ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘problem solving’

Are You Lowering Your Verbal Creativity Doing This Common Thing?

Posted by Plish on February 28, 2019

You’re working on a creative project involving verbiage.  So, you crank up the tunes and listen to your favorite creative mix of instrumental music.

Do you think you’ll be more or less creative than the following scenarios?

  1. Listening to background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics
  2. Music with familiar lyrics

If you’re like me you probably thought that you’d be more creative than scenario #1, but less creative than scenario #2.

You’d be wrong, as I was.

Actually, turning on music in the first place is the problem.  Even if it puts you in a good mood.  According to recent research from Lancaster University, silence or simply background noise (like a library) enables better verbal creativity and verbal insight problem solving.   It appears that the nature of music (of any type!) distracts verbal processes in the brain, which for creative verbal insight problem solving, is a bad thing.

This might not hold though for other types of visual-spatial creative problem solving.  In those cases, background music may actually benefit.  One theory is that the distraction provided by music actually may provide more room for creative wandering so to speak.  That extra space may let ideas flow. ( A fascinating description on the role of background music in verbal versus visual-spatial states is on pages 12 and 13 of the study here.  )

Still, the fact that music is not helpful in a type of creative activity is a shock to those who love music and often turn it on out of habit.

What’s the lesson then?

Understand what type of creative problem you’re solving before adjusting your environment.  We can do things to make ourselves more creative.  Sometimes habits, even pleasing ones, can work against creativity.

What do you think about this research?

 

 

 

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

Don’t Make this Mistake when Helping the Environment – How Design Thinking can Help you Change from Plastic to Paper Straws

Posted by Plish on December 10, 2018

When designing solutions for the ‘E’nvironment, don’t ignore the ‘e’nvironment.

What do I mean?

I went recently to a Chicago Wolves hockey game at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL.  Following the lead of the Chicago White Sox (and Shedd Aquarium) who announced they were switching to non-petroleum based straws, the Allstate Arena decided to switch to paper straws.

But, there’s a problem.

They don’t work.

How can a straw not work?

They don’t suck.

Well, actually, they do suck, they suck badly.  (Check out this article for perspectives on how straw changes impact people with disabilities.)

The picture below shows what happens after 15 minutes of use. It’s completely unusable.

lid3

I either have to get another straw (a friend of mine takes two or more now every time he gets a drink) or get rid of the lid altogether (which isn’t always a good idea when people are getting up and down, walking through aisles, dropping popcorn, etc.)

For reference, take a look at a typical plastic straw in a lid from a fast-food establishment (This is what it used to be like at the arena).

goodlid

 

If the solution for replacing plastic straws was derived using design thinking (taking the ‘e‘nvironment into account) as opposed to simply being implemented by decree, none of this would have happened.

What do I mean?

This is what the design thinking process looks like:

fce97

Courtesy of Stanford’s D.School

 

And, here’s how the process for changing the straws should have gone:

  1. Empathy –  Understand how people are using cups and straws and lids.  Watch what people are doing.  Who is using straws the most? Understand the technical aspects of the straw, the lid, the straw/lid interface.  Understand what the straw feels like in the mouth.  What is it like to suck on a paper straw vs. a plastic straw?  I heard a person say, “It feels weird sucking on the paper straw.  It tastes funny.  Eh, I’ll probably get used to it.”  That’s the type of feedback that’s needed.
  2. Define the problem –  Here the problem isn’t just, “Plastic straws are bad for the environment, we need to replace them.”  A better problem statement would be: How can we create a pleasing drinking experience for people using straws, while having a minimal impact on the Environment and minimal cost impact?  The difference between these two statements is that People should be the focus, not the straws.  Their experience is key.
  3. Ideate –  Brainstorm solutions.  If the Empathy phase was done, and the problem statement defined, the solutions that would’ve seemed most viable would’ve come to the forefront.  When they checked with straw (and lid!) suppliers, only certain ones would’ve been chosen.
  4. Prototype –  Obtain straws and lids of all types.  Experiment.
  5. Test/Feedback –  Understand what works and what doesn’t.  See which combinations of straws and lids meet the problem statement:  How can we create a pleasing drinking experience using for people using straws, while having a minimal impact on the Environment and minimal cost impact?

Where did Allstate Arena go wrong?

Pretty much everywhere.

It’s clear that no one took the time to understand the situation, no one took the ‘e‘nvironment into account.

No one realized that because the lid material (Plant based, biodegradable PLA) is much stiffer than the former lids (usually polystyrene), the “X” cut for the straw puts major forces on the straw.  Paper gets wet and soft, and the stronger plastic lid collapses the paper. (Note to Fabri-Kal: use a circular cut in your Greenware lids!)

