TSW* 21 – Sasha Neri

This Should Work* has crossed the 20 episodes mark with this fun interview: Sasha Neri of Harold Washington Library. Check it out!

Sasha Neri runs the Harold Washington Library Maker Lab in the Loop of Chicago, Illinois and runs Chicago’s yearly Maker Summit. This is the fourth and final part of our educational makerspaces series, and I’m happy to have Sasha on to talk about how makerspaces work in a library setting, and the benefits they have for the broader community of patrons that libraries serve.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Institutional Change and Process

As we spend the summer planning for the Idea Realization Lab, I’ve been reflecting on delivering value, processes, and how to go about systemic institutional change. I think I’m starting to notice some patterns between what we’re doing at DePaul, and other organizations that I’ve led to varying degrees of success/failure.

  1. Organization begins with a grain of an idea, but a degree of unknown value proposition. Organization spends ~ 1-2 years identifying value proposition while iterating on idea. I call this the “don’t let anything get set on fire phase.” This phase is marked by rapid iteration, ad hoc development of processes, institutional friction due to cultural differences, and a healthy dose of excitement and energy
  2. Organization discovers a grain of a value proposition, and has largely solidified the product. Organization must now create measurements (Key Performance Indicators) to realize the value proposition, processes to deliver on said measurements (strategies), and methods by which organizational leaders can track the tactical effects of said strategies. This phase is marked by seemingly bureaucratic (but important!) internal institutionalization + rapid growth and expansion of resources and the beginnings of an ability to effect institutional change. Pay attention to over-institutionalization, or you may lose what sparked the idea in the first place.
  3. Organization has now grown into its capabilities to effect change more broadly than its original zone of comfort. This could mean that the organization has the ability to change the culture of the larger institution it is part of, or that it has a wider effect on culture/society (see: Apple). Organizational culture becomes zeitgeist — it is consumed by the broader audience, and becomes part and parcel. This phase is marked by growth steadying and power solidification. Be wary of losing track of how you arrived at 1 and 2.

Based on the work we’re currently undertaking, I’d say that the IRL is at the beginning of phase 2. We are working on institutionalizing ourselves with the broader goal of effecting change at DePaul and in Chicago, and as a result, have begun to build the processes necessary to support that change. If that’s the case, we have about another couple years before we are able to realize 3.

After 3? I don’t know. Have never gotten beyond that.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Idea Realization Lab May Report

Big thanks to our (now ex-) student worker Fiona Baenziger for building this report (and congrats on graduating!).

Our numbers continue a trend toward growth. Excited to see where they go next year!

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus


I’ve been reading the book Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt on the recommendation of my friend Rudy. A few things in the book have already directly translated into time savings for me, so I thought I’d recommend them here.

  1. A freedom Compass worksheet. The compass is split into four vectors where you outline what you’re passionate and proficient at, and figure out how to delegate the rest. This sits right next to me on my desk at DePaul now to remind me what the highest leverage things are for me, and what things I should let go of.
  2. A “not-to-do” list. A list like this had never occurred to me, but it’s such a simple and effective tool. List the tasks, meetings, relationships, and opportunities that always come up for you, soak up a lot of your time, and provide little to no return. This list also sits next to me at my desk, as I’m particularly prone to pursuing opportunities beyond their usefulness.

Both of these tools (along with the task filter that contributes to the compass) can be found at Hyatt’s website.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Setting Goals

Setting our yearly goals for the Idea Realization Lab and Idea Realization Lab 2 for AY 19/20.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

SPIME (I’m now assembling PCBs)

Astute Thotcon badge observers may have noticed a “Made with SPIME” imprint on the back of this year’s badge. This wasn’t just a hint to a puzzle, but to a new project that my creative partner Rudy Ristich and I have been working on. The name SPIME is inspired by Bruce Sterling’s moniker for objects that contain more than their material qualities through attachments to information in “the cloud.”

For Rudy and I, SPIME is an endeavor that leads us into some exciting territory. While we’ve been developing conference badges for a while now, we’ve never actually gotten as close to the production of them as we’d like. After the board is initially designed and we’ve worked with the fabrication and assembly folks to get them built, the work is handed off and presto, a few weeks later, our objects are complete.

So last year, in the never-ending quest to get closer to the point of creation, we decided to buy an SMT (surface-mount technology) line so that we could begin assembling small batch runs of boards for our work and the work of our friends. Thus, SPIME was born.

Our goal is to help folks relatively new to the PCB development process get their boards into production as painlessly as possible. This ranges from people who also create their own conference badges to companies and individuals prototyping or putting together small runs of product.

At the very least, this will be an interesting experiment that allows us to help a few friends out and to scratch an itch that we both have. But who knows? If you’ve got a project that could use some help and fits the bill, check out our website and send us an assembly request.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

New Episode of TSW* with Jeff Solin of Lane Tech!

Jeff Solin is an educator, makerspace administrator, and all around good-guy at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. This is the third part in This Should Work’s* series on educational makerspaces, and I’m really grateful that Jeff joined the podcast to talk about the way he thinks about educating students in makerspaces and fostering a supportive educational makerspace environment.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

IRL2 Building Up, pt. 3 (and Forge Network)

One of the problems I identified early on in the process of developing IRL2 is the abundance of siloed “making spaces” around the DePaul campus. Now that we have the IRL (in our Loop campus) and IRL2 (in our Lincoln Park campus), why not use those two spaces as hubs to network these additional spaces together and open access to all students?

Thus, the idea of the Forge Network at DePaul was developed. Still in its early planning phases, and quite far from gaining widespread approval, the Forge Network aims to connect “students, faculty, and staff with fabrication and making resources across the University through a networked system to increase accessibility, improve return on investment, and to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

The ultimate goal is that, as an incoming DePaul student, one will receive their student ID and, thus, a passport to multiple spaces on campus where you can make things and gain exposure to multi-disciplinary learning. From greenhouses, to physics labs, to printing facilities, students from across Depaul will have the opportunity to share and learn from each other, and work on ideas together. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in a world where both learning and professions have become highly specialized, it is a rather novel concept to work across disciplines (I have seen this in much of my professional practice work outside of DePaul as well).

Not to mention we’re doing this at a liberal arts institution!

Right now the Forge Network is in its infancy, and we’re still unsure what direction it will take. In the coming months, I hope to provide a fourth update to this series where we go more in-depth to what that plan looks like, and how we came up with a framework to develop this at DePaul. In the meantime (and if you’re looking for what a network like this could look like once implemented), I’d check out MIT’s Project Manus, one of the inspirations for our project at DePaul.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Quark and the Jaguar

On the importance of both fundamentally understanding how a thing works, and also taking a “top-down” approach to thinking:

In addition to favoring, as a general rule, the bottom-up method of building staircases between disciplines — from the more fundamental and explanatory toward the less fundamental — I would, in many cases (not just that of psychology), encourage a top-down approach as well. Such an approach begins with the identification of important regularities at the less fundamental level and defers until later understanding of the underlying, more fundamental mechanisms.

Murray Gell-Mann, Quark and the Jaguar

Reading this was a revelation. It’s the first time I’ve clearly understood the differences in practice that I have with some of my colleagues — that is, a difference in the approach toward thinking. I am a top-down thinker: define the problem space, then whittle things downward. As Gell-Mann enumerates here, there is another, more reductionist approach that looks at the fundamentals, then works its way up. The former is more mechanistic, and the latter more explanatory in nature.

Both are valid ways of thinking, and it’s important to note that they can complement each other. Yet many times, we come to loggerheads not because of a disagreement in substance, but instead a disagreement in approach.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

ID 101, Metaphysics of Objects

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching DePaul’s first Industrial Design course, ID 101, Metaphysics of Objects beginning Fall term. A description of the course:

This course introduces the theory of the perception of objects, and how objects perceive each other, through the lens of object oriented ontology. Through lectures and projects, students will create objects and evaluate the influences of tools, materials, and thought on the development of things. Students will learn how to choose the appropriate tools and materials for specific design contexts, and be introduced to the theories behind speculative realism and object oriented ontology.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus