Making a Deck of Cards for One of Life’s Most Puzzling Questions

Helping people go from 😰 to 🚀

Victor Saad

Founder

Have you felt it lately? There’s something in the air. A little uncertainty. A little anticipation.

Graduation is around the corner.
Talks of 2020 elections are heating up.
Fears of the financial markets “popping” are beginning to swirl.
Questions about the job market in a world with Artificial Intelligence are surfacing at dinners with grandma.
And that’s just scratching the surface.

Our “new normal” is each person sifting through thousands of trivial distractions and an onslaught of personal and global challenges — all while trying to make sense of their own life and work. And it’s seemingly happening in an “every-person-for-themselves” mindset.

What’s Worth Doing?

Seven years ago, I designed my own Masters program by working on 12 projects in 12 months. In the process, I stumbled onto the path of education through experience. That year led to the start of a school (Experience Institute), the creation of an award-winning tool for life/work transitions (Leap Kit), and the opportunity to lead programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley. All of this work places me across from students and professionals who are working to design their next steps.

Oftentimes during those conversations, we start with looking inward. I draw three simple circles and ask three questions:

  • MAKE: What do you enjoy making or doing so much that you lose track of time?
  • CHALLENGES: When you look at your life, community, or world, what do wish were different?
  • PEOPLE: What types of people do you enjoy working with?

From there, we begin brainstorming short projects that could exist in the middle of those three circles. Within a short amount of time, the exercise leads to meaningful discussions about everything from creative endeavors, to summer internships, to new product ideas.

For example, I was recently talking with a student interested in doing a meaningful summer project during his last summer before graduation. We’ll call him Frank.

Throughout my conversation with Frank, we discovered he’s interested in financial literacy (challenge), he’s curious about producing podcasts (make), and he enjoys working with educators (people). So, this summer, Frank might create a pilot of a podcast with local economics teachers to discuss how financial systems work in layman terms.

That was just one of a dozen ideas that surfaced.

From a few to many

Conversations like this can seem exclusively for super-privileged people who have the time and resources to pontificate about their future. But learning through experience isn’t just for those with a lot of resources. It’s for everyone. I believe we can start by creating accessible tools, community, and a dose of permission, and then anyone can have access and exposure to transformative learning opportunities by designing projects of their own. They just need that starting point.

Recently, I began wondering about turning this activity into a deck of cards— a simple sorting tool that can help people pause and think about their next step with friends, classmates, and colleagues.

So a few friends and I got to work. We began with nothing more than an excel sheet. The first step was to list 25 well-known challenges, 25 things you could make, and 25 people you could work with.

 

The list focused on social challenges because we believe everyone has faced at least one of these issues and thought, “I wish that were different.” We wanted to take those big, hairy problems, and put them next to simple, meaningful things anyone could do in a short amount of time.

Let’s Get Physical

A quick visit to Amazon and I was swimming in decks of blank playing cards and an array of sharpies. The crew and I hand-wrote cards for each category: Challenge, Make, People, and then began guiding friends through a short sorting exercise.

What I’ve Been Learning

The first person to see the cards was my good friend Seamus Harte. Right away he noted that sorting through 25 cards at a time was too much. Seamus needed a constraint to warm up and get out of his head. So we decided the first step of the game should be to play a “lightning” round — drawing a few cards totally at random and quickly brainstorming fun or interesting projects with nothing but the cards you’ve drawn.

After that first test, the team and I decided to use the cards every chance we got. A few of the other lessons we learned over the past few months include:

  • The lightning round should be followed by a personal round where people can sort the rest of the deck into a 3×3 grid with their top words.
  • Include blank cards so players can write their own challenge, make, and people cards.
  • Add a time constraint (ie: 30 days) to the potential projects so people have a clearer vision of where they can begin and where they might land.
  • Once you choose a project worth doing, the final step could include sorting through a stack of Booster cards — things that help the players decide what they need right away to get started (ie: connections, time, skills, knowledge, money, etc).
Tests with college students, business leaders, and high school students

Designing the Cards

People have enjoyed the cards being hand-written. It made the deck approachable, especially when it came time for them to write their own cards. So, we’ve decided to include handwriting as part of the design. And thanks to my good friend Kelly Kaminski, her handwriting is plenty legible enough to make that motif work.

We also appreciated the size of traditional poker cards. They’re a familiar, no-frills medium that travels well and can be used in a number of settings.

One of the most challenging crossroads was deciding how much content to place on each card. Should I describe each word? Should we include photos? Icons? Etc.

Ultimately, we’ve decided to leave as much room for interpretation and imagination as possible. If a person interprets a word or topic differently than another person, that’s ok. In fact, it’s great!

Building Community (??)

During the early stages, players were curious about connecting with others who were interested in similar projects. So we’re considering various ways to build a community. And since 2020 is a Leap Year, we think there could be a fun 12-month campaign around the entire idea.

I don’t have a clear answer for how to bring everyone together. We’re testing a website, workshops/events, and downloadable tools to be used in classrooms and companies, etc. There’s more to explore here.

Thoughts?

We’re about to print our first prototype and, if all goes well, we’ll launch a Kickstarter campaign early summer—leave your name here if you’re interested in being notified about our launch and receiving more info about the download.

For today, I’m curious:

  • How would you use these cards? Do you see them primarily as a conversation starter? Or would you want resources to lead you all the way through the project you choose?
  • Would you be interested in connecting with other players? Through a website? In person? Another format?
  • Who do you think would most benefit from this exercise? High school students? Business leaders? Career shifters? Or is this moreso for people who lead teams/classes/groups etc?

Send me a message on Twitter or Instagram → @victorsaad.

Thanks to Zak Tracy.

posted by

Victor Saad

Founder

I’m an author, educator, and community builder living in Chicago. I started Experience Institute, an organization helping college students and career professionals learn and grow through short-term, real-world experiences.

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