Design Thinking and Changing Direction

I came to this place thinking of myself as hopelessly, irrevocably lagged by inertia. I'd been in the same job for five years, lived in the same apartment, fiddled with the same silly hobbies.

I came to PSIH for an intervention, and I got it.

Our design thinking curriculum at first seemed like a way merely to organize our thoughts. If you've been reading this blog, you've seen images of colorful Post-It Notes with our own scattered thoughts splattered across the wall, as if someone was able to spill a box of Legos vertically: building blocks of potential available for rearrangement into a unified thought, and able to be disassembled and rearranged countless different ways.

But more than that, it was a mode of thinking. It was a way to give up your ego to the flow of the thought process. It was a reminder to have a bias toward action, even if that means you fail fast and often. It was a mode of listening to your target audience openly and genuinely, and distilling the information you collect into a few real, tangible needs you might—just might!—be able to serve. And it taught me that even I can change directions quickly and without fear.

One of the concepts that have come out of my design thinking exercises around my own venture is that my blog ( doesn't just have to be a blog.

OBSERVATION: people don't care to write formal essays for online consumption. OBSERVATION: I love interviewing people. INSIGHT: people like to talk about themselves, and that emotional ownership extends their favorite children's books NEED: an easier and more personal mode of participation. HOW MIGHT WE meet these needs in an equally portable and entertaining way?

What about a podcast?

We've also learned this week to ask for help. So I'm grateful to Eric, who helped me out by recording with me this prototype for the very first Sensible Nonsense Project podcast.

Certainly, this will be the first of many iterations. I forgot that I really wanted to close out by having my interviewee read a passage from his favorite children's book; the sound mixing is nothing to write home about; and in the editing process I found out that I definitely murmur "awesome" a tad more in conversation than I'd like to admit.

But I've got something. In a matter of days, I've not only changed how I perceive the path I can take with this project, but I have something real, tangible, and sharable, that I would never have had if I felt like I just needed to plan everything out before trying something different.

I really hope you enjoy it, and that in listening, you have even a fraction of the fun Eric and I had recording it.

Yours in change, Arielle

When I don’t know what to do next or what questions to ask, how do I get through it?

During the "Understanding Technology" panel, we asked this question to staff, fellows, and mentors. The answers are way better than simply to use technology. Check it:

I write haikus

I call up my friends how are 50+ and ask them. They’re usually retired too which makes it easier.

I bask in the uncertainty and let the answer arise from within

I ask those who are older and wiser

I google it

I do what I know

I go back to what I don’t know and ask why do I not know what I don’t know


I ask for advice (to determine whether I’m searching for affirmation or if I actually need the help)

I ask someone in that field

Generally freeze; do something else for a while (like write a script)

Go to someone I respect and ramble until they help me on my way

I imagine that I’m asking someone else until I really understand

I talk to my mom because she has a lot of common sense

I go back and reflect on what I do know

Talk to people who won’t judge you

I make a model based on things I do know and ask someone “What am I missing?”

I take short naps and start off fresh

I get someone’s perspective who has absolutely nothing to do with the environment

“In fact you know but you just get lost in all the information”

I try to think through whether it’s needing problem-solving (logical, structural) or affirmation (empathy, emotional)

Beats of a Silent Battle

We are soldiers in a difficult war between the tangible and abstract. Although the problems that we are trying to solve are real, our task to generate innovative solutions renders the greatest challenge our own (conventional) thoughts. I had not realized how much we were in a battlefield of ideas until last Thursday, when I looked around a room full of silent thinkers. Scott had challenged us to dare greatly, and we were all quietly delineating what goals we wanted to overcome. When I finished my task, I looked around the room and observed one friend in particular.

The contours of her body shaped determination in a powerful way. Her knees bent on a couch, supporting a laptop, which likely was detailing the challenges that she was about to face. Her hands were strumming against the keyboard. The latter reverberated in constant beats - dum, dum, dum - and her fingers, scuttling on it, reminded me of troupes meandering towards the frontline - the frontline of ideas.

The silence that she possessed captured everybody else's deep thinking. I had never before thought about fingers on a keyboard as traveling, marching soldiers, but the communal silence that we all shared, cut sharp by staccatoes of dum, dum, dum, reminded me of the beats of anxiety, gravity, and determination in a battlefield. We are walking towards - and among - a field of discombobulation and idea bombs.

Eva Cruz Crashes my Vlog

Hello World.

I was recording a personal vlog today when Eva crashed the shot. It was really the only interesting part of the vlog, so I got rid of the rest. Check it out!

