Dear #MACE14,

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Final post, huh? I really didn’t expect this course to went this fast. I still clearly remember my first day, where I sat down in one of the Business School’s rooms and who I sat next to. To my left, this talented graphic designer who loves Asian food, Irene, and to my right was someone I eventually worked most of the time with, Jonas. No, I did not see any of that coming that day. Once more people turned up, Mark asked us to find a pair and learn three things about them, and eventually introduce them to the class. Guess who I got. Mikkel. Yep, little that I know he was going to be one of the people that made everyone laugh so hard—someone who has been keeping our Friday so lively.

Then came the weekend—with special activity awaits us. Some of the previous MACE students came in and helped out. They helped us form our group for the weekend and I was in the same group with Mikkel, MichelleJulia and Kaitlin. I sincerely think we did a really good job introducing our bike share idea within Kingston University—which I still think KU really need to turn this idea into reality, by the way—but the most important thing from this experience was destiny brought Kaitlin and I together (and no, this closeness is not weird for us, right, Kaitlin?). 

We connected shortly and have been good friends as well as team mates ever since. This strong, independent woman brought our team together, adding AleemBritt and myself to the dynamic duo, Jonas and herself.

Our first group meeting was right after the afternoon class. We went to the uni pub and discussed about our own personal goals, desires and dreams. Guess what, I’m not lying, we all have a similar long-term goal, which is to have a business consultancy (Kaitlin told this better than I do on her previous blog post).  However, we couldn’t actually make a service-based business for this project, so we’ll keep that at the back of our heads, for when the right time comes for us to get together again, and we’ll set the sail right.

It is obvious that I am more than thankful to have had four lovely people in my group—I really do. Our group dynamic and energy, and yes I want to brag about this, was one of the best out of all the other groups in our class. No offence, but we really didn’t have any people-trouble and worked really well together. Good start, huh?

Little did I know, having the right group of people you actually want to work with is not enough within this industry. Having the right product is way more challenging, thus making it a more important aspect. We met up every Wednesday morning and brainstorm ideas as much as we could. We went from our very first idea to make a medicine bracelet to remind people to take their medicine; a Bluetooth light that works like a car-key that can help you locate your bike while it is parked in a full bike parking lot; tenant-landlord-communication mobile application; to Ella—our precious little Ella.

I can say that we did challenge our creativity and did not regret any experiment that we did as a group or individually. As Bateson and Martin mentioned in their book, Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation,

“Undoubtedly, human creativity is a complex and multifaceted set of capabilities.”

“Play involves breaking rules. Playful play involves having fun while doing so. From play may emerge a new perspective or cognitive tool that might be used at a later date, possibly in combination with other perspectives or tools, to solve a new challenge. In their different ways, both of these consequences of play are creative.”

We didn’t have a name at that time, heck, we didn’t even know how it would look like. Luckily, I was reading Creative Confidence, the book that Mark gave us on our first day, precisely at the part where the Kelleys encourage their readers to take the leap; from planning to action. They encouraged us not to get stuck in the planning stage, instead, switch to our “do something” mindset and start doing as soon as we can. The Kelleys quoted John Keefe, a senior editor at Manhattan radio station WNYC,

“The most effective way I’ve found to practice design thinking is by showing, not telling. Rather than explaining what it is, I say: ‘I can get you results next week.'”

And according to the Kelleys, to take the leap from planning to action, we should:

1. Pitch a fledging business idea
2. Build a functional prototype in four days
3. Observe what the audience did

So we did. We went and made our very first prototype. It was made of unused cloth and heavy paper, and it was literally just 15cm long. It was far from perfect, but we took our first step, we made a use out of it. We started to look at the pros and cons, and it surely made it easier for some of us to vision how this baby wedge would look like. Also, it triggers others to come up with different solution and forms of how the ideal wedge should be.

However, I wish we had known about the book called Value Proposition Design by Bernarda, et al. because we could have applied this theory,

“The Value Proposition Canvas has two sides. With the Customer Profile, you clarify your customer understanding. With the Value Map, you describe how you intend to create value for that customer. You achieve Fit between the two when one meets the other.”

At this stage, other groups might already have their acting captain. By saying that, I’m referring to the chosen group leader. For Little Steps, we do things differently—all of us stepped in as the acting captain at some point in the last seven months. The five of us knew what our strengths and weaknesses are, and more importantly, we were also aware of each other’s. So there wasn’t a time where Jonas would forced me to do creative writing for Ella’s promotional video story board because he knew that it was not my expertise—it was most definitely Kaitlin’s. And Kaitlin wouldn’t have asked Britt to design Little Steps’ branding and identity, because I was the graphic designer of the group. I think we all get the point. All of us had something to contribute and we delegated tasks accordingly. That was quintessential.

In his book, Leadership, Brian Tracy mentioned 21 traits of being a good leader. One of the traits was “Power Through Cooperation”—which I think was well applied within how we do things in Little Steps:

“Leaders recognize that they can’t do it all themselves, so they are always alert to enlisting competent men and women who can help them achieve their goals. Leaders recognize that the greatest single limitation in any endeavor in human society is talented people. So leaders are always seeking out talented people, one way or another.”

“Good leaders are able to find people who are strong where they are weak; that way they can concentrate on developing their own strengths to even greater heights.”

Moving on… Product development. This is where we put most of our effort into, and maybe that was our first mistake, too. We were so focused on creating the perfect form of Ella, we forgot to actually tested it to our target market. On top of that, we were also not in the best environment to be exposed to our actual target audience—first-time pregnant women. We did try our best to find relatives or acquaintance with baby on the way, but luck was not on our side. Britt and Kaitlin had the most connections, unfortunately, they were all back in the States. So we couldn’t meet them face to face to test Ella. However, we tried to be positive and still take advantages from this situation by explaining Ella to them and trying to find user insights and asking for feedback.

At the same time, I realised one very, very important thing (and made it very clear on my previous blog post) that, in order to have a successful business, one must live, eat, sleep and think about it 24/7. So basically, you have to devote and commit your time 110% to it. You’ve got to be extremely passionate, engaged and ready to tackle all bumpy roads ahead in your business in order to drive it to success.

Then came our first Dragon’s Den. Luckily, we are all confident people by nature, who don’t really have much difficulties talking in front of a large group of people. We went last and received lots of feedback—some constructive, some were genuine concerns, and one said by someone completely irrelevant who seemed to have much hate on Ella—which we put into our account. We were quite shaken up after we did our presentation, I remember because it was unusual for us to be so faithless and distant from Ella. We did receive constructive feedbacks, but something that night took away the fire within us. We decided to shake it off, keep on looking for inspirations and do more research during our winter break.

We went back with better energy and understanding of our product, but unfortunately, the passion was gone. I’m honest, and straightforward, and I just think it is important to acknowledge what actually happened. We started to see this as “one of our Postgrad projects from one of our modules” instead of our creative business idea. Don’t get me wrong; we still made lots of effort to get Ella into her best form. We went to Wales and talked to our manufacturer, we experiment with more wedges shapes and made more prototypes, but deep inside I think we all knew we were partly detached from it. It was sad but I am very proud of our team because no one backed out. We understood too well that we were all in this together, and for sure, we were going to walk towards the finish line hand in hand. Katie, Jo, AJ, Britt, if you guys are reading this, I meant every word I said–so, thank you.

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Then came the trade fairs. We were required to join two of them and try to make a selling. First problem. We’ve got nothing to sell. Second problem. We’ve got nothing to sell. That was a tough one, really, but if we did want to make a selling, the only solution for us was to have produced Ella in China to be able to sell it with our ideal market price and… that was nowhere near feasible. Another lesson learnt. Everything is made in China. 

