ZenStorming

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Posts Tagged ‘creative problem solving’

Three Guidelines For Enabling Innovation (Via a 7 Year Old Crossing the Street)

Posted by Plish on June 26, 2014

The crossing guard waved her arms and held up the stop sign.  On my way to a prototype shop to pick up some parts, I slowed, and stopped, and watched.

Behind the yellow vested guard, thirty to forty seven year olds began crossing the street in a relatively organized manner, except for one girl.  She wasn’t particularly tall as far as 7 year olds go.  She had straight, dirty blonde, just-past-shoulder length hair, and was wearing a white number 4, Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers jersey.  While her friends took a linear approach to street crossing, she took each step in a calculated manner.

With each step she reached with her little legs to the next reflective strip in the cross walk.  Like Indiana Jones crossing a foot bridge, this little girl took a step, rebalanced, shuffled to get to the edge of the strip and then s t r e t c h e d her leg, pointing her toes, landing on the next reflective strip.   Intensely concentrating on where she stepped and avoiding knocking into those around her, she wove her way across the street.

As I smiled at the beautiful play, I realized that this little girl, in this situation, embodies what’s necessary for there to be successful innovation.

1. Safe Space is Needed – She most likely couldn’t have done what she did if cars were whizzing through the crosswalk.  The crossing guard stopped traffic and created a safe area.  If you want people to be innovative, or for that matter, if you want to be innovative yourself, somehow the traffic has to be stopped.  Someone, or something, has to run interference and create a space and time for innovation.   Corporate politics and power plays are guaranteed innovation killers.  There needs to be insulation from NOISE and distraction. If an innovator has to worry about getting hit by proverbial cars, she can’t create.

2. Give the Minimum Direction Necessary – The little girl was likely told: “Cross the street with your friends when the guard says it’s safe. Be sure to stay in the crosswalk!”  She wasn’t told where to step, how many steps to take, or who she had to walk with.  She knew she had to get from Point A to Point B.  Too often there is a tendency to manage how people get from Point A to Point B.  Don’t.  There are infinite combinations of numbers that when added equal 4.  It’s not simply 2+2.  This goes for personal creativity as well.  When in a creative endeavor, ask yourself if you’re simply taking the shortest distance between two points or if you’re exploring options.  Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re taking the ‘easy’ way, or following everyone else, until we stop and ask ourselves what we’re doing.

3.  Space for Fun/Exploration – To me, fun and exploration are largely synonymous.  I alluded to this earlier.  The girl was playing while accomplishing what was asked of her: crossing the street and staying in the cross-walk.  As safe space is needed, so is space for playing.  People need to explore, to try things out, to play and have fun while they innovate.  At least they should.  If someone isn’t having fun going from Point A to Point B, you should ask yourself if that person is the right person in the right place in the project.  But, it’s not always the person!  If someone isn’t having fun, this could also be an indication that above points 1 and 2 haven’t  been implemented.  If they haven’t, fun is much less likely to occur.  Use this check for yourself as well.  Are you passionate about what you’re doing? Are you having fun?  If not, find out what it is that’s blocking the fun.

When you’re trying to create the best environment for innovation for yourself or others, picture the little girl in the Brett Favre jersey stepping from reflective strip to reflective strip while crossing the street.  Remember the three guidelines and you might just find yourself coming up with more creative work and having fun doing it!

 

Posted in children, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, imagination, innovation, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tips for Innovative Problem Solving, or, How to Shovel Snow Without a Shovel

Posted by Plish on February 27, 2013

This past evening, just shy of midnight, I was getting ready to head outside for my second round of shoveling.  I had already shoveled a good 7 inches of snow around 5pm and it looked like another 5 or so had fallen since.

I glanced at the TV. A warning  scrolled across the bottom: more precipitation on the way and a caution to people who were going to shovel the heavy stuff. So, instead of heading outside, I paused and turned my shoveling into a small, innovative, problem solving project.

My goal was ultimately to remove snow from the walkways and from around the cars, so I asked: “In what ways can I remove the snow from walkways?” (Notice, I didn’t say, “In what ways can I shovel the snow?” My goal is snow removal, not necessarily shoveling.)

I then looked at what types of things were available to help me accomplish my goal:

  • snow
  • me
  • shovels
  • air
  • trees
  • sidewalk
  • cars
  • A house and garage full of tools, equipment, books, clothes
  • cell phone

Since the snow is heavy, ultimately, if I want to make my life easier, I would rather not shovel.

I give myself a provocation:

In what ways can I remove snow without using a shovel?

I look at what’s left: Snow, me and the house/garage/etc..

