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Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for August, 2010

Eight Ways to Help Your Group More Effectively Share Information

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2010

Effective group dynamics is essential to solving problems, to designing innovative solutions.  Unfortunately, it’s a curious phenomenon that individuals in a group setting have a tendency to not share information known only to themselves.  In other words, people have a tendency to only share information that is already known to everyone in the group.  Even doctors, people who naturally pool information in order to come up with decisions, when working with other doctors, fail to share vital information that could lead to a proper diagnosis.

How do you get people to share what they don’t know? Next time you’re in a meeting, here are a few things you should do to make sure info is shared:

  1. Do the Know/Don’t Know exercise.  Ask the group the following questions:  What do we know that we know?  What do we know that we don’t know?   What don’t we know that we know? (Think in terms of unused resources or skills),  What don’t we know that we don’t know?  This last question will lead to speculation and that’s good.  All these questions help  flesh out the knowledge landscape.  Try this exercise using Post-It notes and have people post their thoughts as you progress through each set of questions.  Doing it this way helps people objectively  contribute – especially those  who are more shy or insecure.
  2. Have people draw the situation as they see it. Then have them explain what their drawings represent.  Open up the discussion and let people ask questions about the pictures.  Often more can be learned from the questions than from the preliminary explanation.
  3. Before the meeting, have people on the team put together a list of things they believe will contribute to helping the situation.  At the meeting these lists are shared in their entirety. 
  4. No information should be considered trivial.  Encourage people to share what they believe to be the most trivial bits of information they are in possession of.  People have different reasons behind this, but sometimes people don’t share what they consider trivial information because they consider themselves trivial.  Make sure your culture doesn’t belittle and instead elevates team members to feel and act as essential to the team.
  5. Involve people who aren’t partaking in the discussion.  See above.
  6. Ask Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?  Keep the conversation dominated by questions as opposed to answers.
  7. Knock the spinning top.   Change the equilibrium of the situation/meeting.  Introduce some hypotheticals into the discussion in an effort to draw out unknown information.  This can also be done as part of the Know/Don’t Know exercise.
  8. Shift domains into the other senses.  Have people describe the situation using a different sense than the info was originally obtained in.  Ask people what a situation smells, tastes or feels like.  Then have them describe why.

What ways do you get people to share information in group settings?

Posted in Conveying Information, Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Eight Insights in Design from the World of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2010

This past weekend I was at the Midwest Bonsai Expo at Chicago’s Botanical Garden.  While there, I had the pleasure to watch and listen to a demonstration workshop by bonsai expert Michael Hagedorn.

While it was fascinating watching him transform a tree through his thoughtful touch, it was even more interesting to listen to his insights and reflections on bonsai, bonsai design, and hence design in general.

 Here are some thoughts of his from the workshop:

1. A good tree (design) should have three aspects: A – Elegance; B- Dignity; C – Presence.   However, it is not uncommon for these three to be doled out in different proportions.

I love this observation. It is no doubt influenced by his training in Japan.  How do designs (or even brands!) that you know of stack up?

2. “I should be invisible as an artist”  The tree is designed so that it stands on its own; that even though it’s been pruned and manipulated by the artist, it doesn’t look it.  It retains itself, or, “takes possession of itself,” once the designing part is over.  Think of it: after a product is released into the market place it stands on its own and grows into its own.

3. “Great people and great trees are the same.”  This is with regards to how the tree(design) ages, how it shows the scars of life and still comes through it all with Elegance, Dignity and Presence (see #1).

Some additional observations of mine:

4.  A good bonsai (design) is a result of the artist(designer) embracing the constraints.  A tree has branches, roots, soil, certain nutritional needs.  If any one constraint is ignored the result is a sickly tree (design) or worse.

5. It’s not about adding to the tree as much as it is taking away from the design and redirecting the tree to achieve Elegance, Dignity and Presence.  However…

6.  There are  wildcards like weather, those things outside of our control, that can scuttle all our bests efforts.  So all we can do is prepare the tree(design) for whatever the future may hold and hope for the best.

7. While bonsai are shown and meant to be seen from their ‘ front’,  really good bonsai (design) it seems, have something to look at from any direction.

8. Bonsai is a type for metadesign.  The self-building, synergistic, holistic, fractalesque nature of working with bonsai is beyond regular design.  Bonsai is an ongoing relationship and dialogue between the designer and the designed.

