Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for May, 2009

Cross-Cultural Immersion to Boost Creativity

Posted by Plish on May 30, 2009


Read this thought provoking study about how people who have to move to, and live in a different country and experience a different culture become more creative.  It’s almost as if something clicks within them and they view the world, and problems they encounter, in a different, more creative way.

The study showed that it wasn’t just travelling abroad but living abroad that made the difference.  To me, this implies that it’s the forced nature of new experiences and the fact that new languages, new cultural aspects must be learned that helps trigger the increase in creativity.

Though in some ways it looks like the study might not be structured in the best way, nevertheless, I have the following observations and questions.

  1. Countries, like the USA, who have a large population of immigrants that come in and adjust and become part of the culture at large, should, in theory, have a great resource of ‘extra’-creative people.  In some ways, the growth of small business in the US brought about by folks who are following the “American Dream” could be proof of this.
  2. If immigrants don’t try and learn the language of the main country they live and learn its culture, will they get that creative boost? I would say probably not.
  3. Are children of the immigrants, who often learn both their parents’ and their birth country’s language and culture, getting the creative boost? I would say ‘yes’.
  4. What happens when people must live in multiple, markedly different countries? Do these people get a new boost in every country they live in?
  5. Can just learning a new language well and using it give the boost?  Again, I would say probably ‘yes.’

What do you think about this study?  Are there other ways that this creativity “boost” might be stimulated?

Posted in cognitive studies, Creative Environments, creativity, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, The Human Person, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Finding Inspiration (and Innovation) in Parallel Universes

Posted by Plish on May 27, 2009

13 years and over 6000 miles separates the same idea

13 years and over 6000 miles separates the same idea

Often inspiration can come from very different places. 

Take a look at the pictures to the left.

The top is an interventional catheter anchor that I designed circa 1996, Northbrook, IL.  The material is soft and pliable so that a patient can lay on it.  The underside can have adhesive attached or it can be stitched to the patient. The catheter pops into the notch and a  cable tie can be used to fasten it if need be.

The bottom is a cable holder circa 2009,  for sale in Japan.  Peel adhesive off the bottom and attach it to a surface. It’s made of soft material so stuff can be snapped into the notch.

In essence, these two products are the same, separated by 13 years and over 6000 miles.  One is intended for use in health care, the other is a cool holder for keeping your desk surface cleaner and more organized.

This type of thing actually happens much more often than people realize.  Two problems, in essence, the same problem, get solved at opposite ends of the world at different times in history.  In this case, two solutions, in essence the same solution, were developed to keep something from moving and shifting around .

The lesson is clear:


When trying to solve a problem look to other industries, other countries, other similar physical phenomena for guidance.  You never know where your next solutions could come from. 

Best of all, cool new products might not have to wait 13 years to see the light of day.

Posted in Case Studies, creativity, Design, idea generation, innovation, invention, Nature of Creativity, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

If Creativity is for the Birds, it Should be for People Too

Posted by Plish on May 26, 2009

Lesson in Creativity From the Rook

Lesson in Creativity From the Rook

It is not uncommon for management, team leaders, etc. to have a predisposition towards having only the “creative” geniuses provide the creative input in brainstormings, strategy meetings, etc.

I strongly believe that this view can hinder creative output as all people have, and should be appreciated for, their innate creative capabilities –  whoever they are, whatever their positions.

Moreso, when people are allowed to use their creative abilities, they often will contribute in ways that were not anticipated and thus provide innovative impetus to the work at hand.

I came across this fascinating research out of Cambridge.  They did some research on the tool making capabilities of a bird called the ‘rook.‘  What is really amazing is that rooks don’t make tools in the wild, but they do in captivity.  And, not only do they make tools, they pick the best tools for certain  jobs. And, when the needed tools were out of reach, they used a tool to get the right tool!

There are some great lessons to glean here and apply in our teams, workplaces, and homes.

  1. Sometimes creativity shows up when people are out of their natural element.  It might help to put people in non-threatening environments that are different from the norm and let them do their thing.
  2. Let your people determine the best tools for a job.
  3. If the right tools don’t exist, let people make the tools that they will use to do their jobs.  That means two things: a) Take them seriously and listen if they say there’s a better way, b) Supply them with the raw materials they ask for.
  4. Sometimes the tool that someone uses will just be a stepping stone in the process of getting or making the right tool.  Don’t interrupt the creative process!

