Life’s Too Short to Build Something Nobody Wants.

I see this quote and my heart leaps and my mind jumps for joy and I’m feeling YES YES YES!!! We spend so much time in this world planning and building things that don’t meet a real need and don’t have the impact we want. If we want to change the world, we need to learn new ways of working. In this vein, I’m feeling very inspired by a recent (and ongoing) exploration with prototyping. As I am still struggling to explain it eloquently, I asked wikipedia to help me out: “A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming.”

In some ways I’ve found it easier to think about prototyping as NOT planning; as an opportunity to unlearn ineffective practices. This slide below came from a prototyping group I had the opportunity to take part in through FoodARC‘s Make Food Matter Campaign. Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 2.27.42 PM

Feeling excited about trying something new, my modus operandi, I jumped into a project idea to create a social media strategy for the Our Food Project, as communicating effectively about food security is a challenge for many of us. (1st lesson, ditch the term food security). We used a Lean canvas to lay out the idea:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 3.13.55 PM (2)

Then we reworked it a bit. Then we reworked it some more… I learned that is the key.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 3.13.55 PM

Testing and shifting the action. It’s not about creating a detailed plan of action but building and testing at the same time.

Upon reflection (see below) the prototyping brought about a lightness, playfulness and creativity in me that is often the first thing to be thrown right out the window when I need to plan an effective process that is going to have impact. Planning can feel heavy. Heavy with layered competing needs: the need I feel to be successful for my under-resourced team; the need to make an impact in this broken food system where people are going hungry and we’re destroying our environment; and my personal need to feel self-worth via work success (I didn’t say they were all healthy needs!).


So it seems to me that prototyping offers a way of working that has the possibility of being lighter, fun, more effective and therefore more personally sustainable. We just have to work with the fear of failure (no small thing!) and create more supporting environments in which to do this kind of work. Though the idea of creating a supportive environment in which to take risk seems like a bit of an oxymoron… I am going to be holding that questions for a while.

So after a time period of focused prototyping, what’s next? Well, I like this little list from the last workshop I was at. Here are my interpretations:

  1. Persevere: if it feels like you’re headed in the right direction, but there are more assumptions to be tested, then keep on going!
  2. Pivot: if something about it is working, but not all, then shift directions and realign.
  3. Replicate: you’ve done it, it works! Find places to replicate this awesome thing!
  4. Apply approach to xyx: you’ve hit upon a good understanding of the system that can be applied to a different area.
  5. Stop… end well: phew, that was a great learning time, now I’m ready to stop that. Take the time to reflect on the learning (such as the above poster) and integrate the new knowledge.

Thanks for joining in on my exploration of prototyping. Happy unlearning to you!

~Miranda Cobb, Community Food Research and Evaluation, The Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre, Halifax, NS, miranda at

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