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Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category

What do You See? – Are You Doing These Two Things to Improve Your Observational Skills?

Posted by Plish on October 6, 2015

We all know what one swinging pendulum looks like.  But what do multiple swinging pendulums (pendula ;-) ) look like?

I love the pendulum wave because it highlights two key aspects to improving observational skills (and observation is essential to design and innovation!).

  1. Pay attention to the angle of observation (i.e. perspective) – Are you seeing something in the only way possible?  Can you observe the phenomenon from other directions?  Is it the best angle?  From a particular angle, what’s moving and what’s standing still? What’s surrounding what you’re looking at? What’s in the foreground and background?
  2. Be cognizant of how much time you spend looking at something – Are you spending enough time observing something?  Do you feel confident that you’ve seen all there is to see in the time taken? Can you learn something by looking at it less? (Think a snapshot vs. a video)

If you didn’t spend enough time looking at the swinging balls, you could reach inaccurate conclusions as to what was happening.  At one moment they are swinging in a snake like motion.  At another, it looks random.  Look at it from a different direction and totally different conclusions might be reached.

I remember when I was learning to fly a glider, it became second nature to pay attention to other aircraft.  The above two points were especially important in determining if something was on a collision course.  Seeing aircraft moving on the horizon wasn’t  alarming.  It was seeing them NOT moving – and then getting bigger that signaled impending danger.

The angle of view, and the length of time I spent observing, were important to properly assessing the situation.  Look for too short of a time and the speck in the sky isn’t recognized as another aircraft.  Change the direction of the plane I was flying and now the approaching object’s shape and trajectory become more apparent.

This isn’t just about ‘hard’ objects, you can look in a ‘soft’ manner as well.  Is the scowl on the person’s face because of an emotion (short time frame) or a mood (longer time frame)?

Next time you’re looking at something, spend some time interiorizing these two questions.  Reflect on how you’re looking at something, and for how long. Try to look at things from different perspectives.  If everyone is looking at something from the top, try to see it from the bottom.  If people only glance at something, sit down and really look at it for minutes at a time.

If nothing else, you might be taken by the beauty of the world that surrounds us, and you might see something for the first time!

Posted in innovation, Innovation Tools, Design, Best Practices, The Senses, Service Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Use This Simple Innovation Technique to Create Better Pizza….er, Products!

Posted by Plish on May 20, 2015

We’ve all had this experience:

You order a pizza for pickup.  You get home and open the box and find the cardboard under the pizza is wet and soggy.  You dig into the pizza but find out that, unfortunately, the flavor of  the wet cardboard  transferred to the pizza’s crust.

I’ve had the same experience on pizzas that were delivered as well.  Anything more than 10 minutes and the soggy cardboard effect kicks in.

How do we fix it?

Let’s use the time honored technique of re-ordering the sequence of events to create a different, and better, product, er…pizza.

Very often certain events get canonized as the way to create a product.  In some ways this is a good thing as it virtually guarantees repeatability in end products.  In the case of pizza the following happens :

  1. Take order
  2. Take crust and spread tomato sauce evenly
  3. Place cheese on tomato sauce
  4. Add  other toppings (If applicable)
  5. Place in oven at 425F for 15 minutes.
  6. Pull pizza out of the oven
  7. Place on hard surface
  8. Cut pizza
  9. Place on cardboard and slide into pizza box
  10. Give to customer
  11. Drive home
  12. Open Box
  13. Take slices of deliciousness out and eat!

Now, the steps in red are what the restaurant typically sees.  They are pretty much oblivious to steps 11-13 as they are busy doing steps 1-10 for other customers.  The problem is that the restaurant can keep doing 1-10 flawlessly, but the fact of the matter is that step 11 is especially critical to 13 being a pleasurable, or not so pleasurable, experience.  If the drive home is more than 10 minutes, the quality of the pizza could start going downhill.  The longer the ride, the  dark, steamy, cheesy, oily environment inside the box takes its toll as cheesy oil and moisture soaks through the cut marks in the pizza and soils the cardboard.

That in turn starts soaking back into the crust and impacting the flavor.

We could solve this problem by adding substances to the crust that will repel, or mask, the cardboard taste but let’s do something easier.

Change the sequence of events.  There is one step in particular that directly impacts how the pizza crust will survive the ride home.

