Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Mentors Perspective - Imagine Cup NZ 2013 Innovation Category Winner

Winning the Imagine Cup NZ Innovation Category 2013- A Mentors Perspective

Last night I had one of those ultra-proud moments. I don't have children, but that moment when the name of the Imagine Cup Team I have mentored for the past 3 months got called as the winner, I actually heard myself squeal like a little girl!  I was so proud of the team and what they have achieved to win their category. I do have to admit I was equally excited to see Sam 'The TV One  Weatherman' and Microsoft NZ MD Paul Muckleston presenting them with their awards and the $6,000 cash they deserve.  Just a shame Shawnee was in hospital and could not be with the team to share in the success on the night.

This team have truly triumphed in the face of adversity.  During the process, the team leader, Brian's wife was very sick in hospital for a long period of the competition, meaning he was studying, looking after the kids and trying to work on the competition.
1 week before the final, the graphics designer broke her ankle at a Roller Derby and was Skyped in from hospital for the judging round.  Then on the Saturday, Marcel, one of the developers was driving up from Hamilton and his car literally blew up on the Bombay hills leaving an Oil slick behind them, which meant they missed their practice time.  To make matters worse, at about 7pm on Saturday night, one of the team accidentally broke one of the rarest cables around needed to project from their Surface RT to the projector for the judging round.  I truly congratulate Team Cold with My Storyteller.  They have done an amazing job and really pushed through cool, clam and collected with all of the things thrown at them during this contest.

This team has really had it thrown at them.  As a mentor I have thoroughly enjoyed supporting this team through these ups and downs and just being their for them....even at 10.30pm on a Saturday night in our boardroom going over and over the presentation!
My leadership mentor tells me I do my best work in my creative rather than analytical mind.

I have found using my leadership abilities with this team challenging and rewarding.  Seeing these students from The University of Waikato win the Innovation category last night re-affirmed to me that it really is possible to be creative and innovative, no matter what is thrown at you.

So what did they create?  A very cool application that is designed to bring parents and children together through the art of StoryTelling.  The team built a Windows 8 Application which runs on a Surface touch device and allows the storyteller to be web cam recorded telling a story.  The graphics of the story show and the person reads along with the words presented to them.  This application also allows the parent to customise the story with the child's name, gender and relationship to the child and these attributes are also embedded into the story.

The application is a global application with a wide market.  They have also created graphics allowing the parent or caregiver to customise skin-tone, eye colour and hair-colour.

The thing that I have most admired about this team is something we should all take note of.  Hear are the winning traits as I see them:-

1/ They each knew their unique roles in the team and the responsibilities of each member
(ie.  2 developers, 1 project manager, 1 graphics designer- create the application, work on the management of task and create the graphical interface)

2/ They had a clear and strong leader
(yes Brian- you were a brilliant leader- and it showed!)

3/ They had a clear vision and goal of what it was they wanted to achieve AND they all believed in it.

4/ When the going got tough, the team got tougher
(When their car broke down on the Bombays, they just kept practicing their presentation to passing cars, the objective being to get toots from trucks!)  They did not worry about what people thought, it was more about optimising the time they had to prefect and achieve their goal.

5/ They were willing to seek out, listen to and take external advice from their mentor and others
This team actually knew the value of external input.  I admired them immensely for this.  They were not proud, they just wanted so badly to succeed.  Its so important to know you can only be the best you can be by listening to others and perfecting yourself.

6/ They were open to different perspectives on what they were doing
Keeping the door open and not shutting out new ideas is critical to business and team success- are we really listening to those other perspectives or is it more "I hear you, but I'm not listening?

7/ Constructive criticism was part of the process and not only did they ask for it directly, they embraced it when they got it
(They even asked me directly for this as a mentor and also watched themselves on video during their practice presentations, they wanted feedback and were not afraid to ask for it when they wanted it)

8/ They had passion and it showed in everything they did- whether they were being judged or not

9/ Even when they thought they might not make it, they still kept going, knowing their might still be a chance- no matter how small the odds were

10/ They used innovation and creativity to bind the team together as the under-lying and fundamental principal.

If there is one thing I can finish with, it is taking a leaf out of this teams book.  I was such a small part as their mentor in what they did- simply being there when they needed me and giving advice and feedback when asked and using my toolkit of skills to help where they were weak and I was stronger.

Congratulations Team Cold- you will always be winners in my eyes and I will never forget the experience you have given me as your mentor- I feel privileged to work with you all and the lets try and get you to Russia as a category winner- first meeting after Easter!!!

Enjoy your time in the spot-light team- you deserve it!