Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

BOOK: The Japanese Mind by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno (Eds.)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

I discovered this book while searching for tourist-type guides to Japan. It is a great find and became my primary read immediately. This is a collection of essays – each of which contain reflections on the Japanese culture, sometimes in comparison to Western culture. “The Japanese Mind” in fact contains a series of student essays (that feel were smoothed out by the editors, Davies and Ikeno) which each generally contain insights, meanings and socio-cultural influence. Reading this book was a marvelous learning experience and will add emphasis on cultural viewpoints to our YCISL workshop.

“Ambiguity is thus indispensable for maintaining harmony in Japanese life, where it has the quality of compromise.” I usually associate “ambiguity” with negative consequences (specifically in the context of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Geerte Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions), but now can appreciate the relation to positive influences such as harmony and compromise. It is fascinating to think of ambiguity as a skill where one has to be facile in both creating it and dealing with it.

“Silence can also be considered a kind of ambiguity.” In our YCISL workshops, silence usually feels awkward to me but it happens especially at the start of the workshop. In my next workshop, I will think more carefully about the meaning behind the silence and whether it provides any hints to the students’ mindsets.

“As a result, there is a constant emphasis on other people’s feelings in Japan, and parents try to teach their children from a very early age to be sensitive to this information.” While YCISL includes exercises to practice assertiveness, our desire to grow emotional intelligence fits well with any tendency to be highly (or even overly) considerate of the feelings of another person. We can look at this from the perspective of training skilled empathy which includes awareness as well as self-control and sensitivity.

“Until they graduate from elementary school, they are generally not completely conscious of these vertical relationships. However, as soon as they enter junior high school, they are expected to confirm to this rigid system.” This suggests that the timing of YCISL intervention at early high school is perfect. Parents and teachers need to believe that when creative behavior, motivation and productivity are desired, the vertical relationships need to be relaxed.

“Simplicity and elegance are often considered two of the essential aesthetic qualities of Japanese culture, and they have been important features of Japanese life since ancient times.” I would like to try to emphasize simplicity and elegance in all YCISL activities – from our concepts and exercises to the projects and lessons. With these two attributes, we can expect greater teamwork and leadership as well as clearer purpose and deeper passion.

“However, this also inspired a positive attitude toward such desolation in treasuring the beauty that was out of sight.” Being able to value things not in plain sight is a key to innovative thinking. In the case of prototyping where we understand the practical advantages of “fail early, fail fast” and moving on despite obstacles and failures, deriving a positive attitude in these situations is a valuable skill in creating unique solutions in problem-solving.

“Although millions of people continue to learn calligraphy, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement, most do so not to develop their own distinct inner sense of beauty but simply as an imitation of models.” In YCISL, we should seek to develop this inner sense of beauty as part of our exploration for creative energy; this is possible in YCISL because we do not have a rigid model.


Book: Gong Hyo-jin’s Notebook

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

My addiction to Korean Dramas continues. I am presently watching “Pasta” which stars Gong Hyo-jin (공효진). Great series for me since I enjoy anything featuring restaurants, food and cooking.

This led me to “Gong Hyo-jin’s Notebook” which I understand to be a collection of essays about her personal viewpoints and practical efforts regarding environmental sustainability. I’ve tried to see whether this book can be purchased in the US and whether there is even an English language version – but I did not find any leads. I certainly would like to be able to read it. [10/30/14 Found a way to get this book. Looking forward to getting it. Memo to self: add photo of the book to this entry when I get it.]

I will instead rely on a couple of articles to base my thoughts as to how it connects with YCISL.

1. From “It may be hard to think of the environment when you talk about actresses. But I thought the small steps I take with other people can become a great achievement in the future,” King [sic] wrote in the preface.

2. From In a conversation with the author in a theater on Feb. 19, Kong said, “I felt that if someone who likes what I do tries to do the same even just a little bit, the world can change. I hope there’ll be more consensus about environment protection in Korea so that I can publish sequel after sequel.”

