Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘invention’

The Secret Behind The Invention of Spanx

Posted by Plish on February 9, 2017

When most people think about Spanx and how they were invented, people often mention Inventor Sara Blakely cutting the feet off of her pantyhose to create the first prototype.

But the secret wasn’t in the prototype per se

It was in the metaphor that drove her to cut the feet of those hose.

—“Shapewear is the canvas and the clothes are the art.” –Sara Blakely

While the metaphor may not have been explicitly articulated at the time, it was clearly already active in her mind.

Like an unsmoothed piece of gessoed canvas on which no amount of paint could hide the imperfections, the clothes women wore showed what was beneath.  Blakely didn’t like the fact that underwear, and how it assaulted a woman’s body, was able to be seen through clothes.  Every ripple, every bulge, insidiously showed itself.   The masterpiece of beauty was betrayed by faulty ‘canvas.’

That first prototype solved the problem: The shapewear became a flawless canvas enabling a work of art to be ‘painted’ upon it.  The masterpiece could shine through un-detracted by the canvas beneath.  A new problem revealed itself: The legs of the cut hose kept rolling up.   But that didn’t detract from the fact that a solution had been found.  From that point on, the process of refining the product was geared towards comfort, manufacturability and scalability.

The Metaphor Stayed Active

As a guest on James Altucher’s Podcast recently, Blakely proclaimed: “Everything is a Canvas!” (A perspective that also drove her creation of The Belly Art Project.)    This metaphor has continued to drive the development of Spanx product lines.  It’s powerful because it acknowledges the potential works of art that are enabled through their products.  Spanx make people feel good about being walking art.

Feel The Metaphor

When solving problems, tune in to the emotions you’re feeling.  You may not be able to articulate what you’re feeling, but acknowledge it nonetheless.  If you can articulate them, great! Regardless, start acting on them.  Humans make sense of the world through metaphor.  Start acting on those feelings and see if a metaphor is revealed and if it is resolved.  Some kinks might still need to be worked out, but you’ll recognize the solution when it’s present.

“Good Design is Obvious.  Great Design is Transparent.” – Joe Soprano

Spanx are transparent, just as a smooth canvas should be.   The greatness is apparent to women and men worldwide.







Posted in Design, Fashion, innovation, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Makers – The New Industrial Revolution (Book Review)

Posted by Plish on February 7, 2013

The other day I picked up a copy of Makers – The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson.

It’s an exploration of the Maker movement and its place on the world-wide stage.

If I could sum up this book with one word it would  be:


Yes, inspirational.

He makes a good case for the argument that the Maker movement is here to stay and it’s buttressed by enthusiastic people who are empowered by the democratization of manufacturing technologies worldwide.  Indeed, as one chapter is entitled, “We Are All Designers Now.”

We can all take part in designing and manufacturing products, and even help each other in the process.  The internet is the great equalizer and it enables people to reach each other, and niches that, while perhaps not in the millions, are substantive enough to enable the development and growth of business.  The internet also gives access to manufacturing methodologies such as 3-D printing, laser cutting, and CNC machining, making the machine shop as close as your laptop.

He cites multiple case studies of companies (including his own) that leverage technology and the power of crowds (which is also the power of individual dreams) to build sustainable businesses.

The book is an easy, clean read.  There is some minor redundancy in writing style but it’s not off-putting.  Also, if you already are familiar with manufacturing technologies like 3-D printing, there are small chunks of the book that won’t give you any new information.

I’ve already shared this book with a friend who is involved in artistic co-creation, and this book excited him as well.

If you’d like to learn more about the Maker movement, if you’d like to be inspired by stories of how Makers are redefining manufacturing business worldwide, if you want to understand how Maker businesses have the potential to expand and become disruptive economic machines, you do want to read this book.

Ignore it at your own risk.



There’s a great interview with Chris Anderson, about the Maker movement, over at Wharton.


