Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for March, 2009

9 Lessons in Creative Problem Solving From South Park

Posted by Plish on March 31, 2009

Me in South Park (Courtesy of http://www.sp-studio.de/)

Me in South Park (Courtesy of http://www.sp-studio.de/)

The book Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design  describes the attributes of a sketch as:

  1. Quick
  2. Timely
  3. Inexpensive
  4. Disposable
  5. Plentiful
  6. Clear Style – It suggests it’s a sketch
  7. Distinct – Not tight and precise, open and free
  8. Only Includes Detail Needed to Convey Information
  9. Appropriate Degree of Refinement
  10. Suggest and Explore Direction – Initiate conversations
  11. Ambiguity

It dawned on me the other day that in some way, shape or form, the animated show, South Park  , meets all the above criteria for being a “sketch”. 

Why is this important? 

Because as a sketch, it is saying, “Here’s a problem and a possible solution; what do you think? Don’t like that answer? What about this one?”

Because these sketches are actually animated stories, they also contain a “formula” for bringing about resolution of problems contained therein.

So, what I’ve done is look at the South Park ‘sketch’ formula and find 9 lessons we can apply to our own quests to creatively solve problems, generate ideas, and innovate.

  1. Frame your problems/solutions in the context of a sketch.  Remember, a sketch can take multiple forms.
  2. Don’t pre-judge what you put into the sketch.  Let it be fodder for discussion.
  3. Always ask “What if?”  What if we killed a character every episode and brought him back (i.e. What if we made some aspect of our device reusable?)?  What if a mechanical larynx could be programmed with an Irish accent?  What if ground up cash was anti-viral? What if human excrement could talk?  Again, DON’T judge the ideas – play them through to their logical conclusion!
  4. Look at problems through childrens’ eyes and minds; children usually provide common sense answers.
  5. Don’t let political correctness be the automatic solution to a problem.
  6. Culturally diverse personalities/perspectives are a good thing.
  7. Ask questions. (See #4)
  8. Make the most of the resources you have on hand
  9. Always learn something from a process/problem/solution/situation.

What else could you add to this list?

How do you use sketches to solve problems?

Posted in children, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Play, problem solving, Sketching, Stories | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Out of the Minds of Babes – Lessons From Innovating Children

Posted by Plish on March 27, 2009

Spencer Rocco Whale And His Invention

Spencer Rocco Whale And His Invention

Children are



they invent things,

toys, games, friends, and…

 …medical devices…

This story of Spencer Rocco Whale’s trip to a hospital is both heartwarming and a lesson for all of us.

Spencer wasn’t a patient, he was a visitor.

In his own words: “Kids hospitalized with serious health conditions still like to play.”

His idea?

Attaching the IV pole to a kiddie car so children can tool around with IV’s attached but not their parents.

Some great lessons here:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the user – really-vicariously look at the situation. (His quote says it all!)
  2. Pay attention to the needs of everyone involved! (Not just the children but the parents as well)
  3. If there is an intermediary in a system, try to eliminate it (In this case the parent running alongside with an IV pole)
  4. Improving quality of life can often be achieved through eliminating constraints
  5. Keep your eyes open for ways to help others

If you’re going to keep your eyes open, make sure you’re looking with the eyes of a child…

Posted in children, Design, Health Concerns, idea generation, innovation, invention, Play, The Human Person, toys | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Just Say “No” to Innovation?

Posted by Plish on March 24, 2009

Just say "No" to Innovation (michaelplishka2009)

Just say "No" to Innovation (michaelplishka2009)

Interesting and intriguing post over at FastCompany.

Mr. Gadi Amit attempts to (re)draw the distinction between Innovation and Design; that innovation is more analytical and design more intuitive.  He writes:

Glorified by the likes of Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek and David Kelly of IDEO, “innovation” blurs the boundaries between the worlds of engineering and design. It devalues the real strength of industrial design by forcing an analytical structure over the process of developing a non-analytical design. Similarly, it makes engineering play design, while over-selling its value in defining the “right design”.