Connections to YCISL: From both these quotes, emotional intelligence is evidently growing; there are strong indications of personal awareness and personal management. Her statements speak to her desire for social awareness and social management. She is particularly skilled at Reflection, and Your Personal Story. I also see an aptitude for Problem-solving and her embrace of a life purpose. Her concern for environmental protection aligns well with our YCISL sustainability platform.

I am also curious about whether this book will be a good model for the YCISL workshop photo essay exercise.

Her Wikipedia entry ( also mentions a part of her life (high school age) in Brisbane, Australia. I wonder how that might have influenced her to be reflective and grateful. I lived for 2 years  (grammar school age) in Melbourne, Australia and that had a tremendous influence on me.

Update 11/11/14: The book arrived from Aladdin ( Fortunately, a colleague will help with translation but just from browsing the photos and drawings, the depth of critical thinking and personal reflection is apparent. I’ve flagged several sections for translation and look forward to learning her ideas.


BOOK: Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

In case you want to know, I recommend putting “Show Your Work” at the top of your reading list and adding “Steal Like An Artist” to the same list but not necessarily at the top. The messages in “Show Your Work” just seemed more actionable and resonating – and that’s what I was expecting from books with action-oriented self-help titles.

The format of the two books are similar with enlightening quotes and imaginative graphics. Since I read “Show Your Work” first, “Steal Like An Artist” felt less invigorating. My bad. Certainly not Kleon’s fault since this is how good sequels go. Case in point: sometimes, I start to watch a TV series in a later season, then I start watching earlier seasons (thanks Netflix and Hulu) – sometimes the earlier seasons have rougher edges.

I found the description of his analog and digital division in his workspace interesting and wonder if the YCISL Photo Essay project should have an analog-digital cycle – for the sake of limiting excessive use of DELETE for part of this creative and reflective exercise.

I also liked his Deleted Scenes section of the book which might play in to the PostIt brainstorming part of the workshop.

One quote from the book I will share: “The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial, place: Your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas. Never again in your life will you have such a captive audience.” I think Kleon is talking only about college so I am wondering to what extent I can promote this setting in the YCISL workshops to enrich the high school experience. The aim is to get the students to feel invested but perhaps there are other incentives besides money that could be leveraged. Certainly at the end of the workshop with product rollouts, we have a “captive audience” but is there more I can do to optimize the experience?


BOOK: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Highly recommended book. Watch his TED Talk too.

This is one type of book I very much enjoy to read. Very much to the point with touches of personal revelation. What makes it a great read is the resonation of ideas – there’s no mire of detail (or a need for it) to justify the points he makes. It’s essentially a list of life lessons he feels worth sharing and presents in a takeaway message format. I am going to try to fit several of the things I learned from this book into the YCISL workshop. Note that I also have his book “Steal Like an Artist” and expect I will learn more useful things from that.

Remember that quite a bit of  YCISL comes from self-help writings aimed at adults and I try to transfer to a youth context. Here are some of my favorite parts of the book that work with the YCISL program…

THINK PROCESS, NOT PRODUCT. This is his chapter 2 title and it coincides exactly with how I coach innovation – train for innovation as a process (way of doing things) and not as a product (an outcome that may or may not happen).

Become a Documentarian of What You Do. In this section, he writes “Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process.” In YCISL, we promote these ideas through our photo essay and personal journal activities.

Always be sure to run everything you share with others through The “So What?” Test. I think this is good advice EXCEPT during brainstorming. In brainstorming, treat all ideas as equal and let them all out. It’s like the voice drills of ridiculous noises one might make before singing or making a speech (yes, I’m thinking High School Musical). But get that “So What?” filter running in all the other processes. Use it in prototyping to find the tracks you may want to run on. Use it in testing to empathize with users and anyone else who will be in contact with your product. I will also add that you should use it in user support.

Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request––they’re all pitches. In YCISL, we follow this perspective through our “Your Personal Story” and elevator pitch activities. Not only is there a lot of possible uses for pitches, there is a lesson about readiness and anticipation, an elevated (and hopefully excited) state for ideas and work. In this state, it is waiting for the opportunity to become part of a longer chain of events.

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. Teaching doesn’t have to be a career. In a creativity and innovation context, teaching is the core of leadership. It is part of a growth mindset.

Yet a life of creativity is all about change––moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers. Change isn’t always about moving forward but it is about being willing to be agile and applying divergent thinking to complement logical deductive convergent reasoning. Sometimes, you have to retreat a little to find a strong base (think lessons from Jeff Raskin about citation). Sometimes, you have to look left and right before crossing. And occasionally look behind you. Also, remember the movement pattern within the exploration section of the Gamestorming framework.

Note too that the style of this writing is worth promoting as a YCISL Your Personal Story style in that the personal story is interwoven with snippets from other personal stories.


BOOK: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This book was quite different from the others I usually read and comment on. I liked it because it contained the author’s own personal experiences and these experiences were things that I am interested in. Well, at least the first half of the book did (and I would recommend reading this book for this part). The second half felt – let’s just call it – less personal, more library-like.

The topic of failing and still finding ways to succeed (and find fulfillment and happiness) is a major premise in YCISL. Scott Adams in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” (2013) tells his personal story about the various paths he has taken, and analyzed what has succeeded and what has failed. He relates personal conclusions from his first-hand experience which I found substantive in life lessons. I would assume his messages are aimed at an adult audience but I think with a little reflection, they would become valuable messages for youth.

Here is a list of notes from my reading (selected 17 points from 115 total highlights – just too easy in the Kindle format):

1. “The most important metric to track is your personal energy.”

2. “It seemed as if other people were benefiting greatly from the wisdom of their friends and families.”

3. “Realistically, most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction, and there’s no objective way to know if you’re particularly good at it or not.”

4. “Failure always brings something valuable with it.”

5. “My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate.”

6. “Success causes passion more than passion causes success.”

7. “Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas.”

8. “This was about the time I started to understand that timing is often the biggest component of success.”

9. “The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.”

10. “I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time.”

11. “One helpful rule of thumb for knowing where you might have a little extra talent is to consider what you were obsessively doing before you were ten years old. There’s a strong connection between what interests you and what you’re good at.”

12.”Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.”

13. “Several years ago I gave a talk to a fifth-grade class. I started by asking them to finish my sentence. The sentence was ‘If you play a slot machine long enough, eventually you will…’ The class yelled out in unison ‘WIN!'”

14. “Positivity is far more than a mental preference. It changes your brain, literally, and it changes the people around you. It’s the nearest thing we have to magic.”

15. “Try to get in the habit of asking yourself how you can turn your interesting experiences into story form.”

16. “Another common trick is to hum the first part of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song and then speak in your normal voice right after.”

17. “The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.”



Book: How to Deliver a TED Talk by Jeremey Donovan

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Just finished reading this book. Thoughts coming soon…

Book: inGenius by Tina Seelig

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Just recently finished reading the book “inGenius” by Tina Seelig. As a follow-up to the author’s previous book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20,” this book had contrasting style and voice. inGenius read like a journalistic article (although I know a lot of the content came from personal experience) and felt like a report in narrative rather than the inspirational feel of the earlier book. Actually, the titles of the book suggested as much to me before I started reading the second book. Nonetheless, it was a good read and several useful lessons were found that I have already used in the YCISL.

(1) One of the skills that one has an opportunity to and should develop at a young age is to ask questions. Partly to balance the thinking that goes on in a “give me the answer” school environment but also to be able to frame problems. On page 19, the author relates how two seemingly identical question can lead to very different thinking and answers. If one can conjure up questions like a chess player rapidly conjures up possible chess moves, reframing problems will be a valuable skill and asset.