Posted in Arts, Books, Case Studies, Co-Creation, creativity, Crowdsourcing, culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Entrepreneurship 2.0, Innovation Tools, invention, Open Source, problem solving, Reviews, Social Networking, Start-Ups, The Future, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Three Principles for a Creative, Innovative and Impactful 2013

Posted by Plish on January 4, 2013

I read this amazing little piece written by Steven Zuckerman.  Steven reflected on his experiences planning a celebratory event honoring the great musician and inventor, Les Paul.

It’s an extremely short piece and worth reading in its entirety.  It can however, be summarized in three short principles:

  1. “No one told me I couldn’t do it” – Steven Zuckerman
  2. Doing good things will touch people’s hearts and the results will reverberate like ripples on a pond.  (One of those ripples touched Paul McCartney.)
  3. “It wasn’t there and it should be.” – Les Paul

Think about it.

If you go through life, trying to touch people’s’ hearts with goodness…

If you’re bold enough to initiate new projects without needing permission…

If your eyes are open to needs and your hands ready to craft something to fill those needs…

Think about what you could accomplish!

Or better yet,

– stop thinking, start doing –



Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Creativity Leadership, Customer Focus, Design, imagination, innovation, invention, problem solving, Social Innovation, Tactics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Look at Different Approaches to Innovation via NeoCon 2012

Posted by Plish on June 14, 2012

Yesterday, I was at the NeoCon 2012 Design Expo.  While many, if not most,  of the companies touted themselves as being innovative, there were a handful that caught my eye for different reasons.

People need people to heal, so anything that helps family and friends be with a sick person is most welcome in patient care settings.  The “sleepToo” is an amazing piece of furniture.  While the addition of features is often antithetical to innovation, this combo  gets kudos for eliminating multiple other pieces of furniture and ultimately saving space in all too often cramped, patient rooms.    Want to sit and look at your laptop? Go ahead.  Put your feet up? No prob.  And, if you get tired, a quick press of a button deploys a bed so you can “sleepToo.”

Then there’s the GymyGym.  This is another attempt at eliminating mulitple pieces of exercise equipment to save room.  It’s a great idea and everything you need to get a workout is right there on your chair and you don’t need benches and weights lying around your office (or house).  As the salesman told me, “You’ve got a Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, Experience, innovation, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Need to Understand the New Patent Law? These Two Sites May Help

Posted by Plish on September 29, 2011

The America Invents Act has been signed into law.  In order to understand the impact of the law, I’ve been checking out various websites and found a couple that do a great job of explaining what this law means and how it may impact inventive entities, both large and small.

First, check out the law firm of Pepper Hamilton where this great primer  explains the changes in a clear and understandable manner.

Once you’ve read that, head on over to this Washington and Lee website, listen to the short podcast from Professor Alan C. Marco and read the article.  This is a really fair and balanced opinion on the impact of the patent law changes.

My opinion?

Yes, there might be a slight bias to the law that favors larger companies, but there seems to be enough wiggle room in the law to enable entrepreneurs to flourish.  Time and legal challenges will help shape the law, but in the meantime, if someone has a great idea for a product, passionately believes in it, and wants to see it come to fruition, the United States is still the place to be.

Posted in Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, invention, patents | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interested in Open Innovation Models? Check This Out!

Posted by Plish on September 4, 2011


I was lying on the couch in the wee hours of the night/morning, flipping through various channels.  I came upon a program  on the Sundance channel and saw designers brainstorming, sketching, prototyping….


I had stumbled upon: Quirky.

Part open innovation, part reality TV, part design, all seething with entrepreneurship.

Started by entrepreneur, Ben Kaufman, it’s a show worth checking out. You can read about the company in this article.

Even more importantly, if you have any ideas of your own, or even if you want to comment on other people’s ideas, stop by Quirky .

You’ll definitely have fun, and maybe even make some money.

Posted in Crowdsourcing, culture of innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, invention, problem solving, Start-Ups | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

This Memorial Day, Remember Russell G. Woodward

Posted by Plish on May 26, 2011

Russell G. Woodward

My wife and I went on a hobbling stroll recently (I’m still recouping from the broken kneecap) and we walked over to the Sand Lake Cemetery, an old, (think mid 1800’s to present) small cemetery down the street. 

