The Michigan Engineer News Center

Lessons from daringXchange

When a diverse group can make its own decisions rather than wait for a lone leader, the results can be more productive and more daring. | Short Read

Author Ruthie Freeman is the professional development program manager in Resource Planning and Management at Michigan Engineering. This event follows other related events this year and last, including the cultureXchange and creativityXchange.

I’ve been reflecting on the March 14 daringXchange event, when Michigan Engineering students, staff and faculty filled the Duderstadt lower level.

I continue to think about the message on that “Pi Day” afternoon from keynote speaker and alumnus Richard Sheridan (BS CCS ’80, MS CCS ’82), Menlo Innovations CEO and author of “Joy Inc.”

He talked about how the typical structure of an organization – one person making decisions – means the gears of an operation come grinding to a halt until that person can take action.

He encouraged listeners to rethink what he called the “hero model” because it’s unsustainable, unproductive for the organization, and unhealthy for the people involved. This idea resonated with me as the new program manager for staff professional development at Michigan Engineering.

I work with different teams moving in the same direction: toward a healthier, more productive workplace for everyone. But only by including everyone in decision-making will a solution work for the whole group.

No team can go achieve its full potential, I realized, while some members are sidelined or underutilized. Michigan Engineering has too much talent to leave some folks out.

Following Rich Sheridan’s speech, organizers presented a challenge.

They gave each table a small paper bag, a handful of uncooked spaghetti noodles and some tape, along with a few other odds and ends. We had 10 minutes to build the highest tower, using the most number of these objects. Winners received a $100 gift certificate to M-Dining.

With no experts in spaghetti-tower design at the table, there was no individual with answers to direct their team. My table didn’t win, but I loved seeing what everyone produced.

Without a single decider, each group was free to engage with each other, and the task.

Without waiting for one “hero” to take action, everyone in the room dared to make their towers go higher.

  • Rich Sheridan, CEO and cofounder of Menlo Innovations, speaks at the daringXchange in the Duderstadt Center
    Rich Sheridan, CEO and cofounder of Menlo Innovations, speaks at the daringXchange in the Duderstadt Center. Photo: Joseph Xu
  • Participants in daringXchange work on an activity
    Faculty, staff, and students participate in the daringXchange in the Duderstadt Center. Photo: Joseph Xu
  • Participants in daringXchange work on an activity
    Faculty, staff, and students participate in the daringXchange in the Duderstadt Center. Photo: Joseph Xu
DEI Strategic Plan
Post-it notes paper the windows of the inside of the Duderstadt connector

Building communities and creative learning spaces is one of the strategic goals of Michigan Engineering's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. Learn more about the plan and how you can get involved.

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Elizabeth Agee in the Amazon rainforest.

Hands-on in the Amazon

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