I‘m at Chicago’s premier social incubator – i.c.stars. Fresh faces of their current crop of interns rim this boardroom-sized table. All neat. All professional. As the tea makes its rounds, I hear well-crafted introductions. Mannerly. In-depth. Heartfelt. Spoken by people who have known each other during months of intense struggle. It’s more like introducing family than business associates. And I notice something else that’s significant. The interns introduce each other—not themselves—and they do it with a high level of trust, mutual respect, and selflessness.You can’t help but be moved by the way they describe each other. This is High Tea—a curious ceremony that takes place each day and has such a big impact on those who attend the i.c.stars program. The introductions are for the benefit of two guests at the end of the table. They’re today’s stars—C-level executives here to relate their personal stories. The man to my left takes my hand in a solid grip and explains the protocol in a low rumbling tone. “When it’s your turn,” He says, “Just tell them my name and pour the tea.” I signal thumbs-up for thanks and peek at his business card: Quashe’ Granville. Hey, this is Loop Lonogan’s friend from TechBash! I’ve read enough about this guy to cobble together a decent introduction. My cup gets filled. Now it’s my turn.
At the risk of embarrassing Quashe’, I relate Lonogan’s impressions of him. Quiet strength. Thoughtful to others but a powerful presence. An overcomer who’s looked adversity in the eye and conquered. A quick study and self-learner in this high-tech environment. A great spokesman for the i.c.stars program.
I pour his tea. Now Quashe’ is pouring and it’s just like Lonagan told me—he really does sound like James Earl Jones. The tea continues around the table .
The two guests present themselves as ordinary individuals and tell remarkably personal stories. It occurs to me that hearing such histories from C-level executives every single day must instill an instinct for the many ways to succeed—because success is something reached by a different path every single time. Everybody is taking notes. Quashe’ slides over his personal notebook for my use. The formalities finally come to an end and regular conversation breaks out. One of the speakers talks of his first job—the mouse at Chuck E Cheese’s—then washing dishes to earn his way through college. The interns tell about i.c.stars experiences but nothing prior to that, and I take it as intentional. I hear about subjects taught by the program: Leadership. Communications. Networking. Public Speaking. And then a surprise—Civics—they teach Civics and that changes attitudes. Doing what’s right. Becoming a change agent. Asking yourself why people should want to work for you. Asking yourself what your legacy will be. How can you give back to the community? I hear about respect, trust, pride, and a passion for helping those who get overlooked. Time’s up and high tea is over. The interns take their guests on a tour of the facility. We visit a private lair for the interns—a room set aside for free thought, free expression. Whiteboards, brown paper, notes all over the walls. Raw ideas. A song of the day. A person of the day. Now we’re looking at the mobile app this team is building for a major corporation. At this point, they’re making the software bullet-proof. Layering encryption. Improving the user experience. . .
The target audience is age 5-8, and the kids learn safety before they get to do science. The software makes it engaging with Better-Than-Disney avatars – Sal, Joy, Ned & Pippi –and they interact in a game environment. I hear a lot of oohs and aahs in the background. I ask Quashe’ how they can build a mobile app for a Fortune 500 company after just a week of training and only three months to complete the project. “We’re using Ruby on Rails,” he says. “It’s a really easy language to learn.” I happen to know better than that and try to argue the point, but he brushes my objections aside. “Everything is on the fly,” he says. “The first step is Fast Feed. We throw that code up and if it fails, we instantly stop. ‘What’s wrong? Let’s debug. Let’s get it.’ Then we throw it back up in there. If it passes, now we’re in Staging.”
The terms are new to me but I get the concept. Quashe’ continues: “If it fails at Staging, we stop. ‘What was the difference from Fast Feed to Staging? Let’s fix it.’ When it passes that, we throw it to Production. Once everything is complete and we’re at Production and we’re passing, now it’s lunch time.”
So they crack the problem first—then stop to eat! Sounds more like the Thomas Edison approach than the Microsoft way of doing things. I like it. I hear one of them say they used to call this project their ugly baby, but it’s not ugly any more. Now they’re using four laptops to show me how they broke the project into four different segments. They’ll bring those together and launch it. Before this article hits the presses, this crop of interns has graduated. What became of their mobile app? So far, the client uses the graphics and ideas but not the game itself. It’s worth checking out the site. Or see the video:
And before I leave, I have a few serious questions for Sandee Kastrul, who heads-up this organization. .
Photo credits: i.c.stars, UL Labs, Wikipedia .
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