Experimental Civics


Quit Making Ageist Mistakes | 3 Ways to Hack Your Own Idea Bias

Here we are again.

Talking about age, naivety, experience, and how they all tie in together.

It’s ridiculous to me how many folks (including myself) have faced ageist discrimination in our lives since we were ALL were young, naive, and inexperienced at some point.

One thing I’ve remembered recently and I want to share is that ideas have no age limit.

I spent my Saturday with over 10,000 girls on the University of Texas, Austin campus at UT Girl Day where our activity was focused on inspiring them to become civic champions by ideating on these three questions:

  • How Would They Improve Austin
  • How Would They Improve Their Education
  • How Would They Improve Their Transportation

UT Girl Day is dedicated to empowering our future leaders in STEM education and especially our young women.

Design thinking plays a huge role in this space because our future engineers and scientists have to be at the edge of their knowledge to bring us to the next stage of humanity. I say this with gravity because it is important and so very true. They will need fresh, dynamic problem solving tools to enhance their creativity and ultimately, produce revolutionary solutions to our toughest challenges.

I can’t even begin to tell you how the answers that were shared were some of the most profound, simple, and distilled statements I have ever heard.

So from this experience, I wanted to share how I hacked my own ageist bias:

Listen Honestly

It’s that simple.

Now, I know that we can sit here and do an active listening exercise and you will remember how to actively engage for the next few hours…but in a week from now, you might talk over someone or find yourself tuning out when someone is speaking.

But when it comes to our youth, you have no other choice than to listen. Some talk nonstop, some don’t say a single word, but they communicate so differently than adults.

They always waiting for honest engagement and it’s in these moments where you can build a more open, vulnerable space for them to share. And share they will and you will learn something every time.

It was fun to watch parents ideate with their children at our event…parents would encourage their child to come up with an idea during the activity and would so often be shocked by the answers shared…everything from biofuel cars to human love campaigns to rocket ships to patience training for teachers…don’t miss a single idea.

Dig Up The Why

I found this to be fascinating as I circled the room between stations, it was very clear to me that as our young designers mapped out their answers, if any of our design thinker volunteers challenged them by asking “why is this important to you?” or “why does this matter?” — a new level of excitement and energy was sparked.

Children would just light up at the question and within a few brief seconds…we could find ourselves at the core of the “why” underneath the idea. It was brilliant.

Me: “How would you improve Austin?”
Young Girl: “Start litter campaign.”
Me: “Why is this important to you?”
Young Girl: “We need to respect nature.”
Me: “Why does this matter?”
Young Girl: “We need it to live.”

Simple. Neat. To the point.

I’ve sat in meetings where we’ve circulated on the “why” and “return-of-investment” jargon until we’re blue in the face. It was refreshing to be hit with the raw reason time and time again with no hesitation regardless of the idea.

Embrace Your Finds

It is so easy to dismiss an idea because you feel that the source might not have enough experience or they might seem naive, but there is truth sprinkled in everything, whether it’s what we want to recognize or not.

I could easily toss ideas that my peers have, but I don’t. Ever. I listen.

We talk about the “why.” We continue to find the deeper truth to what they want to accomplish. From there, learned experience and a larger holistic understanding can be a powerful tool especially when it comes to organizational politics.

But I’m not talking about the execution of the idea, I’m simply talking about having the idea itself.

That can come from anywhere. So work to find the truth and embrace what you might find.

I feel empowered and inspired to be a civic champion alongside my newly appointed peers and I’ve truly walked away with so much more than I bargained for.

We’ll be building out different affinity maps based on the 300+ responses we were able to track via an online form. I know that we weren’t able to capture everything, it can be tricky navigating a crowd to submit when they were fixated on playing with chalk, but I can’t wait to see the larger picture.

If anyone has interested in running an event similar to this or is curious about how our event went, feel free to reach out to me via experimental civics and let’s talk!

A child’s voice, however honest and true, is meaningless to those who’ve forgotten how to listen. — Dumbledore

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