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Want Better Brainstormings?

Posted by Plish on October 11, 2016

I came across this interesting article over at FastCompany.  The title of the article is “You’re Probably Not Brainstorming Long Enough.”   The short of it is that just when things get tough, and the ideas start drying up, that’s the time when the great ideas are just around the corner.  Just go longer, do a “Brain marathon.”

I definitely agree that often the great ideas start coming after the obvious ideas are exhausted.  Heck, my last post was about this very topic.🙂  However, the problem with the marathon concept is that it’s unnecessary.  I’ve said it before:

Brainstorming should be a process, not an event.

Give yourself, and others, time to plan and ideate.

Your brain, >YOU< need to take time to understand the problem, process it, think of alternatives, sketch, prototype, play.  There’s no need to force it to occur in the span of an 8 hour day.

Instead of pushing everyone into a room for a half day or more, spend some time setting up the actual ‘event’.  Give people the problem statement.  Prime the pump, get people thinking about the problem and possible solutions on their own or in small groups of two. (If you want a copy of the template I use for initiating and planning a brainstorm, click here and send me a message🙂 )  Then, and only then, after everyone has had a chance to ruminate, then have the actual session.

But Plish, why brainstorm if everyone has already thought of ideas?  

Isaac Asimov sums it up nicely (from his, “How do people get new ideas?“):

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon.

Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another the unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.

In other words, the focus of the actual session is to cross-pollinate, to share ideas, to create new combinations from existing ideas.  What I’ve also noticed is that brand new ideas also surface during this time.

But perhaps most important, when people think in little portions well in advance of an ideation session, they don’t have to drink from a marathon fire-hose.  Instead of a full day event, 2-4 hours is sufficient.   No one gets worn out and the quality of the ideation session is much better.

After this shorter session, combine all the ideas, redistribute them to all the team and let them make even more new connections.

After that, then pick the ideas that are worth moving forward on and prototype some more.

When all is said and done, there’s no reason for a single, exhausting marathon session (remember, legend has it the first marathon runner died after delivering news of a military victory!).

Put some planning into the process and not only will you save frustration getting  great ideas, you save time.



Posted in brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, idea generation, innovation, problem solving, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Use A.C.E. to Improve the Quality of Your Ideas

Posted by Plish on September 16, 2016


Name at least 10 ways to use a brick.  Take a couple minutes and write them down.  If you don’t get 10, that’s ok.

Here’s a list I quickly made up.

  • paperweight
  • window breaker
  • block for building a wall
  • Weight for muscle training
  • shoes for a low gravity planet
  • Sundial (if stood on end)
  • Writing Utensil on a rough surface
  • Toy Boat for a sea of mercury
  • Temperature regulator (Hot Pack/Cold Pack – Freeze the brick to keep things cold or heat it up and drop it in a container to keep it warm)
  • Electrical Insulator (Use for a capacitor or transformer)
  • Thermal Insulator -keep Hot from Cold
  • Serving Tray in Kitchen

Odds are, the first few ideas on your list are the same as mine.  You also probably had a tough time getting past the first four or five, right?  That’s actually totally normal.  The first ideas are the ones that everyone has.  The next ones are the ones that are the money-makers, the ideas others didn’t think of.  But getting that next batch of ideas is hard work. It takes time and effort.

So, how do you get past the first few ‘meh’ ideas and get to the good ones?

Before we look at that, let’s look at what we do to get the first 4 or 5.

In our Mind’s Eye, we hold the brick in our hand, looking at it from 2 to 3 feet away, simultaneously thinking how this is good building material. In other words what we do is, (a) focus on one main trait/attribute and let that guide our ideation process.  In the case of a brick we focus on the weight and/or hardness. We also put the brick where we typically see it.  We (b) see it in a specific context: in this case, the construction realm. Thirdly, we (c) look at the wholeness of the object – in this case the brick as a rectangular block of material.

The way to get better ideas is to vary each one of the above three perspectives: A.C.E. –  (Attributes, Context, Everything (not the Whole thing))

Doing this will break through the ‘meh’ stage and give you much more creative ideas.

(a) Look at various Attributes

So, what are the attributes of a brick, or any object for that matter (I realize there is some overlap between these but sometimes it helps to call the attributes different things)?

  • Shape
  • Size/Dimensions
  • Roughness/Smoothness
  • Hardness/Softness
  • Color/Reflectivity/Optical Properties
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Density
  • Sharpness
  • Mechanical Properties (will it behave differently when we push on it, pull on it or shear it)
  • Fracture Properties (How it breaks)
  • Thermal properties
  • Fire Resistance
  • Electrical Properties
  • Magnetic Properties
  • Acoustic Properties
  • Porosity
  • Chemical Properties
  • Emotions it elicits
  • All of the above at various scales – from macro to micro.  Bricks aren’t perfectly homogeneous. Different parts of a brick can behave differently.

Look at the various attributes and ideate around those – individually or in aggregate.  Truly observe!  Understand what goes into the product.  Once you understand the brick your eyes will be opened to ways you can modify and leverage what the brick is.

What’s the shape of the brick?  Is the brick REALLY hard, or does it has softness to it?  What does it take to deform the brick and mar the surface?  Bricks can hold and/or prevent temperature transfer depending on the context.  They also don’t conduct electricity all that well.  Do they change color under certain circumstances?  Do they change their smell under certain stresses?  Do bricks fracture at certain loads so that they can be used as indicators?  What do they taste like? (You lick a brick at your own risk.😉 )

(b) Look at alternate Contexts

Put the brick into various contexts and you’ll be surprised how quickly the ideas start flowing.  Is it a yard, a different planet, an imaginary place, a street, a kitchen, an operating room?  Are these contexts cold, hot, well lit, dimly lit, windy, calm, etc.?  All these variables will impact the types of ideas you come up with.

For example, I put it the brick in a kitchen and hence came up with using it as a serving tray and/or thermal stabilizer. (Also, bricks can exhibit efflorescence.  Salts can come to the surface, so this can flavor food – provided the rest of the materials in the brick aren’t poisonous😉 ) When I thought of it in a street, I thought of rubbing it on the street to make drawings.   In an operating room I thought of it being heated up and placed under the surgical drapes to keep patients warm. (I came up with another idea but I’ll include it below.)

(c) Look at Everything (not the whole thing)

Finally, what can we change – modify, add, subtract, etc. from any of the above attributes, components, systems or sub-systems to make it useful?  (Place these in various contexts to multiply the power of this exercise.)  Look beyond it simply being a block held at arms length.  Re-imagine it!

Can we change its usefulness by breaking it up? (I often take brick chunks, break them more and use the fragments to line the bottom of planters.  Broken shards of brick can also be amazingly sharp!)

We could also grind it up and add it to food to change the way it’s cooked and digested. (Depending on the chemical composition of the brick this might not be a safe idea so don’t try this at home/work/etc.!) Revisiting the operating room context,  we could grind up the brick and weave it into the material of the surgical drapes to make the drapes more effective insulators.

The whole purpose of using A.C.E. is to get us past the obvious and into the realm of innovation.   Just using one of these will help, but when you use all three in conjunction, your ideas will flow and be more original.

Try it!  Would love to know your thoughts!


Posted in brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are you Using This Simple 3 Step Process to Create Products that Leverage Existing Trends?

Posted by Plish on August 9, 2016

There’s no question that we are living in exciting times.  There are multiple trends, technological and otherwise, that are blossoming and can be leveraged if you take the time to put in some work.  Follow this simple three step process and you’ll be much better equipped for leveraging the power of trends in your business.

Step One:

Research and understand trends that are shaping the landscape.

As a primer, here’s a quick list of some trends that are shaping the world right now.


Via MarketWatch

  • Virtual and Augmented Reality
  • Wearables
  • Smart Cars
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Drones
  • Phone (and batteries) That Charge at a Distance

Some other Consumer Retail Trends:

  • Leveraging the Crowd
  • Subscription Services (Dollar Shave Club)
  • 3-D Printing
  • Maker Movement
  • Product Personalization
  • Sharing Economy
  • Uberization (I agree with Fast Company. Uber isn’t Sharing Economy but it is a new model)
  • Multiple Platform Sales
  • Social Media and Online Communities
  • Preference for Ethically Responsible Brands
  • Eco-Awareness
  • Product Co-Creation
  • Increased Biometric Use

Also check out Trendhunter (where I contribute from time to time😉 ) Trendwatching, and Cassandra with their Cassandra Daily Newsletter.  The trends on these sites can be quite provocative and are great for jump-starting creative thoughts.

Steps 2 and 3!

2.  List the main positive and negative attributes of your product.

3.  Look for intersections between your product attributes and the trends and create products that enhance the positives or negate the negatives

For example.  Let’s say that your company makes paper-based notebooks.

Positive Attributes: Convenient; Creates hard copy; Can be used with various media (pen, pencil, paint, crayon, etc.);  Highly secure; Can be digitally copied (copy machine, phone picture, etc.); Difficult to forge; Low-cost; Recyclable; Personal

Negative Attributes: Needs to be on hand to use; Must do additional work to digitally archive; Uses/wastes paper; If recycled then must be copied; Have to purchase at stores either in bulk or as needed but then have to run to the store; ???



  • Have a QR code 10 pages from the end of the notebook that automatically orders (when scanned) more notebooks before running out (Better than a subscription service because it’s on-demand) This data can be used to then understand ordering patterns.
  • Enable customization of notebooks (paper designs -lined/graph/etc, covers, etc.) via online portal or app
  • Have a sensor embedded 10-20 pages from the end that when written on automatically purchases another notebook and mails it
  • Use non-wood pulp papers
  • Create an online community where people can design notebook covers for each other
  • Deliver notebooks by drone
  • Create notebooks from text messages
  • Create an augmented reality app that enables someone to ‘write’ on various products/locations/etc. to capture ideas virtually
  • Create a wearable that can tell what you’re writing and store it digitally, automatically
  • Provide notebooks that are customized for online courses and heighten student interactivity
  • Notebook covers contain solar panels and/or batteries for recharging digital devices.  These can also be charged via movement/carrying.
  • Use biometrics to lock/unlock paper notebooks
  • Create luxury notebooks
  • Personalize notebooks with a chamber that contains a friend/family member’s DNA from a kiss (think lipstick on an envelope…remember snail mail?😉 )
  • Create Notebooks from pulp made from trees or branches that grew on property that held emotional import
  • Grow bamboo (at home?) or more likely,   you pay an amount to lease a portion of a bamboo field from which pulp is harvested to create your own notebooks. It’s a notebook/paper co-op (I LOVE this idea.  Anyone that wants to do it, please contact me🙂 )

As you can see, just by bouncing notebook attributes against the various trends, I came up with 16 ideas for new products.  (Not only does this process supplement existing product lines, but you can use it to create brand new markets.  Just start with some existing product line attributes, bounce it against trends and create new products irrespective of what your industry is!)

There’s no excuse for being left in the dust of technology and an evolving world.  Follow this simple 3 step process, and you’ll find yourself successfully creating products as the world changes.🙂



Here are some other tech trends for your reading enjoyment🙂


  • 3d Printing
  • Active Participation in Advertising
  • Changes in Healthcare Funding
  • Reshaping Education via Online Training
  • Online Portals Reshaping Retail


  • The Device Mesh (Connected products of all kinds)
  • Ambient User Experience (Seamless experiences spanning devices)
  • 3d Printing Materials
  • Obtaining Information from Everything
  • Advanced Machine Learning
  • Autonomous Agents and Things (Next gen Siri, Cortana, etc.)
  • Adaptive Security Architecture
  • Advanced System Architecture (Computers that function more like brains)
  • Mesh App and Service Architecture
  • Internet of Things Architecture and Platforms

A pdf Report from Deloitte touches on much of the Forbes stuff and more





Posted in 3D Printing, brainstorming, Co-Creation, Creative Thinking Techniques, culture of innovation, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Maker Movement, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, The Future, Trends, Uncategorized, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Six Rules to Keeping Your Innovation Spaces Innovative

Posted by Plish on July 24, 2016




An engineer on an interview walked into a pristine R&D lab and quipped, “Does anyone do any work in here?”

Turns out, that when creating environments conducive to creative thinking and problem solving, messy environments are more liberating and more conducive to coming up with novel ideas. (Study in Psychological Science)  It’s probably not a coincidence that in addition to Einstein, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, and Alan Turing also had messy desks. (Great pics here)

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.  Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.” – Psychological Scientist Kathleen Vohs

Messy environments are safe spaces for creativity.  Or perhaps it’s easier to think of it the other way.  When you walk into a room that’s pristine  and perfect, shiny and new,  are you willing to be the first one to mess it up?   Because of this, perfectly organized clean rooms have a tendency to perpetuate their cleanliness.  The expectations are that you need to exercise control and follow social norms.   There is a lack of freedom present which stifles the innovative spirit.   There is a sense that “I’m in someone else’s area and I need to play by their rules.”