Picking up the snow doesn’t sound very easy. Hmmmm….

The snow is wet, and sticky, and sticky snow sticks to itself.  So, if I make a snowball, I can roll it and it’ll pick the snow up as it goes – I’ll clean the walkways and dig out the cars and never lift a shovel!

In the end, I’ll just have a giant snowball, or I can make multiples and make a snowman – I’ll clean the walks and have fun doing it!

So, I bundled up, went outside and started rolling.

The problem became apparent right away. Thought the snow was heavy, it didn’t stick together as well as it did earlier today. It wasn’t picking up the snow very efficiently. As you can see from the below pic,  the area where I started rolling is not terribly clean – it was only about 30% efficient, though, as the snowball got bigger, it got more efficient.

Lake Villa-20130227-00790aa

I continued rolling.  It started doing better. It was cleaning up around the cars pretty well.

It eventually started getting pretty darn big, and it was getting harder to get the traction to roll it.  I decided to roll it back into the yard.  I tried posing with it on my shoulders ‘Atlas’ Style, but alas, it was too heavy as you’ll see in the pic below.

snowball1

After extracting myself I calculated that the snowball was the result of approximately 250ft to 300ft of rolling. Not terribly efficient but I had the beginnings of a kick *** snowman.  I tried rolling the next part of the body, but unfortunately the snow was sticking even less effectively than before.  I would have to abandon this route and go back to the shovel.

While this project wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped, it was enjoyable and it highlights the main steps that should be taken when trying to solve a problem in an innovative manner.

  1. Define what it is you’re trying to accomplish. (Remove Snow) Play with framings here.  Don’t be too vague but don’t be too specific.
  2. Start the ideation process with the phrase, “In what ways can we (Insert task from Step #1)” (In what ways can we remove snow?) If you start the phrase with “How can I…?” it isn’t as provocative.
  3. List everything that is present. These can be tools, objects, things in the environment. Interestingly enough, very often people forget to list themselves or any objects being acted upon.
  4. Use another provocation to get the ideas going.  A good one is to remove something essential from the list.  In my case, I removed the shovel and forced myself to think of ways to remove snow without using a shovel.
  5. Brainstorm
  6. Try an idea
  7. Assess effectiveness
  8. Modify to make it more effective
  9. Go back to #4 or #5 if needed

That’s it!

EPILOGUE: Oh, and this morning we received another 3-4 inches so I used the same technique to “shovel” and finish what I started last night, as well as create a small “King of the Mountain with Subjects” .  It worked alittle better than last night, but I still had to shovel…

Yet all is well in the Kingdom of Snow…

supremelyhappy

The Supremely Happy Snowman

The King of the Mountain and Subjects
The King of the Mountain and Subjects

 

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, design thinking, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Tactics, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of ‘Creative Milwaukee at Work’

Posted by Plish on September 30, 2012

“If you want a creative life, do what you can’t and experience the beauty of the mistakes you make”

“Cheating outside school is called collaboration”

On Friday, September 21, friend and colleague, Natasha Lyn Wier, went to the first Creative Milwaukee at Work summit.  Sponsored by the Creative Alliance Milwaukee, it was held at the MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design).  The following are some of her thoughts, for which I am extremely grateful!  My thoughts on her thoughts will be in italics.  Based on what I heard and saw in pics, this is a must see next year.  

Just walking into MIAD to register and attend the opening of Milwaukee at Work, you could feel the attendees’ energy and eagerness to learn and share.  Attended by Milwaukee educators, creatives and business professionals, the one day conference was filled with panel discussions and breakout sessions geared towards the growth of creative professionals.  The variety of artists, designers, educators, and business professionals took part in 4 sessions of their choice, and an all-conference panel discussion.  With speakers ranging from successful start-ups to corporate company directors, sessions and panelists provided information on resources and tools to inspire growth, provide development and highlight thought-provoking issues specific to local Milwaukee Creatives. 

To start off my day I joined the first discussion panel of the morning: “The Role of Creative Education in Talent Development”.  The panel was comprised of department heads and educators from surrounding colleges: Alverno, MIAD, Marquette University, Mount Mary, and UW-M.  The topic presented for discussion originated from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson and animated for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce): Changing Education Paradigms.  The world-renown education expert, Sir Ken Robinson, raised the question on the structure of formal instruction: How do we educate children for the 21st century?  He argued that the weakness of the current model is that is suits the time of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, all the while pointing to the challenges that need to be addressed for an economy that is ambiguously defined.