(2) One exercise that I have already carried out with several groups (even one group of school headmasters and district directors) is the birthday line up exercise described on page 49. I’ve run this with middle school students and high school students as well. It works great as an icebreaker and an example of teamwork. As a kickoff to a workshop, it also helps set ground rules such as “It’s ok to ask questions” and “You only have the instructions I gave you already – nothing else. So listen carefully.”

(3) On page 129, the author writes “Many rules are designed with the goal of improving performance, but they actually do the opposite.” While many of us can probably tell of an instance where this has happened (even at Stanford!), I don’t think a disregard for rules is called for – even when creativity is desired. I consider myself a rules-based thinker and this has served me well. From being a computer and IT expert to a sports player and coach, I know that rules are the means to advance. As an extreme example to balance the initial premise, one could say that “creativity is like daydreaming which is idling.” In my view, creativity needs to be applied to the rules of innovation (the game – reminds me to recommend checking out the book “GameStorming”) in order to accomplish things – decision making, leadership, productivity, and others. Perhaps it is poorly designed rules that are the problem, not simply having rules. Try setting up email filters in your email client to sort and filter, and you might have a good idea of how to set up effective rule sets.

(4) I appreciated the reference to Tom Wujec’s “Marshmallow Challenge” on page 144 as one of my mentors who had done this exercise in Seelig’s class brought it into a YCISL workshop in 2012. I’ve run this exercise three more times – with my middle school students as well as another group of high school students – and have made modifications to the exercise. Perhaps I was buying weak spaghetti but the marshmallow was a massive downer – except when the students wanted to eat them up (better than them eating the uncooked spaghetti!). So, I have modified the exercise such that each team gets a mailing label and has to design a flag on it to attach to their structure – and the height of the tower is measured by the distance between the surface and this flag. The flag lends an opportunity to personalize the tower and represents the focal point of their effort. Of course, the lightweight nature of the label compared to the marshmallow avoided the potential tipping disaster. In my YCISL exercises, I prefer to set the success to failure probability about 2:1 in favor of success. I found that the marshmallow (at least in a timed situation) put failure in 2:1 favor. Another  modification that I tested a few times was to make the objective to build a tower that touches the ceiling of the room. I was looking for a change in teamwork dynamics and spatial design. More on that in another entry at another time.

Exercise Idea: Creativity Flowmeter

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

In Chapter 2 of Tina Seelig’s book “Ingenius,” the topic of ridiculous inventions is mentioned with particular reference to Japanese “un-useless” inventions. I picked up one such book about a year ago – “The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions (101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions and 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions)” by Kenji Kawakami, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Dan Papia (Apr 17, 2005). When I first browsed it at a Kinokuniya in San Jose, I felt extremely “tickled” seeing the unabashed inventiveness of Japanese with high focus on their own culture.

Many of the inventions shown in this book and other similar ones could serve as prompts to measure reactions to the unusual creativity. I would compile a slide show of 20 or so of the inventions (perhaps just the image and not include the title/description) and have students fill in a “survey” of their reactions including perhaps: Useless, Ho-hum, Cool, I Could Have Thought of That! and I Wish I Had Thought of That! [<-to be refined.]

The idea is to gauge one’s creative flow as a result of viewing and judging the creativity of the un-useless inventions. This would not work so well with inventions that are familiar to our audience (eg, iPad) or are too complicated to understand the function. The lesson would also expose students to the idea that inventiveness can be derived from converging two or more apparently dissimilar objects, functions etc. This would be an exercise relevant to our discussion about divergence, convergence, crossover, spinoffs and parallelism in product design.



Stanford Report: Where does that creative spark come from? Stanford’s Tina Seelig has some ideas

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

This article in the Stanford Report promotes Tina Seelig’s new book “inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity” and makes connections to her class (possibly MS&E 277: Creativity and Innovation).

Personally, I prefer the title of the prior book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World” which effused purpose, inclusiveness, accessibility and timing – all important persuasive and attractive elements.