However, we considered ourselves as a bunch of creative people, so we made the most out of what we’ve got. We equipped our trade fair stand with laptop, showing renders of how Ella should look like; we brought the prototypes; we bought helium ‘It’s a Boy, It’s a Girl’ balloon; we printed flyers and business cards as part of creating the right atmosphere within our branding and identity. The first fair was… okay. The second one… I made it very clear of how I felt about it on this post. I’m not going back to that discussion. Thoughts?

Speaking of branding and identity, in their book, Emotional Brand Experience, Desgrippes and Gobé mentioned a brand should,

1. Follow the trend = the ability to adapt
2. Try to “be the audience”
3. Determine brand values
4. Keep in mind that your design represents your brand personality
5. It is important to have consistency and a personalisation within your brand and identity

A week after our second trade fair was our final Dragon’s Den. A lot of things have changed since our first presentation. We had the final design for Ella made and ready to present, we branded her beautifully with ribbons and a hand written letter, and we even made a short skit for our 7-minute pitch. We spent three days straight putting our business report and Dragon’s Den presentation together, and we were more confident with where we were at that point.

According to Robert Tuchman, an entrepreneur and founder of Goviva,

“One thing I’ve learned in business is that you need a cohesive team to be successful. The whole is much stronger than any individual part. You may be able to start your life as an entrepreneur with zero help, but you’ll need to build a focused team to lift your vision and really take your business to the championship.”

And I believe we did.

Final Say

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So what’s next? Well, John Howkins said something in his book, The Creative Economy, that summed-up our whole 7-month experience,

“Creativity is not new and neither is economics, but what is new is the nature and extent of the relationship between them, and how they combine to create extraordinary value and wealth.”

No matter if you are continuing your business or come up with a brand new one, bare in mind that we have to collaborate and create value, as well as using empathy to get to our target audience.

Secondly, is not to forget about design thinking. According to Tim Brown,

“Some characteristics to look for in design thinkers: Empathy, Integrative thinking, Optimism, Experimentalism and Collaboration.”

I personally will try to apply those characteristics upon myself as well as to my future partners and team members, later when the time comes when I finally create my own Creative Design Agency (for those forgetful people, this is what my dissertation is about).

Nonetheless, for all students familiar with this sign, #MACE14, it was lovely to meet each of you and worked with the most incredible people I have ever met. May you be, like me, happy and hopeful that we will cross each other’s path again some time in the future.

Processed with VSCOcam with se1 presetOur very first MACE Friday

Till then,
vania

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Is it almost over?

Been asking that question for a while, now. Time has passed really quick for this second term, I barely remember what I did in March—it went so fast!

Okay, let’s start with the second trade fair. I still have my freedom of speech, right? No one is going to sue me for cursing? Y’all know how straightforward and true I am to any given situation, right? I ain’t going to jail for expressing my mind? Ok, good, here goes.

It. Was. Hell.

It was windy, and freezing, and ineffective, and inefficient, and terrible, but knowing the positive cheerful nature that I am, of course I’m going to talk about the sunny part! (sense the sarcasm)

It should have been inside a building the whole time. That’s all I’m saying. We shouldn’t be forced to stand outside for three freaking hours and then moved to a much warmer room where we could have been the whole freaking time. If the purpose was to get the uni passerby to come to our stand and interact with us, just have it in the canteen, or building halls, or a designated room where flyers/signs/any form of communication design is printed or showed digitally to direct passerby towards that particular room. BOOM. That’s it. That was freaking it.

But hey, we got a nice picture, so…

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Congratulations for Fli and Touch for winning some awards during the second trade fair, btw! You guys did well :)

Moving on… Final dragon’s den awaited us a week after our trade fair. So… work, work, work!