How about:

  1. Take order
  2. Take crust and spread tomato sauce evenly
  3. Place cheese on tomato sauce
  4. Add  other toppings (If applicable)
  5. Place in oven at 425F for 15 minutes.
  6. Pull pizza out of the oven
  7. Place on cardboard and slide into pizza box
  8. Give to customer
  9. Drive home
  10. Open Box
  11. Cut Pizza!
  12. Take slices of deliciousness out and eat!

Yes.  Let the customer cut the pizza.  Not only will that help the crust quality, it takes a step, and some time, out of the pizza making process.

It may not seem like a lot, but a couple of seconds with every pizza baked will add up by the end of the year.  Heck, if the restaurant wants to, it can sell branded pizza cutters, or give one away with every 10 pizzas purchased.  Make it a game: “We make it and bake it, but you cut it and love it!”

So, if you want better tasting pizza, try this simple innovation.

When you order your pizza, tell them to not cut it.

But, don’t expect old habits to die hard.  In the restaurant that I’ve been testing this theory with (Thank you Salutos for unknowingly providing the pizza for these experiments! :) ), even when I’ve given them instructions not to cut the pizza, often they’ve cut it anyway,

More important, next time you’re trying to improve a product that’s based on a process, look at rearranging the steps.  You might just end up with a tasty new product! :)

PS. I shared this tidbit on Instagram first.  Feel free to follow me there for more on innovation and creativity!  Just click on the pic to go to my ZenStorming on Instagram.

Posted in Best Practices, Design, design thinking, Food, innovation, Innovation Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts and Images from FUSE14

Posted by Plish on April 11, 2014

The FUSE conference has come and gone.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the last day, but the first two days were pretty amazing.  It was a conference of great insights into the power of Design in creating powerful, memorable experiences of products/services/brands.

I made concept maps of all the presentations I sat in on.  You can check them out on SlideShare.

Day 1

Day 2

There’s a mashup from Twitter here and here.

If you can make this conference in the future, it’s well worth it. The speakers are top-notch, the facility is beautiful, and the food was excellent as well.

Some of my pics are below:

The conference was not just about the past and present.  It was about the future as well.   There are challenges presented by technology and human nature, challenges that could demean instead of elevate people if not addressed.

The conference was exciting, precisely because it acknowledged the multifaceted challenges that await those who seek to design better experiences, better products, a better, more human, sustainable future.

Posted in Best Practices, Brands, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Experience, innovation, Research, Service Design, Social Innovation, Sustainable Technology, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

5 Insights Into Innovation From the Coyote

Posted by Plish on June 30, 2013

Graphic Courtesy of Nature.com (Click on it to read article on Coyotes)

Graphic Courtesy of Nature.com (Click on it to read article on Coyotes)

Every once in a while when I’m out jogging, I’ll come across a coyote. They look at me, turn, and go in the other direction – disappearing into a thicket along the trail.  I also hear them yipping with pups, or I hear local packs of coyotes join in with choruses of their own when a distant ambulance siren pierces the night.  Yet most people don’t see coyotes all that often.

But just because most people don’t see coyotes doesn’t mean they’re not around.  On the contrary, coyotes are, quite literally, everywhere.  In fact, coyotes, in spite of their habitats being modified, and open hunting seasons, are one of the few animals that has actually increased the extent of its domain over time.

Think of it.  They are competing for food and land under intense pressure and thriving!

So, what are the main reasons for this, and what can we learn from the wily Coyote? (The word itself is an Aztec derivative of the word meaning ‘Trickster.”)

1. Coyotes adjust their diet based upon what’s available.  When they find certain types of food getting scarce, they’re willing to go after other types of food.   How willing are most companies to venture out of the comfort space and adjust how they ‘feed’ themselves? What new channels do you utilize?

2. As coyotes spread Northeast, they mated with wolves, or more properly, allowed themselves to breed with wolves, who were in the decline due to hunting.  This resulted in bigger coyotes that could take on bigger prey. Now there is evidence that they’re breeding with domestic dogs – the results of which are unknown because this is still an experiment in the making.  Is your organization willing to intimately partner with others to create even more powerful ‘offspring’?

3. Coyotes breed quickly.  Compared to other predatory canines, coyotes reproduce more quickly.  This enables them to stay ahead of the game, even under predatory pressure and open hunting.  Is your organization reproducing itself, creating multiple channels to have a better chance at survival?  (Google is especially good at this.)