Still, I am optimistic that I will find the new book a worthwhile read. I am looking forward to finding how her new insights can help improve the CSDGC Youth Development Program. My contribution to creativity and innovation through the YCISL program would be to cast intervention to creativity-poor education earlier in the process.

ExploreCourses Course Listing: MS&E 277: Creativity and Innovation
Factors that promote and inhibit creativity of individuals, teams, and organizations. Creativity tools, assessment metrics, and exercises; workshops, field trips, and case studies. Each student completes an individual creativity portfolio and participates in a long-term team project. Enrollment limited to 32. Admission by application. See
Terms: Spr | Units: 4 | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
Instructors: Seelig, T. (PI)

Article link:

Book: Drive by Daniel Pink

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

This is the entry to review my thoughts on the book “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink. I found the writing style highly persuasive and engaging. For the YCISL workshop, there is quite a lot to relay [in fact, I did use several topics from this book in the June 2011 workshop].

The main idea that comes through is that intrinsic motivation is very powerful and enduring. While extrinsic motivators such as cash incentives can result in increased yield, its effects are temporary and decline in peak performance with every use – like with rechargeable batteries. Extrinsic motivators also include punitive actions which are equally unsustainable and ineffective.

For our YCISL context, particularly notable is the section “Type I for Parents and Educators: Ten Ideas for Helping Our Kids.” The idea of a DIY Report Card is interesting in the sense it might have a positive motivational effect (traditional report cards would have, I would hazard to guess, about a 50-50 chance of being motivational – because of the limitations to standardization) with little downside. Pink states that “Good grades become a reward for compliance – but don’t have much to do with learning.” I’m not sure I would agree with  exactly with how Pink proposes it should be done – his description sounds like an adult workplace performance review – another thing not to expose to youth. What if the report card, for say an elementary student, was done within the framework of a SkillScan card sort? Analyze how the cards get sorted at the start and the end of a term, and see if there is a correlation to the teaching effectiveness and student behavior.

Other notables:

(1) In the section “Words”, page 138: “And a powerful way to provide that context is to spend a little less time telling how and a little more time showing why.” I should constantly remind myself of this point. I am very focused on the typical failure to show “how” because of the attention paid to “Here’s point A, and there’s Point B”; to keep my message engaging, I need to periodically remind ourselves of “why.”

(2) In the section”Purpose”, page 130: If so, when am I going to do something that matters? When am I going to live my best life? When am I going to make a difference in the world?” The author’s point is that motivation is suppressed in adults to the point that delay after delay is the norm in leveraging that motivation. This suppression of course is that which we experience as children in our learning environments, and carries on in adult life in various other forms.

(3) In the section “Oxygen of the Soul”, page 127: “The days that people make progress are the days they feel most motivated and engaged.” Also, “You start to get ashamed that you’re doing is childish” <- this second quote is attributed to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

(4) In the section “Type I and Type X”, page 75: “Type X behavior is fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones.” And “For Type I’s, the main motivator is the freedom, challenge, and purpose of the undertaking itself; any other gains are welcome, but mainly as a bonus.”

(5) The Three Elements are “AUTONOMY”, “MASTERY” and “PURPOSE.” I would call these the ideals for motivation.

(6) The Four Essentials of Autonomy are “TASK”, “TIME”, “TECHNIQUE” and “TEAM.” I would call these the ingredients that need to be assembled into an engagement in order to attain the Three Elements.

(7) Motivation 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0: overall, I am not certain that version 3.0 is going to supplant version 2.0, and even whether version 3.0 is real or better or even an actual stepping stone (maybe it’s actually an alpha or beta version currently?). There is mention on page 19 about version 2.1. Perhaps for the time being, we would be better off using version 2.1 and waiting for version 3.1 instead of jumping into 3.0? Version numbers aside, it would seem that we want to focus on the features of 2.0 we should retain, and add a digestible set of new features – in order to design a new way of doing things. Granted this isn’t “disruptive” which is how some people think things should be done (aka the grass is always greener on the other side).