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Yeah, that’s right. We worked hard. The day before. Nahhh…

We were in the middle of designing our business report in the library that day and Michelle asked if she can join us, because in her own words, she’ll watch Japanese tv shows on her bed if she didn’t go to the library and start working on her tasks. (That’s right, M, I’m spilling out beans about my friends here in my blog! *evil smirk*)

She came and, yep, she managed to get things done. Afterwards, we went for late dinner, just the two of us, and I remember exactly what she said,

“I like working with you guys today.”
“Oh, that’s good. Why did you say so?”
“Because you guys like one another. You all joke around much… but you get things done too. The atmosphere was just… nice.”

That made my day.

***

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So… The final Dragon’s Den has finally arrived! We practiced and surprise, surprise, I volunteered to be the preggo mum. Never been pregnant, never had close family/friends who were pregnant when I was around, only equipped with my High School theatrical acting experience, and boom! There I was, wearing my PJ with preggo belly. Oh. Well. One for the team.

But we were extremely lucky that night. We were supposed to pitch in room A (as you can tell, I already forget the actual room number, so let’s just replaced it with A and B), and from the previous groups who have done their presentation in room A, the judges were not in a good mood. It was the “scary room”, and we were the last group that night. All five of us were really calm before, but boom, all of a sudden, serious face, serious game on.

We went upstairs 10 mins before we were called, and when we arrived, Corrine looked at us and said, “Oh, I was about to call you guys. I’m going to allocate you to room B instead, because they’re still going in room A and there weren’t supposed to be any group in room B at this time.” (Because the total was 7 groups, divided by 2 rooms, you do the math).

I turned around and saw the biggest smile, mixed with genuine surprise, in Aleem’s and Kaitlin’s face. Jonas and Britt looked like they just got hit by confidence boost out of nowhere and just walked into the room without looking back. And we… did well. We did really well. So well that we were one of the top 6 groups that had the best pitch? I guess. It wasn’t clear. (Finally! We won… something!) Whatever. But that explained these photos. We had to pitch in front of everyone for three minutes (out of seven!), and then the judges picked two teams to continue to the next step/competition in Manchester.

But of course, Fli won and they’re going to Manchester! Again, congratulation, guys!

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and last but not least, our baby Ella!

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So… what now? Dissertation?

Couldn’t I just have my usual MACE Friday routine back?

Till then,
vania

Me? Leading?

Hey-o good people!

Before I start rambling, and while I still have the privilege of your full attention, let me thank each and everyone of you who voted me as one of MACE’s Top Bloggers 2014-2015! I am so grateful, I can’t believe I won, I really didn’t expect anything to happen… and I want to thank my family and friends, colleagues, followers, supporte… oh, hang on. This is my Grammys speech. Ok, never mind.

See how my imagination run oh-so-wild? I told ya’ I barely know what’s going on in my head. Anyways. Moving on. Okay. What am I writing today? Oh yeah. Leadership.

We have had a couple of leadership and management class lately and as always, I want to share those moments with all of you.

Photo 27-02-2015 12 06 52 pmYeah. MACE is a serious course. Like seriously. We got Donald Duck and stuff.

On Friday, Miguel asked us to imagine how the future leadership style would be like. I happened to sat down with 5 lovely classmates, Alisa, Jason, Asia, Michelle and Yi Xin. Most of us agreed that in an ideal leadership, there should still be some sort of hierarchy. In my mind, that would give clarity to most things—from task delegation to making decisions for the group’s future direction. The more we talked about it, the more it seems like a “role” that can be “played” by any of the group members rather than a traditional hierarchy.

Are you familiar with the “talking stick”? To quote wiki,

The talking stick, also called a speaker’s staff, is an instrument of aboriginal democracy used by many tribes, especially those of indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. The talking stick may be passed around a group or used only by leaders as a symbol of their authority and right to speak in public.

Well now, imagine a leadership stick! Literally—it will make things easier.

It would be an ideal situation for me if we can pass around the leadership stick while working in groups. Everyone has the same chance to lead, to follow, to contribute and to listen. It’s all about balance.

