Where Science Meets Muse

Archive for December, 2009

Five Lessons on Innovation/Quality Inspired by and for Homeland Security

Posted by Plish on December 31, 2009

With the recent near catastrophe in the skies, I propose that the US Government look at its terror security system as a Quality System (i.e. A system that supports high quality, terror free travel.)


Because, whether it realizes it or not, it creates/manufactures a  system for safe travel of  its citizens.  At its core, terror security is about minimizing defects (attacks) and maximizing efficiency (ease of travel).  It’s basically a Quality System.

Therefore, there are certain things that should inherently be done within their quality system (and yours as well!).

1. Don’t wait for disasters to highlight the weak links in your system.  The system that tries to prevent terrorist attacks needs to be under constant improvement and so does your ______________(insert quality, manufacturing, etc.) system.  If there are no disasters, you need to challenge your system before something happens. 

2.  First line people (think Customer Service, Regulatory, Sales)  need to be empowered to make certain decisions on their own as opposed to forwarding information to another agency/group where that information is then sifted through, etc.  The more important something is with regards to safety (product or personal) the less layers there should be in transferring information, not more.

3.  Truly effective systems should become less dependant upon individual human perspectives and opinions as they evolve.  There should be no “key person” dependencies, or even key department dependencies.  Yes, people are able to interpret nebulous information better than many automated systems, but if information is key to quality, you better make darn sure that the right people are interpreting the right information in the right timeframe.

4.  “It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry” – Nikolai Gogol.  Systems are the mirrors of our thoughts, wants and fears.  Yes, you can blame a system but in the end it’s not the system’s fault.  Accept responsibility for constantly improving the system; it can and must be constantly improved. 

That’s where innovation comes in.

Innovation occurs when people are encouraged to change the system they live within, looking at that system with fresh eyes, day after day, after day, after day…

Encourage engagement, encourage innovation.

It’s simple really.

5.  Don’t let politics/political-correctness influence your quality system.  It’s called a ‘system’ for a reason.  If  someone’s first reaction is to protect or blame when there’s a failure, that’s a dead giveaway that your system is becoming politicized.  Don’t freak out about it.  Just fix it and don’t let it happen again.

What do you think about these five points?  What would you add?

Posted in Best Practices, Conveying Information, culture of innovation, innovation, Politics, problem solving, Quality Systems, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creativity Stuck? Try These Tools

Posted by Plish on December 29, 2009

Click to see full size

Click to See Full Size


Just like your physical muscles, if you flex and use your creative muscles you get more effective and efficient at coming up with ideas.  One way to do this is by doodling and sketching.  

How do you start?

You can always grab a blank sheet of paper, but the blankness often stares back at you mockingly and the result is more frustration which in turn inhibits creative thought.

The trick?

Use something as a catalyst to get the creative juices flowing.    

To that end I’ve put together a couple of templates for you so you can practice being creative. 

Click to Download PDF Template


Print the template and make a point of sketching using these patterns at least once a day. If the above template isn’t your cup of tea then I’ve also create a spreadsheet that allows you to build your own sketching template based upon letters or shapes in the various fonts.  The Excel version is here and the Open Office version is here.  I used an obscure font in the sketch-sheet below.  If you find yourself still struggling in your doodling,  here’s a sheet with the letter “o” reproduced multiple times.   Sometimes a common shape is easier to use for this purpose. 

Click for Full Size

Click For Full Size


The drawings don’t have to be perfect, artistically or otherwise.  The goal here is to simply start sketching.   Whether it’s writer’s block, problem solving or composing music, drawing has an amazing capability to stimulate additional ideas and insights, breaking down those insidious barriers to creativity.   

Give these to your team before meetings requiring critical thinking/brainstorming and more importantly, encourage each other to use these tools once a day.

I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, idea generation, imagination, Play, problem solving, Sketching, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Solve Your Own Problems, and You Solve Mine – The Birth of the Safety Tat

Posted by Plish on December 18, 2009

Losing a child in a large public area is every parent’s nightmare.

Michele Welsh took am interesting approach when she took her children to an amusement park – she wrote her cell phone number on her kids’ arms.

This solved the problem in the short-term but the fact that passerby’s at the park loved what Welsh did, spawned an idea for the future: the Safety Tat.

Once again, an inventor mom parlayed a common fear among parents into a viable, simple and ingenious product.

Instead of writing a contact number directly on the skin, parents  buy pre-made or blank labels that can be placed on a child and removed when needed (though it might be a good idea to put the tatoo where the kids can’t pick at them).

What’s the main lesson here?

We so often get commissioned to solve other people’s problems (or we simply choose to solve other people’s problems) we forget that innovations often come from solving our own problems. 

While each of us are unique,  the day to day problems we encounter while just living or working are not.

Our problems are very often other people’s problems. 

 Solve our problems and voila!

You’ve come up with a solution for a lot of people.

It’s a simple recipe that often pays rich dividends!

Posted in Case Studies, children, creativity, Customer Focus, innovation, invention, Parents, problem solving, Research | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Secrets to Effective Rumors (Insights into Innovative Marketing?)

Posted by Plish on December 11, 2009

I came across some amazing tidbits recently while visiting agendainc.com

In particular, I was fascinated by this document, penned by the Office of Strategic Services, which is a manual for creating effective and believable rumors/stories.

So why is it in my blog?

First, It’s fascinating and cool history!

Second, it provides insight into human nature and the more insights we have into that, the more effective, creative and innovative we can be in design and marketing (among other things).

How would you use these insights?

Posted in cognitive studies, creativity, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Research, Stories, The Human Person, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Entering the Realm of Mediocre Design – Caution, You’re Entering the Limbo Zone

Posted by Plish on December 3, 2009


Like a driver who sees an animal crossing sign, I immediately took notice of the area around me.  Where were the limbo-ers?  Little did I realize that the sign unfortunately did not convey what it intended and instead, I was pulled into the Limbo Zone.  Not here nor there, no sounds of island music, no torches. 

Does it communicate dance or danger, fun or fall?

The image needed words, the design needed explanation.

Effective design communicates without words; it is melody and harmony, it is felt and known. 

Innovation is a design  symphony.

This was Limbo indeed.

To see what this sign really means, click here.

Posted in Case Studies, Design, Information Visualization, innovation, The Senses | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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