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My Unreasonable Journey

Student Claire Sutton (second from left) chatting with Unreasonable at Sea entrepreneurs  Mouhsine Serrar and Mihn Cuong Le Quan of Prakti Design, and local entrepreneur Kate Berrisford of the Green Africa Directory at the Unreasonable/SAP event in Cape Town.

By Claire Sutton, Boston University

January 12, 2013, approx. 14:30:
Location: Student Union
Class Subject: Sustainable Global Entrepreneurship
The Scene: Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute, taps his mic to let us know he and George Kembel, Founder of Stanford’s d.school, are ready to begin class.

I feel a little uneasy. I am a film major. This is an “entrepreneurship” class. I registered for it on a whim. I’m a curious gal but seriously, What am I doing here?

My self-doubt is quickly interrupted.

Daniel and George introduce themselves. I am on the edge of my seat. I suddenly realize my mouth is a little dry. Oops. I’ve been gapping at them. Can you blame me? Their accomplishments are wildly impressive. I’ve never had professors quite like this. Can I even call them professors? Let’s go with mentors.

Daniel boldly states: ‚ÄúI believe that entrepreneurship can change the world.‚Äù Okay, I think‚Ķlet‚Äôs see about this. Sure, I‚Äôm impressed right now. Daniel and George are fantastically inspiring, self-proclaimed ‚Äúimpatient optimists.‚Äù However‚ÄîI‚Äôm still not grasping why everyone is so jazzed about this whole entrepernooship—excuse me‚Äîentrepanoir—ugh! How do you even spell this word? Aw–this whole entrepreneurship thing. There it is.

It is as if Daniel’s reading my mind: “Entrepreneurs, you have thirty seconds to pitch your company to these students so they’ll want to help you.”

There’s a guy form Botswana who has created a solar hearing aid, there’s a team of Spaniards who are using a plant to purify water and help alleviate thirst around the world, there’s a company with the market’s most advanced solar cooker, there are some guys from India who have created a teacher training tablet who want to make education a right rather than a privilege. There’s this, this fire, in each one these entrepreneur’s eyes…I don’t need any more convincing: suddenly, I’m invested in these people. I want to help them, but I’m just a twenty-year-old film student (who ten minutes ago couldn’t spell entrepreneurship).  What can I do?

Daniel: “So, what can you do?”

This guy is seriously reading my mind—I’m starting to get freaked out.

Then he says something like this:

“Well, we want to leverage your creativity and ingenuity. In this class you’ll be working side-by-side with the entrepreneurs helping them solve problems that they really have. There are no ‘case studies’ in this class. You will be working with real companies on real problems.”

George: ‚ÄúWe firmly believe that no matter what kind of student you are–whether you‚Äôre a business student, a future lawyer, teacher, doctor, filmmaker, engineer, or don‚Äôt know what you want to be yet‚Äîyou will have something to contribute to these companies. Just remember that these are working companies. You will need to be flexible because their plans and your plans will change.‚Äù

An exciting uncertainty is rippling through the Union. I can feel our collective potential. The energy is palpable and as soon as class is dismissed Daniel and George are literally flooded with students asking questions and begging for ways to get involved—asking for more work! How often does that happen?

         ****

January 13, 2013, 22:45:
Location: Cabin 3029
The Scene: One inspired, excited, Claire Sutton has just rushed into her cabin to write down the events of the evening in her journal before her impressionable mind forgets!

“The reason I am writing is because I need to keep this fresh in my mind. Today I decided to drag a friend to the first Unreasonable at Sea discussion…I think they are going to start calling them ‘fireside chats.’ It was FANTASTIC. In fact it was the kind of thing that made me want to change the world, or at least create a “dent” in it. Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute and Unreasonable at Sea, interviewed Hunter Lovins who was just nominated Time Magazine’s Hero of the Planet. Let me re-write that in caps for more emphasis—TIME MAGAZINE’S HERO OF THE PLANET. Wow. I knew this voyage was going to be ‘eye-opening’ but seriously—a Time magazine hero and Archbishop Desmund Tutu on the same ship with me? That’s unreal…I am smiling right now because I am grateful! I am already SO energized, SO happy and we haven’t even gotten to Port #1.”

***

After the events of January 12¬†and 13¬†I decided it would be utterly foolish of me not to capitalize on the invaluable opportunities that surround me on Semester at Sea. I was initially too sheepish to jump right in like some other students. I felt that my background in film couldn‚Äôt possibly be as important to Unreasonable as all the Business majors aboard the MV Explorer. So–on a whim, I emailed one of the communication directors on board with Unreasonable and within literally fifteen minutes I found myself face-to-face with her and presented with the opportunity to head up a student media production team.

“Let’s just start by starting,” she said.

