures that we tackle each project with a problem-solving and customer-centric mindset, while consistently keeping market and organizational context front and center. But, this nexus positioning is not Sylver’s “secret sauce,” really. Rather, the secret ingredient to our consistent success resides in our commitment to relationships.
In fact, Sylver’s Purposeful Innovation approach celebrates partnership, and hence relationships, at its core. It is these relationships — fostered throughout the innovation process — that consistently yield transformational impact within our client organizations. Yet, for our clients, going through the Purposeful Innovation process requires a level of trust, engagement and commitment to partnership that generally exceeds the traditional research model.
We insist on a relationship, as it is the key ingredient to your ultimate success.
Of course, everyone says that they want to collaborate and be a partner. (Come on … no one in a service-based industry would say, “Yep, I prefer transactions, sans relationship.”) But there is a difference between wanting that relationship and truly insisting upon it as an a priori condition.
At Sylver, we require partnership of our clients. It’s a non-negotiable because we truly care about you and your success (in ways that we’re told differs from our competitors in the marketplace). From past experience, we know that relationships are what ultimately drive the impact of our work within your organization. Hence, fostering a long-term relationship; a partnership full of discovery, product/service transformation, transparency, accountability, respect and results is at the core of every action taken by the Sylver Consulting team.
We invest in our relationship through a three-part Purposeful Innovation process.
Our investment in you begins much before an official scope of work has been contracted.
Purposeful Innovation Part 1: We Chart Your Path
Step 1: Engage in a Clarity Call: Note that a Clarity call is not an email or a Q&A session about your RFP. We use this time to hone in on the scope of work to be tackled, how this particular initiative ladders to a broader business goal and assess — without attachment — if Sylver Consulting is a “best fit match” to support you in that scope of work.
Step 2: Source Your Project: Assuming a “best fit match” is determined as an outcome of the Clarity Call, Sylver delivers both a proposal and a brief exercise for your project decision committee to review and complete. This exercise is intended to (1) determine whom you should hire for your project and (2) to validate that the scope of work is sufficiently addressing the key requirements of all stakeholders involved in the initiative.
Once you’ve determined that Sylver Consulting is a “best fit match” for your project, we transition into execution mode … in alignment with your project goals.
Purposeful Innovation Part 2: We Develop Your 360º Vetted Growth Vision
Step 3: Engage in an Alignment Workshop (not your average project kick off!): This is a facilitated conversation that illuminates hypotheses and assumptions that are framing how key stakeholders are viewing this current challenge in your organization. “Under the surface, between the lines” type of content captured here is pivotal to the exploration that occurs throughout your project and the impact of its results.
Step 4: Execute Your Path of Discovery: While paths of discovery differ with every project, two things are constant: We actively and authentically encourage collaboration and partnership throughout the experience, from beginning to end. We also intentionally build iterative cycles of learning and reflection into your custom path of discovery, as we know from past experience that cycles of “learn — reflect — adapt” yield higher returns when it comes to stakeholder buy-in, and hence increase probability of execution against the resulting growth vision.
Step 5: Translate Insights into Action: At Sylver, we view consumer insight as the spark that lights the fuel for next step action. This translation step takes many forms depending on the scope of the initiative (i.e., workshop, meeting, recommendations), but it always produces next step inspired actions that ladder to a broader 360º vetted growth vision of the project team. The active nature of creating these next step inspired actions foster and cement stakeholder buy-in throughout the engagement.
Once our project ends, we continue to nurture our partnership by being there as a side line advisor and cheerleader as the need presents itself (at no additional cost to you!).
Purposeful Innovation Part 3: You Execute Your 360º Vetted Growth Vision
Step 6: Debrief Our Project Engagement: Valuing the long-term nature of our working relationship, we reconvene for a project post-mortem to celebrate the learnings gained, the next step actions being taken on the project and what went well. We also use part of that conversation to talk about what could be improved and things to watch out for in the future.
Step 7: Monitor Your Progress: We recognize that while we helped you to create your growth vision (quite possibly the easy part), executing upon that growth vision is another challenge that faces you. We want you to succeed in the execution of your growth vision so we will regularly check in to see how things are going for you and offer some additional perspective to issues vexing the team.
