Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

How did this even get past the first round?

Monday, April 29th, 2019

screenshotOnce in a while, we wonder in astonishment how something is included in a released product. Despite internal checks, marketing management and advertising massaging, something that must have flown by a channel of yes (or distracted) people somehow got out. Granted, and thanks largely to Microsoft, we do now have a product development culture of releasing products with imperfections/bugs, but in those situations, the easy problems are usually taken care of quickly.

Recently, I have been getting views of an ad by Shipt when I am watching online drama videos. That brand name is so bad and wrong. The other odd thing is that the video ad itself has many bad ideas…like tossing a light bulb to someone..and then the guy screws the light bulb into an electrically live socket. Creating these negative emotions will affect the OOBE impression. And to add to the surprise, Shipt was acquired in 2018 by Target…Target! Some of the best marketing has come from Target. And they somehow let this one slip out. Traction…not a chance.

So, how does this fit with YCISL? The YCISL workshops are designed as bootcamps. The team project presentations are meant to be very early rehearsals to experiment with our core skills of fast-thinking, intrinsic motivation and emotional intelligence. Iteration is key. Closed-loop corrective action is another term I am fond of. We also spend Day 4 of the workshops working on the testing and closing phase of the projects. This is the opportunity in our innovation framework to scrub bugs, fix the important and easy problems, and have a plan to ameliorate outstanding issues (or cloak them…).

Lesson here: Create positive images and emotions. Work on the OOBE.

Paper Airplanes & A Reveal of Our Problem-Solving Mindset

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

I re-watched Tim Brown’s Tales of Creativity & Play this morning, and the part with the Finger Blaster had me wanting to incorporate something similar into the YCISL workshops. I also had just watched a TED video “How To Make Applying For Jobs Less Painful” by Priyanka Jain in which she showed a clapping test to reveal a thinking trait. This has me again wanting to demonstrate the spectrum of approaches any given group naturally takes to tackle a problem (and how education, let’s say a typical classroom, is herded to take just one approach). So here is an idea for a workshop exercise using paper to make paper airplanes.


I am assuming that for any given group that paper airplane-making skills are widely spread. Some may already know how to make a paper airplane. A few may know how to make sophisticated ones that fly far or can do acrobatics. Most will likely know how to make the simple paper airplane that fly a relatively short distance compared to the current record of 220′ 10″!

For this exercise, we provide one sheet of paper to each participant. They start by writing their name on the paper for post-flight identification. The participants are then simply instructed to build a paper airplane with their sheet of paper and we will see whose flies the farthest. No other instructions.

They will be given 10 minutes to do this. After that, it will be time to fly their creations.

I hope to observe a wide range of approaches to this task such as:

  • folding using their existing knowledge about paper airplanes, if any
  • doing some independent research such as checking the WWW
  • asking someone for help or advice
  • just watching someone else and copying
  • forming a collaboration and working together

Then we fly and see whose flies the farthest. Just as we do with the Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow exercise, we could do multiple rounds of this and look for learning through iteration. Will they change folding technique or will they take a different approach?

Each of the approaches reveals how one’s mindset is currently geared to problem-solving. The three main lessons (phrased as questions) are:

  • Does your leadership worldview include other people (collaborator, advisor, teacher, etc)?
  • Do you have a trusted growth mindset that takes you out of your comfort zone? Or do you tend to play it safe?
  • Are you comfortable learning more about yourself (self-awareness) and how you approach problem-solving (self-management)? Are there any issues that can be addressed?

Shark Tank’s Best Pitches Explained By the Cast | Vanity Fair

Friday, March 1st, 2019

I came across a YouTube video this morning titled “Shark Tank’s Best Pitches Explained By the Cast | Vanity Fair” which made me think about the YCISL program. I have watched Shark Tank on television and YouTube before (just a few times), and attended a local Dolphin Tank event (similar concept but for youth). Mostly, I don’t connect Shark Tank to the YCISL program because of the weight given towards money (investments from the Sharks as well as the definition of the problem and success); it makes for compelling television viewing, I understand.

