Forget politics. Talk about something that may invoke gratitude and nostalgia with your family this Thanksgiving weekend instead of frustration.
According to a recent survey by Capital Senior Living, 36% of “Baby Boomers” feel unprepared to start caring for their parents. This number is expected to rise in the coming years, as people are living longer and having children later in life.
The uncomfortable ‘role-reversal’ conversation may seem distressing at first, but the consequences of not having it can be far more challenging in the long-run. If framed as a check-in not calling for confrontation, it can actually feel cathartic.
If you haven’t yet had the “The Talk” with your parents, here are some starter conversation topics for the Thanksgiving Table:
1. “Where do you want to retire?”This is a non-invasive way to get your loved ones to start talking about where they envision themselves in the future. Keep it light. Ask about what kind of climate they find suitable and how important it is to remain close to friends and family. It’s designed as an icebreaker to get them comfortable by visualizing the years ahead.
2. “What kind of home do you want to live in?”While most seniors prefer to age at-home because they value familiarity and independence, others prefer the convenience of additional support they might find in senior communities. Having them clarify the residence they foresee may even spark a philosophical discussion on what “home” feels like to them.
3. ”Do you feel prepared for the years ahead?”Americans are increasingly choosing to retire later. Some make the choice because they want to continue working, while others have to keep working to make retiring financially-feasible. Asking whether they feel prepared for the years ahead could unearth positive sentiments towards areas they feel like they have fully-covered. For example, they may disclose some of their existing savings, investments, or insurance premiums that make them feel confident they have some of at least some components of their plan in place.
4. “Do you have any concerns about the future?”This segue is meant to start directing the conversation towards some of the more challenging topics, including financial worries, health problems, and inevitably, death. If they don’t already, it might also be a good time to ask if they’ve completed their Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and other critical legal documents.
5. How do you want to go someday?A study published last year uncovered that only about one in three have any type of “Advanced Directives” in-place, which spell out your loved one's wishes in the event of incapacitation or terminal illness. During a difficult situation, the last order any family member wants to make is one that goes against their loved one’s preferences. As such, it is essential to have the document, but it can only be drafted if your parent’s desires are known.
Bonus: “How do you want to be remembered?”Over the past couple years, there was a trend emerging in South Korea that facilitated mock funeral services. While asking your parents to lay in their coffin is certainly an unnecessarily provocative Thanksgiving faux pas, getting them to reflect on their lives and helping them come to terms with their unavoidable passing might bring solace. As stated in Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, one of those is possessing the courage to express their feelings. If framed positively, this could serve as an empowering moment and help them express their gratitude in areas you or they had previously taken for granted.
Although these are difficult conversations to have, they are likely easier than the ones, say, about the Midterm Elections. And unlike talking politics at the dinner table, these conversations won’t be destructive to your family’s long-term happiness. Happy Thanksgiving!
In 2014, I saw Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speak in downtown Las Vegas. Of all he said, what stuck with me most was his notion of ‘collisionable hours,’ in other words: hours spent colliding with people sharing ideas. He conjectured that transplanting people in different communities has the potential to improve them by introducing diversity-in-thought and fresh ideas. I always thought the theory was interesting, but I never really experienced it much in-practice until Cornell Tech built and opened its doors to its new campus on Roosevelt Island.
Universities all around the world structure curriculums to enhance potential for interdisciplinary interactions; it’s quite possibly one of the best arguments one could have to go to college nowadays. It’s also why most institutions require math, science, and humanities general education requirements (among others) to graduate. Cornell Tech, however, was methodically designed to maximize those opportunities.
As a graduate student in the health tech program at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, I’m surrounded by masters students pursuing their MBAs, law masters, and technical degrees like computer science, operations research, and electrical engineering. Enrollment this year was at approximately 250 masters students, and I’m amazed everyday how the campus was designed to improve the probability of collisions.
Take, for instance, one of the days I recently experienced:
Though it’s not necessarily representative of my everyday, it really does highlight that I’m surrounded by a culture that is supportive, generous, and agile. As such, I’ve identified a couple patterns I believe enhance opportunities for catalyzing these interactions in other environments as well:
1. Create spaces that cultivate interactions
There should always be opportunities to meet people you don’t everyday and have cross-function topics of discussion. WeWork has championed this originally through co-working space, but they continue to push these boundaries with other ventures like co-living through WeLive.
Cornell Tech also designed its campus for maximal interaction. Through communal spaces with open-floor plans, students also reap the benefit of every faculty department being housed in the same building. Gabe Ruttner, a friend who started the company Ursa out of Cornell Tech, told me many of his early business development relationships have been sparked by introductions to campus visitors. He recently said to me: “This place is a community in its truest sense. The environment offers much more than just a set of desks.”
2. Design structured interactions between people of different backgrounds
Organizations and businesses should strive for different departments to collaborate on projects together; bringing these varying perspectives will undoubtedly yield inventive thinking.
One of the ways they do this at Cornell Tech is through required experiences like the Studio Curriculum, but there’s also potential to take classes with students in other programs: in fact, it’s recommended we take courses in other departments. In addition to learning in conjunction with business, engineering, and law students, I also had the opportunity to work with them on projects. We have monthly scrums where we pitch our projects to other Studio teams and ask for their candid, critical feedback; we’re also sure to leave our feelings at the door.
3. Create open communication channels
Create communities that are constantly open to helping each other out, and always ask people, “what’s your biggest challenge right now?” to determine how you can be most helpful. Try to get buy-in from everyone in the ecosystem, regardless of their seniority.
Use platforms like Slack, GroupMe, and groups on WhatsApp. They’re faster than e-mail, and they really let you take advantage of the Network Effect. It may seem counterintuitive, but it actually saves you hours from needing to schedule lengthy meetings to get everyone communicating. This does not, obviously, replace face-to-face meetings; it just reduces their frequency and duration. Another one of our practices is to bring everyone together for a targeted Town Hall. We do these monthly as a student body, but they also occur with specialized topics like student life with our Dean Dan Huttenlocher or program directors to discuss the curriculum. No matter what, aim to involve all leaders from every area and level.
Cornell Tech also recently allowed me to ‘take-over’ their Instagram stories for a day as an individual student. My mention as a health tech student prompted a Roosevelt Island resident to reach out and propose a way we could work together. By allowing me to officially represent Cornell Tech, I was able to more seriously engage with residents in a more personal way I couldn’t on my own.
4. Get everyone on the same page
Find ways people can go through a shared experience. A student recently told me his favorite aspect of Cornell Tech is our Sprints. Sprints were inspired from Jake Knapp’s book Sprint and take place monthly for us. It’s a block of time where there are no classes and we commit to a 24-hour work block (except the time we’re sleeping) with our multidisciplinary teams. It’s also certainly when we get the most done.
Companies could also similarly benefit from asking their employees to wholly commit to developing and prototyping an idea for a week by starting with the simple question, “how might we…?”
5. Don’t forget to get out of your bubble
Though much of the time I spent in graduate school is with fellow students, one of the most refreshing aspects of being a part of the Roosevelt Island community is my participation with local organizations: the school, senior center, and art gallery to name a few.
I even took a course that encouraged us to observe a local organization and work with them to create a technology or design a service project to address one of their challenges. We initially strove for intra-organizational impact but quickly realized we should also have inter-organizational forums to unite their respective leaders and again elevate the Network Effect.
That is what Cornell Tech intended when it won the NYC Tech Campus bid in 2011. Its aim was not to solely have an identity as a “Campus of the Digital Age”, but also one with a deep connection and commitment to serve its local inhabitants. Transplanting a bunch of academics on a narrow island will surely shift its dynamics, and ideally they maximize positive collisions and therefore serendipity.
What’d I miss?
This is definitely not a comprehensive guide to fostering a collisionable environment but hopefully it’s a helpful start. Maybe someday we can all harness that energy from water cooler talk and direct that to an idea or action you wouldn’t come up with on your own. But then again, perhaps we really DO want to have that conversation to determine once-and-for-all if that dress is truly white and gold or blue and black.
A version of this post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
I don’t know how many hundreds of technology challenges I’ve heard from doctors over the years. Among those, having the sufficient data they need to tailor individualized treatment plans and to prevent delayed diagnosis are among pain points most frequently mentioned.
Last May, Health Tech Masters Students at Cornell Tech and Emergency Medicine residents at NY-Presbyterian aimed to bridge the gap between technologists and clinicians by hosting a first-ever conference of its kind: one that emphasizes the use of mobile devices to conduct medical research.