Relationships ignite action and maximize impact.
Bottom line, I’ve been in this industry for 15 years and founded Sylver Consulting 12 years ago. From past experience, I know relationships make or break project success.
This investment in relationships, plus the nexus positioning of Sylver at the intersection of User Experience, Market Research and Strategy support a unique positioning for Sylver that has resulted in our dearest clients referring to us as “covert cultural change artists.” We adore this title as it communicates two things to us:
The 360º vetted growth visions — created through Sylver’s Purposeful Innovation process — yield the transformational impact intended of them.
This transformation willingly occurs without a lot of strife and conflict because the process fosters relationships — amongst client stakeholders, business units and at the supplier-client level. Solid relationships make everything smoother — getting organizational buy-in on a new direction, making sure critical ideas don’t get lost during hand-offs, etc.
If you have interest in learning more about Sylver’s unique nexus positioning at the intersection of User Experience, Market Research and Strategy, and more specifically the value of that nexus positioning to getting research done “faster, cheaper and better,” I suggest you check out Jean McDonnell’s article entitled, “Finding the Solution to the ‘Better, Faster, Cheaper’ Dilemma.”
November 17, 2015 – by Brianna
The end of year (EOY) spend season is upon us. The calls and emails flood in daily. Each has a similar tone and message. “I’ve got money. I want to do a project about . It has to be done by the end of the year.” At this point, we have ~4~ working weeks left of the year.
Being on the receiving end of these requests is a dance of internal negotiation. I have a choice in how I wish to engage with this request. I either choose to connect with this request with a scarcity mindset or with consciousness of abundance. The mindset with which I choose to enter into this request, ultimately defines that scope of work’s ability to impact the team or initiative in which its been commissioned by.
Let me share a couple stories to help bring this concept to life …
Assume I’ve just received this request. Four working weeks of the year remain.
It’s great to connect with you. Not surprising, we’ve got end of year money to spend. I’d like to do a global study to support understanding around product category X. We need to have full results by Dec. 31.
Let me know if you have availability to make this happen.
My internal dance begins. It looks a little bit like this, “OMG! This isn’t possible. We don’t have a proposal in place (may not even have a Master Services Agreement (MSA)). We have four working weeks left of the year. This ask isn’t possible.” (NOTE: My heart is full of anxiety!)
In this example, I’m operating with a scarcity mindset. The constraints are finite. X budget, an impossible scope of work, and four weeks to accomplish the project. If I choose to respond to this client with the scarcity mindset engaged one of two things are going to happen: I will just turn the project away saying, “Sorry, I can’t help you.” Or, I will push to make that impossible task possible (if that’s even humanly feasible) and end up producing a piece of work that does a great job at spending end of year budget money, but does a terrible job at aligning to the core needs of the team for which the work is being conducted on behalf of. Why? Because the client also doesn’t have time for this project right now. They want to enjoy their Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, as they should. They’re trying to finish off work that is doable to complete before year-end, so they can begin 2016 with a clean slate. Essentially, the stakeholder team for the project doesn’t have time to engage in its design. Everyone in this scenario is in “pushing” mode, which means everyone is thinking tactically and no one is thinking strategically. The project outcome will likely fall flat in terms of truly shaping 2016 work efforts.
Now, let’s view this same scenario through the lens of abundance consciousness …
What usually happens in my internal dance of negotiation is this: I freak out about the impossibility of the end of year spend ask. And, then, I catch myself falling down the rabbit hole of a scarcity mindset. It’s at that moment that I check myself and ask, “How can we?” And then, I feel resuscitated.
I understand the need to spend the end of year money. I understand the requirements to have deliverables generated to a scope of work for accounting purposes. What I don’t accept is doing crap, ineffective work to align to arbitrary end of year spend constraints.
Just by shifting the perspective to “How can we?” vs. “this is not possible,” the conversation shifts. The focus becomes what it should be. The teams engaged in conversation start discussing goals for the scope of work and what that scope of work is intended to inform. The team is able to reflect on what “success” looks like for the initiative.