Miguel asked us to transform our discussion into drawings—Asia mentioned King Arthur’s table, thus the inspiration for our exceptional art pieces:

Photo 27-02-2015 12 59 31 pmYep, of course Jason wrote his name down. Of course he was the one holding the sword.
Of course he drew the random red-coloured-trap-door on the floor.

Photo 27-02-2015 12 59 38 pmAnd of course Michelle drew that unicorn. She’s obsessed.

One thing I pity, though, is that we didn’t talk much about personality, character and culture. Cause those things do play a big part in turning someone into a leader. What if someone is naturally introvert? Will someone extrovert always make a good leader? Can one be an outgoing introvert—or a quiet extrovert? What happen if someone who is not comfortable leading, pushes one self to lead? Will they make a good leader?

This class left me asking more questions, though. Will co-leading work that well in the future? When I own a company later, should I share my leadership with everyone in my team? Won’t it be messy?

You have to trust someone big time in order to do this co-leading thing. One has to trust the others that they will play their role as a leader right, one has to try to listen, one has to try to follow, one has to compromise. That… could be very, very difficult for some people. Letting go all control, and giving it to someone else who—in your head—might not be as capable as oneself. That might lead to one’s ego and dignity—see how far this can go on?

Nevertheless, my brilliant classmates came up with tons of different ideas about visioning future leadership—that would be best described with pictures. Enjoy!

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Till then,
vania

and the winner is…

We attended the Bright Ideas judging night final event yesterday, and a BIG congratulation is in order for… Fli!

Photo 4-02-2015 6 11 12 pmSo very happy and proud of Olga, Sam, Michelle, Irene and Felix!

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Sorry for the blurry pictures, I was sitting on the top row!

The overall event was great. However, I talked to a couple of people, and if we could have one criticism—and we do—it would be the transparency of the event that night.

Let me start from the beginning.

On our way back from Wales (see my previous post), my group members all received an email saying that we were the finalist for Bright Ideas. Having mixed feelings between excited and a bit worried because we left our prototype in Wales with our manufacturer, we did our best to create another prototype, just for this event, in approximately 8 days. Money and time was invested, and expectations were build that we were going to attend this event to do the pitching workshop with the others, then pitch our product to the judges, and then wait for the judges to nominate the winners. Little did we know, it wasn’t what they (Bright Ideas) have planned for Wednesday to be.

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So this was the pitching workshop—which was good—we did practice our pitch to strangers and exchanged feedbacks. But what we didn’t know was that, in my own words, the pitching workshop was some kind of a manoeuvre for groups who did not get the “special email”. I may sound very negative in this post, but honestly, I am sincerely happy for all the winners—I am just disappointed in the process. Bear with me.

So the real finalists get a special email saying that they were going to pitch in front of the judges, during the pitching workshop where all of the “other finalist” will be, but it would be best not to spread the words about it.
a. Why make it so secretive?
b. Then why did we even receive an email saying that we were a finalist, when we aren’t?

If only they had told us from the beginning, that our group was, lets say, made it to the big 20 but not as a finalist, and that we all should come to the judging night on Wednesday, where there is going to be a pitching workshop etc—hey, we would still have come anyway! We are not kids who needs to be manipulated by sweet talk in order to get something done. Just tell us the truth and we’ll get it—we’re grown ups.

But now, because our expectations were not met, I highly doubt and questioned Bright Ideas’ integrity for hosting this event. Does it not occur to them that some of us may have put extra efforts and may have sacrificed other important things just to come to this event on Wednesday night?

Being a firm believer of freedom of speech—and counting on serendipity—I approached Dennis Aguma, the president of Kingston Entrepreneurs, whom I met and befriend with from previous event. I told him what I had in mind, and surprise, surprise, he said I was not the first person who talked to him about this. Then he said he would definitely bring this up to their review meeting. So, finger crossed, Bright Ideas will have a better procedure/transparency for their next events.

Hopefully this tiny gesture may encourage and inspire others to speak up their mind when they are not happy about something.

