ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

When Innovation is Counter-Intuitive: Fighting Fire with Fire

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2017

Wood.

A beautiful, versatile material, but humans aren’t the only ones who like it.

Bugs like it.

Fungi like it,

Fire destroys it.

So how do we make it more robust?

Typical approaches are to chemically treat the wood.  Soak it, coat it. But, some of those chemicals are downright nasty to humans and nature.  Plus, they often need to be re-applied frequently to keep the wood in its peak resistant form.

Turns out there’s a simpler, more effective way of making wood resistant to fire, and to critters of all sizes.

In Japanese the technique is called Shou-Sugi-Ban.  It’s been practiced there for at least 300 years, probably longer.

In English it’s called: Fire.

Yes, that’s correct.  Burn the wood.  Char it.  The process destroys the cellulose and leaves charred lignin behind which is much harder to ignite. (Ever try starting a fire with cold charred wood?  It’s possible but not easy)

From an innovation standpoint, I love the fact that Shou-Sugi-Ban is so counter-intuitive.

Often when people encounter a weakness in a material or design, the reflexive response is to avoid it.  Design around it.  This innovation hack embraces the weakness and capitalizes on it.

The technique is simple.  Look at the negatives and see if you can control and/or exaggerate them in time or space to create a solution that renders the negatives powerless at a later time or place.  In this case, fire is typically the end of wood.  However, by putting fire at the beginning of the wood treating process, the wood becomes resistant to fire down the line.

Another example from the world of fire?

For years oil rig fires have been extinguished by using explosions, and now a similar technique is being explored to put out wildfires.

Other examples of this contradiction based technique have directly impacted the lives of millions.

Vaccines for one.  By taking a pathogen and exposing the body to it in a controlled manner –  Voila!  Immunity!

There’s also Desensitization.

It’s used to cure people of allergies.  A psychological version of desensitization is used to cure people of phobias.  In both cases, people are exposed to the problem causing agent in a controlled manner.  Like the wood of Shou-Sugi-Ban, they become resistant to the very things that made them miserable.

So, next time you have a product that has an Achilles heel, see if you can use that weakness as a strength by applying the weakness in a preemptive manner.  The results could surprise you.

 

 

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Posted in Biomimicry, Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are You Doing This Simple Thing to Improve Your Creative Abilities?

Posted by Plish on May 6, 2015

To become a better writer – READ

To become a better cook – EAT

To become a better musician – LISTEN

In short, to become a better designer/maker/artist/engineer – OBSERVE

I recently started an Instagram page for ZenStorming.  It’s filled with tips for idea generation and creative inspiration, and it’s especially geared towards people that don’t always have someone around to bounce ideas off of.  (If you aren’t on Instagram, the posts are cross-posted to my ZenStorming Facebook page.)

Since Instagram is amazingly well suited to provide quick nuggets of information, I started a weekly series for helping people improve their observational skills.  It’s based on the premise that if you are primed with a certain concept before going on a walk or drive, your eyes will be opened to new things just because of the priming.

You don’t have to see new things, to see things new!

My first observation challenge was to look for right angles.

I took my own challenge, and that day while driving to a client, I was amazed at what I saw.  I saw patterns that I never noticed before, even though I had passed the same areas innumerable times. It also amazed me how right angles are largely the work of humans.  We build a world of right angles around us. Up, down, left, right.

We create an orthogonal world.

Which is kind of interesting given that so much of nature is anything but in 90 degree intersections.  But it’s what works.

Would love to get your thoughts on this observation challenge (as well as suggestions for a catchy hashtag!)

And remember,

You don’t have to see new things, to see things new!

If you see things in a new way, you can create new things!

Posted in Arts, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Maker, observation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thinking of the Ideal will Design the Beautiful (Happy Birthday, “Bucky”!)