Almost in the center of a group of 100 some interments,  under the almost perpetual, mottled shade of multiple trees, one of which is a 6 foot diameter Maple, stands a light charcoal grey, waterstained monument.  The inscription isn’t visible to those that pass by on the road.   But, walk up the small sloped hill and the following words greet you:

Who was Russell G. Woodward and why is humanity indebted to him?

It turns out that Russell was an inventor of  industrial sewing machines.  Originally designed for making bags, (think seed, feed and more) he was instrumental in designing them to efficiently create apparel.

Russell was an innovator, someone who used his head and hands; understood the mechanics of motion and how people worked.  He knew what it was like to get investors, all the while investing time, energy and sweat in something he believed in.  As with many innovators, one of his greatest breakthroughs came not while in the machine shop experimenting, but while relaxing,  reading the Sunday paper.  Leisurely thumbing through the paper afforded Woodward’s mind a chance to disengage from the sticky design problems he was struggling with, allowing concepts to swim around with each other unencumbered deep within his subconscious. The result of the synthesis was a technology to make the “safe-elastic-stitch”.  The knit goods industry was transformed.

I was, and still am, in a state of awe and melancholy. 

The aspirations and dreams of a man: his work, his family and his eternal resting place. 

It’s a reminder of who we are – each person making a difference.

Stitches in fabric,  connected through time and space, by love, by sharing ourselves with a passion and joy. 



Human nature in its essence.

This Memorial Day, in addition to your loved ones that have passed on, remember those who make our lives better by sharing their innovations. 

And if you’re wearing machine stitched clothes, send a thought towards Lat: 42.415278 , Long: -88.050000 . 

I know I will.

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, innovation, invention, Nature of Creativity, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by Plish on December 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the main lesson here?

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

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

Our problems are very often other people’s problems. 

 Solve our problems and voila!

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

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

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

Invention the Mother of Economic Recovery

Posted by Plish on June 28, 2009


Great Op-Ed piece over at the New York times.

Thomas Friedman, inspired by a conference he recently attended,  waxes about ways of getting out of the current economic crisis.  He paints an interesting picture of Russia as a one-trick pony, economically speaking – in essence, oil is Russia’s only business and when oil prices are low, they’re in trouble.

He ends with this great quote:

Lately, there has been way too much talk about minting dollars and too little about minting our next Thomas Edison, Bob Noyce, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Vint Cerf, Jerry Yang, Marc Andreessen, Sergey Brin, Bill Joy and Larry Page. Adding to that list is the only stimulus that matters. Otherwise, we’re just Russia with a printing press.

Humans are inherently creative-they want to create and express themselves in some way.  One of the best countries (if not the best) for people to express their creativity and make a living from it is the United States of America.

Seems to me that with the right environment, an environment empowering people instead of rewarding colossal failure,  recovery would be on the way.

What do you think about these perspectives?

Posted in Design, Disruptive Innovation, Funding Innovation, innovation, invention, Nature of Creativity, Start-Ups, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Out of the Minds of Babes – Lessons From Innovating Children

Posted by Plish on March 27, 2009

Spencer Rocco Whale And His Invention

Spencer Rocco Whale And His Invention

Children are



they invent things,

toys, games, friends, and…

 …medical devices…

This story of Spencer Rocco Whale’s trip to a hospital is both heartwarming and a lesson for all of us.

Spencer wasn’t a patient, he was a visitor.

In his own words: “Kids hospitalized with serious health conditions still like to play.”

His idea?

Attaching the IV pole to a kiddie car so children can tool around with IV’s attached but not their parents.

Some great lessons here:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the user – really-vicariously look at the situation. (His quote says it all!)
  2. Pay attention to the needs of everyone involved! (Not just the children but the parents as well)
  3. If there is an intermediary in a system, try to eliminate it (In this case the parent running alongside with an IV pole)
  4. Improving quality of life can often be achieved through eliminating constraints
  5. Keep your eyes open for ways to help others

If you’re going to keep your eyes open, make sure you’re looking with the eyes of a child…

Posted in children, Design, Health Concerns, idea generation, innovation, invention, Play, The Human Person, toys | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: