Seeking Inspiring, Ambitious Solutions That Are Also Pragmatic

February 2, 2017

By Dipro Bhowmik ’18

With a high-impact project, how do you find inspiring, ambitious solutions while also staying pragmatic?

Our Bass Connections team has been looking at policy solutions to carbon emissions, an undertaking that puts us in a unique situation to make serious changes to the way Duke University accounts for and reduces its carbon emissions. The importance of this endeavor has made fighting the urge to set our sights too high – and in doing so losing track of the strategic subtleties needed to make our recommendations credible – arguably the biggest challenge of the semester.

In our second meeting we were charged with coming up with a set of deliverables for the project. Immediately there was consensus: the most important final product we could create was a working carbon reduction scheme, and our project would be a failure if we didn’t see the implementation of such a scheme by May 2017. Of course, it soon became apparent that Duke doesn’t work like that. “Implement a carbon reduction scheme” was too broad a goal to be useful in organizing ourselves, and a year was too short a timeframe to be realistic.

Perfect was impossible, but realistic was a copout.

Given our strong feelings one way or another, moving forward as a group was contingent on making everyone feel like they were being heard. We had a meeting with faculty leads to get an idea of what needs to happen to get our project off the ground. After a few group discussions, we sketched out a long-term timeline while identifying the concrete steps we need to take this year.

Making a concrete timeline, with specific goals and deliverables, was instrumental in setting the tone for our project. It also helped reframe our desire to see lasting change in only a year and understand that if we laid a solid foundation our project could continue having an impact even after the spring semester.

As we talked, as we came up with an action plan, as we discussed solutions, we realized that there was an anxiety underpinning this desire, one that was different from our need to succeed. We realized that some of this anxiety came from a loss of control: we didn’t only want our project to succeed, we also wanted to be the ones pushing it through to the very end.

Bass Connections is great because of how much power it gives students. We frame the problem, we think up solutions, we prioritize alternatives. I don’t think our yearning for control has gone – this project is our baby, and we are very invested in its success – but creating a long-term plan and having concrete deliverables has helped manage it.

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