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Unfinished

Unfinished

6 mins – I love the idea of creative worry, and who exactly the Model T was for.

What’s the difference between a project that’s complete and a project that’s finished? Being complete means the project is whole, it works, and it’s beautiful to someone. A complete project brings some level of utility to that someone who engages with it. But there’s always more to be done, and a complete project is merely the beginning. A finished project on the other hand has reached the maximum level of utility and unparalleled beauty to everyone who engages with it. It’s been refined, cared for, and pruned to perfection. A finished project is the end of the process. When your learners work on a project and develop a product, when is their project considered complete, and when does it end?

Let’s talk about the Ford Model T. I recently came across a story called Farewell, My Lovely! In a book titled The Second Tree from the Corner by E. B. White. It’s a wonderful story about the Model T and its owners, and how a brand-new vehicle off the assembly line was fit for use by someone, but it definitely wasn’t for everyone. The car needed to be modified to fit the needs of someone else, and the responsibility for leading this transformation lied with each and every owner. To provide context and a sample of perfectly simple storytelling, the following is a direct quote from the story:

There was this thing about a Model T: the purchaser never regarded his purchase as a complete, finished product. When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start—a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware. Driving away from the agency, hugging the new wheel between your knees, you were already full of creative worry. A Ford was born a naked as a baby, and a flourishing industry grew up out of correcting its rare deficiencies and combating its fascinating diseases.

First you would buy a Ruby Safety Reflector for the rear, so your posterior would glow in another’s car’s brilliance. Then you invested thirty-nine cents in some radiator Moto Wings, a popular ornament which gave the Pegasus touch to the machine and did something godlike to the owner. For nine cents, you bought a fan-belt guide to keep the belt from slipping off the pulley. You bought a radiator compound to stop leaks. This was as much a part of everybody’s equipment as aspirin tables are of a medicine cabinet. You bought special oil to prevent chattering, a clamp-on dash light, a patching outfit, a tool box which you bolted to the running board… It was only a beginning. After the car was about a year old, steps were taken to check the alarming disintegration. A set of anti-rattlers…hood silencers…shock-absorbers and snubbers gave ‘complete relaxation.’ Persons of a suspicious or pugnacious turn of mind bought a rear-view mirror; but most Model T owners weren’t worried by what was coming from behind because they would soon enough see it out in front.

I love the idea of creative worry. It’s as if there’s an obligation that once you have this thing in your possession, you should make it your own, and try to make it better. Owners felt a sense of micro-ownership in the idea of the Model T and what it stood for, and where it could go from here. Owners not only bought gadgets from the catalogs, but in many cases, they had a lonely insight and were forced to invent gadgets of their own. Model T owners learned most about their machine through first-hand experiences called “sudden developments.” They had to work through it, and experiment with it as they labored persistently and imperfectly towards a better solution. But they didn’t have to do it alone. Owners had their own theories about everything, and they discussed mutual problems and shared stories with other Model T owners no different than them. They collaborated on problems in search of novel solutions, and clearly didn’t operate by committee. There was your way and his way, both of which were considered to make my way—if superstitions allowed. They operated as individuals pursuing their own self-interests, and paradoxically it was this individual contributor methodology that produced better collective results for the community. The Model T bred a diverse set of owners operating from different environments and ideals which made it more likely that at least someone would take a gamble on a radical or unlikely idea to make the product better, and then they’d share it with the others. Over time, these thousands of bets, experiences, experiments would develop and refine solutions in pursuit of perfection—and even though the product was complete, the process remained unfinished.

For learners, most of their projects will be given a deadline, a day in which their project must be complete. This deadline is practical, and sets a clear expectation of the timeframe allotted to create something of value for someone else. Learners present their idea and showcase the value they’ve created, but their project isn’t perfect. If only they had more time, more resources, and more ideas to spread the impact further. These projects die at the exact point in which the greater learner community could make the project their own, and try to make it better.

What if learners told the story of their completed project, and then gave other learners the confidence that someone like them could complete a project like this too? Stories about possibility, and potential, and change. On GrayVyne, we believe the community will produce collective judgements that represent not what any one person in the group thinks, but rather, in a sense, what they all think. Like Model T owners, each individual has the freedom to act as an independent contributor to something greater than themselves, and together they generate collective wisdom. They work in concert with pure intentions and high aspirations. They share stories, apply them to their own knowledge and experience, and then take action.

Don’t let projects die at the end of the term. They can be complete and yet remain unfinished, and the process doesn’t have to end. The process of idea generation and value creation can continue as other learners seize their chance to contribute and make an impact for someone else, someone specific to them. The best thing learners can do when they make an impact is to serve as inspiration and an example to their peers, and then do it again. And it’s at this moment when learners realize that they have the power to change their lives and the lives of others—and feel gratitude as their peers begin to realize this too.

–Keo–