This consciousness of abundance gives the team the time and space to think strategically. They’re able to chart how this scope of work ladders to their priorities for 2016, how this work is intended to build upon previous work conducted, etc. The focus of the conversation is on the meaning, value and impact of that scope of work vs. the tactical logistics of how to get it done (which is the only conversation happening when a scarcity mindset is activated).
Now, it’s important to note that choosing to engage with a consciousness of abundance does not necessarily mean that more time is needed. In fact, the initial conversation might be 100% equal in duration. Yet the outcomes are dramatically different. With a scarcity mindset, the teams choose to execute with heads fully down, nose to the grindstone. A sense of urgency and achieving the impossible is what is fueling the work. It’s 100% tactical from day one. With a consciousness of abundance, you feel like you have more space and time in which to play and engage (regardless of whether you do or not). You consider ways that you can make the impossible, possible, without necessarily killing yourself in the process.
With the ask of “How can we?,” creative ideas start to flow. For instance, maybe you break one big project into two? Project Part 1 is paid for with 2015 money. Project Part 2 is paid for with 2016 money. Maybe you leverage previous work to get you halfway there from a learning perspective? Maybe you pay for the whole project in 2015 and finish it at the start of 2016? The possibilities are endless. But, these possibilities will not come to mind if you choose to engage with a scarcity mindset with your end of year requests.
So, I challenge each and every one of you to check in with yourself. How are you choosing to engage with end of year spend requests? I’d love to hear from you. What resonates about this concept of consciousness of abundance vs. a scarcity mindset for you? How might you apply this learning to your life over the next few weeks?
November 17, 2015 – by Jean McDonnell
Here at Sylver, we’re big proponents of online research communities as a method for driving customer insights (and thus a customer-centric mindset) throughout an organization. Indeed, we’ve had more and more occasions this past year to recommend this methodology than ever before.
Part of the reason for this is simply that our clients’ need for such robust, timely and actionable insight keeps getting stronger and more urgent. The other equally important factor is that the technology and marketplace for this particular methodology has truly and finally “arrived”.
But first, what do I mean by “online research community”? There’s still a lot of confusion around the term as this approach can go by different names (MROC’s, Insight Communities, etc.) and often includes different formats (e.g. branded vs. unbranded, short-term vs. long-term). The important distinction is that an online research community is NOT a panel or a database. It’s a community of people with common and/or shared interests where two-way conversations take place and where deep insights and actionable feedback are possible because members are engaged as co-partners in the exchange and not just research participants.
Online research communities and other so-called “new technology” research methods have been in existence for years. The early architecture for online qualitative research was built nearly a decade ago and the landscape has been slowly and gradually expanding ever since. But in the past few years the situation appears to have reached “critical mass” – the point where client need and technological capabilities are finally converging in such as way that large-scale adoption (and thus the promise of a greater return on investment) is now possible.
In particular, online research communities have benefitted from the global shift towards increased participation in social networking. The mass adoption of social media by consumers of all ages (not just early adopters of technology) and the advancements made in users’ experience of social media has caused a revolution in the way that information is shared and utilized. The appeal of online research communities as a methodology is that they now take full advantage of the power of social networks, of consumers’ familiarity with them and of the advanced technology capabilities that drive them.
The net effect is that, compared to just a few years ago:
–Online research communities is now the fastest growing methodology in market research today – and its growth is expected to continue to rise over the next several years. (Source: 2014 Market Research Industry GRIT report).
–Many more feature-rich community-based research platforms, tools and services have been introduced into the marketplace by new and emerging research providers.
–More and more companies have begun to invest in these new technologies as a way to drive growth and deliver more impact – either by bringing these functions in-house, by outsourcing these functions to research providers or via a combination of the two.
Driven by advancements in Web 2.0 technologies, online research communities are demonstrating a whole new way to do and think about research – and to involve customers as “partners” and co-creators in the organizations’ decision-making process. The impact of this kind of approach can be profound on an organization – often enabling them to make the shift from a constant state of “reaction” to one of “pro-action”.
I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts. How might your organization utilize – or better utilize – this evolving methodology for driving bottom-up customer insights?
