Tuesday, 29 October 2013

What Pakistani Students Can Learn from Silicon Valley

Tayyeb Afridi

Fellow From Pakistan Discovers Silicon Valley Is A State-Of Min


D.School has innovative approach towards solution of problems. 


When I arrived as a Knight Fellow, I asked the staff, “Where is Silicon Valley?” I was expecting that it would be a building like the Stanford Shopping Center, with every tech company inside.

“Silicon Valley is more like a concept, driven by the spirit and curiosity to build new things,” I was told. From that moment, I really wanted to understand what that meant. Now, I was looking for two different things - to explore and experience these ideas.

But the picture was still incomplete until I had the good fortune to attend the Boot Camp at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the d.school. 

The d.school works on the design of ideas.  Normally, we think of a problem as a challenge to tackle, but here they think of a problem as an opportunity to creatively explore and come up with a solution - and that solution might be something that has never existed before. 

As a group, our challenge was to help a new female student at Stanford. Her parents wanted her to be as religious as she had been at home. They also wanted her to talk to them every day. Being a student, these two would be difficult for her. At first, we thought about the many existing social media websites that she could use - but that wouldn’t suit the parents who also wanted to have a complete record of her activity at the end of the year. 

We brainstormed by empathizing, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping, and finally testing a solution. We came up with the concept of a new app that would help her share every activity of the day with her parents through taking photographs. The parents would also send their picture stories back to her. 

The pictures that she took would be automatically added to a calendar, and at the end of the year, the app would create a single story of her year, like a family picture book, telling every moment of her time as a student. 

The values that we demonstrated as a group (spirit, curiosity, collaboration and finding solutions for real-world problems) told me that finally I had found Silicon Valley. These are the ideas and culture that have turned many students at Stanford into entrepreneurs, inventors and collaborators.  

Unfortunately these values don't exist in many universities in the developing world. My country, Pakistan, is no exception. I graduated in Journalism from the University of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, and I didn’t see any student follow these values. Some obvious reasons could be that the universities don’t encourage their students to be innovative, and that the students do not have the passion for such ideas.

Also, there is no space for immature ideas to breathe because many students have them, but they soon kill their ideas when they think of the resources they will need to make them real; they are scared by the amount of innovation that already exists elsewhere so they think there is nothing left for them to create, and in Pakistan, everyone is competing against each other, which makes it difficult for them to collaborate and increase productivity. 
  
But here at Stanford, students pursue their ideas regardless of the resources and the competitive marketplace by choosing to innovate and collaborate, and that is the beauty of Silicon Valley.