The Smith family is once again going full-boar Odyssey of the Mind this week at the World Finals on the Michigan State University campus.
I will tell you that U.S.-China relations here are just fine.
For those unaware of what this event is, I will tell you. I see it as competition of mini-businesses started by teams of six to seven students. At the beginning of the “season,” the leaders of Odyssey release five problems any team from across the world can choose from to solve. Two years ago, Samuel’s team chose the problem where they have to build three vehicles to go from one point to another. This year they chose the one where they built a tower out of 15 grams of balsa wood and then see how much weight they can put on top of it.
But the problem is just the beginning. While some of the team works on the problems, others write an 8-minute fictitious skit that explains why they are doing what they are doing. They build an entire set (ours took up a small U-Haul trailer this year), and then act it out in front of the judges. After their performance, they are grilled by the judges about every detail and how and why they built it that way to ensure it was in fact the students who built the set, wrote the skit and solved the problems.
The group that runs this organization is amazing. Tournaments are filled with adults wearing silly and creative hats judging competitions, having fun and spreading a really infectious energy. This program began in New Jersey in the late 1970s and because of their efforts, there is an Odyssey of the Mind culture.
Pin-trading has become serious business with Odyssey. My boys collect pins from pretty much everywhere we visit so they can trade them during the Odyssey tournaments. They start with small groups at regionals. Then find more folks in Columbus, Ga., at the state competition. And if they are lucky enough to make it, they hit the motherload at the World Finals.
In one of the quads here on the Michigan State campus, there is a large tent filled with tables where students from every corner of the planet get together to gawk at each other’s pins and see if they can make a trade. They may not speak the same language, but pin-trading has its own language, and everyone there speaks that. This is my older son’s second time coming to the World Finals and he’s been collecting pins for about six years now. He’s an old pro and this is the Super-Bowl of pin-trading. He was able to work his way to one of the main tables, set up his display and haggle with some of the best pin-traders in the world.
The whole point of the pin-trading is to get these students who don’t speak the same language to be together and enjoy each other’s company. And they do. The tariffs don’t seem to be affecting these teams’ relations with each other.
There are so many quality lessons learned from Odyssey of the Mind that include teamwork, goal setting and learning the different facets of what makes a project successful. The good teams realize everyone’s talents and put each to good use.
A couple years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to a forum at the Federal Reserve in Atlanta where a room filled with HR directors from every major company in Atlanta was surveyed as to the skill today’s job applicants most lacked. Overwhelmingly it was the soft skills. It was the applicant’s ability to gauge their audience and communicate effectively. If I could go back to that room, I’d tell all of them to head up here to Michigan and scoop up these Odyssey folks.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group