Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

Thoughts: Building NIFTI 2.0

Monday, October 18th, 2021


Last weekend, we kicked off the second year of the NIFTI program. I am calling it NIFTI 2.0 – The Sustainable Futures Initiative. Our primary focus will be on sustainability design thinking. There are many situations where sustainability design thinking is absent. The California water crisis is one.

The YCISL program sees sustainability design thinking as comprising smart programming, debugging and release to early adopters as prototypes. We will coach students to get divergent-convergent thinking to be instinctual and an essential ingredient of their emotional intelligence practice.

The new NIFTI will be less about career guidance, and more about upgraded and upgradable thinking skills. We will pollinate NIFTI with exercises from the ITW program so that students can envision what the next-generation of leadership needs to do – and how to do it.

If we were to give the current NIFTI group of students the challenge of solving the California water crisis, how would the divergent-convergent thinking process go? I think first we will have a long list of people who would be accountable. We will then have a comprehensive list of reasons for the water crisis perception. On the convergent side, we would design innovative solutions – perhaps a trio that get all stakeholders to realize we have a glass half full and the challenge is to get it more full, and not prevent it from getting emptier.

One of the premises I presented in the introduction to NIFTI 2.0 is “Sustainability has a PR problem” and that this explains why sustainability is stuck (stuck in the negatives as Alison Ledgerwood puts it) – and why it is so hard to move ahead. I am hoping that the NIFTI students will learn design thinking strategies to make sustainability behavior popular (like phenomenally popular) and practically naturally. And this leads to our NIFTI Roundtable 2021 topic of “Sustainability in Education.”

YCISL Skills Survey: Which skill group do you want to improve the most?

Friday, September 17th, 2021

In 2019, we presented the idea of EQ-fying Schools, Classrooms & Learning in order to optimize the level of engagement. We postulated that current teaching paradigms exclude evaluation and optimization of emotional intelligence of students and the instructor, and that leads to fuzzy learning. We envisioned a smart dashboard for instructors that would help in course preparation. Data would include student academic records (mainly to identify gaps), learning strengths and weaknesses, and conditional preferences. For example, does the student typically need to be taught a math concept one or five times before it is mastered?

A creativity skills survey was designed and prototyped for a Stanford Sustainability Design Thinking course in 2020. A similar survey was then applied to various ITW workshops in 2020 and 2021. One of the questions (multiple choice) in the survey is “Which skill group do you want to improve the most?” In the YCISL context, this question is aimed at informing the instructor on student motivation and self-awareness. The survey is still in the prototype phase because we have had short programs and long programs, small groups and larger groups, and so on. So we are learning how the survey works in various settings.

However, I came across a YouTube video today on a cool way of displaying data in infographics so I thought I would try it out. The following infographic show the response to the above-mentioned question by a group of students from a university in Japan attending a YCISL Focus Group.

Almost half the students were interested in improving their creativity skills which is great because the YCISL program focuses on creativity (or more specifically creative energy). Many students were interested in improving their communication skills which is helpful to know since we have our elevator pitch exercise. Having this kind of information could help us balance our workshop agenda with accurate eq awareness & management.

Thoughts: Framing Your Design Thinking Story

Friday, September 17th, 2021

In the YCISL program, particularly with the project work, we have been taking our asking questions design thinking method and placing it in a storytelling frame. When ideating concepts, teams have to ask Who? What? Where? When? Why? & How? questions regarding the story frame they wish to open presentation of their concept. The aim is to engage the viewer to share or empathize with the problem or need. In a Thinking Out Loud session I recently presented in, I had students “doodle” a scene where their product and user were together. I asked them to try to answer as many of the design thinking questions as they could through their doodle sketch. Working on such a sketch helps teams learn their concept’s positioning and application circumstance as well as opportunities for adding details and filling gaps.

The doodle sketch above reflects an exercise I have used where we look at sustainability in bathroom lighting.

Want to try this method? Here is a 3-step method to try:

  1. Form and answer the design thinking questions.
  2. Make a preliminary sketch using the answers.
  3. Add details to the sketch to focus on one concept message (eg, your problem statement or your concept statement).

Bonus: give your sketch a title (could be your concept title).