What I did get reminded of though is that the YCISL program is about porting adult frameworks and concepts to a youth context. YCISL is about attenuating “Play” to boost creative energy and the intrinsic motivation to sustain that energy. And from that video, it’s interesting to see the port connection.

  1. Know Your Numbers -> Elevator Pitch. “Know your numbers” is not so much a point about being a vessel for financial information, but more about being prepared (a state of readiness) with an elevator pitch that is emotionally intelligent. Know your target audience and be prepared to make a memorable impression. For an elevator pitch, having an idea of reaction buttons to press help too (not that you should press every button).
  2. Be Creative -> Creative Energy. In YCISL, we show our model where creative energy is at the base of innovation and leadership. For most though, one’s creative energy level is unknown (having been stifled by education) and untrained (not readily accessible or appropriately applied). On Shark Tank, the creativity in the pitches are in the person, product and pitch. In YCISL therefore, we emphasize exercises that expose creative energy levels and aiming that energy.
  3. Have “Chutzpah” -> Positivity. YCISL touches on positivity in several ways using examples from Shawn Achor (better productivity) and Alison Ledgerwood (framing). There is also a needed element of confidence that I draw from Mel Robbins. We ask our workshop project teams to ensure positivity when working together. We look for simple techniques that effect positive alignment.
  4. Problem Solver -> Project Studio. The YCISL innovation premise is based on solving problems. We search through personally-experienced problems as well as problems from one’s worldview and observations to select one to use for the workshop Project Studio. Our Project Studio exercise is done in a team to render normalization to the problem to remind us that a good solution has the potential for wide adoption and multiple applications beyond the original worldview. Picking a problem isn’t as easy as it sounds, and in YCISL we emphasize the basics of formulating a problem statement – for visionary inclusion and team alignment.
  5. Motivate Others -> Intrinsic Motivation (Self+Others). From Dan Pink, we understand that motivation has a sustainability issue. In YCISL, we recommend leveraging intrinsic motivation given limited resources (especially the case for youth). We also examine approaches to imparting intrinsic motivation in one’s self as well as to others (team and users). This is one of the critical leadership skills that we seek to develop through our program.
  6. Listen to Diverse Opinions -> Active Listening and Growth Mindset. To listen, we need to listen well and the skill of active listening is key to Shark Tank as well as innovator and leader roles. Unlike the make-it-or-break-it tone in Shark Tank, we moderate discussion in YCISL so that there is sequential exchange (like in Adora Svitak’s reciprocal learning), checkpoints and learning. From that, we can feed the growth mindset that we expect in a creative and decision-making setting. We also learn to train fast thinking and the cycle of divergent-convergent thinking. Subsequent to this process, we also learn about weighing competitive advantage and thriving through de minimis risk and initially huge uncertainty conditions.

This reflection years after YCISL started has been quite satisfying. I hope it will help further development of our concepts, ideas and products.

If I had nothing. Starting Over: A Reflection

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Idea is to reflect on what you would be focused on if you were starting over and afresh. Many people in the developed and developing world lead cluttered lives and emotional luggage. Our attention is divided and we spend much of our mental energy sorting useful information from garbage.

Can we come up with an exercise to reflect on our priorities and imagine what it would be like to have nothing so that everything is a potential goal?

WSJ: Partners in Blood

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Few organizations in Silicon Valley implode like Theranos has. [There also was Solyndra.] But Theranos is a good case example for the innovation process for the YCISL program. This entry is based on the article “Partners in Blood” by John Carreyrou published in the Saturday/Sunday May 19-20 issue of the WSJ (Review section).

The article describes ultimately poor leadership skills on the part of two main characters in the Theranos story: Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh Balwani.

By YCISL measures, they actually did a great job at problem-setting, brainstorming, and elevator pitch. They should also be given credit for product development with regards to setting a very compelling feature list.

