Someone asked me this morning what I'd learned from my time at OLPC. "The first lesson that they probably gave you is that to keep your clients happy you gotta listen to them and make your product available for them to purchase."
My immediate, without-thinking reply: "Actually, the first lesson that I learned is that it's not about keeping your clients happy; it's about serving your users' needs. If you do the second, then the first will follow."
Then I had a wait, did that just come out of my keyboard? moment. But upon brief reflection, I do believe that, as corny as it sounds. It's something that's so ingrained into my thinking now (congratulations, Olin design curriculum - you work!) that it just feels foreign to think otherwise.
The words "user-centered" and "community" take on so much more meaning now that I've gone through my first Big Tough Round of blood and sweat and tears in needing to find - and keep - my own compass on these matters while working on something real. No teacher was going to come around and give me authoritative rubric-marks on "alignment with customer values" (don't think that was on the rubric, actually - I forget what was, exactly). A definitive rating on that isn't possible, and even if it were, I wouldn't have had time to think about it. It was just a constant gotta keep up. Gotta keep going. Gotta do this. This feels right; I'm gonna do it.
You form your sense of right and wrong beforehand, think through it - program it in, almost - so that when things get crunch-timey, and you can't think, just do - what you do is the Right Thing. You make sure that you make the decision you'd make if you had the time to properly think about things, so that when you look back on it, you can be proud of what you've done. I've made decisions in the heat of the moment that I'm not proud of, and they're usually because I didn't think them through in the times before the craziness hit. Now I use my down time as a luxury that lets me play with ideas and think about things - storing the harvest for any incoming winters, to mangle a metaphor.
Oliners, this stuff won't really make sense until you actually go through hell for it; experience is a great teacher who charges extremely high tuition. We get a damn good grounding in The Bubble, though. A damn good grounding on a lot of things that matter.