The ResearchSuite Conference, organized by chief emergency medicine resident Mark Shankar, took place at NY-Presbytarian Hospital in New York City and brought together over 50 physicians and engineers passionate about the emergence of mobile health for medical research studies. The gathering explored the use of ResearchSuite in this collaboration, referring to the suite of tools available to create applications for medical research. This includes frameworks like Apple’s ResearchKit and ResearchStack, whose development was led by Cornell Tech Professor Deborah Estrin to create Android applications that serve a similar purpose.
Estrin, who provided the keynote address at the conference, also shared her excitement about the collaboration. During the opening preliminary, she described her personal experience as discussed in her TEDMED talk all the hurdles she faced attempting to gather data about her ill father before the end of his life that led to her renewed interest into mobile health.
After learning about smartphones and wearables data gathering capabilities from students at Cornell Tech, resident physicians matched with technologists to create research studies for a few areas that relate to the patient populations the clinicians frequently see: Congestive Heart Failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and Pneumonia. Groups then formed frameworks for studies using the PICO method: identifying the patient population, intervention, control, and outcome of how a mobile research study could be generated.
It was a first stride towards a partnership between our organizations we hope endures and thrives. Interdisciplinary teamwork to solve challenging tech problems is fundamental to Cornell Tech’s Studio Curriculum, and many of us hope to become ambassadors to spread this way of thinking as discussed in our required reading for Studio: Sprint. All in attendance were thrilled that engineers and subject matter experts could come together to create meaningful outcomes in just a couple hours. In the end, I’m confident and hopeful to see other similar synergies between technologists and clinicians in the future.
You can view my slides from the conference here.
A version of this post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
As part of my graduate curriculum at Cornell Tech, we were tasked to get our hands dirty. Dirty, as in, speak directly to our customers for some critical, unfiltered feedback before we got too far into product development. The reality of the matter is: the truth is seldom squeaky clean. In fact for us, this time it was far from it.
We spent last week on Roosevelt Island, future home of the Cornell Tech campus, at the Carter Burden Center of Aging to experiment voice-activated technologies with seniors to test the following idea: “How might we provide consumers more control of their health data?”
Any data collected would reside with the consumer, rather than electronic health records that patients rarely access these days.
After testing our technologies, we expected rave reviews but were floored when we heard comments like this one:
“I don’t need this in my home.”My first thought when we received the less-than-stellar feedback was of course:“What do you mean you don’t need this? We just spent a couple months building this thing for you!”
But don’t worry, I didn’t say it.
You’ve probably heard before, and you’re about to hear again: build em’ something they need. But here’s something you probably haven’t heard:
Test your tech product with someone that doesn’t even use tech.
Some of our participants had never swiped on a smartphone before, let alone written an email. What did this enable exactly?
The authenticity that connects the user to technology.
Rather than asking about the product in its traditional use cases like most customers were, participants at the Center of Aging were requiring us to unlearn everything we had held to be absolute truths about our product in order to answer their questions. Questions that, to us, seemed obvious like:
In that process, one of the most illuminating questions we asked them was the following:
“What did our device not ask you that you would have liked to have been asked? Though we tested with other variations of the aforementioned phrase, that one allowed us to get most directly to the mind’s of our users.
From this surprising, and somewhat disappointing experience, we learned: when going through the product development process, consider getting your product it in front of a total newbie. In other words, not only someone that has never interacted with your technology before, but rather someone that has never interacted with technology, period.
One of our users didn’t even have any contacts programmed into her cell phone. Rather, she carried a list of names and numbers in her purse incase she needed one for reference.
The benefits this kind of testing are two-fold:
First, it rids the user from intended use, eliminating any biases that may exist. And second, more importantly, you’ll find yourself getting to your “lowest technology denominator” that will undoubtedly optimize your user experience for others.
The process we followed to extract knowledge from our users was the following:
This was largely because when you are asking people to provide you with their feedback, they typically default to their critical feedback vs. sticking to constructive comments.
In all, we learned more from our experimental users than months of hypothesizing how potential users would interact with our product.
Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you don’t know.” If we were to construct a corollary from our experience, it would be: the less (your users) know, the more you’ll know as a technologist.
Test often, test widely, but most importantly, test with a newbie.