ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘bonsai’

Ramifications in Innovation (Lessons from Bonsai)

Posted by Plish on February 17, 2016

Screenshot_2016-02-11-18-12-20 (Copy)

When people say, “There will be ramifications if you do that,” most people interpret that to mean that there will secondary, negative consequences to an action.  In the world of Bonsai,  ramification is good; it means (often artist assisted) branching, and a healthy tree branches, and branches, and branches, with leaves growing from the smallest branches.  More leaves means more sunlight gathering capacity and that translates into more energy being captured and sent to the roots.  Stronger, finer roots means strength during lean times and stability in storms.

Without ramification, a tree will be a one trick pony.  It will have few branches and large leaves.  Young trees start out with little ramification.  However, older trees, like those pictured above, optimize their light capturing ability with multiple little branches and many leaves.  At the heart of this growth is a battle – the survival of the fittest branch.  You see, as a tree branch grows, cells at the tip of the branch stimulate growth and simultaneously create hormones that inhibit the growth of branches below it.  It’s a tree’s way to ensure that the strongest branches get to the light, and keep it.

In the world of innovation, the same thing happens.  Certain projects or products, certain mindsets start soaking up energy -they grow at the expense of other projects sucking up money and personnel.  The lead projects can often send signals, cultural hormones if you will, that stifle the growth of other projects.  It’s a self-sustaining cycle.  Even though the energy obtained from success goes back to the roots of the company, a tree doesn’t grow stronger from one branch and a couple of leaves. It needs many branches, many leaves.  It needs ramification.

But, contrary to trees growing in the wild, bonsai are constrained in vessels.  This puts stressors on the plant, and if you don’t make adjustments for these stressors, the tree won’t thrive, and in fact, may die.  So, you need to optimize the leaf output because that means you optimize energy capture, thus helping optimize  the root system, effectively giving the tree physical support and a place to store energy in lean times. (Not to mention, a tree with ramification looks nicer :))

How do you do it?

You create ramification by cutting off the ends of strategic branches. By doing this, you are giving the plant the opportunity to change direction. You’re effectively telling the bonsai tree that even though it is growing in a certain direction, you now give the tree freedom to grow somewhere else; in fact, you’re forcing it. New branches, and hence new leaves, will come out near where you had cut, but these branches will take different directions. In addition, since the inhibitory hormone is temporarily inactive, the tree will sometimes find some other place to bud from where, for reasons known only to the tree, there is a perceived better opportunity.

In the world of innovation and creativity, the equivalent process is to give people opportunities to take things in new directions.  It’s telling people to forget what’s gotten them this far, forget the direction they’re going, and let the dormant ideas sprout and be nurtured.  Just as ramification unleashes new growth in a tree, in a company (and in people!), active branching out fosters creative growth.   When the tip of a branch is trimmed, the dormant buds respond to the environment, to changes in sunlight and moisture.  Similarly, when creative ideas are no longer subject to inhibitory cultural hormones, they are free to respond and grow, sensing and responding to the light of market moving trends and needs.

One way of achieving ramification is to do what some companies call the 20 percent rule (or 10%, 15% depending on the company).  Dave Myers, an engineer in one of W.L. Gore’s medical product facilities, spent his 10% time working on his mountain bike.  From this seemingly disconnected activity, Gore developed Ride-On bike cables and Elixir guitar strings.

Remember, ramification, is a subtler process in contrast to more aggressive pruning. Pruning can take away major resources from a tree and causes gross restructuring.    Once a major branch is gone, it’s gone and not coming back any time soon.  Conversely, ramification is gentler way of reallocating  the way a tree receives energy and expends it in growing.  In organizations of all types, ramification is about recognizing the organic structure that is present and fostering the growth of those organisms (i.e. people) within it.    Organic growth occurs when there’s abundant nourishment and a lack of inhibitory signals – growth finds its way to the light.

What steps can you take to start the process of ramification?

Start by asking some key questions:

Ask yourself what your people are doing.  Heck, ask the people themselves! (see the Innovation Audit.) Do they have opportunities to grow organically and hence help the company grow organically?  Are there signals being sent by the culture at large that stifle the growth of latent potential within the company? Do people mock what others are doing? Is there an acceptance of what people do and what they bring to the table? Are there projects that have great promise but are consuming large amounts of energy with little to show for it?  If things start growing are they given opportunities to continue to grow?

Have people ask themselves if they are hitting a wall; perhaps even more importantly, ask yourself!  The best way to stop hitting it is to stop going in the direction of the wall!  Re-route yourself, forget what direction you’re going, and go in the direction you want to go. Learn anew!!