Posted by Plish on July 12, 2014

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution isn’t beautiful, I know it is wrong.
— Richard Buckminster Fuller

 

Today is the birthday of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller.  For those of you who don’t know him, he was an amazing architect, systems thinker, writer,  inventor, designer, and futurist.  In short he was a thinker and doer.  He considered himself, “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”

For Fuller, beauty wasn’t just something nice to look at.  It was something to strive for when designing things, services and ourselves.

To many, Fuller was perhaps too utopian in his thinking.  What they fail to realize is that this ‘utopian’ tendency was fundamental to his design capabilities.  His goal was not to make something that was ‘good enough.’  His goal was to contribute to designing a world in which 100% of the human population could reach its highest potential with 0% negative impact on the environment and larger systems in which humans are integrally intertwined.

This concept of “ideality” is an important concept to remember and one of my favorite ways to generate innovative ideas.  (Ideality is essentially the ratio of all the positive benefits of something divided by the sum of  all the negatives. ) A more practical way to think of ideality is to think of it as a machine that does everything you need it to do but without any negative consequences.  For example, a bicycle that moves me from Point A to Point B without pedaling is an ‘ideal’ bicycle.  From a personal energy standpoint, a motorcycle is an ideal bicycle.  However, in order to be truly ideal, there should be no negative impacts at all levels of the system.  While a motorcycle is ideal with regards to conserving personal energy, it’s not ideal with regards to impacting the environment with its exhaust, and when its lifespan is over and it needs to be disposed of.  (Learn more how Ideality is at the root of designing products in the highly recommended book:  Cradle to Cradle .)

Ideality is powerful in that it forces people to think of the ramifications of what they are doing.  It also forces designers (us) to look at contradictions in the problem solving process.  The longer we can hold on to those contradictions and bounce them off of each other with the goal of designing a solution that transcends the contradictions, the better the chances we can come up with solutions that are closer to the ideal solution.  Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, in his book, “The Opposable Mind“, calls it Integrative Thinking.

An often overlooked benefit of designing towards to the ideal is that it forces us to look inside the problem itself for the solution.  (Want to create the ultimate experience of eating chocolate and drinking your favorite cordial but you hate washing the glasses afterward?  Make the drinking vessel out of chocolate!)  It is this quality that makes the Ideal solutions beautiful.  Once you experience it, you just know.

This quest for the ideal was key to Fuller’s thinking, and in this day and age, we shouldn’t be satisfied with half-solutions that cause more problems than they solve.  We need to start embracing the Ideal in politics, society, businesses and in our personal lives.  The future of “Spaceship Earth”, (as Bucky called it), may very well depend on it.

*******

If you’d like to learn more about Buckminster Fuller’s thinking, below are some resources:

Design Science – A Framework for Change – A fascinating and insightful presentation on Fuller’s Design Process thinking.

Everything I Know: 42 Hours of Buckminster Fuller’s Visionary Lectures Free Online (1975) – There’s a link to the transcripts if you’d rather read.

Buckminster Fuller Gives a Lecture About Semantics at San Quentin State Prison (1959) (At one point he told the inmates: There are no throw-away resources,and no throw-away people.” )

Critical Path – Perhaps the best and most accessible summary of his thought.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute – A great resource on everything Bucky!

Posted in Books, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Evolution, Human Rights, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Innovation, Society, Sustainability, Sustainable Technology, The Future, The Human Person, TRIZ | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Designing the Future? Check out these 5 Websites for Innovative and Inspiring Materials

Posted by Plish on March 20, 2013

soft, hard

glowing, shiny

smooth, rough

warm, cool

sharp, dull

touch, see, taste, hear(?!)

 

Reflect for a moment on where you are now:

Probably sitting somewhere….Wearing something (if not, I hope you are not in public)…Your feet are resting upon something…You’re looking at a screen, touching it perhaps..you are smelling and feeling the hot cup of coffee in your hand…the rings on your fingers…

Your experience of now is mediated through materials of all types, shapes and sizes.  The clothes, upholstery, floor, cup, tablet screen, coffee cup, the coffee, even the air, your skin…all materials…

Materials are so foundational to our experience of life that we often just take them for granted.