Activity: YCISL Design Thinking Incubator

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

In June 2021, the first YCISL ITW-DTI (Design Thinking Incubator) was launched. The second was just concluded yesterday. The ITW-DTI focuses on design thinking iteration in order for students to get the feel for revisiting design ideas in a fast succession prototyping manner. This gets the “raw-ness” out of the ideas which we thought would be a useful lesson for design thinking newbies. Previous to the ITW-DTI, we had the ITW (Innovators Toolkit Workshop) which was more broadly skills-based and ended with just one presentation. In the ITW-DTI, students have had to give their presentations three times where each time there was a blast of experiential learning.

Innovators Toolkit Workshop (ITW) Design Thinking Incubator (ITW-DTI)
4 days (2 weekends)
Skills: Asking Questions, Fast Creative Thinking, Divergent-Convergent Thinking, Filling & Crossing Gaps, Positivity
Project: Smart-ified Space or Object
Presentation: 1 Group Pitch
Exercises: Design-a-Tent, Invent-an-Ice Cream Flavor
Core: Out-of-Box Design Thinking
4 days (consecutive)
Skills: Asking Questions, Brainstorming, Divergent-Convergent Thinking
Project: Design-a-Club, Design-a-(Smart) School Space, & more…
Presentations: Team Practice, Group Practice, Faire
Exercises: Problem Statement, Solution Concept, Feature List
Core: Asking Questions Approach to Design Thinking

The ITW-DTI is a much faster program, but also attends to the “5-second Rule” phenomenon that was dragging the ITW program. By this rule and the more highly packed ITW-DTI schedule, the design thinking brainwork stays in the fast lane. Quick acceleration is key, but only needs to be pushed once. Making incremental improvements is a lot simpler too.

Compared to the earlier YCISL workshop programs that were on-campus and totaled many more contact hours, the ITW-DTI is an effective means of experimenting with design thinking with the potential to connect presence with action (EQ-talk). So long as the ITW-DTI experience along with all other YCISL programs spring the Aha! moments for students, I think we have something worth pursuing.



LinkedIn: Post by Anthony J James of “Fluidity” by designlibero

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

In my LinkedIn feed today, I noticed a post by Anthony J James commenting “Innovative design idea” about a dish drying rack with sections for small plants that would be watered by water that drips from the drying dishes. My reaction was “cool” idea and a wonderful idea using the convergence technique we use in the current YCISL ITW program.

But wait! There was more… There were negative comments aplenty. Many comments were based on lack of understanding and a resistance to the product idea being able to replace the traditional dish drying rack (fixed mindset, I would diagnose). Here are a few examples:

“What about the soap? Would that not be toxic to plants?” Careful how you use the word “toxic” because there are several beneficial plant applications for soap. You can also discard lightly soapy water into your garden (ever washed your deck or patio stone?) without harming the plants.

“Nice try, quite ingenious except lots of plants grow spores, mold, fungi, and insects larvae form their ecosystem and not ours.” Ummm…are you suggesting not having houseplants at all? Or would you like to have a 6 ft social distancing requirement from any plant?

“The person who designed it doesn’t wash dishes.” One of those responses that is most likely incorrect. Perhaps not the way you wash dishes.

“No herbs raised on detergent water will ever taste good or be good for your health.” Reminds me of the Mister Boffo phrase “Unclear on the concept.”

“It is likely that there will be trace of chemicals present in water, that might affect the plant?” Tip: The water you use has chemicals in it. Be it from water treatment, natural atmospheric dissolved gases, dissolved minerals from aquifers, etc.

There were many encouraging comments too. Mostly on the external form design which I agree is cool.

But what struck me is the lack of productive commentary. I don’t usually comment on LinkedIn, but since this product touches on so many personal and YCISL interests, I wrote:

“Iterate this idea. Forget hydroponics. Many houseplants (ie, indoor plants such as the ZZ shown) need humidity rather than constantly wet roots. The LECA balls would provide support and a porous way for humidity to rise to plant. Would suggest removeable bottom tray for periodic cleaning. Other applications would be micro greens or seed starting using seed starter mix where constant moist but not wet needs to be maintained, but would recommend pre-filter such as activated carbon.”

The idea is to collaborate, not object or discourage. Use your expertise, if you have it to share. Wonder out loud, if you like – but imagine the possibilities rather than close your mind. The surprising thing is the LinkedIn titles the negative commenters had; eg, Concept Designer, Team Builder, Entrepreneur, Consultant, and so on. Evident absence of growth mindset.