Dormant buds are present in trees and they never sprout because dominant branches stifle with their inhibitory hormones.  In a creative culture, innovation occurs when people’s understanding of the markets are allowed to percolate; let them feel the light and give them support by giving little opportunities for people to feel part of the bigger organism.  Nourish people!

I remember in high school our principal, Dr. Duffy, pointed out that we were green going into the world.  “That’s okay,” he said, “because green things grow.”

The same holds in a company.  You want ramification.  You want people learning alternate ways of branching out and finding success.  One branch, one project, isn’t sustainable.  Ramification in some ways is synonymous with diversification.  Abundant ‘leaves’ means more ways of absorbing energy from the markets of the world, and more energy means stronger roots. Become lush with greenery, foster the growth of many branches and the results will not only benefit your company, but people (employees and customers), their families, and the world, in richer and more diverse ways.

 

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Posted in creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fostering Organically Grown Innovation – Insights From the Art of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on March 16, 2014

I just got done trimming some of my bonsai trees.  What always fascinates me is how branches seem to show up in the most unlikely places.   Yet, while the origin of a particular branch baffles me, to the branch growing out of the tree, it made sense.

Somehow, the protobranch saw an opportunity.

Somehow that tree responded to the amount of light being received, the overall stress levels, temperature, soil conditions, nourishment demands, and it sent out branches in the most unlikely, and sometime unwanted(!), places (at least for the artist). Not all these branches will become large, at least without some eventual outside help. But, these branches spring up and, while they take up resources, they also contribute to the overall health of the tree as they leaf, flower and sometimes, even bear fruit.

From a bonsai perspective, these branches are sometimes pruned away so they don’t take energy away from other parts of the tree that, at least in the bonsai artist’s mind, need more.  But, many times, these rogue branches are left – precisely because of the reason mentioned in the previous paragraph – they contribute to the well-being of the tree.  These fledgling branches, while pulling nourishment from the tree’s roots, also send nourishment back to the entire tree.  In the process they contribute to building up the vascular system of the tree and ‘fattening’ up the trunk and all the rest of the branches.   They help make the tree more robust and able to withstand lean times, or environmental stressors in the future.

Innovation efforts in many companies are like these branches.  They pop up, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and often avoid detection until someone finds out about them and then wants to eliminate them.

Don’t!

These budding innovation efforts are organic – it’s not an accident that they showed up inside a specific company at a specific time! They should be welcomed and examined, not elicit shock and disdain (“What are you working on this for!?”).  After all, they came from the company’s roots.  Somehow these proto-innovation efforts sensed an opportunity.  Due to internal or external stressors, market dynamics, serendipitous inter-employee communications, or any combination of myriad variables, a person sensed that now was the time to start making an idea manifest in the world.

An innovation branch is born…

What’s next?

Leave it alone and let it grow for a while where it started.

Again, it’s an organic growth in a specific time and place, trying to mature where it started.  Try and put more light on that dark nook where the tiny branch is budding, try and cut it off and transplant it somewhere else, trim too much of the surrounding foliage, and it’ll die, or start growing in a different manner.  Same thing with new innovation efforts.  Shine corporate spotlights on it, try and move it somewhere else, put other people on it, change the corporate structure and it could very well die.  If nothing else, it will stumble.

New efforts need to grow where they start, at least for a while.  They will contribute to the corporate whole in subtle but real ways. The knowledge being obtained from the budding effort, the synergies being developed, these all feed back into the organic whole and contribute to its growth – if they’re allowed to.

Another reason to let these innovation branches grow for a while is that the world is unpredictable.  A sudden storm, intense winter, drought, animals, a move to another location, or a combination of many other issues, can cause severe damage to a bonsai tree.  After the dust clears, often those branches that played the main role are damaged beyond repair.  Those little branches in the sheltered nooks, that grew in the shadows, they are the ones that survive and enable the tree to continue its life. Will it look like the old tree?  Most likely not, but, the tree will survive.

So too with innovation efforts.  When market dynamics change, sometimes quickly, a company can’t adjust quickly enough and it’s the little innovation efforts that are well poised to take the corporation into the next era.  Those little, pesky, organic, innovation projects, that were perhaps unwanted, are the very projects that will enable a corporation to survive.

There are times and places to trim back branches, sometimes heavily.  But, if you want innovative diversity, resiliency and robustness, pay attention to those new little buds popping up.  They are a sign of life, a sign that the company is interacting with the world around it, a sign that people are thinking, interacting, and dreaming.