4. Coyotes are relentless in forcing others to play by their rules.  Where coyotes are taking advantage of clear-cut forests to prey on the young of an endangered caribou species, the only way to save the caribou right now, is to stop clear cutting the forest.  Is your company taking advantage of  market dynamics so effectively that you’re forcing the game to change?

5.  Coyotes constantly push the edges of their boundaries.  They look for opportunities to expand their domains. How effectively are you probing the edge of what you don’t know? 

Larry Ellis, in his essay, “Trickster: Shaman of the Liminal” perhaps summarizes innovation best when speaking of the Trickster genre (Replace the references to ‘Trickster’ with the word ‘Innovation’):”Trickster creates through destruction and succeeds through failure; his mythic and cultural achievements are seldom intentional. “Defining such a various creature,” writes Jarold Ramsey, “is a little like trying to juggle hummingbirds””

Yes, innovation can be like trying to juggle hummingbirds.  But, with these 5 insights into the method behind the coyote’s madness, the juggling becomes much more manageable and the results, intentional.

Posted in Best Practices, creativity, culture of innovation, Disruptive Innovation, Evolution, innovation, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Death to the Project Post-Mortem!

Posted by Plish on November 30, 2012

Turn to any business magazine, look in project management books, (Microsoft’s site even has a template for it!) and one of the best practices of project management is to conduct a post-mortem just after a project has been completed, and right before it’s officially ‘closed.’ The purpose is to get everyone on the team together to examine what went well in the project, what went wrong, and record this information so that others can learn.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is a good one and should be practiced.  What I have a problem with, in particular, is use of the phrase, ‘post-mortem.’

By now you know that I’m a big fan of the power of words and metaphors – they shape how we solve problems and approach the world.  So it probably won’t surprise you then that my aversion to the phrase is tied to all the meaning around the words, ‘post-mortem.’

Think about it.

The term literally means: after death.  But what’s dead?  You just finished something that myriads of people put their hearts and souls into, and now that that something is impacting the world, you call it dead?  The project is closed, not dead. As a matter of fact, all projects, even those that resulting in the closing of a chapter, are births, not deaths! They are the beginning of something new.

By bringing the concept of death into the mix, there is a meaning conveyed that what just happened was not life-giving.  It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that what just happened needs to be dissected and analyzed, and perhaps even robbed of deeper meaning and import*.  Perhaps worst of all, it creates a sense that no continuity with this ‘dead thing’ is required.

On the contrary, the work of marketing, manufacturing, sales and product monitoring is kicking into full gear!

My point here is that it’s not about ending something, as much as it’s about a continuity of learning!  Sure, one project ends, another begins.  It’s a never-ending cycle. The commonality is that before, during and after a project, there needs to be a recursive aspect, a learning process that is ingrained into the culture.  That mindset only comes about if there’s less emphasis on analyzing ‘that which died,’ and more emphasis on learning each day what works, what doesn’t, and growing from that. And, for that to happen, we need to put the term,”Project Post-Mortem” to death, and replace it with a more forward thinking term.

I like: ‘Lessons Learned.’

What would you call it?




One day after sleeping badly, an anatomist went to his frog laboratory and
removed, from a cage, a frog with white spots on its back. He placed it on a
table and drew a line just in front of the frog. “Jump frog, jump!” he shouted.
The little critter jumped two feet forward. In his lab book, the anatomist
scribbled, “Frog with four legs jumps two feet.”

Then, he surgically
removed one leg of the frog and repeated the experiment. “Jump, jump!” To which,
the frog leaped forward 1.5 feet. He wrote down, “Frog with three legs jumps 1.5

Next, he removed a second leg. “Jump frog, jump!” The frog
managed to jump a foot. He scribbled in his lab book, “Frog with two legs jumps
one foot.”

Not stopping there, the anatomist removed yet another leg.
“Jump, jump!” The poor frog somehow managed to move 0.5 feet forward. The
scientist wrote, “Frog with one leg jumps 0.5 feet.”

Finally, he
eliminated the last leg. “Jump, jump!” he shouted, encouraging forward progress
for the frog. But despite all its efforts, the frog could not budge. “Jump frog,
jump!” he cried again. It was no use; the frog would not response. The anatomist
thought for a while and then wrote in his lab book, “Frog with no legs goes

Posted in Best Practices, Creative Environments, culture of innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Project Management, Team-Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When US Healthcare Delivery Meets The Cheesecake Factory: The Stuff Innovation is Made of

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2012


What do the U.S. healthcare delivery system and The Cheesecake Factory have in common?

According to Dr. Atul Gawande, potentially a great deal.  The Dr. recently penned an article over at The New Yorker called, “Big Med.”  Inspired by his experience at The Cheesecake Factory (TCF), he wondered if perhaps there weren’t some way that the system at The Cheesecake Factory could be used as a pattern for US healthcare delivery.  After all, TCF delivers millions of meals in a cost-effective and profitable manner – why couldn’t the healthcare system treat millions of people in a cost-effective and profitable manner?

The Dr. shares that, indeed, there are already some clinicians implementing TCF-esque solutions.  While the Dr. doesn’t bring it up,    this article over at The Economist, highlights how healthcare delivery is undergoing innovation in India – reflecting in many ways, Dr. Gawande’s TCF inspired vision.

In response, Steve Denning at Forbes, wrote an article entitled: “How Not to Fix US Healthcare: Copy The Cheesecake Factory.”  Mr. Denning thought that Dr. Gawande was way off base using The Cheesecake Factory as a pattern.  He cited Innovation Scholar, Clayton Christensen, and then claimed that Dr. Gawande’s argument is flawed in these ways:

1.Wrong question
2.Wrong knowledge model
3.Wrong management model
4.Wrong conclusions about scaling

In actuality the above discussion is  both/and vs. either/or.  When trying to come up with truly innovative solutions, the goal is to take two or more ideas/metaphors, slam them together, and see what comes out of the mix.

Personally, I think Dr. Gawande’s perspective is highly provocative and has something going for it. His thinking isn’t ‘pie in the sky.’ There is, as the Dr. demonstrates, plenty of room for standardization and better management of spending/costs without sacrificing care.  Precisely because the TCF model is, on first blush, so different from the healthcare world and yet similar with regards to servicing millions in a cost-effective, profitable manner, that we will benefit greatly from creating a synthesis between healthcare delivery and what goes on in The Cheesecake Factory.

We should smash the TCF metaphor up against current healthcare practices and see what comes out of it.  That’s where great innovation will come from!    After all, the Cheesecake Factory IS successful and is doing something right. Many healthcare institutions in India ARE doing something right. The doctors in Dr. Gawande’s article ARE doing something right, saving money and improving outcomes.   There’s got to be something we can learn, be inspired by, and perhaps  implement and test, when metaphors dance into a tertium quid.

It doesn’t further discussions, and in fact limits solutions, to caricature Dr. Gawande’s insights.  Instead of claiming, as Mr. Denning did, that everything is “wrong” with Dr. Gawande’s vision, the discussion would be furthered by full-hearted listening, combining of metaphor, and dreaming of what can be.

I think the discussion would be even better if done over a meal at The Cheesecake Factory.

Posted in Best Practices, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Healthcare, innovation, problem solving, Service Design, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Looking for the Secret to Successful Problem Solving? Banish the “…but…”

Posted by Plish on August 27, 2011

Try this concept when problem solving, in brainstormings, in your personal life. 

It’ll work wonders.

Posted in Behavioral Science, Best Practices, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, problem solving, Tactics, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Holistic ‘Brain’storming – Harnessing the Body (and the Senses) in the Creative Process

Posted by Plish on August 18, 2011

We have a tendency to take our body’s for granted.   As a result we often ignore the connections between mind and body that have evolved to become part of the human condition.  For example, this article points out that when people think about the past they lean backwards, when they think about the future they lean forwards.

Now think about brainstormings you’ve been in.  How many people lean back in their chairs when trying to come up with ideas?  Sure, you can say that people are relaxing, and I’ll be the first to admit that a relaxed mind is a creative mind.  But, having people leaning forward in their chairs is easy to do, and if done in a playful, relaxed way, can’t hurt.

Is a topic important?  Perhaps having heavy-looking objects scattered around the room, or even having people hold heavy objects, can portray the importance of what is being discussed.  

Want people to feel warm?  Have them remember good experiences. 

Have them hold warm drinks  and chances are they’ll view fictional characters as friendly and warm (and vice-versa with holding cold drinks).

If you bring munchies into the meeting and you want participants to think in a more creative (versus analytical) fashion, serving a bowl of a trail mix may help.  Want participants to be more analytical in their thinking?  Bring in a bowl of nuts, one of raisins, one of chocolate bits….you get the idea.  (For more on creativity and our senses see this article.)

The point is, people are more than just brains.  People are holistic, embodied beings and when the body is brought into the creative process, amazing things can happen.

Give it a try, you don’t have anything to lose…

…but a whole bunch to gain!

Posted in Best Practices, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, The Senses, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Four Rules for Building a Positive Deviance Repository – A Model Based on Woman’s World Magazine

Posted by Plish on April 28, 2011

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups (the positive deviants), whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers. These individuals or groups have access to exactly the same resources and face the same challenges and obstacles as their peers. ” (From Positive Deviance website)

“Woman’s World is written for the traditional, family-oriented working woman. Woman’s World delivers a feel-good mix of heart-warming human interest stories and practical everyday solutions for work and home in every issue – America’s premiere weekly service book.” (italics mine) – Woman’s World Mission Statement

While recently thumbing through an issue of Woman’s World magazine, it dawned on me that Woman’s World  is a repository of positive deviance (And consequently is a database of possible business opportunities!).  In fact, Woman’s World’s Mission Statement emphasizes that their goal is to provide practical everyday solutions for work and home.  This also includes solutions for health and beauty. They make it a point to amass and share tidbits of information – helpful information that others may not have thought of or had access to.

These insights come from women who have the same resources and face the same challenges and obstacles as the readers of  Woman’s World.  In fact, many times it is  readers that contribute!

For a buck seventy-nine you get, as the magazine claims on every cover, “A Great Week Made Easy!”.  You also get solutions to problems (that you often didn’t realize you had until you saw them printed),  and you feel better about yourself because you’re making an effort to change (i.e. design) your life, and the lives of those around you, for the better.

How does Woman’s World do this and what can you do to  build a system for sharing positive deviances?

Follow each of these four rules and you’ll be on your way. 

  1. You need a repository or framework where ideas can be exchanged.  It doesn’t have to be high-tech.  Woman’s World is a magazine – it’s old school, not web 2.0! In fact, its paperness is a major strength (See number 2 below)
  2. People need to have easy access to the repository. Woman’s World is usually placed in the check out aisles.  People get it while they’re waiting to do something else!  It also means that it should be easy (and even fun!) to read, easy to navigate.  Information shouldn’t be presented as long drawn out treatises, but as short and sweet pericopes.
  3. People need to see themselves as belonging to a community in which they can share their problems and solutions without judgement.  The members of this community share a common goal:  the growth and/or improvement of individuals, families and communities. 
  4. The repository needs to address what is important to community members. This goes beyond obvious systemic needs (how to do x,y,z more effectively) and includes things like spirituality, health/wellness, etc . 

In addition to these four rules,  there are two guidelines that must be followed:

  • Once you start getting a Positive Deviance Repository in place, don’t forget to experiment and improve on your system.

Violating either of these guidelines will result in stagnation of your system, or worse, alienation of  the system’s users.  Positive Deviances are proposed and adopted from the ground up.  If they’re imposed from the top down, they will often lose their efficacy.  You want people to be active and engaged in reading and contributing to the Positive Deviance Repository.

After all, who wouldn’t want  their customers/members to contribute to the growth of the company and/or society, and for them to feel better at the same time?

Posted in Best Practices, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Innovation | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Building a Better World – A Lesson on Waste and Human Nature from the Internet

Posted by Plish on June 2, 2010

Humans have a tendency to see to  immense resources as inexhaustible…

Until they get close to exhaustion.

Water, our air, petroleum products, various plants and animals. They’re all examples of resources  humans use and use, often not being aware of the consequences until it’s too late.

So, I decided to check and see if another immense and inexhaustible resource was being misused by people.

The Internet.

And, it is.

While writing a post for this blog a couple days ago I noticed that one image I downloaded from the web was surprisingly large.  So, for kicks I decided to see if I could keep it the same quality but reduce the file size.  I didn’t do any tweaking of contrast or brightness.  Here are the results:




I was shocked.  The file was almost twice the size as what was needed.  Sure it’s not perfect but it still looks pretty good. I would venture to say that if you didn’t have the other one next to it you wouldn’t even know.  But, is this a pattern on the internet?   I went over to  5 other sites, and downloaded a few more pictures from them to see if this is a prevalent problem.  Below are two of the more glaring examples.    Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Best Practices, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


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