November 17, 2015 – by Matthew
Reflecting on the current year, my immediate emotions are happiness and excitement; 2015 was a year of fun and challenging research due to the diversity of projects and within projects (client, scale, topic, problem to solve, approach, etc.) that I was a part of. Adding to the excitement was the copious amount of participants I was exposed to throughout 2015 – so many different people, each experiencing the world from a point of view different than my own. From an online snack food preferences study to understanding the role of scent amongst C and D class consumers in India, I had the pleasure to meet and engage with interesting people that challenged (and changed) my everyday thinking.
Looking ahead into the new year, I spy glimpses of an equally exciting 2016; new clients, all new participant groups to meet and interesting spaces to explore. On the subject of new people to meet and learn from, I am most excited to get to know Rob Maihofer, our newest member of the research team!
Good luck Rob and Happy Holidays to all.
October 20, 2015 – by Brianna
Many years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “What Does Innovation Really Mean?” And then based on that article, I was asked to speak and give a few workshops on the topic.
One of those workshops was for a client, Marriott International. One of the exercises I had put together to facilitate the workshop required that participants define, in a phrase, their organization. This definition set the boundaries for what would be within vs. out-of-scope for the team from an innovation perspective.
I remember being impressed in that workshop that the team defined Marriott as a hospitality organization, not a hotel and resorts organization. Likewise, Sylver is working with a healthcare insurance company right now. They define themselves as a healthcare services company vs. a healthcare insurance company.
To some, these differences in identity may seem small and insignificant. But, in reality, they are HUGE! A broader definition of identity gives opening to change and transformation that would not be there if the organization defined itself by the physical representation of their offering alone – or by what they’re known for today. By choosing an identity within the realm of their offer — hospitality for Marriott and healthcare services for the healthcare insurer — they can more easily change and evolve to stay relevant in the marketplace.
Now, I’d be willing to bet that most people who are reading this have a company mission statement that is more broad in nature — defining the realm of their offering, not just the offer itself. But, I challenge you to ask yourself, “Are the people within my organization embodying the realm of our company’s offering or is their scope of identity for the organization limited to the offer itself?”
In other words, let’s assume you’re a bike manufacturer. Do your people define the organization as a maker of bikes or as an organization that gives freedom to those who want to hit the road?
Innovation — and consequently transformation — comes from stepping outside the box, granting yourself some leniency to explore within the realm of your offering vs. the offer itself. It’s this freedom to explore the realm of your offer that ultimately supports the surfacing of new opportunities to become meaningful and relevant to your current and future consumers.
I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts. How does your organization’s identity — the definition leaders and employees carry with them — support or hinder transformation?
October 20, 2015 – by Brianna
I am often asked as an entrepreneur, “What’s your 10-year plan?” I truly loathe this question as it comes with so many unspoken expectations.
People expect you to have an answer that involves financial targets, numbers of employees, numbers of offices, numbers of countries in which you’re located or some combination or derivative of those metrics. Targets like these are not bad. Heck — most organizations throughout the world are managed and operated by them. Yet, metrics like these just do not resonate with me as a leader. They feel too impersonal and therefore too intangible. And progress against them can’t be measured on a daily basis, which makes it way too easy to go off course.
Rather, my long-term goal — and consequently the daily measure of progress against that goal — has always been “happiness.” Am I feeling energized, excited, engaged and consequently “happy?” When the answer is consistently “yes,” I know that I am on the right path — that the business is on the growth trajectory that is intended. When the answer is consistently “no,” then the reflection goes inward to determine where and how do I — or we as a team — up level. “Where do we look next to get the excitement, energy, engagement and consequent “happy” spirit back?”
Now, there are a couple truths that I’ve come to know — that not only define me, but the staff at Sylver as a whole. “Happiness” for each of us is a combination of discovery and community. When we feel like we’re being challenged and contributing — in an impactful way — to a community (our client organizations, the industry as a whole or the Sylver team), we’re excited, energized and engaged, and thus “happy.”
It’s this daily check-in of happiness that has supported the continual transformation of Sylver Consulting through the years. We do have the metric credentials to put behind our name. I founded Sylver back in 2003, in a studio apartment with a team of one (me). Today, 12 years later, we have a freestanding office in the Chicagoland area of the U.S.A., a physical presence in Brazil and a staff of 7. We’ve done research in 23 countries throughout the globe (multiple times in many of those countries). And consistently, year after year, we’ve seen financial growth in the revenues of the company.
