ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Use This Simple but Underused Technique for Being More Creative (and get a bonus!)

Posted by Plish on September 6, 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if solutions to our problems came to us from alternate universes? Places where the laws of nature may be different?  Where wonderful and fascinating things occur on a regular basis?

Guess what – they do.

They’re called our dreams.

All you have to do is remember and keep track of them.

Researchers have determined that logging dreams actually aids creative thinking.  From the abstract:

Enhanced dream recall through daily dream logging fosters aspects of creativity. Associations between creativity, dissociation, and thinness of boundaries, suggest that increased awareness to dreams increases creativity through a “loosening” of stereotyped thinking pattern.

The challenge then is to be able to remember what the heck we dreamed in the first place.  I researched multiple sites but at the end of the day, Amy Cope summarized the best ways to remember dreams here. I’ll paraphrase below with a few supplements 🙂

  1. Write the dreams down.  Don’t worry about catching every aspect of the dream.  Words, images, fragments, feelings, concerns associated with the dream, all are important.
  2. Seems obvious,  but make sure the journal is handy.
  3. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine prior to sleep
  4. B-Vitamins
  5. Various herbs also increase vividness of dreams (the more vivid the better the chances of remembering them).  Calea Zacatechichi is one such herb.
  6. Eat foods high in melatonin
  7. Prime yourself for remembering your dreams.  Tell yourself: “I will remember my dreams” or “In the morning I will remember my dreams.”
  8. Set your alarm 20 minutes early.  This could in theory interrupt a dream and thus make it easier to remember.  However, some people get too startled when woken from a dream and they are so rattled they ‘shake loose’ the dream and forget it.
  9. Don’t move when getting out of bed. Use gentle movements to record the dreams.  Sometimes assuming the position you were in prior to waking  up and closing your eyes can take you back to the images/etc. of your dream.  Keep your eyes closed. Stay with the dream for a while. Meditate on the meanings.
  10. If you don’t remember anything, think of other dreams you’d had, or common images, movies you’ve seen, anything that might provide a connection to what you just saw.

The Mindful Dreamer site has this great tip (In addition to many of the above tips): If you’ve got a problem that you need answered, write it down before going to bed.  It gives you something to start with before sleep and something to pick up on when you wake up.

Dreamstudies.org has this Snooze Method for remembering dreams.  It’s pretty much summarized above, but for the detailed method, check here.

Oh, and what’s the bonus I mentioned in the headline?

In addition to being more creative, if you practice the above regularly, the quality of your sleep will go up as well. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, innovation, problem solving, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Nine Innovation Lessons from the Movie, ‘Baby Driver’

Posted by Plish on July 1, 2017

Saw the movie “Baby Driver” last night.

Great action packed, fun, movie!

There’s one lesson the recurs in the movie:

If you want to avoid getting caught, be willing to drive on surfaces other than the main road.

It’s the same with innovation- to stay ahead of the pack, you need to venture off the main drag.

What are the traits of being on an alternate surface, of being an innovation trailblazer?

  1. The path is not smooth.  In fact, it might be downright bumpy.
  2. You feel like you’re on the verge of being out of control. (But remember, you ARE in control.  You chose this path so you want to be on it!)
  3. You trust your technologies, push them and and get the most out of them, perhaps even use them in unorthodox manners.
  4. You find yourself intensely engaged in the process.  You’re not on automatic pilot – in fact, you CAN’T be or you’ll crash.
  5. You’re learning and getting better all the time.
  6. Your path is unique (Others trying to follow on the main road can’t keep up, and those following you ‘off-road’ have a really hard time because they have to deal with the ‘fallout’ of what you’re doing and they really don’t want to be there – they are there because they think they have to be catch you)
  7. Sometimes you slam on the brakes and make adjustments.  (That’s ok – it might be the best way to stay ahead of the game!)
  8. You get where you’re going.
  9. People say you’re crazy – and/or good.

 

So ask yourself:

Are you on the road to innovation?

 

 

 

 

Posted in culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Service Design, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Innovation is Counter-Intuitive: Fighting Fire with Fire

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2017

Wood.

A beautiful, versatile material, but humans aren’t the only ones who like it.

Bugs like it.

Fungi like it,

Fire destroys it.

So how do we make it more robust?

Typical approaches are to chemically treat the wood.  Soak it, coat it. But, some of those chemicals are downright nasty to humans and nature.  Plus, they often need to be re-applied frequently to keep the wood in its peak resistant form.

Turns out there’s a simpler, more effective way of making wood resistant to fire, and to critters of all sizes.