Ultimately, creating tools is about creating solutions. 

So just think:

If birds came up with these cool solutions, what could you and your teams do with open minds?

Posted in Case Studies, cognitive studies, Creative Environments, creativity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, idea generation, imagination, innovation, invention, nature, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, Science, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

If a Giant Company Starts Twittering is it a Sign of Innovative Behavior?

Posted by Plish on May 21, 2009


I came across this article that asks the question, “Is Chevron, Shell’s Twittering an Innovation Indicator?”

The article discusses the variations in the two giants’ approaches and concludes that in spite of the fact that Shell uses Twitter more passively than Chevron, 


Twittering = Innovation!



Using Twitter as a channel for disseminating press releases, countering negative PR, and providing hurricane updates, is less a sign of innovative behavior and more a sign of shrewd business.

For the sake of argument, let’s use my favorite definition of Innovation.

Innovation = Creativity x Risk Taking

Applying that definition to this situation, let’s look at what these companies are doing in the following table:


You tell me, if a big company starts twittering, is it being innovative?

or smart?

Posted in creativity, innovation, Innovation Tools, The Innovation Equation, Twitter | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

What does your ‘Creativity Alphabet’ Look Like?

Posted by Plish on May 21, 2009

Came across the above video “F is for Fail- An Alphabetical Odyssey Through the Creative Process.”

I really like it though I can’t make up my mind if this has a negative or positive bent (I lean towards it being a wee bit on the negative side).  It did, nevertheless, get me thinking about my ‘Creativity Alphabet’. 

creativity alphabet (michael plishka 2009)A-Artistry



C-Capture, Chaos



F-Fail, Font, Freedom



I-Illuminative, Imagine


K-Kalology, Kenosis

L-Love, Limitless


N-Night, Nascent, Nature


P-Perspective, Prayer

Q-Question, Quiet



T-Transcend, Time


V-Veritas, Vision



Y-Yin, Yang


What is your alphabet?

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Musical Creativity, Nature of Creativity, Philosophy, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Slipping of Writing Skills in Those Under 40

Posted by Plish on May 19, 2009


I was reading about the Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing and Criticism and looking for what I needed to do to submit to the competition.

I was reading the eligibility section and came across the following requirement:

“At the time of submission, the writer must be under the age of 40.”

Whoa! What? Under 40?  What the????

I was stunned. 

I clicked on the FAQ page to see if perhaps there was some explanation.  There it was:

“In recent years, AIGA has noticed that younger designers seem not to share the same inclination that earlier generations had in articulating their reactions in reasoned essays. Educators who have encouraged students to express themselves report the same phenomenon. “

The article continues:

“We believe it is important to encourage design writing and criticism, both for the strength of the profession and to explain design to other audiences. Our particular concern is to encourage a new generation to write. Hence, we have developed an award program aimed at designers under 40 as of this year’s deadline: June 1, 2009.”

At a time when the world is in need of creative solutions, it’s mind bending to think that those under 40 are under-equipped to partake in a global innovation dialogue.

Good writing is thought provoking, compelling, inspiring and challenging. 

Good writing can seed innovation and elicit creativity.

While one can complain that those under 40  over-utilize other communicative modalities (texting, etc.), this phenomenon is also the responsibility of those over 40 who have shaped curricula and systems in which their students and children received less than optimal creative preparation for their lives, and the world’s future.

While I don’t think things are beyond repair, it does sound an alarm for educators and parents everywhere.  It is important that we do not further the ‘culture of the inarticulate writer’ (Plus writing is good for you!). 

  1. Don’t underestimate the power and value of the written word.  Encourage writing – descriptive, inspiring writing.
  2. Encourage the reading and writing of poetry – three lines of poetry can often say more than three pages of prose.
  3. Encourage reading period.  Reading is a school for writing.
  4. Encourage the penning of logical and spirited disagreement over designs/issues.
  5. Try writing without a computer

What are your thoughts on this?  What would you suggest be done?

Posted in children, Contests, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Education, imagination, innovation, The Human Person, Writing | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Are You Creative in Analog or Digital? – Lessons from Barbara Ann…

Posted by Plish on May 14, 2009

In the realm of music there is an ongoing discussion about the value of analog over digital, or vice-versa.

As a participant in the music industry,  when digital came on the scene, I too was caught up in the hysteria – the quest for ever cleaner recordings, the quest for the ultimate music experience brought to us courtesy of the digital revolution. 

