InCube from Inside (Part III) – The most challenging part

(Zürich – InCube 2018, organisiert vom ETH Entrepreneur Club. © Thi My Lien Nguyen)

Saturday: excitement, confusion, struggle, tough and mixed feelings

On the Friday evening of InCube 2018 journey, participants of Polyterrasse cube(the Shiz-Academy) went to bed with 3 prototypes. They woke up with a fresh mind and plenty of energy on Saturday morning.  By the time I arrived at the cube, everyone was cleaning the cube and making everything tidy and neat. They had the right energy boost for the toughest day.

The  Saturday’s mission is to lock-in their final problem statements by testing their prototypes and deliver new  prototypes based on new ideas. At 9 am, it was the time for the second scheduled expert session. The team got feedback on their prototypes from academic experts. The expert session lasted for one hour, which increased my worry of further turbulence being generated in the team’s mind.  Later on, they went out for interviewing other people.

Unexpectedly, the morning session of interview and experts’ inputs helped dramatically. When the team came back to discuss the feedback, I witnessed one of the most inspiring discussions.

They start to discuss and touch on different aspects of learning procedure and had a clear idea about different dimensions of the problem. They talked about motivation problems, learning efficiency, a life-long learning process, proxy results of learning and how people value results rather than processes, etc. And everyone’s idea is converging into the same direction. So the discussion went very smoothly. The obvious sign of this was the tennis ball moving more smoothly from hand to hand.

With that cheering moment, we went to the lunch and the regular dancing session after each meal took place:


We were happy and we were excited. I was confident to enter next stage smoothly.

However, the reality always hits in an unexpected time:

At around 1 pm, we started clustering the feedback and problems. The team started drawing mind maps on the window and the discussion was going deeper. It’s natural that not everyone follows at the same pace and speed, from time to time, someone in the team needs to slow down and digest. It was their wishes on Friday evening to add more time to digest everything. Even adding all of this, a huge confusion arrived between clustering problem and developing problem statement. And it confused everyone for hours.

In the design thinking procedure, the end of problem space is a problem statement in the form of “someone needs something because of some reason”. Basically describing the need of a target group. And the solution space began with a bunch of “How might we solve something” which then pointed to potential solutions. However, during the clustering of problems, the team, including myself, got confused about whether a problem statement is a form of questions or a form of need. After clarifying this, they then got stuck on choosing the right problem statement. Some were so broad that almost everyone had a different understanding. Some turned out to be too narrow, which severely limited the solution space and imagination.

We went back and forth between generating a problem statement and voting for it. As a facilitator, this was the very moment that my mind got involved in the discussion, when I know it shouldn’t. Yet, my brain got exhausted by merely hearing the back and forth flows of ideas. Moreover,  the burning sun added another layer of suffering. When the sun was out, about two fifths of the cube was under direct sunlight. With an 18˚C outside, these two fifth is already an unbearable place. Although we had one AC in the room, it didn’t help to cool down everywhere.

© Thi My Lien Nguyen


Burning sun, entangled thoughts, mental exhaustion, the challenge was becoming harder piece by piece.

We finally finished the lock-in problem statement around  3:30 pm. Then we took a 20 minutes break. And continued with a brainstorm session outside of the cube amongst the crowd. It’s also part of the experience to be surrounded by the crowd sometimes. Sometimes the curious tourists got in closely and asked me questions, while I was working. One tourist approached me asking how to apply for ETH…., which seemed something way easier  than what we were onto. After a long long afternoon, when we finished the afternoon task, everyone reached a energy low phase. We took a break. Everyone was too exhausted to do anything. We all needed a rest. Unsurprisingly, the bench on Polyterrasse became the best place to lie down.


I wonder how would a stranger think of the scene: a bunch of college students putting on their mattress on the bench, hiding themselves in a  blanket and trying to relax as much while in public. But if they have a cube there, why were they lying on bench like homeless people?

However, personally, as a facilitator, I think it helped dramatically.  40 minutes of rest, watching clouds went by slowly, the moment where you could simply think about nothing, felt great.

After the rest, we were cheered up by the holy cow burgers for dinner. During the dinner time, Sebastian came and did a round of cheer up and clarification. Our academy member kept exchanging thoughts with each other  about the process, but the sign is clear that we were deepening our understandings.

Things went relatively smoothly after dinner, we went into prototyping phase. At this point, the form of teamwork evolved as well. We divided quickly and we conquered fast. The good motion lasted for hours. Although it had some ups and downs, the team still picked up fast and moved. I accompanied them until the prototype was done. When I stepped out of the cube, it was already 1 am. And they were still working.

©Raisa Durandiu


What would come after a struggling day? Would they come up with any valuable idea?

Stay tuned for the next post: “Sunday: Do not go gentle into that good night.”



Shirzart Enwer was InCube participant 2017, co-organiser 2018 and cube facilitator for the Education Team on Polyterasse during InCube 2018. He is doing his Master studies in environmental engineering at ETH.





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