The origination (and evolution) of Night Train

In the summer of 2005, Alan and I went on a European backpacking adventure. We started the trip in Spain, and after we had devoured the requisite amount of jamón, queso, pan, y cerveza, we set out on the next phase of our adventure. With tickets in hand, we boarded the 7pm train from Madrid to Paris and throughout the night, sketched out wireframes for what would become our first collaborative project — theCourseForum, a course evaluations platform that we built & released later that summer, and that is still going strong today at the University of Virginia.

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yes, this is what websites looked like in 2005…and no, it doesn’t still look like that today…

When it came time for us to start a company together in 2009, we wanted to harness the spirit of that fateful night train collaboration session — thus, Night Train Consulting was born.

In the beginning, we’d often start by exploring ideas: “what needs to exist but doesn’t?”, “what things haven’t we tried before?”, “what concepts can be borrowed from different industries?”, “what assumptions can be broken?”, and “what are off-the-wall approaches?”.

What we have learned over the years is that although there is certainly value in this “ideas first” approach, it often must be preceded by a “clarity first” approach using questions like “what are we trying to accomplish?”, “who are we designing for?”, “what does success look like?”, “what will be the process around working together?”, and “how can each of us best contribute to that process?”

I guess you could say that we’ve learned the same lesson that countless others have — solving problems is oftentimes more about coordinating and motivating people than it is about the subject matter itself.

Thankfully, as we continue to live and learn this lesson, we’ve gained new perspectives, resources, and tools. Now we have experiences leading organizations, co-creating communities, facilitating workshops, running teams, raising children, and mentoring others.

Going forward, we hope to invest more actively in doing consulting work around this people oriented perspective, and as we do so, share some thoughts and learnings here.

In the meantime, please enjoy a Night Train song in your preferred genre:


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