In this realm I was a slow adopter.  My first CD was mastered in analog but released digitally.  To some extent I still think of analog as warm and inviting, and digital as cold and truncated.  Nevertheless, I record now in digital because it enables me to have the freedom to record, experiment and release my music quicker and easier than before. 

But the argument rages on -what is superior, digital or analog?

Barbara Ann…

It was recorded by The Regents and made it to #13 on the charts in 1961.  You probably haven’t even heard that version.

The  Beach Boys recorded it 4 years later and it rose to #2 in the US.

The song is catchy, annoying, fun and definitely lo-fi.  It was recorded in analog, in the middle of a party.  It’s not tight musically speaking, it’s loose yet wonderfully so.  Barbara Ann is not digital.

Creativity can be analog or digital.  It can be fun or it can be truncated.  It can be the wonderful result of people doing what they do best and enjoying it or it can be mechanical and contrived – bits of dispassionate information stacked together to create something new.

Creativity doesn’t need iPhone Apps to be able to be done effectively.

Creativity can be done without web-based mind maps.

Creativity can be lo-fi; it can be filled with chatter, with laughter, with cooperation and brilliant spontaneous, improvisational insights.

Mindblowing ideas and staying power in the market, comes not from ultimate technical productions but from passionate people who create in the midst of their humanness and in so doing, connect with others souls.

So how will you create –

-in analog or digital?

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, imagination, innovation, Musical Creativity, Nature of Creativity, Play, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Looking For Patterns – Tips for Creative Problem Solving

Posted by Plish on May 6, 2009


We like patterns and repeatability.  It helps us get by during the day by using a minimum of brain power to deal with those things that, quite rightly, probably don’t deserve our full attention.  The issue is that when confronted with a problem, our first tendency is to try and solve it by finding the patterns contained within.

The kicker is that often there are no patterns, and if we try and impose a pattern on the situation, we can often create less than optimal solutions – we try to fix a problem that isn’t there.

Try this experiment:  Imagine you’re going to flip a coin 10 times.  Write out a sequence of 10 flips like this: H-H-T-T-H-T-H-T-H-H .

Probability says that heads and tails should be split, 50-50.  We may or may not see it with 10 coins but we will see it with 100 or 1000 tosses.   In my sequence I wrote 6 Heads to 4 Tails.  What most people do wrong (and I did it as well!)is that they assume the results will happen in a more or lessed balanced way.  So, a couple  heads here, a couple tails  there, right? 


The picture at the beginning shows 10 random flips of an ancient coin (courtesy of this site) There were 5 coin flips in row that were heads!  Not too many of us would think that that many heads could show up in a row.

But they did.

So the lesson here is that trends and patterns are tricky and can be deceiving; often they run counter to what our intuition says.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for patterns too.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking.  Didn’t I just say not to look for patterns?

Well, yes, but I’m not contradicting myself.  Oftentimes there is a pattern, a rhythm, a trend to a problem that is more profound than what it looks like at first blush.  It’s good that we look for patterns and causality, but we should usually look deeper than the first level.  

So which is it?  Do we look for patterns or try and see past the patterns when solving problems?

I recommend looking for patterns first but don’t stop there.  What do I mean? When looking for patterns use the following list to guide the process.

  • Try to find patterns within the patterns.
  • Don’t take the first pattern you recognize as being the governing pattern
  • Truer relationships are both elegant and profound (you’ll know it when you see it – think E=mc²)
  • Most relationships in nature are not linear (but that doesn’t mean that you can’t approximate them linearly)
  • If your relationship relies on feedback, most relationships in nature are negative feedback loops as they will stay under control.  If there are catastrophic failures, look for positive feedback systems at work.
  • If a pattern doesn’t exist, look for probabilities to guide your solution
  • ?? (What would you recommend?)

Fortunately we live in wonderfully orderly world where even things like fractals that look chaotic actually are not.   Thus, more often than not, finding those patterns in the ‘chaos’ can help us to come up with creative solutions to the problems that of the day. 

 For another perspective on patterns check out this blog over at Discover magazine.

Posted in cognitive studies, creativity, innovation, problem solving, Research, Trends | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Concentration Key to Creative Problem Solving

Posted by Plish on May 5, 2009

Your Brain has Limited Bandwidth (michael plishka 2009)

Your Brain has Limited Bandwidth (michael plishka 2009)


“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

-Alexander Graham Bell

Read an article that said that the Internet was reaching its limits.  Bandwidth is not infinite after all.