On the other hand, walking into a disorderly area impacts everyone that’s exposed to it.  It doesn’t even need to be your mess!  People will tend to feel more at ease, thus more free to contribute, to create, to be unconventional!

So, the important thing is, if you want innovation to happen in your lab, it might behoove you to let things go a little bit.  Let certain areas become islands of creativity where people can play and invent, where they don’t have to play by the rules.

If you do organize, and you have more than one person that uses the lab, make sure that each person cleans his/her own messes.  I’ve heard horror stories of overzealous colleagues unwittingly throwing away  someone else’s valuable prototypes because they didn’t know what they were and they looked liked they didn’t have any value.

So, instead of cleaning parties, I suggest that you have innovation parties.  Spend a couple hours together in the lab with everyone showing everyone else what they’re working on.  Let people look at and touch stuff.  Ask, “What does this do?”.  Cross-fertilize!!

It’s also important to keep raw materials and tools within reach.  If you have to go upstairs or downstairs each time you need some component, there’s a problem in your lab organization.

Likewise, keep reminders of your current product lines in reach.  You have certain core competencies, certain products that define who you are.  Creating innovations that leverage your core competencies can create products that are ‘in your wheelhouse’, and thus accelerate their time to market.

So, in summary, here are the rules to keeping your innovation lab fruitful:

  1. Make sure there is a way for people to see what you’re working on.  Don’t hide prototypes or ideas from others or yourself!
  2. If you must keep the lab pristine, designate certain areas as innovation zones (some design firms create ‘war rooms’) where it’s free to be…
  3. The only people allowed to clean work areas are those who are responsible for that work.
  4. Keep raw materials and prototypes close at hand in cabinets, drawers, etc.  If you have to walk more than 20 feet to get something, or be reminded of something, the plan needs to be changed.
  5. If you have raw materials or prototypes that you must move, take pictures and post them.
  6. Keep your current product lines in view. Learn about what your company does well.

Do you have any other rules that help make your innovation works-spaces more fruitful?

PS. Clean areas have their place. They do promote healthy eating, conventionality and charitable giving.   So, make yourself a clean area for healthier, linear thinking, crank-through work.  After all, sometimes you just need to get a report written and sent.

PPS.  Unlabeled containers, open flammable substances, cutting machinery, in short, things that could hurt yourself or others, should always be properly stored and/or locked to prevent accidents.

PPPS Messy is not the same as dirty.  Working in a place with exposed mold, excessive dust, standing water, is not creating an environment that is healthy to function in.  Stay away from these. (I hope you didn’t need me to tell you this😉 )

PPPPS Check out this link for some great environmental creativity hacks






Posted in Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Uncategorized, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lessons on Innovating Using Cornstraints (It’s Not a Typo)

Posted by Plish on June 6, 2016

Now that we’re in the season of barbecues and beer, let’s delve into innovating using constraints.  For this post we’ll look at innovating how we eat corn on the cob, so we should probably call them “Cornstraints” (Sorry, couldn’t resist😉 )

Typically, eating corn on the cob is a delicious but messy process because the cob can be slathered with butter, salt, pepper, mayo, pepper sauce, etc. (Corn must be delicious! – User applied constraints).  Most people don’t want this on their fingers (Keep fingers clean –A user applied constraint).  Not to mention, corn cobs are remarkably efficient at retaining heat (an inherent constraint), so holding them at the ends can be challenge if they were recently plucked out of boiling water.

Doing a quick Google search shows people are pretty much dealing with these constraints already.


Most innovations in this space deal with ways of holding the corn.  Inserting sticks or holding the ears of the corn seem to be the most common solutions.  Using napkins or some other intermediate device are also ways of minimizing mess, improving grip, and increasing comfort.

How else can we improve the eating experience?

  1. Who says we have to hold it?  It’s a choice – a user applied constraint.  We can, as some people with dental work do, cut off the corn and eat it with a fork.  We can also use a power drill (as has been done by some folks on YouTube)  but this brings up whether we should ignore another  user applied constraint: All the kernels need to end up in the mouth .  We could also design a corn stand that holds the cob for us; or for that matter, we could ask a friend to hold it for us so we don’t get our own hands gummed up.  This then brings up a possible constraint: Eating Corn on the Cob shouldn’t cause us to lose friends.
  2. Since the center of the cob is often hot, what if we cook the corn without heating the core?  Think of ways to do this and have fun with solar heaters or blow torches!  For that matter, let’s work with the reverse of the constraint (Corn needs to be served hot) and create a delicious COLD corn dish!  What about chemically ‘cooking’ the corn?  We can use enzymes or chemicals to convert the corn into something delectable and yet cool.   Or what if we slice the corn cob into 1/4″ slices so that corn chips takes on a new meaning?😉  Since they’re thinner, the centers will cool faster and be easier to hold.  Plus, the corn can now be dipped into whatever sauce we want!  We ignore one user constraint (Corn cob must be whole) and turn another on its head (The entire cob must be slathered with the same substance)
  3.  The center of the cob is typically not edible (Inherent Constraint).  So let’s make it edible!  Can we inject it with something prior to cooking it so that it softens and tastes good?

I could go on, but let’s take a look at what I’ve done.

At the heart of all the above ideas is a questioning of the constraint.  Why do we have to buy in to the constraint?  Let’s change it.  Who cares if it’s inherent in the product – work around it!   Personally I like looking at the opposite of what the constraint implies and then find a way to make that reality.  What’s very interesting (and fruitful!) is that as one starts playing with the alteration of constraints, new constraints inevitably pop up.  This makes sense because once constraints get changed, the whole context can change.  This change in context demands that we ask new questions and probe the new constraints that are formed.

So, the next time you’re eating corn on the cob, think about ways of changing the eating experience.  It might make for a great discussion at a party!  I’d love to hear your ideas for changing the experience by experimenting with cornstraints.🙂




Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, design thinking, Disruptive Innovation, Food, innovation, Innovation Tools, Service Design, Social Innovation, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are you doing this simple thing to help think “Big Picture”?

Posted by Plish on May 12, 2016

We’ve all done it. We forward reams of information to people in preparation for a meeting.  It’s convenient and it saves trees.  But there’s a problem.  We may be unwittingly influencing how the reader thinks about the information.

Researchers have found that how we consume information  determines how we think.  In short, when we view information in a digital format, we tend to hone in on details and think more concretely.

On the other hand, when we consume the same information in an analog fashion (on paper), we have a tendency to think much more abstractly and ‘big picture ‘.

Now, when CEOs were asked what the most important leadership quality is, the majority cited  creativity.  The second quality -integrity, and third, global thinking.  Those are all pretty abstract concepts. Yet, we are consuming so much of our information digitally and accidentally narrowing our thought processes.

So what’s the one thing we should do to make sure we look at the big picture?

Think about why we’re reading what we’re reading.

In other words, ask yourself if what you’re reading needs laser focused thinking or big picture, abstract thinking.

If you need to think ‘big picture’, then print out your email/presentation/document/etc.  If you are totally committed to not using tree-derived paper, then you can start using tree-free papers made from alternate materials.   If you don’t want to print stuff out at all, then gather information that helps establish the context of what you’re reading.  Deeply understand the context before starting to read.  This will help you deal with the information in a more broad-minded way.

If you’re prepping for a brainstorm, or in a brainstorm, pass things around in paper format.  Make copies and circulate them around.  Make it easy for people to make notations, mark things up, to encounter ideas without the borders of a screen.

If you’d like to be laser focused, if you need to understand the facts, then just read digitally.

Remember, reflect on your purpose for reading information. It’ll make you a better thinker and a better do-er.




Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, brainstorming, cognitive studies, Conveying Information, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Information Visualization, innovation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Uncovering and Creating Innovation in a Sequence of Events (Even the Most Familiar)

Posted by Plish on March 4, 2016

Sequences of events are often taken for granted.

It’s winter.  It’s 2 degrees Fahrenheit and there are 20 mile per hour winds outside.  The fridge is empty.  You need to make a food run.

So, you go to the car, insert the key in the door, unlock the door, sit in the car, put the key in the ignition and turn it.  You then sit in a freezing cold car and watch your breath frost the windows as the defrost won’t work until the car gets warmed up…

The above sequence of events can be most unpleasant to experience, and it was a pretty typical winter experience for many people until…

Someone invented the Remote Control Key Fob.  Simply press a button and the car is unlocked from inside the house! Now that it’s open, you can run outside into the cold and open the door quickly.  No need to fumble for the keys with frozen fingers.  Just open the door and sit down and start the car.


You still need to wait for it to warm up.

The solution?

While the Remote Control Fob is a great invention for unlocking car doors, it’s an even better invention for starting the car before going outside!

In this case, the value of the innovation comes not so much from snazzy remote control technologies, but from changing the sequence in which various events occur: turning the car on before opening the door (A similar value comes from opening a garage door remotely without having to get out of the car.)

Juggling the sequence of events, or looking at technologies that enable us to change the sequence of events, are often very powerful (and sometimes surprisingly simple!) ways of innovating creative solutions.

One place where creative solutions are always needed are with regards to public health.

The proper washing of hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize the transmission of diseases of many types. Yet, a survey of 100000 people showed that 60+ percent of men and 40 percent of women don’t even bother to wash their hands when leaving the rest room (and these were people that admitted it!)  To make you feel even more uncomfortable, most people who do wash their hands don’t do it as thoroughly as they should.

In bathrooms, washing hands and drying hands are actually part of the same process.  Do a lousy job of washing or drying, and the chances of germ transmission go up.  Not to mention, most bathrooms have doors and other surfaces that people touch on their way into and out of the bathroom, so even if they’ve washed and perhaps dried, they may still touch these surfaces and pick things up or leave things behind.

The solution then is to go into a bathroom, wash, dry and leave without touching anything on your way out.


Being the type of person I am, while recently in a bathroom I realized it was configured almost perfectly to enable the primo handwashing solution. A new technology wasn’t really needed.  However, a little creative event shuffling yielded a simple and very effective solution.

#cleanhands or #dirtyhands : #innovation by changing the #sequence of events. One of my favorite ways of innovating is to look at a sequence of events and rearrange them in time. This bathroom is a perfect example. By changing the sequence (ejecting the paper but NOT tearing it before using the urinal or toilet) I can use the urinal, wash my hands, tear the paper, dry them, open the door using the soiled paper towel and throw it away. Granted, this isn't perfect. The ideal would be to leave the water running and turn it off using the paper towel, use the door handle, and then throw it away when walking out the door. #handwashing #sanitation #germs #bathroom #washroom #design #processdesign #processflow #systemdesign

A photo posted by Michael Plishka (@zenstorming) on

In the upper picture I’ve shown the order a person typically follows when entering a restroom (the lightswitch is not always a part of the equation😉 .)

The lower picture shows how simply changing the sequence enables someone to come in, wash, dry and leave without touching anything dirty on the way out.  No need for any new technology.

But, there is a dark side…

Just as technology can enable us to change the sequence for the better, the introduction of a technology into the bathroom can negatively impact the sequence and perhaps create ramifications outside the door.  What happens when we replace the paper towel with an electrical hand dryer?

All types of questions then arise:

Will someone’s hands really be clean when he/she leaves?  Is saving trees a greater good than public health impacts from dirty hands?  Should doors open electronically?  Can a plate be placed at the base of the door to enable someone to open it with a foot? Should a hired person be there to open and close the doors? Should there be a soap that forms an active protective film that is only activated after drying in a hand dryer?

As you can see, (and as all time travelers will tell you) tampering with time has its consequences.  In the above example, the introduction of one technology has spawned the need for other technologies or additional (or less) steps.  Each of these are an opportunity for a product or service.

So, next time you’re having a difficult time solving a problem, or if you’re looking for a new space to play, look at the sequence of events that are part of the situation and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Can we change the sequence of events to thus create a better outcome?  If we can’t, or sometimes even if we can….
  2. Can we leverage or develop a technology that enables us to reshuffle the sequence of events so that a better result is achieved?

These two questions can lead to tremendous innovations, but first we need to stop taking the sequence of events for granted.








Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Healthcare, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want a Productive Brainstorm? Here Are Some Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Plish on November 24, 2015

Came across a post at USA Today College: “5 tips for a Productive Brainstorming Session.”

I enjoy reading different people’s approaches to brainstorming.   However, this one had me screaming at the computer screen: “NO!”  After which I went to a different page, relaxed, came back the next day and re-read it.

Nope, no difference – still not the best advice.

Actually, to be fair, it’s a mixture of good and bad advice.  (These tips seem more apropos for a design review than for a brainstorming)

Let’s take a look at the 5 tips and look at their value.

1.Create the Right Environment – Actually, this paragraph gives good advice:  “Select a time to meet when you know you and your group members will have enough energy to think creatively … Choose a space conducive to creative thinking: a clean, quiet place with natural light and comfortable seating. Maintain that calm, creative environment by asking all group members to silence their phones and put them away to avoid being distracted by a text or Twitter update. 

2.Establish Structure – “Set a time limit for your meeting depending on how much work needs to get done so that everyone stays on task…Also, be sure to assign one group member the role of moderator…Choose a person who knows well both the purpose of the project and the personalities of everyone in the group.”  This is all pretty good advice. It’s crucially important that the moderator not be someone who is simply looking for confirmation of his/her idea.  This person really has to have the project’s success at heart.

3. Prioritize Your Goals – “Once some order is established, the moderator should outline a general overview of the project to help get everyone’s brains in the right place. After the project is sketched out, the moderator should clearly state the goal of the brainstorming session. Your group’s brainstorming session goal should be SMART—that is: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Avoid making overarching goals. For instance, if your project is for an environmental planning course requiring you to design an urban space, don’t simply say your goal is to: “Make the best urban design plan.” Make a SMART goal, like: “Design an urban space that is comfortable, functional, and eco-friendly in one week.””  This is the first tip that really got me going. If you’re giving people background, and the expected goal, as part of the brainstorming session, you’re already too late.  People need to understand the challenge, and they need time to think about it.  I realize this is for a college column, so giving people a long term heads up isn’t always possible.  But give people at least a day! (Give them a week of more if possible.  If you really can’t give a day, give a few hours to think about the challenge)   There’s very little hope of getting good output if your input is hurried and not reflected upon.  (Remember: Garbage in=Garbage out) Also, the brainstorming statement shouldn’t be a project statement.  Making it SMART isn’t a bad thing per se, but it would be much better to say, “In what ways can a comfortable, functional, ecofriendly urban space be designed?”  It would be even better to break it up into subsections, brainstorm on Comfort, Functionality and Ecofriendliness by dedicating time to each trait individually.  Remember, if you’re trying to get across a river, your problem statement shouldn’t say, “In what ways can we build a bridge over the river in a week?”, but instead, “In what ways can we get across the river in a week’s time?”  Or, “In what ways can we get 1000 people from this shore to the other shore?”  Leave some wiggle room.  Too specific and every solution will be a variation of a bridge.

4.  Write it Out – “Bring notepads, sticky notes, and/or a large whiteboard to your meeting. Ensure everyone has the opportunity to write down—or draw—his or her ideas. Jot down or sketch out every idea—not just those that sound best at the time—so that your group can build off others’ ideas as your brainstorming session progresses.”  Good points about drawing and writing!

5. Ask QuestionsWhen it comes to brainstorming, cooperation and collaboration go hand in hand. But if during a brainstorming session no one challenges any ideas, innovation is unlikely to occur. Agreeing on some things is good, but in general, it’s important to avoid group complacency—called groupthink—with every idea that is presented during a brainstorming session.  Avoid groupthink by assigning one group member the role of devil’s advocate. It’s this person’s job to raise at least one counterargument to every idea the group agrees on. These counterarguments shouldn’t be attacks, but should raise important questions about idea feasibility, integrity, and relevance that help move your brainstorming forward in a positive direction.” NOOOO! (The red highlight is mine – it means WT? )This one REALLY got me going.  Yes, innovation can occur in response to questioning, but the brainstorming is not the place for it.  You want free-flow of ideas, not critiquing.  If you give people time to understand the challenge and give them time to prepare and to brainstorm in private before the brainstorming session, you’ll get ideas that are somewhat baked.  You may not get the best idea until everyone has bounced their ideas off of each other, but you’ll do much better if you DON’T have a devil’s advocate.  Leave that for an after brainstorming tactical meeting: discussing the who, how, what, when, how much, etc’s, of implementing the best ideas.   If every idea is picked apart as part of the brainstorming meeting, I guarantee people will start self-censoring themselves during the brainstorm, and that’s the last thing you want happening.  As for Groupthink- read about the solutions here.  Again, if people can brainstorm on their own before the actual meeting, and people are encouraged to share during the meeting, groupthink is less likely to occur. It’s the moderator’s job to keep everyone involved and keep judgment to a minimum.  Worry about groupthink when you are in your post brainstorming tactical meeting,  THEN question.

So, what rules should be followed?

Here are the 7 rules that I post on the wall every time I lead a brainstorm:

  1. Every person has equal worth
  2. Withhold judgment of ideas (This includes your own!)
  3. Go for quantity
  4. Go for wild ideas
  5. Build on the ideas of others
  6. One conversation at a time
  7. Be visual, draw and prototype

If you’d like a Poster Size PDF of the above rules, click here .

As I’ve alluded to above, Brainstorming shouldn’t be just a one time event, it should be a three part process of Preparation, Brainstorming, and Follow-Up.  (Incidentally, all three of the phases usually include some type of brainstorming🙂 )

Do you have any rules that you follow when brainstorming?





Posted in Best Practices, brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Creative Dialogues With the Past Can Inform Design – Lessons Inspired by Kabuki

Posted by Plish on October 29, 2015

Great piece on the value of creative traditions over at Lateral Action – about how understanding them can lead to greater creative output.  Mark McGuinness talks about the 400+ year old, Japanese form of theater known as, Kabuki, how it’s a vital part of the Arts’ tradition, and how tradition and innovation can indeed go hand in hand.

Fascinating read. In addition, Mark has some wonderful advice for learning from a creative tradition.  It’s also a great summary of things to look at when designing new products.  When I prepare a group for a brainstorm I have them look at these very topics, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the parallels.  He summarizes beautifully:

Every creative tradition is a treasure-trove of inspiration and knowledge. Unless you know what past masters have done — and why and how they did it — you are limiting the palette of creative options available to you. So if you are serious about your creative discipline, you need to learn about its history and traditions.

Run through the following list and make a note of how well you know each category within your creative field:

  • Classic works
  • Contemporary works
  • The avant-garde
  • Works from your own country
  • Works from other countries
  • Critical reviews and studies

The list is great summary of what to look at when you need inspiration for solving a problem.

  1. Classic works >>how did people solve this problem in the past?
  2. Contemporary works >> How are people solving this problem now?  (These are the mainstream soluitions)
  3. The avant-garde >> What are people on the cutting edge doing to solve this problem?
  4. Works from this country and others >> People deal with problems in different ways in different parts of the world, or even in the same parts of the world!  Look for examples of Positive Deviance.
  5. Critical Reviews and Studies – Look in the literature.  This also includes patents.  I would also include Nature here.  Does anything in Nature resemble or shed light upon your current problem?

More great advice:

Do not avoid works or artists you don’t like. You don’t have to like everything, but if you want to be more than a keen amateur, you need some knowledge of every aspect of your field. Even if you only confirm your negative judgment, it’s better to do this from an informed position than dismissing things without getting to know them. And you might even surprise yourself by finding some diamonds in the rough.

Pay attention to those products that you don’t like as well as those you do.   How did they solve a problem?  Are they trying to solve the same problem you are?  Look for the method behind the madness.

When looking at the past,people tend to think that we’re going backwards.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Use those older designs and ideas as springboards for new ideas!

Don’t worry that your work will seem derivative or unoriginal. Treat these dialogues with the past as experiments, to be discarded if you don’t like the results.

Newer materials and manufacturing methods are constantly stretching the boundaries of what can be accomplished.  Very often past solutions can be given new life by changing the materials and manufacturing methods.  Adidas did this by utilizing 3D printing  in  the time honored running shoe.

Next time you’re confronted with a problem that needs to be creatively solved, spend some time dancing with the past and present.  Your future will contain innovative and creative solutions!

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Making Lightning – The Creative Spark in All of Us

Posted by Plish on August 7, 2015

The sky went from sunset blue to thick blackness that the windshield wipers swiped at with futility.  The rain pounded the the car and an uneasy, queasy feeling filled the air as a tornado warning was issued.

I drove the rest of the way home and parked.  To the west the worst was already breaking and salmon patches of sunset backlit clouds.   To the north the blackness churned and lightning crackled from cloud to cloud as the thunder rumbled without pause.

(Mouse over and Click the play arrow and continue reading on the other side)



It’s in you!

That same power.

You’ve experienced those shocks that startle when you touch a doorknob on a dry day.

This is bigger and can change the world.

Lightning bridges gaps – tremendous expanses of space.  It’s possible because of the difference in charge, a difference in potential.   Lightning finds its way.

But you need to provide the stuff for creativity to happen.

Observe, read, smell, taste, listen, touch, dream!  Understand the challenges you want to solve and then look at them from a different perspective, and then another, and then another!

Allow those differing perspectives to mix  together and the clouds will rumble, the sky will flash, creativity will happen.

It’s in you.



Posted in Authenticity, brainstorming, Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, observation, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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