Instead someone, somewhere said, “Let’s do something good for the Environment.  Let’s blaze a trail and be like the White Sox.  Hank (or George, Tina, etc.), let’s start using paper straws.  See what our supplier has and let’s make the change!!!”

Boom!! Problem solved.  Only it isn’t.

The biggest shame here is that an entire exploratory project wasn’t even required.  A simple 15 minute experiment of taking a cup, putting a lid on it, putting the straw in and drinking would’ve done wonders!  It would’ve been clear that this particular combination of straw/lid is not usable.

Instead, lack of any aspect of design thinking resulted in a solution that is less than adequate.  An opportunity to make a positive change with positive repercussions will now be seen by some as a waste of time and money, as institutions needlessly intruding in people’s lives, of fixing a problem that some may view as non-existent.

A little observation, a little empathy, can go a long way…

EPILOGUE
Now that I know the problem, I fix the situation by poking my finger through the “X” and breaking one of the tabs. I then put the straw in and it works better.   But seriously, should any solution require a person to stick his/her finger through the lid of the cup?

lids2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Design, design thinking, environment, problem solving, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are You Using This Innovation Technique That is a Favorite of NASA?

Posted by Plish on October 25, 2018

I just saw the movie First Man, about Neil Armstrong and the quest to put a human on the moon. (Good movie 🙂 )

What struck me again while watching the movie is that the main innovation technique NASA uses to put a person on the moon is also one of my favorites.

SEGMENTATION

There are other names for it, but it comes down to this: break down a bigger problem, device, situation, etc. into smaller components that are easier to handle and design solutions for.

NASA uses segmentation extensively in the Apollo program.  The best way to illustrate it is by looking at the Saturn V rocket diagram below.

What’s with the red thingie?

That’s the component that ultimately mattered at the end – it’s the capsule that brought the astronauts back to earth.  The rest of the rocket components ended up on the moon, in orbit,  in the ocean or burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.  They weren’t necessarily less important, but their jobs were specific to specific phases of the project.

apollo

Why throw it all away?

The physics of getting something into space is relatively straightforward.  Take something  and accelerate it to escape velocity.  The problem is that the the heavier the payloads, the more fuel that’s required, and the more fuel that’s required, the heavier the rocket  becomes.  It’s a nasty catch 22.

So, to solve the problem, you break things into modules.  Launch the rocket, when it gets to a certain speed, you get rid of part of the rocket, and use different fuels to propel what’s left (which now weighs less) even faster, and so on.

What’s the key then to Segmentation?

The key is that each component contains only what is necessary for that stage in the launch, or more generally, for each step in a process. By doing this, the design can be streamlined and optimized.

For example, the lunar module (shown below) had very specific tasks:

  1. Dock with the Command Module
  2. Land on the Moon
  3. Take off from the Moon
  4. Dock with the Command Module
  5. Separate from the Command Module

lunar_module_diagram

Landing gear and pads are only required for landing. Descent engine is for landing.  Ladder is for getting onto the surface of the moon.

Once business was complete on the moon, the upper half of the module left the lower half on the moon and was now smaller and lighter.  Its job was now to rendezvous with the Command Module, dock, and transfer the astronauts back into the Command vehicle.

It then was jettisoned.  None of the Lunar Module was brought back to earth – well except for the astronauts inside.  (There’s an interesting non-obvious segmentation going on here  – even the crew was segmented!  Only two astronauts went to the moon and back.  The third astronaut stayed in the command module.  Sending all three to the moon could’ve been done, but the segmentation solution was safer, more elegant and more efficient)

It’s about optimization

Next time you’re confronted with a problem, try Segmentation.  Break down the problem into stages and see if each can be solved with specialized solutions – all inter-related, but standalone in their ability to achieve a goal.

There’s a tendency to design products so that they solve all the possible problems a user might have.  What happens then is that the product can get unwieldy, lose its elegance and often its appeal.

Keep it elegant by  using Segmentation!

This coincidentally opens the door to modularity.  You can then sell modules that do entirely different, or complimentary tasks.  Why sell a frying pan with a lid that’s permanently attached with hinge?  Sure you may find it useful but the lid is only used under certain circumstances.  The rest of the time it’ll be clunky and difficult to manage.  Keep it separate.

Segmentation has always been a favorite innovation approach of mine.  Try it and I’m sure you’ll agree!

Posted in creativity, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

 

 

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

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 »

Autodesk’s “Innovation Genome”: A ‘How-To’ Primer and Resource

Posted by Plish on November 8, 2016

I love it when folks share their insights into innovation, especially when they share as prolifically as the folks over at Autodesk do.

If you, like I have, have checked out the new products in Autodesk Labs, you probably wonder how they are able to create really cool product after cool product.  The reason is simple: it’s because they don’t innovate in a chaotic manner.  They have a process that guides and informs their product development efforts: the Autodesk Innovation Genome.

This Innovation method is the result of 10+ years of analyzing over 350 innovations from the history of the world (their goal is to examine 1000!).  The wisdom from these innovations is then distilled and codified to enable them use the insights repeatably. (This is very similar to how the TRIZ problem solving methodology was developed)

How Does It Work?

The process is essentially five steps.

Steps One and Two establish Context and Direction.

Step Three is at the heart of this process – the Seven Questions.

(While there are 7 buckets here, I find them a little too abstract on their own. They do have a 49 question chart – shown below – that is  much more useful in my opinion.)

(The above chart includes questions from other idea prompting methods like SCAMPER. )

Of course, ideas don’t mean anything without a method to commercialize, so steps four and five are about prioritizing and executing.

I could go into this even more, but really, just head over to the Innovation Genome and check it out for yourself. There are multiple excellent resources there. Study, learn, modify/apply, share.

The world awaits your innovations…

Posted in creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving | 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: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Six Rules to Keeping Your Innovation Spaces Innovative

Posted by Plish on July 24, 2016

46556-einstein-cluttered-desk-quote

 

 

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 »

Don’t Worry About the Elephant in the Room, Look for the Chameleons

Posted by Plish on June 30, 2016

 

color-changing-chameleon-lizards

Photo Courtesy of momtastic.com

 

You’ve got multiple experts in a room.  They’re all giving their opinions on the state of a market, or a new product.  Very often this leads to the manifestation of proverbial Elephant in the Room – the obvious issue no one wants to mention because it’s embarrassing, or taboo, as it has implications that could impact the project in a negative way.

While no one wants to talk about the elephant, the good news is that it’s there.  Yes, no one is talking about it (yet), but if  the culture is such that accountability is valued more than meeting deadlines, the elephant will be revealed and it will get talked about.  (If there are negative ramifications for saying something important just because it will negatively impact a product launch, you’ve got bigger problems than the elephant*.)

But very often, there are insights in your Voice of Customer (VOC) feedback that aren’t obvious, that won’t get talked about or dealt with – they’re Chameleons.

Chameleons are more dangerous to your project than elephants (I’m speaking with regards to VOC type data, or any situation where people are interpreting what others believe or are doing. I realize chameleons are cute benign reptiles 🙂 )  .  This is because people don’t know what they don’t know.  But, just because something isn’t known, doesn’t mean it can’t be known, or that there aren’t tell-tale signs present.

Since you can’t see the Chameleon directly, you have to look indirectly for the shadows –  Shifting shadows, a glimpse of movement.  It’s things that are implied, not things that are obvious.  It’s the nebulous things, the directions that are inferred from what is being said and done, not the words themselves.

This is important, because the words themselves are going to be the same words that members of the VOC panel will use when describing the situation to your competition.   If you want to have a product or service that is different and superior to what everyone else does, look for the Chameleon.

What are some tricks for seeing the Chameleon?

When dealing with VOC, a textual analysis is a great place to start.  It can reveal underlying dispositions and assumptions.  It can also show what types of metaphors, and thus what contexts people are using when they talk about your product.  I was once part of VOC feedback and noticed that certain subgroups of clinicians consistently referred to certain medical devices using military-like terms: cocked, captured, loaded, etc.  No one really noticed it because those terms are ubiquitous.   I did some textual analysis and noticed that there was another subgroup that rarely used those terms.  This was a Chameleon!

So I raised the question, do we want people using a war/battle metaphor for this surgical device, or do we want the market to use, and experience, a different, more healing metaphor?

The other tip is to pay close attention to what people do, not only what they say.  Body language, rituals, procedures, actions of any type, can give tremendous insight and reveal the Chameleons that everyone else will miss.

I once researched  a medical procedure and realized the doctor used a particular motion again and again.  The doctor never mentioned he made the movement, but he did it every procedure.  The kicker is that no products on the market leveraged that particular movement.  So I rolled that motion into the product design, creating a more ergonomic, simple, and cost effective to make, product.

Remember, do textual analysis and analyze what people do.  By being cognizant of these two tips, you’ll be well on your way to recognizing the Chameleons when they become present.  It’s well worth looking for them.  Sometimes they hide right next to the elephants. 😉

 

 

*- Actually this is a Cultural, or Corporate Chameleon.

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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.

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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 »

 
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