It makes sense – there are only so many connections, only so much information can flow through those channels.

Yet, when it comes to our magnificent brains we think we’re immune to bandwidth constraints.  

We’re not.  (By the way, thinking about bandwidth constraints uses up bandwidth!)

Typical scenario:

You’re working on a problem.  Two minutes into it the phone rings.  You glance at the Caller-ID, don’t recognize it and go back to your problem…Email comes in…quick check…good news…okay back to the problem….

10 minutes pass but during that time you thought also about dinner tonight, the other project, and the hang nail on your left pinky….

SHOOT!  You forgot to call the supplier…back on the horn…

And so it goes… on…

and on….

Technology enabled free-flow of information, demands of friends and family, physical ailments, things I want to do for fun-  all compete for bandwidth in our brains.  To make matters worse, when we don’t get the solutions we want, stress is the end result – which has the effect of minimizing your already finite and overused mental bandwidth.

What is the solution?

There’s much you can do, but the most important is to stop multi-tasking.  Multi-tasking isn’t efficient. If you don’t believe me call your friend to discuss Relativity while driving in a snow storm on icy roads and your windshield wipers out.  Better yet, call from the ditch – it’s safer there.

According to this great article on concentration, research has shown it takes up to 20 minutes for the brain to “reboot” after an interruption.  In other words, in the scenario mentioned earlier, with the exception of the first couple of minutes, you never recovered after the first phone call and you spent no, really fruitful, thinking time on your problem.

I once read about a Nobel Prize winner  who, when asked his secret to solving mind-bending problems said something like, “I can concentrate on a problem for 10 minutes.” (By the way, if you know who said this, I’d love to re-find the reference)

That’s all it took – 10 minutes(!) at a pop to solve problems that most of us wouldn’t even try to solve.  The difference is that he truly, deeply, committed ALL his mental and physical bandwidth to his problem for 10 uninterrupted minutes.

His mind became the intense lens of focus and concentration that Alexander Graham Bell spoke of. 

What else can we do to become disciplined in concentration and focus?

Some suggestions:

  • Take the phone off the hook
  • Make a rule to only answer emails at designated times
  • Meditate
  • Plan breaks at specific intervals (90 minute chunks of time are good)
  • Eat healthy
  • Stay hydrated
  • ??

What else would you suggest?

Posted in Biology, cognitive studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, idea generation, innovation, meditation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, stress, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Princess and the Pea, User-Centered Design, and asking “Why?”

Posted by Plish on May 1, 2009

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

I was talking to a nurse about a particular medical device. She looked at it and said, “You need to make it smaller.”

“Why?” I asked -having a gut feeling that it didn’t need to be much smaller based on some in-field research.

“Because it’s too big. It get’s pressed onto the skin like this, and then…then it’s uncomfortable for the patient.”

“What do you mean?” I continued.

“It digs into the skin.”

“What about holding it,” I took a slightly different direction, “How does it feel?”

“Just about right, I wouldn’t change it too much.”

The picture came together all at once.  “So, do you think it needs to be smaller or more comfortable?”

“More comfortable- definitely!  Yeah, not too much smaller, I’d have trouble holding it like this with my stubby fingers.”

Sometimes when you’re asking people to give input on a product/process, the first words out of their mouths aren’t really what they mean.  In this case, ‘smaller’ did not mean ‘smaller’, it meant, ‘more comfortable for the patient.’

The result of not asking “Why?” could have been disastrous.  If I took the “make it smaller” statement at face value, I could have developed a product that was smaller (even less comfortable for the patient-think “Princess and the Pea”), and harder to handle – missing on two accounts.

Children are great at asking, “Why?”.  They don’t care about looking stupid, about not having all the answers – – they just want to learn.

So next time you’re trying to solve a problem, ask “Why?”…multiple times.  This technique works great for everything, even problem statements. For example:

Problem Statement: In what ways might we make this thingamabob smaller?

Why does it need to be smaller?

Because it needs to fit in this slot.

Why does it need to fit in the slot?

Because that’s how it turns this other doohickey on.

Why does it have to turn it on?

Um…it doesn’t…maybe being smaller isn’t what this thingamabob needs to be.

For another great perspective  on the pitfalls of not asking “why?” check out this blog entry.

Posted in Case Studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, Design, idea generation, Market Assessment, problem solving, Research | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: