Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for November, 2009

Want to Design a Better World? Try the ‘Thankfulness Process’

Posted by Plish on November 30, 2009

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While pondering the meaning of Thanksgiving over this long weekend, I realized that thankfulness is a powerful motivator for good. 

I also realized that  thankfulness often leads to dead ends. 

Yes, we’re thankful for family, friends, iPods, a job, etc., but how often do we only spend time/money in our own little worlds, not reaching out and becoming agents for creating a better world?

To that end I propose the above depicted model for developing a ‘Thankful World’ filled with relationships and innovations that go beyond personal consumption – a world in which we we’re concerned about more than ourselves. 

How does the process work?

Generally, it works by peeling away our personal likes to realize  the deeper human needs and motivations of ourselves and hence the many. 

Specifically, it’s  simple:  Ask yourself what you’re thankful for.  Ask if you can provide it to others.  If you can, do it. If you can’t, ask yourself why what you’re thankful for is important to you.   Do this until you find something that you can provide to others and then do it. 

The model also includes a limiting aspect  loosely based upon the 5 Whys to test the sustainability of our solutions.   

Why a limiting factor?

My reasoning is that if the object/subject we’re thankful for does not lead to philanthropic behavior after 5 rounds of introspective thought, then it’s quite possible that what we’re thankful for might not really be needed in the first place.

What do you think of this model?  Could it lead to better social design?  Could it lead to a better world? Could it lead to more pertinent and sustainable innovation?

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Human Rights, innovation, Innovation Tools, love, problem solving, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

R.A.D. Curricula Needed in Techie Times

Posted by Plish on November 20, 2009

I was recently in a discussion about a do-it-yourself digital camera called the “Big Shot“. 

The main point of contention was whether or not this device actually helped kids learn about photography.

Make no bones about it, the Big Shot definitely has an impact on kids – especially the inner city children that were able to try this out.  The Big Shot is a great tool for getting children together, for giving them pride in what they build, for getting them to socialize, to share their creativity.  Rock On, Big Shot!!

However, with regards to actually teaching about photography, I’m not sure it hits the mark. 

To have a powerful impact teaching anyone anything, the teaching should inspire:

R-Respect for the past

A– Awe of the present experience

D – Dreams for the future

Teaching should be R.A.D. !

Following the R.A.D. model I would propose the following kits and curriculum:

Respect for the past – A do-it-yourself single shot camera kit that lets kids see film developing; A pinhole camera; A contact photograph of a leaf would all be instructive about light and how people took and still take pictures.

Awe for the present experience – Build the Big Shot.

Dreams for the future – This actually happens naturally when ‘R’ and ‘A’ occur.  Ask them to dream based upon what they’ve experienced. 

When the R.A.D. process is followed, people (adults and children alike) see themselves as part of a continuum, not just techno-consumers.

In today’s day, it’s too easy to see technology as a stand alone solution to our problems.  Sure, technology can be helpful, but real solutions start in the locus between the ears and behind the eyes, the place where we bow respectfully to the past, get excited with awe about the present, and realize there is so much more that the future holds, and we’re all a part of it. 


Posted in Authenticity, Brain Stimulation Tools, children, Creative Environments, creativity, culture of innovation, Education, imagination, innovation, Play, Society, Team-Building, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can Too Many People be Creative?

Posted by Plish on November 16, 2009


According to this blog over at MIT, the answer is “yes”.

Researchers broke down society into creators and imitators.  Their task was to see what optimum amount of creativity is needed to benefit society through the dissemination of innovations.

Turns out that if creators are doing their thing 50% of the time, and imitators imitating 100% of the time, approximately 30%-40% of the population should be creators, the rest imitators.  As the quality of ideas goes up, less creators are needed.

While it’s an interesting study and worthy of some pondering, three shortcomings bother me.

1. The study assumes all creative ideas are meant for sharing. 

In fact, most of our creativity isn’t ‘public’ but is meant for us personally-meant to make our own lives easier.  Most ideas don’t get disseminated and hence don’t get built upon; nevertheless, these people are part of society and so indirectly improve society through their hidden innovations. 

2. Each creative idea does not result in negative repercussions.

Most solutions that get adapted result in unwanted consequences of some sort. This results in additional idea generation, often by others who at some earlier time were only bystanders (imitators) but could very well have been creators in a different realm.

3. The study assumes there is a portion of the population that is only imitating.

I don’t think this is a valid assumption (see Point 1).

While, I realize that this fascinating attempt to model the impact of creativity on society is not meant to be 100% accurate, if we apply this model to corporate cultures, we realize that only a small percentage of people in a company could truly be called creators -most are imitators and (gasp!) are expected to be imitators. 

Therefore, according to this model, those few creators in the company need to be amazingly brilliant and doing their creation the overwhelming majority of the time.   But, given that the minutiae of day-to-day workings insidiously creep in on most people without their knowledge, those creators are probably not even working on creating as much as they should be (imitating?) and not contributing to the overall level of corporate fitness.

The result (at least according to this model) is that most corporate cultures never reach their optimum level of fitness. 

This is something that, unfortunately, most people would not argue with.

Posted in Authenticity, culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, idea generation, innovation, problem solving, Research, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Art + Innovation + Typewriter = Inspiration

Posted by Plish on November 13, 2009

Paul Smiths oldmill

Paul Smith's "Old Mill"

Paul Smith.

The name is simple, common.

A google search of the name yields 69 million hits (mine yields 417,000). 

There is one Paul Smith that was anything but common. 

Born September 21, 1921, Paul had spastic cerebral palsy.   He wasn’t able to attend school but his love of life propelled him into becoming a self-taught master in two things: chess and art.

It’ s the art that truly is amazing.  You see, Paul taught himself to use his typewriter as an easel.  But he didn’t use brushes.

… just one finger…

….of one hand…

… while the other hand held the typing hand steady.

The typewriter was a pretty basic and common writing tool of the time, yet Paul didn’t use it to simply string letters into words.  Actually he usually didn’t even use the letters of the typewriter, but instead used the @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ characters. 

As he became more familiar with the typewriter he experimented with colored ribbons and a technique whereby he created smudged shading on the paper by pushing against the ribbon with his thumb.  What is even more amazing, is that unlike other paintings where things are painted over and changed as the painting evolves, Paul had to see the final work in his mind’s eye before he even started… and work one character at a time.

Today we open Photoshop or some other graphic arts program, and occasionally even use pencil and paper.

He placed a piece of paper in a typewriter, hit a character, readjusted the paper orientation, hit another character….

…and Beauty emerged…

He didn’t complain about not having the most high-tech tool.  In fact, the manual, no frills typewriter was perfectly suited to him.  It didn’t matter that he would hit a key and stay on the key.  After all, he used the typewriter in a way it wasn’t really designed for.  Add to the mix that he experimented with it and created techniques for embellishing his images and it’s clear that Paul Smith was an innovator, and a testimony to what we’re all capable of doing if we embrace who we are as humans,


and share

 from the overflowing well of inspiration that bubbles and dances in each of us.

Paul Smith died on June 25, 2007, but the lessons we can learn from him are timeless.

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Innovation Inside a Train – The YouRail Design Contest

Posted by Plish on November 9, 2009


Trains, it seems, have always been a part  of my life.  When we went to visit my dad at work we took the train; going downtown – took the train; festival- took the train.  Even when I wasn’t on the trains I was (and still am!) fascinated by the tracks, the crossing gates, the speed at which they blasted by, the papers swirling behind the last car, the lateral green glow of windows streaking by in the night…

Then there was the Tyco electric train set-up that I built in my basement in which I designed an entire world for my trains.



The words are meant to be together.

If you believe this, then check out this great design contest by Bombardier.  Design a cool train interior and you may make yourself a couple thousand Euros , a netbook or a trip to InnoTrans 2010 in Berlin.

All aboard!!!

Posted in Contests, Customer Focus, Design, imagination, innovation, Sketching | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How ‘i’nnovations Can Prevent ‘I’nnovation

Posted by Plish on November 6, 2009

I am a Rock, I am an Island

I am a Rock, I am an Island

I came across this article from my home town of Chicago.  Seems that a local apartment complex gives residents a safer experience by providing a rooftop dog park so owners don’t have to deal with crime in the area and risk life or Fido when they go for walks.  It’s a creative idea and a great business idea, but…

 …it also isolates and therein lies the problem. 

“Everyone wants to experience goodness in their life.  So, if they can’t experience it in their home community, they are going to find a way to experience it elsewhere, whether it’s on the rooftop of their building or whether it’s in an adjacent neighborhood.” -Al Zelinka, Planning Manager, Fullerton, California

The more fundamental question driving innovation in this context should be:

Do we want to be part of the world, contributing and living within it or would we rather do what we want, letting the world do what it may, while we stay safe and warm? 

Making a building into a creatively designed, self-contained world is great for its tenants but is this creativity and innovation really a good thing if it fosters separation of the inhabitants from the immediate community?  Don’t get me wrong, people should be protected, but there’s an interesting situation here in that the solution is ultimately self-defeating. 

If people aren’t a part of the community they live in, if they don’t have to deal with the community’s shortcomings day-to-day, the motivation to fix those problems disappears.  People purposefully avoiding their neighborhood results in a lack of empathy, a lack of having ‘skin in the game’, a lack of desire to change their situation.  That means that real creative solutions to community safety issues might never be found…

 …the current situation is perpetuated…

Simon and Garfunkel’s, I Am A Rock eerily hits the mark:

A winter’s day

In a deep and dark December;

I am alone,

Gazing from my window to the streets below

On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,

But I’ve heard the words before;

It’s sleeping in my memory.

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;

And an island never cries.

Posted in Case Studies, creativity, Customer Focus, innovation, problem solving, Society, The Human Person, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Will the Future Hold?

Posted by Plish on November 3, 2009


The Behance Network put together this interesting view on the future based upon the scenarios from the Institute for the Future.  Some interesting perspectives, especially with regards to inter-species communication.  On the other hand, some of the solutions posited, like fertilizing oceans with iron to capture CO2,  are too current and thus not sophisticated enough to be included in a future in which digital body-swapping exists.

What are your thoughts?

Posted in Information Visualization, innovation, Sketching, Sustainable Technology, Trends | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A View of Design Synthesis

Posted by Plish on November 2, 2009

Ever since I attended the Design Research Conference in Chicago, I’ve been inspired by Jon Kolko’s thoughts on Design Synthesis and decided to dive more deeply into the topic. After all, the better we can get a handle on the process of synthesis, the better we can (hopefully) reproducibly design innovative products, processes and communities.

The flow chart that follows is my take on a process of design synthesis, influenced by Jon’s thoughts.  I’ve incorporated it into a broader iterative process that also includes psychological influences.

Synthesis michaelplishka2009

click to see full size

What are your thoughts on this?  What would you change?  What works for you?  I’m looking forward to your input!

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, The Senses, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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