In Japanese the technique is called Shou-Sugi-Ban.  It’s been practiced there for at least 300 years, probably longer.

In English it’s called: Fire.

Yes, that’s correct.  Burn the wood.  Char it.  The process destroys the cellulose and leaves charred lignin behind which is much harder to ignite. (Ever try starting a fire with cold charred wood?  It’s possible but not easy)

From an innovation standpoint, I love the fact that Shou-Sugi-Ban is so counter-intuitive.

Often when people encounter a weakness in a material or design, the reflexive response is to avoid it.  Design around it.  This innovation hack embraces the weakness and capitalizes on it.

The technique is simple.  Look at the negatives and see if you can control and/or exaggerate them in time or space to create a solution that renders the negatives powerless at a later time or place.  In this case, fire is typically the end of wood.  However, by putting fire at the beginning of the wood treating process, the wood becomes resistant to fire down the line.

Another example from the world of fire?

For years oil rig fires have been extinguished by using explosions, and now a similar technique is being explored to put out wildfires.

Other examples of this contradiction based technique have directly impacted the lives of millions.

Vaccines for one.  By taking a pathogen and exposing the body to it in a controlled manner –  Voila!  Immunity!

There’s also Desensitization.

It’s used to cure people of allergies.  A psychological version of desensitization is used to cure people of phobias.  In both cases, people are exposed to the problem causing agent in a controlled manner.  Like the wood of Shou-Sugi-Ban, they become resistant to the very things that made them miserable.

So, next time you have a product that has an Achilles heel, see if you can use that weakness as a strength by applying the weakness in a preemptive manner.  The results could surprise you.

 

 

Posted in Biomimicry, Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Discover Opportunity in Negativity

Posted by Plish on February 24, 2017

Negativity.  It’s everywhere.

It seems no one can do anything right.  Whether in politics, business or design critiquing, the default reaction seems to be one of negativity.

In some ways people can be excused.  From an evolutionary perspective, seeing the negatives gives an advantage in fight or flight situations.

Reaction 1: That tiger’s going to eat us – RUUUN!!!! (NEGATIVE)

Reaction 2: That tiger is licking its lips no doubt because it had a giant meal and now she’s just resting.  We can walk right by her. (POSITIVE)

The negative clearly has the advantage.

But, we’re not in Fight or Flight most of the time

Modern society has eliminated most acute threats to our existences. But that doesn’t stop us from seeing the negative. The problem is that when everyone is seeing negatives, the positives escape notice.  In fact, when the crowd is seeing negatives, we have a greater tendency to reinforce the negatives present and even find new ones.  Misery not only loves company, it creates it!!

Be a contrarian!

While recently reading “The Art of Contrary Thinking” (by Humphrey B. Neill) i was struck by the following:

“Bring up almost any question – on domestic or foreign affairs – and you will hear voices at once chime in that “it won’t work,” “It can’t be done,” and so on….(Instead,)…If we start asking “what’s right?”about this or that question, we shall find  we are actually changing our whole method of thinking.”***

Changing how we think is not easy to do, but it is fruitful and it can be done.

Example 1: Of mice and men…

in 1979, there was a mouse driven graphical user interface in use at Xerox.  It wasn’t commercialized.  It was clunky, had three buttons, and was hardly ready for prime time.  Steve Jobs saw it, and most importantly, saw the good in it.  He saw past the clunky three button tethered box.  The rest, as they say, is  (Apple) history.

Example 2: All they’re doing is playing games!!

That’s a typical refrain of people when they see young people playing video games and even recording and sharing them on YouTube.  Yet, E-Sports are not just a fringe phenomenon.  They are a multi-multi -million dollar ‘sport’that involve millions of people worldwide (Gaming almost had 100 billion in revenues in 2016!!) .

You can mock it.  You can call it a fad.

Do that and one thing will be guaranteed:

You’ll miss out.

So Design for the good!

Before you can do that, you need to first see the good. You need to not agree with crowds.who will be pointing out the zillion things wrong.  You need to have enough character and confidence to look deep, see the good, and stand by the good in a product, service,  technology or cultural phenomenon.

Ask yourself: What’s good about ……?

Build upon that good thing! Use it as a spring board.  Innovate around it!

Opportunities will present themselves where others just see… well actually, they won’t see anything.  They’ll be complaining about this or that.

You, as a contrary thinker, will be making better products, and making the world a better place!

 

*** – This book was written in the 1950’s and he was bemoaning the negativity pervasive in discourse!!!

Posted in Design, Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, Innovation Tools, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Four Key Words That Open Doors to Innovation

Posted by Plish on February 15, 2017

Robots made of water.

