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Team Tips: Learning from Mistakes and Last-Minute Disasters

By: Yael Horwitz, DI alumna

When I was asked to write on the topic of last-minute disasters, I had to laugh. Those three words would have made an apt name for my DI team in any of our 11 years competing. I’ll admit I had quite a few experiences to draw on for this topic, but the story you are about to read was a clear standout. This story begins with a bad decision and ends with—yep, you guessed it—a disaster.

My team was in 8th and 9th grade and we were competing in the Fine Arts Challenge, “How’d tHat Happen?” We’d concocted an elaborate performance with a transforming backdrop. The set we dreamed up needed to be large enough and strong enough to support the moving parts housed within it, so we decided to work with lumber for the first time. While my team possessed the resources to know that we needed massive wooden beams to make our dream come to life, we had little to no idea on what to do after that. So, like all devoted patrons of DI, we turned to our most trusted tools: duct tape and hot glue.

Yes, you read that right. At this point, you can feel the disaster hurtling towards us at an inescapable rate. We constructed a 7-by-8-foot set, made from 2-by-10-foot planks, and held together by craft supplies. In retrospect, it occurs to me that this is probably why our Team Manager brought in an engineer to give us generalized lessons on structural integrity. Despite her best attempts to nudge us gently towards the realization that our tenuously constructed structure was failing its safety tests with flying colors, the lessons fell largely on deaf ears. Our team bore a strong attitude toward time management that prevented us from revisiting any projects we had deemed “good enough,” as well as what one might consider a little too much confidence in our solutions to rather weighty problems.

Alright, so we all know what’s about to happen, but here’s the amazing thing: that big, wobbly set made it out of our backyard studio, into a U-Haul, and all the way to the tournament stage. If that’s not an endorsement for duct tape, I’m not sure what is. Just when the Appraisers began their introduction, my team heard the first crack. Our attention snapped to the structure, swaying above us, just in time for my teammate to quickly jump out of the way as one of the massive beams swung down to the floor. As we struggled to support the weight of our crumbling set in the wings of the stage, I don’t think the Appraisers realized what was happening. So when the Challenge Master called out with his signature, “team are you ready??” the resounding “NO!!” that followed seemed to come as a bit of a surprise. At this point, our options were limited, but our answer bought us enough time to quickly negotiate a modified set-up plan where half of the team would work to repair the set with the supplies we had on stage. (Teams should always factor a repair kit into their budget so they can bring it on stage with them!)

We moved the set onto the stage in pieces, while our parents probably quietly discussed who was prepared to drive to the emergency room in the next five minutes. We re-assembled the set quickly using a combination of balance, luck and, of course, more duct tape. By some narrow miracle, the set stood through the entire performance and our score was hardly affected. It must have been a bittersweet surprise for our Team Manager when we found out our crumbling set would get a second chance at state that year. On the one hand, her team had pulled through one of their greatest challenges yet and learned a terrific lesson about teamwork. On the other, she would be overseeing a group of adolescents learning to use power tools in the coming months.

As it turns out, our set made it through the Affiliate Tournament and our team went to Global Finals for the first time that year. Aside from the groundbreaking revelation that tape and hot glue don’t hold wood together, the moral is this: you (or your team) will make mistakes (probably many), and it is never too late to fix them. Every challenge incorporates at least a little bit of improv, after all. The same goes for everything else in life: it’s never too late to fix something. Don’t be afraid to take your time, and never underestimate the value of duct tape.

yaelhorwitzAbout the Author: Yael Horwitz participated in Destination Imagination for 11 years in the Seattle metro region. She and her teammates also volunteered as Team Managers for several elementary level teams and started a DI program at a local elementary school, where Yael managed a Rising Stars! team. After DI, she discovered a strong interest in neurobehavioral and psychological research, which she studied and worked in for several years. She currently works in healthcare in San Diego, California and is hoping to pursue a career in public health. Yael is a DI Alumni Ambassador and loves her continued volunteerism for the DI program. She and her former teammates continue to get together to create extravagant challenges for themselves to solve. When she’s not looking for ways to relive her DI glory days, she loves exploring outside, cooking, taking photos, and spending time with any kind of animal.