Other than that, it was a good set of events, it surely did encourage and support future entrepreneurs, and again, big congratulations for all the winners!

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Till then,
vania

Hello, Wales!

Our first “business trip”, ever!

Photo 26-01-2015 10 29 48 pmKaitlin was the one behind the camera, so yeah, of course she was there too!

So, Little Steps decided to pay a short site visit to our potential product manufacturer, AJM Sewing Factory, in Wales last weekend. Established in 2001, AJM is a British Manufacturer specialising in manufacturing lingerie and swimwear. However, they also do prototype and sample making.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the kind and helpful AJM Director, James Meller. We have sent them our prototype right after Dragon’s Den, and he was optimist that they could actually produce Ella! He was kind enough to gave us a quick tour around the factory though we know he is a very busy man.

They had a lot of stations, and by the look of it, they are handling lots of different projects at the time. Compare to the complex garments they are currently producing, I believe producing our product would be as easy as spreading butter to your toast on a hangover. Not really sure why I used that analogy, but, oh well.

Again, I love taking pictures and explaining things visually—since I am a visual graphic designer (nah, that’s just an ego boost). So here are some pics!

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Till then,
vania

Trade Fair

Well, hello!

Wishing everyone a good start for their 2015! I know I have. I always like this holiday season—Christmas and New Year—particularly New Year, because somehow it implicitly mark a new start, a new beginning. I know, we can always start something new any time of the year, but leaving 2014 and welcoming 2015 kinda makes it official. Fresh start, new resolution (making it more realistic each year), and new energy to kickoff has always helped me to start a new year with the right attitude.

Anyway, we just had the Trade Fair last Thursday, and it was great! I got to see other groups’ amazing display and their work-in-progress. And for us.. Too bad the audience there wasn’t our target audience, but we did manage to get lots of feedback and practice how to sell our product. Here are some pictures:

a 10933923_322226281305813_678131562609602675_nYeah, we’re actually a group of five girls and two boys

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By doing this Trade Fair, it made me realise that in every group, each member has different talents which they can contribute and make the most out of. When we delegate the right job to the right person with the right skill, we are going to get great results. In order to do that, we have to know ourself, and we have to know our group members too. What is our (and other’s) strength and weakness, and how should we go about it. I can’t be more thankful to have such an amazing and supportive group, who work together really well.

Here are some more pictures because, well, a picture is worth a thousand words—which makes this post… a 159,000 word post.

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I  hope everyone else also had fun (on top of making money!), and excited to grow their business even further in the future.

Till then,
vania

 

Dragon’s Den

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Excuse me for these poorly taken pictures, but hopefully it gives you just enough visual of how Dragon’s Den looked like last Friday.

It was a good session, but to be perfectly honest, personally, I don’t think we got enough constructive feedbacks—we just got criticised. However, I don’t feel the need to linger on how our presentation went, but more into finding out how we should go about it now.  That means more brainstorming, reading, research, group meetings, and another set of brainstorming.

The single most important thing that keep on bursting into my mind from doing all this—having our own business and stuff—is that you have to devote your time 24/7 to your business. You’ve got to be extremely passionate in what you’re doing—or else, your business will still grow, but it will grow terribly slowly. So a quick tips for those who are thinking about being an entrepreneur, it definitely means you will wake up, eat, think, talk, listen, research, sleep and dream about your business. It will happen, trust me.

Alright, I’m gonna sound like a philosopher-wanna-be now. For everyone in #MACE14, don’t give up. Failure is part of the journey. Learn from our mistakes. We all have to go through this downfall in order to get back up and find our dynamic. Quoting one of my favorite underrated animated movie, Meet The Robinsons, keep moving forward!

Introducing Little Steps, and our very first product, Ella!

 

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Ella’s first prototype 16/11/14
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Ella’s second prototype 5/12/14

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Any comments, feedback, ideas in any form are most welcome! Leave comments or, well, any social media will do.

Till then,
vania