But, these are exciting times.

New materials are being created daily, materials that respond to temperature, to vibration, to light…materials that change shape in magnetic/electric fields, materials that don’t pollute the environment…

What we can make in the world is limited more so by materials than by our dreams…

Here are some really cool websites, some free, some not free, but all display a dizzying array of materials of all types.

OpenMaterials.org This site is all about ways to DIY amazing materials.  It’s about sharing material experiences.  Check this out.

Materials for Designers – Great site from the Materials Information Society.  Great database.

Transmaterial – Materials that redefine our physical environment.  Amazing stuff here.

Material ConneXion – This is a great site.  It is also a subscription based site. However, these folks offer more than just materials, they can be innovation partners. And, if you live in the areas where they have their display rooms you can actually see and touch the materials in their database. It’s worth a subscription to these folks.

Materia – Similar to Material ConneXion but this database is free.  There tagline is “Materialize the Future.”  Their website is a great place to start.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any other sites, please share them.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

Please don’t settle and let your dreams become woodsheds.  Learn about, and experience new materials.

~The more we know materials, the more we can make dreams reality~

 

 

 

 

Posted in Architectural Design, culture of innovation, Design, Experience, Fashion, innovation, Nanotechnology, Open Source, Sustainability, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Animals, Architecture and Design – Are We Losing the Connection?

Posted by Plish on September 22, 2011

There’s something about animals.  They can evoke fear, joy and myriads of other emotions.   Once upon a time, gargoyles and various other creatures were regularly incorporated into the design of buildings.  But now?

With the exception of clothes, how often do you see them in modern architecture and products?

Other than the Milwaukee Art Museum’s , Quadracci Pavilion,  which evokes a bird with its flapping wings and soaring demeanor, I can’t think of any other buildings.

Marketing campaigns have not been shy about using animals.  And for good reason.  It’s probably the same reason that older/ancient architecture utilized animals in both serious and whimsical fashions (and why people are attracted to furry, animal patterned garments).

Human brains are hardwired to respond to animals.

The above study shows that animals evoke pretty strong reactions in our amygdala’s – that older part of our brains that is largely responsible for emotional responses.

Which brings me back to my original question:

Why aren’t animals used more prominently in modern architecture and innovative products?  Sure, we use the mechanisms of animals to improve our products and ventilation systems, but we still insist on soaring glass and steel, monoliths with gold accents.  In a world that is trying to recapture a respect for nature, shouldn’t there be less techiness in our structures, and more ‘down-to-earthinesss’? Shouldn’t we celebrate our connection to animals in ways that doesn’t cheapen them or make them solely articles of (literal) consumption?

What do you think?

 

 

Posted in Architectural Design, Biology, Design, Evolution, innovation, nature, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mushin – Innocence and Simplicity in Design and Innovation

Posted by Plish on May 6, 2011

Where does good design come from?  Is it a representation of who each of us is?  If so, then surely self-awareness comes in to play?

I came across this short reflection (Via Charlie Badenhop of Seishindo) by a Japanese architect who we know as Okamoto.

Please give it a read and I’ll join you on the other side…

From time to time I get to meet exceptional teachers in Japan. Often what happens is I go to visit a friend and it turns out that one of the other guests is a highly regarded sensei.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet a man that works as an architect. Here is what Okamoto sensei had to say about his work.

“Charlie-san, our host said you have an interest in architecture. She suggested I tell you about the concepts that influence my work, and thus I’ve taken some time to think about this topic. In Japanese culture, and particularly in Japanese architecture mushin is an important concept to understand. In relationship to my work, the two ideas I hold in regard to the meaning of mushin are “innocence” and “free from obstructive thinking”. I strive to make all my work as simple as possible, without any visual, emotional, or physical obstructions.

What I’ve found over the years is, the simpler you make something, the more obvious the obstructions in your thinking appear. Rather than being bothered or constrained by the relationship between simplicity and obstruction, I find it very energizing. In the early stages of each new design, I look forward to discovering the weakness in my thinking. This leads me to understand I sometimes try to hide my weaknesses by obscuring them with complexity. The more simple the design, the less there is to hide behind. I must say that each time I discover this I am humbled. It’s only by being willing to own up to my many personal flaws, that I can little by little do away with the flaws in my designs.

In both my personal and professional life, I attempt to discard all extraneous actions and thought. I strive to be economical, ecological, and graceful, and follow a path of least resistance and optimal effect. I’ve found that I am most likely to embody this way of being prior to reflecting on what I’m doing. At such times, which still only happen rarely for me, I’m in a state of open focus relaxation, and my thoughts and actions occur simultaneously. Nothing comes between my thoughts and my actions, and neither is anything left over, or left undone. When I’m able to embody such a state I feel better both physically and emotionally, and I consider my work to be a reflection of my soul.

Sensei paused to make certain he still had my attention. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “let me please say one more thing, at the risk of filling the space with too many words.

Tao de Ching, the classic Chinese text of wisdom says the following,

A door and windows are cut out from the walls, to form a room. It’s the emptiness that the walls, floor, and ceiling encompass, that allows for the space to live in. Thus what we gain is Something, yet it’s from the virtue of Nothing that this Something derives.?

If you’ve ever been in a traditional Japanese room or Zen temple you’ll see that these spaces are filled with the same emptiness as described in the quote I’ve just read. Space is filled with “nothing”, as a way to allow for the infinite potential a room encompasses. This is an important part of the Japanese design aesthetic. The experience of “emptiness” is an invitation to empty one’s thinking mind, so that a new, innocent reality might appear.”***

I think my favorite quote (there are many actually) is: “This leads me to understand I sometimes try to hide my weaknesses by obscuring them with complexity.”

Complexity as Weakness’ disguise…

How many corporate cultures have complex innovation processes? What weaknesses are these complexities hiding?  What weaknesses are complex User Interfaces hiding?  Are these all reflections of the designer(s)?

Powerful questions to ask and not for the faint of heart.

What are your thoughts?

***Unless otherwise attributed, all material for the newsletter “Pure Heart, Simple Mind”™ is written and edited by Charlie Badenhop. If you would like to receive complimentary copies of future newsletters, please click on this link, http://www.seishindo.org/newsletters/ ©All rights reserved.

Posted in Architectural Design, Authenticity, creativity, Design, Experience, innovation, meditation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Warning: Open Plan Offices Are Hazardous To Your Health

Posted by Plish on January 13, 2009

Open Office Layout (courtesy of turbosquid.com)

Open Office Layout (courtesy of turbosquid.com)

 There is something appealing in open floor plans.  The soaring ceilings and open layout scream creative collaboration.  While research shows that higher ceilings are more conducive to blue-sky type creativity, this meta-study shows that any collaborative benefits come with a very hefty price.

Ninety percent of the studies reported major negatives of the open layout such as:

  • Increased turnover
  • Higher stress levels
  • Higher blood pressure
  • More interpersonal conflicts
  • Higher levels of insecurity
  • Higher noise levels which leads to:
    • Impaired concentration
    • Lower productivity
  • Easier germ transmission
  • Loss of personal identity
  • Lower job satisfaction

For comparison, it might be worth looking at Mark Twain’s perspectives on his writing hutch here.

 

The Writing Hut of Mark Twain (courtesy of workalicious.org)

The Writing Hut of Mark Twain (courtesy of workalicious.org)

So how might we get collaboration without sacrificing health?

One way would be to place a kitchen or inviting communal area in the office that people would naturally congregate around during the course of a day. 

What would you propose?

Posted in Creative Environments, Health Concerns, Nature of Creativity, Research, stress, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

 
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