But, it’s truly the target of happiness and the daily check-in of “Am I ‘happy?’ (i.e., excited, energized and engaged)” that has enabled the growth that has been realized throughout the years. And while to some this goal of “happiness” may seem “woo woo” in nature, to me as a leader it is tangible, real and forever present. It’s impossible to lose sight of, as your internal happiness meter demands to be acknowledged as soon as a consistent pattern of unhappiness emerges.
My position is this: We have one life to live on this planet. Hence, it is our personal responsibility to make the most of that life. “Happiness” — and the daily measure and sustainment of it — is how I take charge to know that I am on the right path personally and professionally.
I’d love to hear from others. What types of measures — metric- or spirit-driven — do you use to guide your personal and professional transformation?
October 19, 2015 – by Perry Shaffer
We all know that change is inevitable. Industry shifts and new technologies/methods come into play, for instance, that results in first a pause … and then a shift.
Sylver Consulting operates at the intersection of market research, user experience, and strategy. Each of these industries have seen major shifts in the past 10 years. In light of these shifts, Sylver’s business has also had to flex and change.
Sylver is currently going through such transformations. A shift in our focus, environmental growth, and a sharpening of our instincts about the needs of our clients are all factors that have been swirling around the office for the past year. However, all of this change has led less to a sense of standing on shifting sands, and more as if we have unearthed a vast foundation on which to keep building.
That foundation has been crucial in our process of transformation. Yes, we have developed new techniques and tools. Yes, we have focused on different problems to solve and new directions to explore. But the basis of the work that we do has never shifted. We know what we do here and we know how we do it. What we have been exploring — and better articulating — is why we do it.
Think of it like a Rubik’s Cube. The key to a quick solution is rotating the whole puzzle around one block that doesn’t move. In the case of Sylver, that foundation block is the sense that our work, our research, has not changed. We’re just continuing to explore how we can change to better fit the evolving needs of our clients.
From my position, this is incredibly apparent to me. Inward facing, we are constantly discussing new possibilities and philosophies. But outward facing, we are operating as usual. As someone who thrives on processes and formulas, this is incredibly comforting to me. I know that the foundation of who we are and what we do is remaining the same, expectations and results are remaining steady. We are just expanding the uses of that foundation. Change is inevitable, but if approached in a thorough and thoughtful manner, it should never mean uncertainty.
October 19, 2015 – by Matthew
Sylver is in continual transition and better for this. Permanent team members join and then eventually leave, shaping Sylver along the way. Contract workers come and go, come back. Some stay (myself included). Our physical space is also experiencing a shift from our current rented studio/office to a new building (2016) that will be designed and owned by us!
In addition to full-time and contract team members, we host two to three full-time interns from Northwestern University each year. Interns arrive from the same scholastic program and with the same set of “interview questions” to ask us during their first week. That – and a lack of almost any professional experience – is where similarity among the interns ends. Each intern is a unique combination of gender, race, ethnicity, life experience, desires, and youth that adds a fresh perspective to our everyday routines not inherent in our professional staff.
One benefit of our intern program to students is that they are assigned to a live project where they are expected to be active participants. At the conclusion of a recent three day workshop, a client brought our intern to the side and said that he was impressed by his participation and thought of him as a full member of the team, not “just an intern.”
This kind of reaction is true because our interns have consistently brought more than a helping hand to the office; they bring curiosity and have questions – many questions. More often than not, their observations and questions help us see our own work (and ourselves) from new perspectives.
Our responsibility to our interns is to facilitate a meaningful experience with the expectation that they try their best and complete assignments. But, to truly leverage the full potential of an intern is to be open to learning from them, not just teaching to them. This is possible because we take pride in treating interns as “real” members of the team, meaning that we view them as peers, with something meaningful to contribute to the culture of Sylver, not just the workload.
As sad as we are to see interns depart after their 10-week practicum (or for a permanent, full-time team member to leave or for a contractor’s gig to come to a close), each departure becomes an opportunity for a new point of view to be welcomed through the door and quietly disrupt and challenge us all, ultimately pushing the team to its next level of perspective.