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Productive Struggle for Consistency

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We first heard the term "productive struggle" at a Fab Lab symposium a few years ago. The term represents the idea that some tasks are not easy to accomplish in a few simple steps. Some tasks force us to venture into unknown territory, learning as we go, making mistakes large and small along the way. People with a growth mindset understand that struggling with mistakes and setbacks are productive in accomplishing these tasks. People with a fixed mindset give up when things become difficult and often are not willing to try anything new for fear of failure. 

Experimentation and Learning from Mistakes 

The magic of working in a Fab Lab is that the work is nearly all based on experimentation and learning from mistakes, developing a growth mindset as we go. The growth mindset is like a muscle, the more we use it the more it grows and over time we become willing to take on more daunting tasks. If we don't use a growth mindset, our mindset atrophies, reverting back to fixed and we can get to the point of not wanting to try anything new. 

Operating Fab Lab ICC as a Business 

As we strive to operate Fab Lab ICC as a business, we foster an environment in which experimentation and learning from mistakes, i.e. productive struggle, is celebrated as one of the best methods of learning. In a sense, the whole operation of Fab Lab ICC has been an experiment since our opening on October 1, 2014. Nobody has a text book titled "Fab Lab Operation 101" and it wouldn't be effective anyway since community and academic needs vary and Fab Lab operation is just simply not a one-size-fits-all situation. 

A Need for Consistency 

Like other businesses, our members and constituents want a certain consistency in the Fab Lab experience. They want a stable schedule, knowing when they can come in to do their work. They want consistent instruction and "how-to" knowledge from whoever happens to be working, whether it's the paid staff members, student work-studies or one of our great volunteers. They want the machines to work properly and the Lab to be well stocked with the supplies they need. They want all this to be organized in a space that's easy to maneuver with the tools they need close by. They want consistency. Therein lays our challenge and our own productive struggle, figuring out how to provide all of these things while experiencing accelerated growth in the number of people that use the Lab on a daily basis. 

Consistency Amid Experimentation  

Even as we continue to provide the environment of experimentation that makes a Fab Lab such a good learning tool, we're embarking on a renewed campaign to add consistency to the operation of the lab. Manager Tim Haynes has taken on the task of organizing an operations manual, "Here's how we do things here." This will include "How To" documents and videos to help members in learning to use our wider variety of equipment. We'll develop an organization chart, defining who has what roles. There are only three of us full time staff members so our names will be repeated several times through the chart. Such is the nature of a Fab Lab, short of staff in order to keep membership fees low and affordable to many. 

In a world of chaos and uncertainty, people want a level of consistency and quality in the companies and organizations with which they interact. Companies and Fab Labs that survive will be those that strive to provide consistency and quality while celebrating the successes and mistakes along the way; productive struggle. 

Join Us for Our Groundbreaking on April 18 

We know that adding more space will help us organize our tools, educational and work areas to better serve. To that end, the ground breaking ceremony for our new 6,400 square foot expansion building will be on April 18, at 11:30. We'll combine the ceremony with a lunch-time open house from 12:00 to 1:00. If you can break away from your daily activity for a few minutes, we'd love to have you join us for this milestone occasion in our growth. We'll provide snacks and refreshments. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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