No, those aren’t the four words.

Researchers at MIT developed a hydrogel robot.  It’s soft.  It grips.  It’s almost invisible underwater.  In short, it’s a totally cool technology.  (Hydrogels are cool materials on their own) Now, they’re trying to understand what it can be used for.

‘Let’s play with this’. – Hyunwoo Yuk, MIT Graduate Student

Those are the four words.

Let’s play with this.

Once a technology is discovered, the challenge is often one of finding a problem to the solution.  One of the best ways to do that is to play.

What is play comprised of?

It’s essentially saying, “What if…?” and exploring.

It’s a matter of taking something and just seeing what happens when it’s subjected to some other stressors.  It’s a collision of ideas.  It’s taking what is and exploring what it may be.

The inventor of cornflakes, Keith Kellogg, left boiled wheat out overnight.  Instead of throwing it out, he took the flaky dough (took ‘what is’) and decided to bake it anyway (exploring).  A crunchy  cereal and a business was born.

Take chances – Explore!

Keep your eyes peeled for new technologies.  Don’t necessarily use them for what they’re intended.  Try using them for something else.  That collision of metaphors, of what is and what may be when something is used differently, are fruitful soil for new products and new business opportunities.

What am I playing with now?

I saw the Walabot, and knew I had to get one for my lab.  A cool RF radar technology, seems like it can have myriads of uses.  The company’s website tag is: Create, Play, Discover.

Let’s PLAY with this!!!!!

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The Secret Behind The Invention of Spanx

Posted by Plish on February 9, 2017

When most people think about Spanx and how they were invented, people often mention Inventor Sara Blakely cutting the feet off of her pantyhose to create the first prototype.

But the secret wasn’t in the prototype per se

It was in the metaphor that drove her to cut the feet of those hose.

—“Shapewear is the canvas and the clothes are the art.” –Sara Blakely

While the metaphor may not have been explicitly articulated at the time, it was clearly already active in her mind.

Like an unsmoothed piece of gessoed canvas on which no amount of paint could hide the imperfections, the clothes women wore showed what was beneath.  Blakely didn’t like the fact that underwear, and how it assaulted a woman’s body, was able to be seen through clothes.  Every ripple, every bulge, insidiously showed itself.   The masterpiece of beauty was betrayed by faulty ‘canvas.’

That first prototype solved the problem: The shapewear became a flawless canvas enabling a work of art to be ‘painted’ upon it.  The masterpiece could shine through un-detracted by the canvas beneath.  A new problem revealed itself: The legs of the cut hose kept rolling up.   But that didn’t detract from the fact that a solution had been found.  From that point on, the process of refining the product was geared towards comfort, manufacturability and scalability.

The Metaphor Stayed Active

As a guest on James Altucher’s Podcast recently, Blakely proclaimed: “Everything is a Canvas!” (A perspective that also drove her creation of The Belly Art Project.)    This metaphor has continued to drive the development of Spanx product lines.  It’s powerful because it acknowledges the potential works of art that are enabled through their products.  Spanx make people feel good about being walking art.

Feel The Metaphor

When solving problems, tune in to the emotions you’re feeling.  You may not be able to articulate what you’re feeling, but acknowledge it nonetheless.  If you can articulate them, great! Regardless, start acting on them.  Humans make sense of the world through metaphor.  Start acting on those feelings and see if a metaphor is revealed and if it is resolved.  Some kinks might still need to be worked out, but you’ll recognize the solution when it’s present.

“Good Design is Obvious.  Great Design is Transparent.” – Joe Soprano

Spanx are transparent, just as a smooth canvas should be.   The greatness is apparent to women and men worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Design, Fashion, innovation, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Three Words That Will Alert You To Opportunities for Innovation and Growth

Posted by Plish on January 20, 2017

“I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Donald Trump.”
“I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton.”
“I don’t understand how anyone can play Pokémon for that long”
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to buy an iPad when an Android works just as well”
“How can anyone listen to {Taylor Swift, Kanye West, etc….}?”  (This is a veiled way to say “I don’t understand.”)
I Don’t Understand…

 

Those three words represent a disconnect from people and objects. They represent a lack of understanding of how people are being served, or how their desires are (or aren’t) being met. They point to how we don’t understand how people’s aspirations may be enabled and thus they point to how we don’t understand the opportunities present.

But perhaps more importantly, those three words highlight that we haven’t taken the time to understand people. What does that say about us? We like to think of ourselves as well informed, as perhaps at The Cutting Edge, as caring human beings.  Yet, we are confronted with seemingly inexplicable phenomena where millions of people are fans of a product, service, or person.

There’s a lesson here regardless of what products we like, or what people we want for president, or what games we play. We need to be tuned in to what other people want. If we really want to build better communities, a better world, we need to understand each other. We need to know where people are coming from. We need to know what types of things are passionately driving people in their day-to-day lives.

Niches of (Not) Understanding

Those words, “I don’t understand…” alert us to niches.  When designing products and services, we must play in those niches . And as we’ve seen, those niches can be comprised of millions and millions of people.

Pay Attention

Pay attention to what people do. Pay attention to what people say. Understand what excites people. What makes people happy? What do people feel that they will lose if they don’t have something? What will people feel they will gain if they do have something or if they don’t?

Today the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, is being sworn in. His election highlights the fact that there are millions upon millions of people in this country who don’t understand how somebody could vote for somebody else. That means that there are millions of people that’s simply don’t understand their fellow Americans people that’s too high a number.  If we’re designing a better country, (and that’s something that everyone seemingly wants), we need to rise above caricatures and start understanding each other’s motivations and pains.  We need to really understand and not lump everyone into neat little political, racial, socio-economic, etc. silos of categorization.

Misunderstanding

Thinking we understand is perhaps even worse than not understanding at all. When we misunderstand, we risk going down the unfruitful paths.  We risk spending money, time and energy on things that won’t resonate and hence won’t succeed.    Can anyone say “Edsel“?

Listen For Those Three Words

“I don’t understand”  Use those words as a springboard to exploring the relationships, needs, and desires, of people. Those words are the key to new products, services, and even in the bigger picture, a better world.  At at the end of the day, the best thing we can say is, “I understand why…” , or “I understand how…”

Once we understand, we grow.  When we’ve grown, we can get to work designing  solutions:  better products, better services, a better world.

Posted in culture of innovation, Design, innovation, observation, Politics, problem solving, Service Design, Social Innovation, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Innovator’s New Year Resolution

Posted by Plish on January 10, 2017

Twenty-Nine Percent

That’s the percentage of people that aren’t keeping their resolutions after 2 weeks.

What I’m going to propose a is pleasant and powerful resolution that Innovators of all types have implemented in their lives.

 

SIGNIFICANT THINGS

Great discoveries, great designs, innovations of all types,  occurred when people saw the significant hidden in the insignificant.  Be open to the unexpected and don’t belittle the insignificant!

SIGNIFICANT PEOPLE

In fact, the history of the human race is replete with people who have humble, insignificant beginnings, or were viewed as insignificant people because of the color of their skin, the country or caste of their birth, their religion, their sex – they were viewed as people who weren’t worth paying attention to.  Yet, these people changed the world.

OBSERVE

Pay attention.  Look deeply at the insignificant.  Don’t just cast it away and call it “waste”,”lesser”, “pointless”, “negligible”, “inconsequential”.

APPRECIATE EVERYTHING – AN INNOVATOR’S RESOLUTION

Only when you appreciate everything will you see opportunities for improvement, for elevation, for partnerships,  renewal, growth, friendships and more.  Missed opportunities will be few and far between.

AND WHEN IT’S NOT THERE, GIVE SIGNIFICANCE

Often the insignificant is only insignificant because it hasn’t been given the opportunity to be significant.  Empower.  Elevate.  Understanding the insignificance enables you to create significance.

BE AN INNOVATOR

Design a better world.  People are yearning to be more, experience more.  You are the one to provide it. It starts with open eyes, an open mind and an open heart.

It starts with you…

 

 

 

 

Posted in creativity, Design, innovation, problem solving, Social Innovation, The Future, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Makes Innovations Sticky and Contagious?

Posted by Plish on December 18, 2016

wiper salute

 

As I write this, temperatures are plummeting toward -5F (-21C) tonight and a high of 1F(-17C) tomorrow, punctuated by times of high winds and snow…

Windshield wipers frozen and locked to a windshield that’s caked in ice and snow

For those who live through winters where the temperature drops below the freezing point of water, it’s a frustrating and very real problem.  I personally solve this problem by covering the windshield and wipers with a gray, black and white snow leopard patterned sheet called FrostGuard.

Others, like in the picture shown above, do something elegantly simple:  Elevate the wipers so they aren’t wedged down at the base of the windshield.  This keeps the wipers free and makes cleaning the windshields after a snow storm easier. The wipers themselves aren’t caked in ice and are more useful on the ride home.

