Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘sustainable innovation’

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 »

The Many Dimensions of Beauty

Posted by Plish on May 11, 2013

Sustainable innovation occurs when the mind dwells in the many dimensions of beauty,

where like breeds like…

A friend shared the following video on Facebook.

It’s simple and profound.

One could say:

It’s beautiful.

Posted in Arts, Biology, Design, innovation, nature, Science, Sustainability, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Art, Lent(?), and Innovation

Posted by Plish on February 24, 2013


“Art, after all, is about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings, startling presences, flight paths to the eternal.”   – from The Art of Possibility by Benjamin, and Rosamund Stone, Zander.

A friend of mine read the above quote and said, “Sounds like the purpose of Lenten Services.”


She juxtaposed art and spirituality in a wonderful manner.

I’m taking it one step further.

The purpose of being rearranged is so that people can improve their relationships with each other, with the Eternal and with themselves.

So, if we become open and have flight paths to the eternal, are emotionally vulnerable, become aware of others and their needs, what types innovations would we bring into the world?

“Every good painter paints what he is.” -Jackson Pollock

I would say that every person creates from what she is.  If we become rearranged as mentioned above, our creations naturally reflect that which we are realizing in our lives.

Try this thought experiment:

What would a doctor’s office look like if it were designed by the Dalai Lama? How would people be treated? What would waiting rooms look like? Would people feel more nervous or less than they do now? What would it sound like? What would the air taste like?

Every good painter paints what he is.

And that’s the key.  Whether in art or spirituality (and many would say there is no dichotomy in art/spirituality) we have to be willing to be rearranged.  If we aren’t willing to be open to going in new directions, to explore, to feel the discomfort of stepping off precipices and trusting we will fly, then we won’t be rearranged, and not only will we not be elevated from glory to glory, but the world will not experience light which only we can share.

So what does that mean?

Listen to music…go to the theater…meditate…pray…taste fruit you just picked off a tree and write a haiku of the experience…sculpt…sing a song…

…Paint the world with what you are…Show the world that being rearranged isn’t a singular exercise in destruction, but an empowering act of creation…

Think of what the world would be if each person lived as a surprising juxtaposition, an emotional opening, a startling presence, a flight path to the eternal…

…Start becoming rearranged…



Posted in Arts, Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, meditation, prayer, Religion, Service Design, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Spirituality, Sustainability, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Virtuous Innovation – A Way to Sustainable Design and Development

Posted by Plish on December 19, 2012

Click to go to Virtuous Innovation Tool

Click to go the Virtuous Innovation Tool

For every good idea brought to fruition, for every implemented idea that sees the light of day, there exists the possibility that the product may be used for something other than what it’s intended for.  It’s difficult to control what people will do with something once it leaves the hands of a designer or manufacturer and enters the world.

On the other hand, the creation and deployment of a product can be controlled.  We can design power plants that use water and put it back into the environment cleaner than it was before.  We can design pay structures and work days that respect people’s needs for family, relaxation, and personal growth.

All that is needed, is…


We don’t hear that word too much anymore.  However, human history is replete with references to it and in some ways it can be considered an integral part of humanity.  From the Greeks, to the Egyptians, to the Orient, the concepts of balance and morally excellent acts were things that humans were exhorted to.  Virtuous people were good people who were solid and respected.  A virtuous way of life was considered a good thing, and in some cultures, even a godly thing.

Virtue, by definition, is relational and contextual.  It’s usually considered interpersonal (i.e. If I am patient with this person and I don’t over-react when he yells,  hopefully we will be able to work together.)  But virtue’s reach is deeper than that.  Whatever we interact with, there is the possibility for a virtuous approach.

All human interactions fall into one of three groups:

1) People

2) Products (Services and processes are included here)

3) Planet (Actually it extends to all the cosmos as humankind already has sent things beyond the solar system.)

Just as virtuous behaviour between two individuals leads to greater harmony between those people, placing virtue at the center of all extended human interaction (the Three P’s) has the potential to create a world in which collateral damage to people and environments is minimized, if not eliminated.

To aid in this process I’ve put together a web app that helps people examine the interactions their product creates, guided by virtues.

The basic structure of the app is shown at the top of this post.  Every time you go to the page it will show you a randomly selected virtue at the center of the People/Planet/Product Triad.  This suggested virtue can be used as a guide to making interactions of a higher quality.

