Solving for pattern starts from designing with heart

One task for this weekend is to complete a letter of recommendation for one of my recent students. You get these if you are reasonably approachable and care. It’s a moment of vulnerability that you want to be careful of.

It’s set me to remembering similar processes I’ve been part of. For many years, I interviewed high school students applying to the university I attended. You were expected to forward your thoughts and recommendations to the admissions committee. I don’t know that those insights had the slightest impact on the admissions process from the school’s perspective. But that wasn’t why I chose to participate.

Instead, I thought back to that time when I was on the other side of the process as a nervous high school student. This was long before students routinely visited multiple college campuses in their quest for the perfect undergraduate experience.

My father had gone to college on the GI Bill after serving in the Navy during WWII. My mother did a year or two of college before going to work and then starting a family. No one else in our extended family had done even that much.

I was attending a pretty exclusive private high school and being pushed toward even more exclusive universities with no basis for making any sense out of the process I was flowing through. Graced with acceptances to two of those universities, how was I to make an informed decision? It came down to my experience sitting across from an alumnus from each of the schools in one of those ritual interviews.

One conversation focused on how the school would serve as a stepping stone to a great future and the tradeoffs and challenges I might have to navigate. The other was a mix of nostalgia for their experience and envy that I was about to embark on a journey they would happily take again if they could walk in my shoes. It shouldn’t be hard to guess which path I chose to walk.

In one case, the process devolved into a connecting the dots experience. The surface elements were there, but there was no heart. In the second, the surface elements tied into deeper patterns and that produced the necessary heart.