Graduation is always an occasion for reflection, and even though Julia Davids is still six months away from completing her Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree at Stanford University, she is taking the end of term to reflect on her experience at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, a.k.a. the d.school. She easily surpassed her $150 funding goal (to purchase the ISBN) for her self-published e-book about her undergraduate experience—this is an exclusive excerpt of the second chapter.
Imagine you attend one of my design classes in Stanford's d.school at Building 550. Many of the structural elements of the building have been left exposed so that it has the feel of a partially renovated garage: cement floors, bare walls. Strange furniture is scattered about the floor; tour guides are known to explain that decorators chose "deliberately uncomfortable" seats to encourage activity. A smattering of professors and students have questioned the use of foam squares or wood blocks as chairs, but the seats remain.
You enter a classroom on the second floor, where 30 or so students populate gray plastic chairs. The room—in fact, the entire building—embodies the principle that furniture mixing is proportionally related to idea mixing. Utility pipes unabashedly expose themselves to you. You take a seat on one of the chairs, but your table scoots away from you because it is on casters. The rock music fades and class is underway.Your professor calls for a break halfway through the lecture. He—the statistics indicate maleness—asks you to massage the student to your right, and then the one to your left, so everyone receives an impromptu back rub. Once the giggling has subsided, the instructor asks if everyone feels warm. Many of his pupils call out "Yeah," but you don't know what to say. Smiles between students beam around the room as the sound of the gray chairs scraping back into place once more.
The professor tells you to employ this technique while working on your group projects for the academic quarter. He must be far removed from youth to suggest that hormonal 21-year-olds can improve their work ethic via late-night massage. (Or maybe he understands you all too well...)
In another class, the professor might request that you place your hand flat on your chest, and rub the palm of your hand in circles repeatedly. If you are female, like myself, you wonder if the full effectiveness of this exercise is lost on you; you do not feel comfortable rubbing your breasts in public (except on special occasions) and opt to gently pat your clavicles with solemn resolve. Or you might be instructed to participate in an even more physically intense exercise, like jumping up and down while counting enthusiastically.
Supposedly, when you engage in a physical warm-up before engaging in work activity, something amazing happens. You start to move, and lo and behold, your engagement in the present increases; your body and mind stand at attention; you gear up to your top performance with record-breaking speed, 0-160 IQ and CQ (Creativity Quotient) in just minutes; and your team wins the World Series. (I do not follow baseball; this just seemed like an appropriate reference).
Even so, I've found that mental warm-ups suit me best. I believe this preference is an artifact of my persistent introversion rather than physical slothfulness. I enjoy spending class time quietly imagining all the ways I can transform circles into things, or how a hammer might be used to save a life. Sometimes I'll pore over a National Geographic photograph and attempt to write increasingly astute observations about its contents. Most of the time, I simply default to doodling; starting with a blank page and filling it with nonsense gives me pleasure. The frenetic energy of the lines created by my felt tip pen often exceeds the energy I might gain from jumping ten times.
Just give various warm-ups—physical and mental—a good-faith try and you'll find one you like. The reality is that everyone is different; no single exercise affects one person in the same way as it does another. Just do what fits your style. Note: warm-ups are quick, easy activities meant to snap participants out of daydreams about their florid pasts and tendency to laze about eating Hot Cheetos and such. For these reasons, neither Tantric yoga nor skydiving is an advisable warm-up.)
Sample Warm-ups (techno music optional):
- Circle Transformation. Draw fifty small circles on blank paper. Set a timer for two minutes and use a pen to convert the circles into objects. At first, you might not come up with more than a smiley face, a single baseball and a lonely orange. With more practice, your efficiency will increase.
- Take a bow. Sit in a circle of chairs with your teammates or coworkers. Put your hands on your hips. Take a deep breath and sit with good posture. In unison, bow respectfully and slowly into the center.
- 60-second Nightclub. Get a decent soundsystem and strobe lights. Overhead lights off, music and strobe light on. Credit goes to DJ Kristoffer Markussen Johannessen for this one.
- Doodle. Draw whatever the heck you want to draw. Use a pen. Work in silence and observe your thoughts.
- Educational Massage. Turn to the person next to you and ask him or her to massage you in return for a massage that you will administer on them. Do not use this method in a job interview.