Let’s look at an example in which the virtue of  ‘Honor’ guides the development and launch of a new computer:


Naturally we first Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Human Rights, innovation, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, The Future, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Goooooooooooal!!! An Innovation that Impacts Life Beyond the Soccer Field

Posted by Plish on June 7, 2012

Soccer is a sport that’s loved worldwide (where it’s often known as futbol/football/kickball). Just like this image I took when I was in Ukraine a few years back (which is co-hosting the Euro Cup this year), scenes like this one are playing out all over the world, even in countries that have crippling economic hardships. 

Being the son of Ukrainian born parents and living next door to folks born in Germany, I was playing soccer  early in life (long before “Soccer Mom” was even a phrase) and later played in Chicago’s Semi-Pro leagues.   I could never figure out why soccer wasn’t more common among my peers here in the US.   It’s a sport that is easy to outfit. All you need is a ball and somewhere to kick it.  And, like the above picture shows, the space doesn’t even need to be grass-covered.

So when I saw this innovation, I was blown away.

It’s all about the ball.

These two entrepreneurs hatched this brilliant idea as part of an ‘engineering for non-engineers’ class.  Check out the video.


Leveraging things you wouldn’t normally connect (that’s the key to great innovations!) – soccer and the need for energy in parts of the world that don’t have easy access to it – this amazing and fun innovation was born.

In this age of “There’s an app for that”, it truly is refreshing to see a fun innovation that fits so seamlessly into kids daily lives and provides a benefit going well beyond those that exercise provides.   And, if you donate one of these balls, you don’t just contribute to the well-being of kids, you contribute to the well-being of the communities they belong to.

Well done!!!

Posted in children, Customer Focus, Design, games, innovation, Play, Social Innovation, Sports Creativity, Start-Ups, Sustainable Technology, toys, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Reality Check for Sustainability in Design and Innovation

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2011

“Art should cause violence to be set aside” – Leo Tolstoy

Replace the word ‘Art’ with “Design” or “Innovation”.

Design should cause violence to be set aside”

Innovation should cause violence to be set aside”


It shares the root of violāre , from which we get the word ‘violate’.

What shouldn’t be violated?

  • people
  • conscience
  • convictions
  • relationships
  • faith
  • family
  • neighborhoods
  • science
  • workplace
  • cultures
  • animals
  • nations
  • plants
  • water
  • air
  • soil
  • world
  • cosmos
  • ???

Does your corporate culture impact any of the above in a negative way? 

Does the manufacture of your innovation do violence to any of the above?

It’s a difficult task, but not impossible.

Instead of focusing on the negative,

focus on elevating,

make all you do,

and how you do it,


Posted in Authenticity, children, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Human Rights, innovation, love, nature, Religion, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Society, Sustainability, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Your Ideas: Your Gift of Beauty to The World

Posted by Plish on May 10, 2010

I was recently reading the new, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality,  by  Soctt Belksy, the founder and CEO of Behance.

The book is about bringing ideas to frution and it’s chock full of techniques and  pearls of wisdom.  One that really got my attention , was this:

“Please take yourself and your creative pursuits seriously.  Your ideas must be treated with respect because their importance truly does extend beyond your own interests. Every living person benefits from a world that is enriched with ideas made whole – ideas that are made to happen through your passion, commitment, self-awareness, and informed pursuit.

Challenge yourself to withstand the self doubts and societal pressures that will rally against you. When they do, take comfort in the knowledge that you are in good company.  We all struggle, but we persevere.  Adversity makes us stronger.  Relish the fact that you are on an important path, emboldened by both the opportunity and grave responsibility to create something of value – a value that is rewarding for you and enriching for all.”

Step back…


Think about it…

In the day to day grind it’s too easy for us to lose track of the fact that what we’re providing to our families, employers, clients and the world,  are not faceless concepts. 

We enflesh ideas – our gifts come with a face!

We need to fight for our ideas, to stand by them, to even let them go if need be.   We need to realize that humans are privileged with the supranatural capacity to bring beauty into the world.

What is this supranatural capacity?

A flower drops its seeds to guarantee more beauty next year.  It is the natural way for a flower to bring beauty into the world.  Humans bring beauty into existence through the work of our minds, hearts, hands and relationships. Sure, by nature we have this capacity, but it’s also a choice we make.  It’s a both/and type of situation.  We are able to create outside of, or above, the natural order, all the while still being a part of it.   It’s supra (above) – natural.

Sound pretty awesome?

It is!

A fish brings its beauty of ‘fishness’ to the world even while dropping its waste products into the water it swims in.  But it has no choice and it can’t improve the situation on its own.  If it over-populates and over-pollutes its waters, its population naturally dies back to bring the system back into balance.

