Blog #5


In the seminar on the 18th we learned about design processes. We learned about how engineers tend to think of things more methodically and thus less creatively than “designers”. I don’t really think that this stereotype would apply to me. I like to think that I am very flexible when it comes to ideas and adapting thoughts that I have previously had. However, carefully documenting all our work in the mushroom making process is very important to me. The reason for this is because I would want to know what steps to tinker with. So while I think I would find it very easy to start fresh and adapt new ideas I would never do so without a reason, without there being a variable that I would want to test. I like to work with my hands and jump into projects quickly. The quicker the start the better. However, I really have a thing against being told what to do. Even with simple menial labor I need to know the end goal or the purpose of what I am doing. I feel this makes me a more effective worker. This carries through to how I will expect to work with others in Sierra Leone.

I plan on validating my teams concept model through what I mentioned above. It is extremely important to me that we know exactly why what we are doing is working (or isn’t working). If we know the direct causes of success or failure and why they lead to that we should be able to justify anything we do. For example if we are telling people that they have to use sorghum grain to grow their mushrooms then I want there to be reason behind that. That it is the best grain for the purposes we need it to fulfill. I think this will help our team become the most effective it can be. If we question why we are doing things it will give us a better understanding of our project.

I hope that this will foster trust between my team and the communities we work in. I don’t want the people we work with to feel like our students. They are our partners. I don’t want to give them a list of instructions and send them out on their own. I think it would be far more productive for both sides to our team to teach them what we do and more importantly why we do it. This way our partners can understand why we chose the model and now feel the need to alter it ( maybe for the worse) without us. It will also enable them to teach others if we are able to communicate effectively enough. Not to mention if people know why they are doing something it makes them better, and more effective at doing it. This is my personal philosophy at least. If we tell a farmer in Sierra Leone that sorghum grain is the best at spawning mushrooms in because we have found that it dries the quickest and this farmer knows of a grain that dries even quicker than sorghum then we are all the better for it. If we simply have them sorghum grain without any extra information the project would never be improved.


Snow Day Blog #4

I’d like to offer an alternate title to my blog. I think an equally appropriate name would be “Humanity < Termite Swarm intelligence”.  This was a note I made after watching the Ted Talk on biomimiciry, while I might have been exaggerating a little bit depending on the context of the situation looking back it’s an interesting thing to consider. In the context of my mushroom venture this week my team and I have been contacting experts in the field and asking their advice on how to best grow mushrooms because we have had some difficulty in the past and are looking to improve our process. But who is the real expert in this mushroom growing area? It isn’t a human, its the mushrooms themselves and the area they they evolved to grow in. In this most basic sense we can use nature as a model or mentor to grow mushrooms after all nature is where they are made to grow. I think if we can mimic nature in our process it should not only help the success of the project but the simplification of the process. Another aspect of our project that nature can help us model is the temperature aspect. There are many ways that all kinds of different life forms use to keep themselves warm or cold. If the mushrooms we produce need to be grown at a lower temperatures we could study the adaptations of plants and animals in hot climates keep themselves cool. On the flip side mushrooms once grown are very sensitive and we should also try and look to nature as a model to store and transport the mushrooms in the most effective way.

“Optimize rather than Maximize”

The article titled “Life’s Principles as a Framework for
Designing Successful Social Enterprises” talks about optimizing your venture rather than maximizing it. They give examples like designing a stethoscope to be affordable and rugged rather than as precise as possible. The section is about creating the most cohesive venture possible instead of simply creating the greatest output of product. In regards to my own project I interpreted this to mean don’t solely focus on outputting mushrooms think of the venture in a more holistic way. The entire process should be efficient and effective where every aspect can have a purpose and not be seen as waste. In accomplishing this and optimizing your venture the system as a whole will be better.

This idea of optimize rather than maximize is similar in meaning to the phrase “cradle to cradle”. The idea is to stop the consumer-centric model we have of ventures (cradled to grave) and do something more sustainable. This wasn’t something I thought about when thinking about mushroom production in Sierra Leone. To be honest I am more worried about getting the supplies in the first place than what happens to them after they’ve been used. However, the idea of creating something truly sustainable, zero waste, is exciting and while maybe not achievable in one semester of work it is something every venture should strive for and something I will pay more attention to throughout the process of our venture.

Interesting Alien Facts

  1. A friend approached me about the idea that gay culture is what has been keeping surrealism alive. It went dead after WWII and was kept alive in secret.
    1. This is alien to me because I barely know what surrealism is much less how it is impacted by war and the safety of the nuclear family.
  2. Someones job is Georgia (and maybe other states too) is to count butterflies because if you can prove that they are decreasing as a rapid enough rate then you can automatically make the land being surveyed a protected park.
    1. Honestly, this is such good news. I was excited to hear this because its important to keep lots of land protected in america, but I also had no idea that people wrote laws dictated by butterfly population.
  3. Another concept that I recently discovered (believe it or not) was delivery food. I suppose I have never lived anywhere urban enough to have food delivered right to your door but a few nights ago when my friends called for Chinese food and a half and hour later it showed up I discovered the magic.  I think I knew in the back of my mind from movies and TV shows that this concept existed but I had never heard of anyone I knew ever doing it so it felt unreal until I experienced it first hand.

