Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for July, 2009

Using Distance to Increase Creativity

Posted by Plish on July 27, 2009

creativityatadistance michaelplishka2009

A company was manufacturing pens and a key automated assembly machine was causing problems, slowing production down to a crawl. In fact, inventory was dwindling perilously low.  The president of the company, an imaginative and creative problem solver was stumped.  He called together everyone that had worked on the machine before and they went to work troubleshooting,  all to no avail.  After two and half days of fits and starts, early Saturday morning the president had his best idea.

“Cover it.”


He pointed to a large black tarp in the corner.

“Cover the machine.”

“What? we’ll go into back order!”

“We’re not getting anywhere anyway – cover it. I don’t want anyone to touch the machine or think about the machine until Monday.”

The machine was covered – out of sight, distant in mind -for the next day and half.

Monday came and everyone reconvened at the foot of the machine.  The tarp was unceremoniously pulled off and the team went to work.  Within half a day the machine was up and running, efficiently and smoothly.

So what was the solution?


Although the best minds were throwing everything they had at the problem, it wasn’t getting solved because everyone had gotten too close to the problem, had started to take the challenge personally and they could no longer see the problem as it was. 

Researchers would say that the problem solvers were thinking about the problem too acutely, too locally, and thus their creative capabilities were stunted.

What finally enabled the solution was the physical barrier put in place.  This in turn put distance between the machine and the minds of the people. 

The problem got solved. 

In addition to physical distance, there are other types of distance that help push our minds into more creative modes. 

1. Distance in mind –  You can use your mind to create virtual locations where the problem is far away (see #3 below). You can also push the problem as far away as possible, i.e. don’t even think about it for a while.

2. Distance in time –  Think about solving the problem in the future (or past) – research shows this stimulates creative thought.  Also, if you don’t think about something for awhile, or only think about it after spending some quality time not  thinking about it, your mind has had time to abstractivize the problem which encourages creative thought.

3. Distance in space –   Imagine the problem is in another place, another country, pn another planet.  This again, researchers say, encourages creative thought.  You can also move your body physically away from the problem for a while.

4. Distance in gender – Approach the problem as a member of the opposite sex.

5. Distance in age – Approach the problem as one older or younger.

6.  Distance in likeliness– Re-frame the situation using unlikely aspects/scenarios and re-look at the problem.  Unlikely scenarios stimulate creative thought over likely scenarios.

7.  Any combination of the above will stimulate and kick our brains into a more creative mode.

Using the above mental constructs may seem a strange and almost childish way of solving problems, after all, how can just imagining a problem is distant in some way, change our capabilities to solve it? 

Try it.

If not you, then pretend you’re an elderly member of the opposite sex; if not now, then in the future, in a different country where the laws of gravity are different, because you’re only doing it for fun and not because you want to be paid for it.


Posted in Case Studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Simple Method for Trend Forecasting

Posted by Plish on July 24, 2009

I came across this  article on trend forecasting and put together a little time-line to show approximately what is going on when new products come to market.

development process michaelplishka2009

Although the above chart is somewhat simplistic, it breaks down the phases of technology development.  I used a 20 year cycle as mentioned in the article although as soon as a product is introduced into the market the Refinement phase tends to get accelerated in an effort to gain full Acceptance quicker. 

That being said, 10 years of incubation in R&D for a ‘new to the world’ product is probably a good rule of thumb.  It may be longer or shorter depending on factors such as if the research is being done by private industry or the government.

So, how do you do your own trend forecasting?

1.  Got to Google News and do an advanced searchRead the rest of this entry »

Posted in Case Studies, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Science, Start-Ups, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are You Losing Your Hooks? – Lessons on Innovation from Fishing

Posted by Plish on July 22, 2009


The other day I went out on the lake to fish and had my bead on an extremely weedy corner of the lake.  I made up my mind I would venture directly into the middle of the pack of weeds, but in order to do so, I would need to forgo my motor and row my way there.

As I stepped into the boat I noticed two other fisherman on the outer fringe of the weeds slowly drifting towards me.  Judging by the size of their boat and the engine/motor combo, I figured they weren’t going to venture into the weeds but instead were going to stay on the fringes.  Call it a hunch.

I rowed quickly but quietly into the midst of the weeds and tied on a weedless floating frog and began fishing.

Five minutes later I had my first hit but missed the fish.  Fishing rules say that when you miss a fish in a spot on one type of lure switch lures and go back.  I ignored it and went back to the same spot with the same lure on the next cast…BAM! Largemouth bass number one, about 2.5 to 3 pounds. 

About ten minutes later I cast to a small opening between some weeds.  It barely touched the surface when a small explosion of water sucked my lure under.  Bass number two, 3 to 3.5 pounds.fishn2

Five minutes after that I placed a cast only ten feet from where I hooked the last one but in another open pocket.  Pause for about half a minute….twitch…SPLASH and a dive into the thickest part of the weeds.  But I kept the line taut and reeled it in.  Bass number three, 3.5 to 4 pounds.fish1

“What are you using over there?” I heard from the tandem still fishing not 40 feet away but at the fringe of the choking weed bed.

“Floating Weedless Frog Lure,” I responded.

“That’s what we have…”

Another 10 minutes passed and evening fell quickly; they left and I decided to head back home as well.  A successful day fishing indeed…

So what does this have to do with innovation?

I left multiple clues within the story but I’ll get right to the points. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Best Practices, Case Studies, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Lateral Thinking, Research, Tactics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Great Resource for Information Depiction – The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Posted by Plish on July 21, 2009


Do you need a better way to depict data to most effectively convey it?

Then by all means check out this Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.  It’s an excellent resource and will provide you with countless ideas for ways of depicting information.

Thanks to the folks over at Think-Differently!

Posted in creativity, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, Mind Maps, Research, Sketching, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can a Company Claim to be Innovative and Lay People Off En Masse?

Posted by Plish on July 20, 2009

Mass Layoff Even History for the US

Mass Layoff Even History for the US

One of the things we hear a lot of now is how companies are laying people off.  You can see the ongoing statistics here.

During these massive layoffs we often hear supposedly innovative companies touting their innovative abilities and how they need to do more with less resources, i.e. less people. 

But the question is, how is laying people off an innovative solution?

It’s not!

It’s the obvious solution! 

The reasoning is simple.  With less cash coming in, minimize the outflow of cash – let people go. 

There’s nothing innovative there at all!

Why is it so important for a company to be innovative with keeping their people?

Doing so retains vital knowledge and keeps up morale in all employees.

When massive amounts of people are let go, knowledge gaps are created in the company.  Those gaps, if they ever do get filled, require energy and time to get refilled.  That breadth of experience that could contribute to the building up of the company has been purged and the net result is a loss of the potential for creative solutions now, when they’re needed.

In addition, employees  know that the typically used (but woefully un-innovative) solution to dwindling profits is to lay people off.  This breeds insecurity and lack of loyalty – two things that severely undercut homegrown innovation.

So what should be done?

Since every company is different the solutions will be different, but one possible route is to consult the very people about to be laid off.  Work with them to find a solution, ask them what could be done to maximize profits even with a lousy economy.

The answers might not only result in retained people, but increases in the bottom line. 

Now, THAT would be innovation!

Posted in Creative Environments, culture of innovation, innovation, problem solving, stress, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Design Evolution of Consumer Electronics

Posted by Plish on July 18, 2009

The Design Path for Wii

The Design Path for Wii and Other Similar Technologies

Check out this cool, short blurb over at FastCompany on the design evolution of consumer electronics.

What’s next?

Posted in Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Innovation With L.O.V.E.

Posted by Plish on July 17, 2009



I was reading this  blog that raised the question of, “Is Innovation Fair?”

It is a good question, but misses the point. 

Forgive the cliche, but there’s very little in life that is objectively fair.   When dealing with people, even equitable solutions will be seen by others as unfair – perception will be people’s reality.

So the question really should be, how do humans, as naturally creative beings, innovate so as to provide maximum benefit for the most people while minimizing collateral damage to others, societies, cultures, and the world?

We need to innovate with:


L-Life: Innovations should strive to improve quality of life for many not just the few.  True quality that enables people to be healthy, happy, and able to become all they can.  Innovations should never be done at the expense of others.

O-Observe:  Innovations that are the most accepted are those that resonate  with people and their cultures.  The best innovations occur when people observe and appreciate life in all its dimensions: physical, psychological, spiritual, social, economical, etc.

V-Vow:  Merriam-Webster defines it as: A solemn promise or assertion ; specifically : one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition.  People need commitment from others-real commitment that allows them to plan and count on other people.  We need to be as strongly committed to others as we are to ourselves and our own interests. We need to promise it.

E-Elegance: Innovations need to be simple, beautiful, dignified-Elegant.

For an example of an innovation done with L.O.V.E. check out this amazing story.


Posted in Authenticity, Case Studies, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Human Rights, innovation, invention, love, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person, The Innovation Equation | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Want to be an Innovation Powerhouse? Take a Vacation!

Posted by Plish on July 14, 2009

Great article over at the Huffington Post about the need for people to take vacations. 

In fact, in the US, only 14% of the people take a two week vacation every year, not to mention that many of those might be taking along their Blackberries and iPhones.

Vacations are not a nicety-they’re a necessity!

In order to be creative/innovative, your body and brain need downtime-they need to disconnect from their problems in order to be more effective at solving them.

If the US is going to be an innovative powerhouse, the people here need to learn to chill.

So, my suggestion to you is this.  If you’re reading this and working – take a vacation.

If you’re reading this while on vacation – Thank you – but SHAME ON YOU!

PS – Please drop me a post card from your vacation spot 😉

Posted in cognitive studies, Creative Environments, creativity, Health Concerns, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, Travel, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Make Any Surface a “White Board” Surface

Posted by Plish on July 12, 2009

I really like dry-erase whiteboards.

They’re great for brainstorming, sketching up ideas, keeping track of deliverables in projects, and they’re wonderfully, (though sometimes too easily and other times impossibly) erasable.

Now you can turn any surface (usually a wall) into a dry-erase whiteboard with Idea Paint (Thanks to the W5 Blog!).

While I may paint a wall in the office, this has gotten me thinking beyond usage on walls…there’s some cool potential here.

How can you see this being used?

Posted in Creative Environments, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Guy Kawasaki and the Art of Innovation

Posted by Plish on July 8, 2009

Found this great video over at Joe Lafferty’s blog.

Guy’s ten points are:

1. Make meaning

2. Make a mantra (not a mission statement)

3. Jump to the next curve

4. Roll the dice

5. Don’t worry, be crappy

6. Let 100 flowers blossom

7. Polarize people

8. Churn, baby, churn

9. Follow the 10-20-30 rule

10. Don’t let the bozos get you down

I like them all and I think most bigger companies have problems with #3.

What are your thoughts?

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

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