Then…

…leave them alone for a while…

Posted in Creative Environments, culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Funding Innovation, innovation, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Picasso, Bonsai and Dialogue in Innovative Design

Posted by Plish on August 6, 2013

Picasso

While visiting the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, I walked by, and almost missed a small wall that had three interesting pieces: A sketch, a paper model, and a metal piece.  The three pieces were Picasso’s.

Picasso1picasso2Picasso3

There were multiple dialogues, in time, space and media…

Bonsai

The other day I saw a boxwood bush at a local hardware store.  It was enormously discounted (only cost a couple of bucks) and I saw that it had potential so I bought it, brought it home, trimmed branches and roots and re-potted it.  It’s not done by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s cleaned up and now it has a chance to grow.

Before

Before CleaningBefore Cleaning 2

After

After Cleaning After Cleaning 2

My dialogue with this tree has begun…

Dialogue

Remember the three(four) “R’s”:

Respect…

This needs to be present from the start.  Without it, there’s no dialogue, only declaration,  arm twisting, unilateral chattering.

Reciprocal Relationship…

Undergirded by Respect, this is acting upon the realization that there is a dance of sorts going on,  a symphony of mutual movement, a co-creative exchange and experience.  There is a Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Co-Creation, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, Meta-Design, problem solving, Service Design, Social Innovation, Sustainability, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is Art Always Accessible? Help us Research This and Maybe Win $25.

Posted by Plish on September 12, 2011

I had some conversations recently regarding Bonsai.  Yup, the living art-form where trees are planted in pots and grown (metadesigned?) to look like aged, mini-versions of full size trees.

We spoke about multiple aspects of Bonsai, but one of the topics that stayed with me was the popularity of the artform.  How accessible is it to most people?  What do people really think about it?  Can it ever be as popular as say,  scrapbooking? 

Being who I am, I couldn’t simply let these questions go unanswered so I figured to get the ball rolling and start by getting at some basic perceptions about Bonsai.

I’ve created a very basic, two question survey to get at perceptions of the art of Bonsai.  You can check it out here.

So, whether you’re in to Bonsai or not, take the survey and you’re entered for a chance to win $25.  Be honest and upfront.  We’ll analyze the responses and repost on this topic in the beginning of October.

I could say more but I don’t want to impact your thoughts in any way.

Thanks for taking part in this project!

Posted in Authenticity, Contests, creativity, Design, imagination, innovation, nature, Surveys, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eight Insights in Design from the World of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on August 24, 2010

This past weekend I was at the Midwest Bonsai Expo at Chicago’s Botanical Garden.  While there, I had the pleasure to watch and listen to a demonstration workshop by bonsai expert Michael Hagedorn.

While it was fascinating watching him transform a tree through his thoughtful touch, it was even more interesting to listen to his insights and reflections on bonsai, bonsai design, and hence design in general.

 Here are some thoughts of his from the workshop:

1. A good tree (design) should have three aspects: A – Elegance; B- Dignity; C – Presence.   However, it is not uncommon for these three to be doled out in different proportions.

I love this observation. It is no doubt influenced by his training in Japan.  How do designs (or even brands!) that you know of stack up?

2. “I should be invisible as an artist”  The tree is designed so that it stands on its own; that even though it’s been pruned and manipulated by the artist, it doesn’t look it.  It retains itself, or, “takes possession of itself,” once the designing part is over.  Think of it: after a product is released into the market place it stands on its own and grows into its own.

3. “Great people and great trees are the same.”  This is with regards to how the tree(design) ages, how it shows the scars of life and still comes through it all with Elegance, Dignity and Presence (see #1).

Some additional observations of mine:

4.  A good bonsai (design) is a result of the artist(designer) embracing the constraints.  A tree has branches, roots, soil, certain nutritional needs.  If any one constraint is ignored the result is a sickly tree (design) or worse.

5. It’s not about adding to the tree as much as it is taking away from the design and redirecting the tree to achieve Elegance, Dignity and Presence.  However…

6.  There are  wildcards like weather, those things outside of our control, that can scuttle all our bests efforts.  So all we can do is prepare the tree(design) for whatever the future may hold and hope for the best.

7. While bonsai are shown and meant to be seen from their ‘ front’,  really good bonsai (design) it seems, have something to look at from any direction.

8. Bonsai is a type for metadesign.  The self-building, synergistic, holistic, fractalesque nature of working with bonsai is beyond regular design.  Bonsai is an ongoing relationship and dialogue between the designer and the designed.

So what do you think?  Do these eight insights resonate with your own experience?  Can you think of examples that highlight or contradict them?

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, Design, imagination, Life Stages, Meta-Design, nature, Nature of Creativity, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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