The question is not local, but the solutions envisioned by the Milwaukee area institutions were.  The Panelists each presented changes they’ve made to programs based upon their efforts to, “Try to solve Sir Robinson’s problem in Milwaukee”, as Associate Dean at the Peck School of the Arts of UW-Milwaukee, Scott Emmons, Ph. D put it.  Several locally conducted studies revealed that among employers, the number one item required was the ability to problem solve. (!!!) Discussion then followed on what changes to education can foster a creative society that not only meets the demands of today’s workplace, but defines how Milwaukee’s educational institutions could benefit today’s pupil’s, future professionals and employers.  This dialogue from the first session Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creativity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Start-Ups, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Want to Innovate? No Excuses, Make it Happen!

Posted by Plish on July 27, 2012

I recently looked at some simulation software to help me do some analysis for a project I’m working on.  I wasn’t looking for a full-blown exact solution. I was instead looking for possible directions – ways to help me ‘zero in’ on ways to attack the problem.

I looked at three tools, all very similar, with each software package having its own advantages and disadvantages.  The problem was that I knew each software program couldn’t solve the problem exactly.  So, I sent a sketch of the problem to the owner of each software company and asked them this question:

“How would you do this?”

Two of the three wrote back with variations of this response: “Our software can’t handle that problem. If you have $10,000 I’m sure you can find software that can.”

The third took a totally different approach: “If you model the top half and do trial and error scenarios, you can zero in on the answer. Double check how the material behaves to make sure that your scenario is accurate.”

 That’s what I was looking for.  Someone that would work with me and find a way to make it happen.

I used his proposed solution and built upon it.  The result?

I understood the problem more thoroughly and was able to come up with multiple solutions (which made my client very happy!)

That’s what innovation is about:

Making the most of the tools one has.

Finding ways to look at the problem from different perspectives.

Acting “as-if” the solution is accessible, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.  This means not being afraid of trial-and-error.

Collaborate with people who exemplify the above traits; dig in and make it happen, and your innovation machine will be unstoppable.

Posted in creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Tale of the Tape – Lo Fidelity Solutions Get Innovation Rolling

Posted by Plish on June 28, 2012

I visited a client today; we’re designing a  truly market-changing product.

A team member showed me a prototype he mocked up.

It was a combination of: a cut-up version of a currently marketed product, part of a prescription drug bottle, and some white tape.

It worked.

Innovations don’t start with fancy prototypes.

All you need is an idea, passion and tape.

 

Posted in creativity, Design, imagination, innovation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Look at Different Approaches to Innovation via NeoCon 2012

Posted by Plish on June 14, 2012

Yesterday, I was at the NeoCon 2012 Design Expo.  While many, if not most,  of the companies touted themselves as being innovative, there were a handful that caught my eye for different reasons.

People need people to heal, so anything that helps family and friends be with a sick person is most welcome in patient care settings.  The “sleepToo” is an amazing piece of furniture.  While the addition of features is often antithetical to innovation, this combo  gets kudos for eliminating multiple other pieces of furniture and ultimately saving space in all too often cramped, patient rooms.    Want to sit and look at your laptop? Go ahead.  Put your feet up? No prob.  And, if you get tired, a quick press of a button deploys a bed so you can “sleepToo.”

Then there’s the GymyGym.  This is another attempt at eliminating mulitple pieces of exercise equipment to save room.  It’s a great idea and everything you need to get a workout is right there on your chair and you don’t need benches and weights lying around your office (or house).  As the salesman told me, “You’ve got a Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, Experience, innovation, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Censoring the Censor – The Key to Increasing Creativity

Posted by Plish on May 12, 2012

Inside your brain there’s a creativity censor.  With finger poised above the ‘Bleep’ button, he’s constantly protecting you from ideas that he deems useless, or worse: foolish.  He knows what every boss wants, what every friend thinks of you, what strangers see when they look at you.  He knows what’s best for you and the best way to get it.

On more than one occasion I’ve seen this censor, singlehandedly, dull brilliance and turn a symphony into an energy sapping drone.

Why would the censor do this?  Because he’s protecting you!  Give him a free rein and you will comfortably reside in the Status Quo.  You won’t look like a fool, you won’t push the envelope, you won’t feel uncomfortable.

Your creativity and the potential for great ideas will also come to a screeching halt.

Ideas build upon ideas – yours and others.  They are stepping-stones.  Remove one and things might be okay…might.  Remove two or three and you’re constrained to walking on one plane.

So, what can you do?

You need to teach yourself to not listen to the censor, but instead to listen to the ideas. When you hear the “BLEEP!” you need to ignore it.  Instead, write the idea down and play with it. See where it leads.  Nowhere?  That’s okay!  But, the very act of acknowledging that idea has now given you a stepping stone to another idea, and another, and….

Don’t get me wrong.  There is still a time and place to listen to the censor.  But, when you’re trying to come up with ideas, looking for new possibilities, exploring the unknown, your imagination is your friend, your light.  Work together with your ideas!

This is exemplified beautifully in this blog post over at Thoughts on Theater.  I’m going to end this piece with  a quote directly from her post, as it’s a wonderful read (as is her entire blog).  It’s about Academy Award winning screenwriter, Robert Pirosh.  He was a copywriter that wanted to become a Hollywood screenwriter. Here’s how he finally landed his dream job:

(Pirosh) sent the following note to all of the major studios, received a slew of interview requests, and finally accepted an offer as a junior writer at MGM. From there he went on to win an Academy Award and write for some of the best and brightest (including the Marx Brothers). Just another testament to the fact that you should not water yourself down in order to obtain the dream job. Do not censor the you that just might land you the gig.

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh

385 Madison Avenue, Room 610

New York Eldorado 5-6024

 

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is There a Will For The “Why?” – Uncovering Innovative Product Opportunities

Posted by Plish on May 4, 2012

One of the best ways to generate innovative ideas is, in some ways, the simplest (but not necessarily the easiest!)

When confronted with a problem, don’t just brainstorm to solve the problem.  Ask, “Why is it important to solve this problem?”

For example, if someone asks you to design and build a boat, the typical response would be, “Okay, what type of boat?”

But, if you really want to generate some innovative solutions ask him, “Why?”

The answer might be, “I want to get from here to Hawaii and I can’t fly.” Or it might be, ” Only rich people have boats and I want people to respect me.”  Or, “I’m going fishing with a friend on a small lake and we need something for us to fish from.”

Too often, we let the problems, or stated needs, morph into the problem statement without much of a challenge.  Someone says she needs a boat, so let’s build her a boat!

Occasionally that’s the right way to go. But, when we need to generate creative solutions, and we really want to shake things up, it’s important to find out what it is that’s really needed.

If, as per the example above, someone wants more respect, is a boat really the way to go?  Similarly, a boat to get to Hawaii is nice, but is it prudent? Why can’t the person fly?  And, there are other ways to fish.  Depending upon the body of water, a boat may actually be limiting! Is it needed?

Getting answers to these questions will open our eyes to alternate products or services that meet deeper needs.   We see that we may not need to design boats at all; we need a way to bolster self-esteem!

But, what if we are boat builders by trade? 

We then are confronted with two choices.  One, we simply get the specifications for the boat, build it and get paid.  The other choice is more of a challenge, but its rewards could be magnitudes greater: We stretch ourselves with the goal of delivering products or services that will meet those, until now, unspoken needs.

This stretching means that we may need to partner with new suppliers or even restructure how we currently do business.  That is why the title of this piece is, “Is There a Will For The ‘Why?'”

Finding out these needs and then acting on them will take some serious will power and maybe even soul-searching. The following are types of questions and solutions we might have to wrestle with.

How can we, as a company, help people feel good about themselves?  What if instead of building a boat, we provided a service whereby sponsors pay for the building of fishing boats for families who lost their livelihoods to a hurricane?  What if we sent “Thank You!” videos from these families to their sponsors, or maybe even made the sponsors part of their businesses so that they got a small percentage of the profits until the boat is paid off?

For those afraid of flying to Hawaii, what if we held a series of workshops for people on conquering their fears?  These workshops could include conquering fear of water, boating, flying, etc.

Similarly, what if we held workshops on, ‘How to Fish Various Bodies of Water?”  What if we partnered with another company to design a line of fishing waders?  What about creating a division to provide rental boats based upon the type of water a person intends to fish?

All these opportunities to differentiate ourselves from the competition would be lost if all we did was take a customer’s money and build a boat.

It ultimately comes down to answering the question:

Is there a will for the”Why?”

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Emotions, Experience, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Service Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Insights into Creativity from Comedian, John Cleese

Posted by Plish on June 15, 2011

Some excellent observations and thoughts on Creativity. It’s not very long, take a few moments to listen to his perspectives.

 

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Creativity Videos, imagination, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where Innovative Solutions Come From

Posted by Plish on May 19, 2011

When you play in the intersection of Needs and Resources, come up with Ideas, Make (prototype) and Evaluate ( learn!) until you get to your Solutions!  (Best viewed at Full Screen)

Posted in creativity, Design, design thinking, innovation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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