Provocative thoughts…

Design also has a pre-eminent quality to it – one can design innovative product/processes but I’m not sure design processes can be innovated without recourse to…


Part of the ‘problem’ (if you agree there is one),  is that the drive to innovate and improve innovation has been connected with quality measures and the Six Sigma process.  Everyone wants to measure innovation. 

That’s great, but innovative product development includes Design and “R” (irrespective of “D”.)  These two disciplines often dovetail together (or are purposely overlapped!) early to mid in the product development process and what they bring to the table often isn’t measurable in terms of product performance per se.

It is not unusual for large companies (that claim they are innovative) to develop products according to established and measured performance values, then lose market share to ‘inferior’ products (according to the previously mentioned performance metrics)-simply because a smaller company has designed it with that certain je ne sais quoi.

Yes, there are techniques for measuring “intangibles”.  While not totally objective per se, it does mean that judging good design, market rocking design, doesn’t have to be totally subjective.

Nevertheless, Mr. Amit’s point is well taken. 

~Sometimes intuition in design isn’t given its due~ 

~Sometimes the design is right because it is~

~Sometimes you just know~

What do you think about Mr. Amit’s thoughts?

Posted in Design, innovation, Nature of Creativity | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Joy de vivre, Inc – Crowdsourcing Product Development

Posted by Plish on March 23, 2009

Do you have a design or product you’d like to see manufactured and sold?

Joydevivre.orgis a crowdsourced innovation portal for people to submit product ideas and eventually make money from them. 

The concept is simple.  You send them a design.  They pre-sell it.  If they sell enough, they make the tooling and invest in the manufacturing using the proceeds from the pre-sales to cover costs. The original designer gets a royalty from the sale.

What do you think of this idea?

Posted in Crowdsourcing, Entrepreneurship 2.0, Funding Innovation, innovation, Start-Ups | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want To Be More Creative? Don’t Forget Playtime!

Posted by Plish on March 21, 2009

Down Hill Racer by Lance Anderson

During a typical day at 268 kindergartens in Los Angeles and New York, children spent two to three hours learning or being tested on literacy and math skills, but 30 minutes or less in imaginative play, two top Alliance executives wrote in a recent report.

The above quote from this article is shocking to say the least.

Children might not be good at math, or literature, but if there’s one thing that they’re good at, it’s playing. 

“Young children work hard at play. They invent scenes and stories, solve problems, and negotiate their way through social roadblocks. They know what they want to do and work diligently to do it. Because their motivation comes from within, they learn the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion…”  Children who engage in playtime also have improved language and social skills, more empathy and imagination, and better self-control…

At a time in the world when we will need more creativity to deal with increasingly diverse and difficult problems, the last thing we should be doing is stifling childrens’ creativity this early in their lives!   Unfortunately, there will be plenty of other opportunities to stifle them as they grow up.

What about those of us who are already adults?

Play time is necessary for us as well! 

Make believe,



next time you have a problem. 

Children have it right.  They truly believe they can solve any problem, fix any hurt, go to any planet, talk with any animal…

Then they grow up and forget the way to discover those solutions.

Dig deep, play and find those solutions that you need to be a child to see.

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Environments, Nature of Creativity, Play, problem solving, Research, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mindmapping as a Creativity Tool

Posted by Plish on March 21, 2009


Click to See High Resolution Version

Mindmaps are cool.

I’ve used them for this blog, for presentations, for compiling thoughts on research, even to map myself!

While we all want to be cool and high tech and use mindmapping software (of which there is plenty-just google it), drawing them often can have more impact, plus it’s easier to let our creativity and color run wild. Images and color do a better job of stimulating new ideas than plain text.

If you want to see some amazing hand drawn mindmaps and learn more about this art/tool, check out this blog

There is a profound piece there entitled “The Qualities of Leonardo Da Vinci”.  It’s well worth reading and meditating upon.

What are your thoughts on mind maps?

Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, Creative Thinking Techniques, idea generation, innovation, leonardo da vinci, Mind Maps, problem solving | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Innovation In Healthcare Requires Change In Culture

Posted by Plish on March 17, 2009


Innovative problem solving begins with a succinct and powerful problem statement. 

Poorly Phrased Problem= Ineffective Solutions

Problem statements are deficient when:

  • The wrong endpoints are chosen to define the problem
  • The variables in the situation are poorly understood

I was disturbed but not surprised by this articlethat highlights the fact that nurses, the front lines of healthcare, are reluctant about disclosing mistakes they and other clinicians make.  

In my experience, clinicians will often ‘blame’ medical devices, or send complaints to companies for perceived malfunctions in products or packaging (of which the company is required to determine if the complaints are serious enough to warrant changing the product or manufacturing processes), as opposed to accepting that products were used in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or perhaps not used at all. 

I point this out not to condemn clinicians but to point out that it’s unfortunately, human nature, to shift blame to those outside the prevailing culture.  That does the following:

  • It gets the problem out of sight, which means it’s out of mind.
  • It self-justifies current behaviors and elevates the ego
  • Empowers the systems to continue functioning as they are which creates a facade of efficiency

And, by the way, NOT reporting a problem/mistake also has the same above effects.

It is clear then that cultures must change if innovation is to occur in the realm of patient care.

Some possible solutions:

  1. Decouple litigious ramifications for problem reporting. 
  2. Put systems in place which quickly address problems and put corrective actions in motion
  3. Free communication between all levels of healthcare hierarchy
  4. Encourage teams in which egos are left outside the realm of patient care
  5. Encourage checks and balances without fear of retribution
  6. Management needs to know where obstacles to care arise and then act to remove them
  7. Re-examine workflows to minimize opportunities for mistakes

Ultimately it comes down to changing cultures.  As Lillee Smith Gelinas, RN, BSN, MSN, FAAN, vice president and chief nursing officer at VHA Inc. says,

“The more we implement just cultures (where) nurses speak up more and feel more open, the more nurses will benefit and feel like they are not on the sharp edge of getting fired if they say anything. They will have the opposite view that if they speak up, they are honoring the portion of their license that says we are patient advocates.”

 What would you propose for improving and innovating healthcare cultures?

Posted in Best Practices, Case Studies, culture of innovation, Health Concerns, innovation, Research, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Tips for Spotting, Hiring and Retaining Innovative Talent

Posted by Plish on March 15, 2009


Do You See People in Black and White or...?

Do You See People in Black and White or...?

In the Mid 1980’s, Lotus was having a tough time coming up with new products.  In spite of the new influx of talent, many with MBA’s and resumes that included the likes of Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola, Lotus was losing its luster and many of the original hires were jumping ship because they no longer felt they fit in.

CEO Mitchell Kapor and  Head of Organizational Development and Training, Freada Klein, decided to look more deeply at the hiring practices to see if maybe something had changed.

In a brilliant experiment, they took the resumes of the first 40 people hired and doctored them up to disguise the identities contained therein, while leaving untouched more unconventional aspects of their resumes (such as their experiences as clinical psychologists, community organizers, meditation teachers, etc.)   They then submitted these people to the applicant pool to see what would happen.  Incidentally, Kapor’s resume was also included.

The result?

None of the original 40 employees were asked for an interview!

Lotus was screening out the innovative, multi-talented people and had created a narrow minded culture.

This scenario is hardly unique to Lotus.  It’s all too common in the corporate world.  Yet, at a time when innovation is needed more than ever, multi-faceted individuals need to be appreciated for what they bring to the table.  The result will be the building of a culture that is intellectually diverse and able to tackle the unique problems of the day.

So, what can managers and hiring personnel do to make sure they don’t slip into the Lotus trap? 

For that we turn to Margaret Lobenstine, author of: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.   (The  following in PDF format is here):

DON’T MISS Such Potentially Valuable Employees:
• Don’t automatically rule out resumes that show a “checkered work history”
especially if the references are all positive
• Be careful about the questions used in interviews. For example, the familiar
question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” rarely brings out the best in
Renaissance Soul candidates. They are far more likely to get good ideas for next
steps as they move along rather than having a set plan for themselves that goes
that far into the future. While this flexible quality may produce a stilted answer in
the interview, it may be your company’s key to staying alive in an ever-changing
work environment.