Presentation Seminar – Blog #3

  1. Describe the five major stakeholders for your project and their motivations

Stake holders for the Mushroom Project (which definitely needs a cooler name) include: Khanjan Mheta our adviser, the team of students including myself working on the project, possible MPS owners in Sierra Leone, The World Hope organization who are our partners on the ground, and project founders namely Lehigh University. The motivations of the stake holders differ depending on which side of the  project they are on. Khanjan Mheta and the team of students are motivated by the fact that we own the project and have goals in mind that we want our project accomplish to help people, and also impress our other stakeholders. Our funders and supporters like Lehigh University have similar motivations to our team but they exists more in the background. They give us money to accomplish a project that they believe will be successful, and it is our teams job to make it successful and the meet the expectations that made them feel our venture was worth investing in. On the other side of the spectrum the possible MPS owners are simply economically motivated. They want the product that we sell them to grow successfully and be marketable and they support our project because it will be economically beneficial for them.  The World Hope Organization’s motivation comes from the fact that this is what their organization does. They are in Sierra Leone to do humanitarian work.  Though all the stake holders had slightly different reasons they entered the venture we are now all in it together to make sure that it succeeds and accomplishes all its goals. This leads me to the next prompt….

  1. Describe three ways in which you will validate your project and enhance your credibility over the course of the semester.

The main way that I personally want to validate my project is by learning everything there is to know about mushrooms. The project shouldn’t fail because my team and I didn’t do enough research enough to know enough about mushrooms to make them grow. The second step of course would be to produce positive results, that is have a reliable way to turn plugs into mushrooms. Just accomplishing this seemingly tiny step would really give the venture the momentum it needs to take off. Once we have the mushrooms the rest of the venture will seem more like ironing out wrinkles than (not to mix metaphor’s too much) climbing mountains.

Once we have the momentum of being able to produce results it is important to me that we optimize all aspects of our project to make it as successful as possible in Sierra Leone. A worry I have is temperature at materials. I want to get the least expensive and most available materials we can while still allowing mushrooms to easily grow in the hot environment we will encounter in Sierra Leone.  It’s important to me that whatever solution my team and I find for the mushroom growing problem that we understand it enough to translate it effectively to Sierra Leone and make the process as smooth and seamless as we can.

To this end I think that writing down each step of our process will be very important. Knowing what works and what doesn’t and more importantly WHY will be essential to teaching others in Sierra Leone about our processes and why we grow mushrooms the way that we do. If we can educate others on our work they will not only be able to mimic what we do and have success but I would imagine that while we know more about mushrooms those we will be working with will know more about Sierra Leone and if we can combine these two fields of expertise we should have a very successful venture; and that is my goal.

On top of helping others I think researching, growing, and writing down our process, will enhance the credibility of our group. We will have to prove to others that we have accomplished something and beyond the physical proof of the mushrooms that I aim to grow I want to be able to instruct others about how to get there. Our end result of marketable mushrooms won’t be through dumb luck, our venture will be documented and precise which will help optimize our results throughout all aspects of the project.

Mountain Top Reflection – Blog #2

Cultural differences between the United States and Sierra Leone:

My project revolves around growing mushrooms in Sierra Leone. In the past seminar we learned about possible cultural differences that have the potential to impact our ventures: like gender, race, identity, existing cultural norms, politics and technology.  Though our mushroom growing group will not have as many cultural issues as perhaps the motherhood group simple because our project is less sensitive by nature, we still need to be aware of any cultural issues we may encounter in country. Even just a few moments of forethought can save your venture hours and hours of work in country.

A cultural difference that Sierra Leone has with the United States is that their culture is not as familiar with mushrooms as our culture is. This will affect how difficult it is for our group to explain mushroom production and also the potential market for the mushrooms.  While I don’t think this cultural difference needs to be directly addressed or solved by my group it is something we need to be aware of while we plan out how to best educated people about our ventures.

While I don’t think race exactly will present an issue for my team, there is no denying that being white instantly makes you appear to be a foreigner in Sierra Leone. In my experience traveling abroad, being seen as foreign makes people more likely to take advantage of you because you are most likely not comfortable where you are. This could affect aspects of our project like buying materials and things of that nature, however, if my team is aware of this aspect of our project it shouldn’t be an issue.

Along this line of thinking, the technology and concept of time in Sierra Leone is something I believe we will also have to be aware of when working. In the US things are very “go-go-go” and “don’t be late” all the time, and being used to that, my team and I will have to be aware that this isn’t the case in Sierra Leone. Time estimates will not mean the same thing they do here. On top of this we have to be conscious of the difference in materials. The group that went last summer just assumed that mason jars were a universal commodity.

I’ve never experienced these issues at home because they stem from cultural issues but I did experience issues like this in my travels to the Dominican Republic. Especially the concept of time was a huge issues when we ordered materials to build a house and they didn’t show up until after we were on a plane back to the US.  However, we learned to work around this and that getting local people who understand the culture and the way things work is a valuable thing to do.

A cultural practice that can be leveraged to address a market problem we have is the style of market itself. Because of how sensitive mushrooms are, loading them into a truck and driving them for hours to be put on a shelf at a grocery store is an expensive and complicated process. Alternatively local open air markets that are common in Sierra Leone make transporting and selling mushrooms much easier and cheaper. The seminar also mentioned the difference between a grease payment and a bribe which is important if we need to put a rush on any aspects of our project and is definitely something we could use  to our advantage.

The African context for our project does present issues that we wouldn’t necessarily encounter in the United States. Some of these issues are mentioned in the above segments of my blog; for example, resources will be different, concept of time, and dealing with language barriers.  Something else to be aware of was brought up during the presentation is that if you don’t really understand the culture you can encounter problems with “sticky information” or your project failing for reasons you couldn’t have foreseen. In the seminar on Mountain Top examples like treadle pumps, only having power windows in the front of a car, growing short corn, and coca-cola advertising in the middle east all showed projects failing for various reasons that weren’t predicted by the team.

While the African context gives my team more to think about, it also provides different resources than the American context. I think that their lack of mushroom supply provides us with a great opportunity to fill an empty space in the market with few competitors. While the materials available in Sierra Leone are different than here in the United States, they are cheaper. Labor is also abundant.