If a bunch of  fishes had the supranatural capacity of humans they would realize that their actions impact the environment and respond accordingly.   But they don’t.  They’re fishes that are part of, and act  naturally within, their system.   Humans willingly ignoring their supranatural capacity (and interestingly enough not acting ‘naturally’ any more)   will be at the mercy of the system (and vice-versa!), and like the above mentioned fishes,  throw the system out of whack until the people die back. 

So you see, acknowledging the supranatural aspect of human nature isn’t an option.  It’s a necessity.

It’s a prerequisite to bringing beauty to the world through our ideas; to building  sustainable cultures of innovation that respect people and the world.

Before my mother died she told me, ‘You’ve been given so many gifts, you bring beauty to the world in so many ways; never stop bringing beauty to the world.”

My mom’s desire for me, is also my desire for you.

Please take your responsibility seriously.

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Evolution, Human Rights, imagination, innovation, love, nature, Nature of Creativity, Society, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Want to Design a Better World? Try the ‘Thankfulness Process’

Posted by Plish on November 30, 2009

Click for Full Size

Click Image for Full Size

While pondering the meaning of Thanksgiving over this long weekend, I realized that thankfulness is a powerful motivator for good. 

I also realized that  thankfulness often leads to dead ends. 

Yes, we’re thankful for family, friends, iPods, a job, etc., but how often do we only spend time/money in our own little worlds, not reaching out and becoming agents for creating a better world?

To that end I propose the above depicted model for developing a ‘Thankful World’ filled with relationships and innovations that go beyond personal consumption – a world in which we we’re concerned about more than ourselves. 

How does the process work?

Generally, it works by peeling away our personal likes to realize  the deeper human needs and motivations of ourselves and hence the many. 

Specifically, it’s  simple:  Ask yourself what you’re thankful for.  Ask if you can provide it to others.  If you can, do it. If you can’t, ask yourself why what you’re thankful for is important to you.   Do this until you find something that you can provide to others and then do it. 

The model also includes a limiting aspect  loosely based upon the 5 Whys to test the sustainability of our solutions.   

Why a limiting factor?

My reasoning is that if the object/subject we’re thankful for does not lead to philanthropic behavior after 5 rounds of introspective thought, then it’s quite possible that what we’re thankful for might not really be needed in the first place.

What do you think of this model?  Could it lead to better social design?  Could it lead to a better world? Could it lead to more pertinent and sustainable innovation?

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Human Rights, innovation, Innovation Tools, love, problem solving, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

When Innovation Isn’t Really All That – Bringing Back Cow Diets from the Past

Posted by Plish on June 23, 2009

Cows Supping at the Flannery Farm (Michael Plishka, 2009)

Cows Supping at the Flannery Farm (Michael Plishka, 2009)


“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

-Ecclesiastes 1:9

According to a recent press release  from Stonyfield Farm , they’ve pioneered a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from dairy cattle while improving the nutritional value of the milk.

By removing things like corn and soy from the cows’ diet and replacing it with a mixture of grasses, alfalfa, and flax, the cows burp substantially less methane and create better quality milk.  According to Stonyfield:

“(We have) been able to reduce the enteric emissions from the cows by as much as 18%, an average of 12%. If every US dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year , the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road!”-Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield V.P. of Natural Resources and the director of the Stonyfield Greener Cow Project

This is an amazing feat and hats off to Stonyfield for taking the lead in doing this.

There’s only one problem…

It’s not really new or innovative.

Small family farms (like the Flannery Farm pictured above) have been feeding their cows diets without corn, soy and other non-cowlike additives, for years!  It’s only in the world of mega-farming that corn and soy (and wonderful things like rendered fat, fish and blood) and have found their way into the guts of cows whose stomachs evolved with a preference for grasses.

While on the one hand we could bemoan the fact that cows (and our atmosphere) have been subjected to assault from diets of corn and soy (and other things), the real lesson here is that sometimes we really don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or the diets of cows. 

When mega-farms started treating cows like machines instead of animals that have an evolutionary history, they lost sight of the bigger, sustainable picture.  Yes, they were able to up the output of milk but, in the long run, it was a costly undertaking and not a very elegant solution.  Ramping up production and creating higher “efficiencies”  is not necessarily indicative of technological advancement or innovation.

It could be indicative of poor design – on mega-farming’s part, not the cows’.

Posted in Case Studies, innovation, problem solving, Research, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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