PLACE Renaissance Souls Where They Can Be The Greatest Asset:
• in the brainstorming, product creating, ground-breaking areas of your business;
• as inter-departmental team leaders
• where creative trouble-shooting is needed

Think About STAFFING PATTERNS For Such Employees:
• Consider using Renaissance Souls as mentors for employees who need help
developing their ability to see the big picture, to problem-solve, to innovate
• Pair Renaissance Soul employees with detail-oriented, follow-through staff and
get the best from both!

Focus In On WAYS TO KEEP Valuable Renaissance Souls:
• Pay more attention to the language used in work assignments. Instead of
implying a singularity of focus “Find out the cause of this problem and fix it!” try
framing things in terms of multiples: “What combination of things do you think may
be causing this problem and what solutions can be applied?”
• Allow as much flexibility as possible in terms of when and where the
Renaissance Souls work; in the long run, they are far more likely to be workaholics
than shirkers if given free rein to follow their own rhythms
• Often times Renaissance Souls will be more interested in a horizontal move that
offers them a chance to learn a new area of the business than in a vertical one,
where they are essentially doing the same type of work, only with greater
responsibility. Create ways to make such horizontal moves as respected and
rewarding as vertical ones.
• Encourage asking Renaissance Souls to explore a variety of relevant
journals/periodicals/web sites and funnel relevant info to the right people in the
• Give help in areas of typical weakness for such employees: distractibility,
tendency to take longer than expected on projects that they find interesting
because they get too interested

What other practices would you recommend for making sure you’re hiring and retaining innovative people?

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Environments, culture of innovation, innovation, Renaissance Souls, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Using Stories to Help Your Creativity, Generate Ideas and Solve Problems!

Posted by Plish on March 13, 2009


“Individual creativity is very intimate and personal. So, it’s important to learn how to listen to your own instincts, to listen to your inner voice-or find your inner voice-so that your self-expression becomes authentic and grounded and not simply a function of what you think people want to hear,what’s fashionable or what you think you should do as a life-long task…. Creativity is very much about being intimate with yourself, but also a number of things that, frankly, are difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to articulate.”
John Kao -Innovator, Artist, Author of “Innovation Nation”

“When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange – we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in…All that is most original lies waiting for us to summon it forth. And yet we know it is not as easy as that….Embarrassment, self-consciousness, remembered criticisms, can stifle the average person so that less and less in his lifetime can he open himself out.”
Ray Bradbury-Author

Based upon the two perspectives noted above, it seems amazing that anyone is creative in a productive manner.

Yet, as Ray Bradbury says, it’s all there, waiting…


calling out –

to be shared with the world!

How do we tap into the depths of creativity within?

The Links of Creativity Websites on this page and the Resource page are good places to start.

But, there is an intimate, and effective way to tap into the authentic voice.


Think of great authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke. They envisioned solutions long before they existed. The looked inside themselves, embraced the wonder, and saw it as more powerful and empowering than Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Thinking Techniques, idea generation, Innovation Tools, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Stories, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Exploring Creativity and Spirituality – SoulPancake

Posted by Plish on March 10, 2009


Came across SoulPancake

A provocative blog that is colorful, obtuse, focused, tasty and more…

Started by Actor Rainn Wilson, of the TV show, The Office, SoulPancake strives to be a place of, “debate  about life’s big questions,” a contributing voice that will, “de-lamify talk’n about God and Religion.”

But most of all, it’s about creativity and life, engaging humanity at its deepest and most profound, tasting of the waters of the font where creativity, suffering, joy, all percolate from a Divine nexus within.

Innovation, creativity, awe-inspiring design, come from an embrace and sharing of who and what we are as humans.

What do you think of the SoulPancake concept and site?

Posted in Authenticity, Design, innovation, Nature of Creativity, Religion, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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