What is fascinating, is that this phenomenon perpetuates itself.  Just a couple years ago, I seldom saw this phenomenon.  Now, drive into a parking lot with impending snow and ice, and rows of car wipers salute me!

So, why does this practice catch on?

To answer this, let’s look to Jonah Berger’s, “Contagious:Why Things Catch On.” and “Made to Stick:Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath.

Berger calls out six traits of contagious ideas:

  1. Social Currency – It makes you look cool or in the know
  2. Triggers – There are triggers in the environment that make you think about an idea
  3. Emotion – It involves emotional engagement
  4. Public – If it’s public people can see it and share
  5. Practical -Practical is better than obtuse.
  6. Stories – It’s conveyed in a story

The Heath Brothers point out these traits for sticky ideas:

  1. Simple -Has a core concept
  2. Unexpected – It surprises people
  3. Concrete – An idea can be grasped and remembered later
  4. Credible – It’s believable
  5. Emotional – Engages people
  6. Stories – It’s conveyed in a story

The elevated Windshield Wipers hit multiple points

  • Simple – Lift wipers to make your Post Storm Windshield Cleanup  (PSWC) easier
  • Social Currency – Dude, I know how to make the PSWC. Am I cool or what?
  • Unexpected -Whoa, check out the wipers standing in the rows of cars!
  • Triggers – It’s going to snow while I’m in the office (or shopping center, or…). Time to do something about it now so I don’t pay for it later.
  • Concrete – Just lift the wipers. How easy is that?
  • Emotion – We’ve all felt biting winds and frozen body parts while scraping ice off of windshields and cursed under our breaths when the wipers don’t clean the windows, even after we’ve sprayed a ton of wiper fluid!
  • Credible – Makes total sense to lift the wipers
  • Public – It’s in parking lots everywhere
  • Practical – In other words: easy to practice
  • Stories – This whole post is talking about this concept.  But the real story is told each time someone walks into a parking lot: Once upon a time,  a winter storm was coming.  As you exit your car after parking, you see multiple cars with wipers proudly standing perpendicular.  You go into the office.  Meanwhile, snows came and they were terrible!  When it’s time to leave, you’re greeted by a blast of arctic as you walk into the parking lot.  While you and others get frost bit, and curse over howling winds while cleaning your windshields, Wiper People spend less time in the cold, and are actually able to see out their windshields on the drive home.  And they lived happily ever after!

What’s the moral of the story?

Innovations get adopted when people’s paths cross.  And they need to be sticky and contagious.  Put them out there so they’re easy to try.  The best ones end up letting you see the world and yourself a little more clearly. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Live the Innovator’s Spirit – Thank You, John Glenn

Posted by Plish on December 9, 2016

…Explosions…  

We can watch them and marvel, or we can ride them to the stars.

John Glenn rode them.

He piloted human innovation at the cutting edge and was rewarded with the wonder of seeing four sunsets in a day.

“I suppose the one quality in an astronaut more powerful than any other is curiosity. They have to get some place nobody’s ever been.”- John Glenn

If you want to innovate, go where someone else has never been.  Make the trail. Make your way. Explore. Prototype. Test. Don’t just dip your toe into the water.  Dive into the waves.

“We used to joke about canned men, putting people in a can and seeing how far you can send them and bring them back. That’s not the purpose of this program… Space is a laboratory, and we go into it to work and learn the new.” – John Glenn

Be part of the experience. Empathize. Understand.  The New begets The New.

“To sit back and let fate play its hand out and never influence it is not the way man was meant to operate.” – John Glenn

 Multiple possibilities exist.  Don’t try and predict it.  In the certain-ness of uncertainty, Make the Future.

“Fear connotes something that interferes with what you’re doing.” – John Glenn

Fear blinds. Fear creates hesitation.  The New is needed, now.  The world needs you to be fearless.

“I’m not interested in my legacy. I made up a word: ‘live-acy.’ I’m more interested in living.” – John Glenn

Live.  Don’t look back.  Look forward.  Look up, down, left, right, and within.

“We have an infinite amount to learn both from nature and from each other.” – John Glenn

Learn.  Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why.  Learn from great teachers.

Be a great teacher of Innovation!

God Speed on Wings of Angels, John Glenn.

 

“Old folks have dreams and ambitions too, like everybody else. Don’t sit on a couch someplace” – John Glenn, July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016

All quotes courtesy of Brainy Quote and AZ Quotes

 

 

Posted in culture of innovation, Design, innovation, NASA, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, The Future, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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