I told her I am good at leading and interested in film—she immediately found a need for me to fulfill. It is not often that I, as a twenty-year-old college student, am trusted so quickly to take a project on. I felt immediately grateful for being treated like an adult. It made me want to really dedicate myself to whatever I had just gotten myself into (what that was — I couldn’t even be quite sure yet).

Together we roamed the halls of the MV Explorer knocking on doors and yelling down hallways to find students who wanted to join what we coined the “Unreasonable Student Media Team.” Within just four hours and fifteen minutes we had a team and a few ideas to run with.

As a team we basically create any media we want to with the promise that if Unreasonable or Semester at Sea likes it, they’ll showcase it. We put in exactly as much time as we want to and are never asked to do anything — we just do it. Together we have interviewed people for The Economist, created a song about Unreasonable, and helped put together a Ship-wide film festival. It is rare at this age to find opportunities that are so open and unspecific. It has been liberating, for all of us, to be trusted to the point where we can create whatever we want. In exchange, when something is less than great we get advice on what to do better next time and when someone at Unreasonable sees potential in what we’ve done they get excited about helping us move it along. We are encouraged to make mistakes and follow the “design-thinking” method of innovation.

This methodology of creation encourages a process called “rapid-ideation.” Basically, design thinkers thrive on learning from their mistakes; they encourage making as many mistakes as possible, as quickly as possible. In other words “Fail fast to learn fast.”

No longer do I find myself frustrated when a piece of footage I shot looks less than ideal—I run back out with my camera and see what I can do different. Mistakes no longer shake me; they motivate me. “How can I do this better?” Instead of thinking about it…I just do it.

The more I use design thinking in my everyday life the stronger my belief in its ability to transcend the classroom (or boardroom) and help me in other facets of my everyday life. I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the course of this voyage, but when I look back on this journey, they’re what stand out the most. In Ho Chi Minh City a friend and I got lost in a maze of interconnected alleyways. Rather than trying to get out we decided to stay lost and keep exploring. We discovered that within HCMC’s alleyways is an entirely different and fascinating aspect of city life. After stumbling across a few dead-ends we learned our way around—fast—and were soon laughing about our “lucky misfortune” over Vietnamese iced coffee.

“Be flexible because your plans will change.” Sitting on that wobbly plastic stool in HCMC, George’s prophecy from that first day of class suddenly came to my mind.

I planned everyday of our first port, Japan. I knew the guidebook inside and out and I wasn’t any the more prepared. My plans changed and when they did I felt that prickly heat of stress on the back of my neck—the kind a rabid planner gets when things don’t go their way (you’ll know what I mean, if you’re one too). When my plans failed in Vietnam I remained calm. I remembered that being flexible is the key to travel. I embraced the unknown and decided to use it to my advantage. For learning this lesson I credit Unreasonable and its partnership with Semester at Sea. Turns out—there are few differences between an entrepreneur and a traveler. Both seek uncertainty and thrive by charting unknown territory.

Parents‚Äîrest assured—I still believe in plans. I still believe in order. Semester at Sea and Unreasonable have just taught me its overrated to be so attached to my plans and my order. Because I cannot travel the sea, and not come back a different me. I‚Äôll debark in Barcelona smarter about rebounding from failure, more comfortable with chaos, and more patient with people–most importantly though, I‚Äôll come back motivated.

Thank you Tom Chi for teaching me to embrace failure as a powerful learning tool. Thank you Hunter Lovins for sharing with me that putting away our egos, vulnerable as we may feel, is key if we want to truly change the world. Thank you Tori Hogan for encouraging me to invest in self-discovery and to never forget what I loved when I was five (because that’s who we probably truly are still deep-down). Thank you Daniel Epstein for being so refreshingly honest and vulnerable in class. Thank you George Kembel for allowing your students to come to their own conclusions, rather than giving us the answers. Thank you Laura Edwards for teaching me that I should never ignore my instincts. Thank you to the Unreasonable Media Team for taking the time out of your hectic days to sit down, hang out and just geek-out about media. Thank you to Krisztina Z Holly for instilling in me that “a bend in the road is never the end of the road.” Thank you Ken Banks for challenging me to always “live light, and live curious.” Thank you Archbishop Desmond Tutu for reminding us all that we need each other to be ourselves. Ubuntu-a person is a person through other people

****

This was just my story, a personal reflection, about what it’s been like to have the Unreasonable Institute aboard the MV Explorer. I know I’m in good company though. If you ask someone aboard this voyage what the word unreasonable means to him or her you’ll find out it isn’t “irrational” or “difficult.” Unreasonable resonates very differently for Spring 2013 voyagers. For the rest of our lives we’ll see that word and we’ll think about all the fantastically unreasonable people we met. The people who taught us that changing the world might just indeed be possible.

Topics
  • Life at Sea

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