I would also further share that this product is called “Fluidity” and a full description can be found on the designlibero web site. First, note that the design is dated 2012. Then now also note this article dated November 23, 2020 “Scotts Miracle-Gro completes acquisition of company that makes home-grow kits” which reports how AeroGrow, the maker of the well-known AeroGarden, was acquired. The hydroponic countertop product was already finding a place in kitchens and other places around the home (let’s also remember the countertop composting worm bins!) where nature is succeeding over germaphobia. So I do feel there is a design genius within Fluidity. It just needs iteration based on constructive feedback and focus group testing.

If this was a YCISL DEZIGNBLÄST design project, we would be fully supportive and encourage iteration through further design thinking and divergent-convergent thinking. In the feature list exercise that we do, we would build Smart-app support, sustainability factors such as use of solar cells, and positivity in form and function. Then our students would craft a story to go along with this must-have product.

Just think…if this was made for college students living in a dorm. They would have just a few dishes, want late night snacks, and stress-relieving plants to look at and take care of. Find that early adopter to help you tell your story in a positive worldview.

PS. The other lesson is not to take criticism too harshly unless you have found reason to trust your critic. Do they have growth mindset and positive mindset skills (remember, it takes work)? Do they have emotional intelligence and an ability to brainstorm self-edit-free? Test their ability for active listening and mindful push/pull/centering.

Events: YCISL Innovators Toolkit Workshop (ITW)…Cartoon Examples

Monday, January 18th, 2021

Here is a set of cartoons made in Pixton on the five YCISL Innovators Toolkit Workshop (ITW) skills that we focus on. Do these help the explanation of these skills?

*Source credit for magnesium-chocolate story:
**Dumpling image downloaded from

NYT: Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

I came across this article through LinkedIn today. The article lists various ways to re-engage with each other especially during this time of un-shakeable stress. “Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations” is an Opinion article by David Brooks dated November 29, 2020 on

The author’s suggestions make sense to me and I will undoubtedly be spending some time thinking how to turn these into YCISL workshop actions. But because I am currently engaged in a series of Popcorn with Colin discussions on creativity, in particular a tribute to Sir Ken Robinson’s epic TEDTalk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (originally titled “Schools Kill Creativity.”), I will dwell on the suggestion to “Ask Open-Ended Questions” and the timeliness of this for the online learning pivot.

This idea fits into the Divergent-Convergent Thinking and Asking Questions component of the YCISL Innovators Toolkit series. Open-ended questions (or problems which are inviting of innovative solutions) have the potential to stimulate and strengthen creativity. So the task is not to simply ask an open-ended question, but to frame a worldview that accommodates various perspectives and past experiences. We need to use design thinking in creating open-ended questions.

I haven’t had much practice at this, but let’s give it a few application attempts.

Here is a Physics homework problem I found on the web:

Gravitational Potential Energy GPE = mg∆h
12. A 5.0 kg mass is initially sitting on the floor when it is lifted onto a table 1.15 meters high at
a constant speed.
a. How much work will be done in lifting this mass onto the table?
b. What will be the gravitational potential energy of this mass, relative to the floor, once it is
placed on the table?
c. What was the initial gravitational potential energy, relative to the floor, of this mass while
sitting on the floor?

What if we changed this question to “Place a dumb bell (or other object) on the floor. Lift it onto a table at a constant speed. Use a scale and/or tape measure, if desired. It’s ok to estimate.”? Would this be too challenging? Could this be a more fun application-type question that helps the student use visualization as well as experimentation skills? Not all the questions would have to re-framed this way. But it does give a more first-person real world feel about how science applies to things we do on a daily basis.

And here is a Chemistry homework problem I found on the web:

Coffee cooling
A mug of coffee cools from 100 ℃ to room temperature, 20 ℃. The mass of the coffee is
m = 0.25 kg and its specific heat capacity may be assumed to be equal to that of water,
c = 4190 J. kg-1. K-1.
Calculate the change in entropy
(i) of the coffee
(ii) of the surroundings

What if we changed this question to “Your morning mug of coffee/tea/water cools to room temperature. Use a scale and/or thermometer, if available. Otherwise estimate.”? Hopefully, everyone has been aware at some point that a hot beverage gives off warmth and gradually cools. There is also the intrinsic motivation factor (that we are fond of in YCISL) where we involve mastery, autonomy and purpose (added through the use of another Innovator Toolkit skill: Filling & Crossing Gaps).

As another example, I require online seminar logs for a seminar course at Stanford. This is for proof of attendance. But instead of asking for a summary of the seminar presentation, the question is “Describe in 2-3 sentences how this talk connects with or relates to your interests, or your MS studies.” In general, most responses will be quite different reflecting perspectives and background. This makes it more interesting and informative for me. Note though that some students find this open-ended question challenging and defer to the seminar abstract as a basis for their thoughts – as opposed to internal stimulation and connections.

Re-reading the examples above, there is probably more fine-tuning possible to engage each other better. An example is to use the Positivity Innovator Toolkit skill and “garnish” the problems with emotionally positive words and uplifting expressions. “Your delicious morning mug of…

A good topic for future discussion.


Alison Ledgerwood: A Simple Trick to Improve Positive Thinking (TEDxTalk)

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

The 2013 TEDxUCDavis talk by Alison Ledgerwood “A Simple Trick to Improve Positive Thinking” has had a significant influence on the presentation of positivity in the YCISL program. Her graphic illustrating how a positive event has a sharp peak effect, and a negative event has a blunt dragging effect is used in the workshop slide set to show how critical it is for leaders to work smart and diligently at maintaining stakeholder positivity. This further ties to the sustainability of intrinsic motivation which is also driven by constant positive thinking.

In her talk, she specifically describes the effect of informing people about a surgical procedure in terms of a success rate versus a failure rate. She further gives examples of (1) a governor’s likability based on which direction he initially messages, and (2) how long it takes people to convert between good news and bad news. This, I find, is an amazing coincidence. Do you?

Positive thinking and framing is an essential innovator and leadership skill. Innovators with the skill maintain their sense of purpose and intrinsic motivation. Leaders with the skill are more agile and appreciated. When a crisis unfolds, these skills go on display and accelerate a successful recovery.

If you are willing to invest in your positive thinking, the media is currently awash with negatively framed statements. See if you can re-phrase some of these statements in a way that stimulates “glass half full” feelings and a sense of hope. Learn to turn negative messaging into positive messaging before you seek meaning and knowledge. You will feel more productive and empowered.



Exercise: Divergent-Convergent Thinking Training Worksheet

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

We introduce the idea of divergent-convergent thinking cycles in our YCISL workshops. It is the structured pathway method to creative thinking, decision making and problem solving. School curricula generally emphasize convergent thinking only which limits creativity.

Three years after releasing the Turn the Donkey lesson, a Divergent-Convergent Thinking Trainer lesson is being released to our YCISL LinkedIn group.

This exercise is intended for practice and as a reminder to apply divergent-convergent thinking cycles in our creative behavior. The exercise comprises a series of worksheets each formatted slightly differently to inculcate agility in how we apply the method to different situations.

The first worksheet being released introduces divergent-convergent thinking in its simplest 2-choice form. Subsequent lines on the worksheet then stretch the divergent part of the exercise. Currently, the exercises converge on a single item, but in reality convergence could be on a group.

An example, run with the DIRECTIONS prompt with two circles and one square, might have Up (1st circle), Down (2nd circle) and Up (square) as an answer set.

The purpose is to train agility into the practice of divergent-convergent thinking, but also to familiarize us with the steps: interpreting the prompt, starting, completing the divergent part, and quickly finishing with the convergent part. Speed is key, but so is confidence in getting through the cycle.

And once the cycle is complete, a creative person should be able to start another cycle right away if needed.

The Paper Airplane Exercise and Comfort Zones

Friday, September 6th, 2019

In the YCISL workshops, we play the Birthdate game where a group of students have to line up in the order of their birth date (date and month, no year) without talking (and now with hands in pockets). This is to explore how they behave when their normal go-to method to solve such a problem is removed. Do they have leadership tendencies or do they immediately look for an available solution from someone else? Do they follow or help enhance the solution?

In 2019, we added the Paper Airplane exercise to explore the same comfort zone borders. The objective was set to maximum distance – and accuracy was thrown in by opening a door through which they could fly farther. I couched this as a prototyping exercise where getting out of the comfort zone is necessary to be successful. They had 10 minutes to build their paper airplane.

Within each group (I expected), there was likely to be some who would know how to fold a paper airplane (upper mid-quartile). Then there would be others who either don’t know, can’t exactly remember, think they don’t do it well and perhaps know exactly what they need to do. I was interested in the various behaviors and responses to one’s comfort zone.

During the construction period, a few students happily built their paper airplane using basic techniques. Others who perhaps have never built a paper airplane before asked for help from a friend or looked up the web for instructions. I think no one simply tried watching someone else and copying.

We flew the paper airplanes. There were a few that got out the door. But more importantly we showed how a team collectively can find their way to step out of the comfort zone and learn immensely from one another in the prototyping stage of project development. It didn’t really matter how they chose to step out.