Entrepreneurship (or Life?) 101: Resiliency Always

One of the lessons almost all the entrepreneurs here have expressed is: it’s hard. People will tell you you’re not able to do it or think your idea to change the world is outrageous (it is – that’s the point). You’ll test your prototype and watch it fail. Your own creation – the product of your brain, heart, and soul – will crash and burn, just like the time before. You’ll pick yourself back up just to watch a train slam you back into the trenches once again. You’ll be dazzled into a dizziness by a doozy of a problem. Yet people do this… for a living… 24/7. Some may call it masochistic, others insanity. Entrepreneurs call it fun. But even they need some inspiration, so here’s some resilience-related quote-tastic inspiration from some people in the house (and why that individual chose that quote):

It always seems impossible until it's done.

- Mandela

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” said Mandela. As an aspiring social entrepreneur, I should keep going and push the boundaries of what's possible.

There will be moments where you are in a deep rut. Things won't make sense, you won't know who are you and you won't know where you're going. You will be utterly lost. If you find yourself in one of those moments, roll around in it and let the moment consume you. That's when you will grow.

- Anonymous Personal Mentor

A personal mentor told me that quote when I was getting ready to go to college, and it's given me a way to be reflective about the situations I find myself in. It pushes me to use failure to learn, use sadness to be happier and use confusion to find a path.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.

- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Both quotes really push me to move outside of my comfort zone in working on anything, whether that's a venture or another project. I think that the quotes definitely remind me of the possibilities with each project I undertake and keep me motivated to keep moving forward!

Kick-Off Reflection

Welcome to the Penn Social Impact House blog! We kick off another year of PSIH in the beautiful land that is Great Barrington, MA. Being an East Coast kid with a love for the abundant green, I believe there’s no better place to remove oneself from the daily stresses of life and facilitate thinking than a remote sea of green (sorry beach and palm trees - you don’t do the trick).

As the fellows, staff, and mentors build a community here, I’ll be your unofficial MC – Master of (Blog) Communications – highlighting the amazing work going on here, including everything from reflections on the activities to experiences with mentors. My name is Eric Shapiro, a rising senior at Penn and a 2014 PSIH fellow. If you want to learn more about me and the rest of the fellows check the rest of this blog out. Check back in here as the days progress to learn even more about us and what’s going on here! I won’t be doing this every day (all fellows will be contributing!), but given that the school year is finally over and something more exciting has begun (i.e. PSIH), I’ll dedicate this first blog to reflections and lessons.

Having just been at Penn’s 258th commencement and now coming off some energizing introductory activities, a few phrases from both are stuck in my head and, maybe more importantly, my heart. John Legend, R&B singer and songwriter, left this year’s graduates with some wise words about love. Love to Legend is active; it requires reading, traveling, and interacting with others at the minimum. Love goes beyond personal success but defines your professional success, namely in the form of passion. But none of these make love easy because the “only way you’ll reach any height in life and in love is by taking the chance that you might fall.” These were great words, yes, but they seemed limiting to me at the moment. How can words, and thus love, change the world if those things are only shared between close friends and family? And then PSIH started.

Scott asked us to find a stranger (which for most of the fellows here was almost everyone else). We were tasked with sitting down next to our partners and talk about the question Scott asked until he asked another one. There was no form or structure to this. Simply talk. And that’s what we all did. We shared our singing habits, our proudest moments, and who we would take to dinner, among many other things. What seemed like an innocuous act – talking, some would say networking – suddenly became an exercise in creating a bond with someone else. The more vulnerable I was, the more I felt it was reciprocated by my partner. We walked away with a deeper relationship and I realized that love could be fostered with almost complete strangers. By being vulnerable and carefully listening, I suddenly had a new friend.

I share this story because, more than a description of the beautiful house we’re in or the awesome people at this house, this activity illustrates the bonding and community building that is at the core of PSIH. It’s only just begun and yet so much has already happened with such a simple exercise! As an entrepreneur surrounded by entrepreneurs, I have to agree with John Legend when he says, more than cool detachment or irony, passion, and by extension love, “makes you a better entrepreneur, a better leader, a better philanthropist” and a better human. I cannot wait to see how the bonds formed here push us as individuals and challenge us to love ourselves, those around us, and even a bunch of strangers. It is with these bonds that we can further develop our own passions for social entrepreneurship and hone our ideas to change the world.

Until next time,


Welcome Fellows!

We eagerly awaited the arrival of 8 fellows at the Hudson train station - we were giddy with excitement!