So what do you think?  Do these eight insights resonate with your own experience?  Can you think of examples that highlight or contradict them?

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, Design, imagination, Life Stages, Meta-Design, nature, Nature of Creativity, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Insights into Forcing Creativity: The Mood Board Music Experiment

Posted by Plish on August 17, 2010

I’ve been hitting a block with regards to creating music lately. Rather than use a sketching exercise to get the ideas flowing, I decided to do something different.

I went on Twitter and asked for a mood board so I could compose a tune based upon it.

Interior designer, Heather Jenkinson obliged by sending me three.  The first one I opened was the one I used.  I looked at the other ones, but I forced myself to use the first one so I wouldn’t be bartering with myself as to which board might be easier or harder.  Here’s what it looks like:

Heather Jenkinson's Mood Board

And here’s the song Sepia and Blue      

So how did the song come about?

First, I  sat down and looked at the image.  I listened for the mood, listened for emotion, what colors came to mind, what movements, words and hence what instruments.  I even started writing some lyrics.  But then, it became clear that I was overcomplicating matters, overcomplicating the music and the words.  There was a simplicity present and I was fighting it, trying to fill in the spaces as opposed to letting the gaps speak.  Before I could come up with lyrics I just jotted down random images and feelings.  Eventually, one line became the inspiration and the basic pattern for the song’s sparse lyrics.  It was distillation to the max:

(It says:  Sit with me,  we’ll watch while sunlight floods fills dance across the room.  A filigree in sepia and blue.”)

It’s interesting how this developed for me.  Certain instruments needed to express their voices – there needed to be some guitar,  piano, some female voices, some introspection and reflection.  Sepia and blue came out naturally.  They were actually the first thing that came out of process.  BING!  And the words/concepts were there.

Things that weren’t in the picture popped into my mind as well: lilacs and Port wine to name a couple.  Ultimately, I  backed off, trimmed and combined.   There needed to be space – space to move, to breathe.

Ultimately, constraints provided impetus and direction.   Since I had never done this before, I was forced to go down an entirely new road, enjoy the scenery, and above all, listen to myself – or more precisely, my response to the mood board. 

Interpretation held Experience’s hand and on occasion they wrote together, at other times independent of each other.   It was a combination of play, sketching (musically and verbally) and design; trying to see what worked and what didn’t. 

For example, the female harmonies originally were just after the intro synthesizer sound.  There were no lyrics at that time.  There were also two other orchestral string tracks that hung around for a while but were eventually cut.  The lyrics started with that one distilled phrase above.  I didn’t even have a second verse for a long time and was seriously considering not even having one…then it came:

 “Look with me,

through leaded glass and memories,

Sit with me,

in sepia and blue.”

I liked the fact that ‘sit’ appeared here like it did in the first verse – a kind of closing out of the thought from the first verse – coming full circle.  But,  even though sitting was part of the first verse, so was dancing light.  In addition, the filigree theme needed to stay and a filigree is, visually speaking, a dance of sorts.  So, “sit with me,” became “dance with me,” and that was that.

Finally, I felt like there needed to be a crescendo of sorts after the last sung verse.  Everything I tried was too complicated and instrumentalized so I used a short track of a string section with some syncopation.

Even though my goal was a song, there were some other ideas that popped up.  One of them was to make a digital mood board and assign an instrument or instruments to various regions.  They would play when you hover over them with the mouse pointer so the song and mood board would be an interactive experience.  This could be a cool future project.

The key take away from this is that designing music (or anything for that matter) is an iterative, recursive process.  The depth and breadth of the act of creating increases with the novelty of stimulus.  In addition, different stimuli  cause new connections in the subconscious and that helps with creating new ideas long after the exercise is complete.

So challenge yourself; throw yourself a curve and flex those creativity muscles.  Sure there’s some pain and frustration associated with bringing together disparate ideas and thoughts. 

But, ultimately it’s not about pain…

It’s about creating….

Posted in Authenticity, cognitive studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, design thinking, idea generation, imagination, Musical Creativity, Nature of Creativity, Play, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Designing a Healthier You – Should You Take a Vacation or a Healthy ‘Staycation’? Take Some Vaykay!

Posted by Plish on August 12, 2010

So, you’re having a tough time getting your exercise time in and eating right?  But,  what can you expect?

You get home from work and you’re just plain tired.  You don’t want to cook, so you grab a quick snack that you picked up at the store and you nuke it,  or you run out for a bite, which you really don’t feel like doing because you’re tired. 

And working out? Forget it.  Either there are family  commitments or commitments to friends, or worse, that proposal needs to be done by tomorrow and you need to get going on it before it gets too late.

Morning comes and the routine starts over again….

and again…

…until vacation.

Ahhh, the word sounds so sweet.  When it arrives it’s even sweeter.  Time to get out of Dodge, get away from all the hassles – far away if possible.  If we can’t get out-of-town, at least we change the routine – get some extra sleep, go out and have some fun, which usually includes food and drink – sometimes more than is prudent, or healthy.

But does that mean that we should ditch the vacation if we want to be healthier?

The fitness columnists over at The Washington Post  and dietician Felicia Stoler, host of TLC’s reality show “Honey We’re Killing the Kids,” recommend taking a health based Staycation.  What is this comprised of?

Instead of sightseeing, you’ll explore how to build more physical activity into your daily life and figure out smarter ways to shop for groceries and plan meals. It’s unlikely you’ll lose 10 pounds in a week like they do on TV. But by getting a jump-start on an exercise routine in your own neighborhood and cooking in your own kitchen, you’re setting yourself up to continue these behaviors even when real life kicks in again.

In other words, utilize the time of your vacation to design a healthier you.

On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. After all, why wouldn’t such a vacation be good for you?  On the other, it sounds like a recipe for setting yourself up for disaster – where you’re proud of yourself for spending a week eating healthy, hitting the gym, and cooking your own meals, but crushed after you get back into your daily routine (See red text above) and you can’t get to the gym, can’t cook your own meals, and can’t seem to get enough time for yourself for sleep or recreation.

The article itself points out this could be a problem:

The key is remembering that you need to make these changes part of your regular routine, says physician Arthur Frank, founder and co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program. “A week of working out is essentially useless unless you can continue it,” he says.

And without a real itinerary, you could fall into the trap of snacking to alleviate boredom. “Most people do well much of the day until it becomes unstructured,” Frank says.

This is a design problem.  This particular design problem requires empathy and understanding of what Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Design, design thinking, Food, Health Concerns, Healthcare, innovation, problem solving, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Want to Increase Creativity and Innovation? Touch and be Touched

Posted by Plish on August 5, 2010

We’ve all experienced the gentle pat on the back, or touch on the hand when things aren’t going well.  Well, it seems that these touches are helpful in more ways than we typically think.

Research has shown that touching is helpful in  a myriad of ways.

 According to the article:

A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In the brain, prefrontal areas, which help regulate emotion, can relax, freeing them for another of their primary purposes: problem solving. In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as “I’ll share the load.”

“We think that humans build relationships precisely for this reason, to distribute problem solving across brains,” said James A. Coan, a a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”

Some of my thoughts on applying this?

  1. Team building events can accomplish a lot more than just bring people together, but…
  2. Building teams needs to be done all the time.  There needs to be an active, ongoing building of esprit de corps, but…
  3. Perspectives regarding the touching of coworkers might need to be reassessed.  It’s interesting to think that current  ‘hands off’ practices might actually be hurting innovation.
  4. It seems obvious to say, but personal lives, the relationships people have outside of work, do make a difference in the workplace.
  5. People who are more tactile, more ‘touchy-feely’ might be a good addition to a team.
  6. Although it’s not directly mentioned in the article, the touching phenomenon might help explain the benefits of why having pets is a good thing.  Pets in the workplace, anyone?
  7. Customer service (think healthcare) should be open to allowing and fostering touching in the proper contexts so as to better treat people as whole beings.  This could also give customer service people more credence and build better bonds between customer and company.
  8. Massage therapy shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but as a necessity in the workplace.
  9. I’d be interested to know if things like brushing hair, or touches like those experienced at beauty parlors or hair dressers, has positive effect.   It does in senior care facilities, why not use it in other places?
  10. How might technology be used to foster human interaction and touch?

What are your thoughts on this?

Posted in Authenticity, Biology, creativity, culture of innovation, Evolution, innovation, love, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, Society, stress, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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