However, there are two parts of the innovation leadership process that seem to not have been done according to Silicon Valley standards. One is the testing and readiness step. Alpha and beta testing must have revealed serious problems with what they had developed. Once the product was put in the hands of a real user, QA, QC, LIMS and all other lab protocols should have alerted everyone to problems.

The other step that went awry is prototyping. In YCISL, we emphasize “fail early, fail fast” in the prototype stage but Theranos kept developing a product past prototyping with showstopper failings. Any skilled analytical chemist would not trust data from small sample size due to the amplified issues with the “scientific method” including sampling error, sample contamination, sample preservation, and the conditioning of analytical instrument detectors. What Theranos did is an error usually made (but eventually understood) by first-time science fair students. The real failing here however is the denial of the flaws, and the inability of investors to resist the obvious fib. Fuel to the fire.

The lesson for YCISL is to be disciplined during the prototyping stage and even the testing stage. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to embrace failure and learn from it. Be comfortable starting again – Silicon Valley style.

Follow-on: I decided to re-read Jeff Raskin’s “HOLES IN THE HISTORIES” to remind myself how it only takes one acceptable “authority” to build a consensus resulting in fact but not truth. Theranos’ lie may have started as a small seemingly-manageable one, but one can imagine it getting out of hand once one investor bought in. At some point, people chose not to check primary sources and relied on secondary sources. People bought into the “fact” but took the truth for granted. Raskin also writes on DELIBERATE MISREPRESENTATION and the “reality distortion field” that Steve Jobs is closely associated with. This is a leadership “disease” which has spread widely and we should address by instilling stronger EQ in youth leadership.

Paul Tasner: How I became an entrepreneur at 66 (TEDTalk)

Monday, October 16th, 2017

What does age have to do with being an entrepreneur? The story in this TED Talk by Paul Tasner suggests that entrepreneurship is not reserved for the young, but can be a pursuit in late-career as well. The introductory paragraph for this talk on the web site reads “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself” and when I think about it (pause…), reinvention is one of those situations that provides an opportunity to gain life lessons in being a creative and persistent entrepreneur. The detail in the talk that I found the most interesting is “40 plus years of continuous employment for a variety of companies large and small…” which means Tasner had to reinvent himself several times over. This means he had past experience in changing/rebounding and even if he had or did not have confidence through each transition, he apparently made it – which shows resilience. Every change, even the latest one into entrepreneurship, is a testament to his mindset.

Youth is often seen as an advantage for entrepreneurs because they can afford to dedicate many hours to getting started, but there is a degree of sacrifice in this. Tasner actually has an advantage over young entrepreneurs in that there is little life sacrifice (it was working on this new endeavor or retirement) and he was driven by tremendous motivation (“most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now”).

The YCISL program delves into one of the biggest transitions in our lives…from high school to college (which for many is about leaving the nest). If we can get through this particular transition well and learn some life lessons along the way, we can perhaps develop the resilience and mindset, like Tasner’s, to sustain ourselves through each future leap.

Activity: YCISL Photo Essays – Focus on Gratitude

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.40.24 AMOne of the YCISL agenda topics that has evolved over the past 6 years is emotional intelligence. Early on in this program, my colleague Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu shared with me and my students the idea of four emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) domains. Soon after, he chose to focus on Mindfulness as a practical discipline in exploring EI and I formulated the expression

KI + EI = LeaderI

to position how our workshop activity in EI helps achieve our sustainable leadership objective.

In one of the Mindfulness-focused workshops, Stephen played the video “A Good Day” With Brother David Steindl-Rast which called my attention to the topic of gratefulness. Steindl-Rast also has a great TED Talk titled “Want to be happy? Be grateful” that provides an actionable promise-ask. This resoundingly connected with the Happiness and Positive Mindset topics I had brought into the YCISL program via the ideas of Shawn Achor (see his 2011 TEDx Talk “The happy secret to better work”).

In 2016, I found the 2013 TEDx Talk “Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck)” by Alison Ledgerwood in which she discusses the benefits of practicing gratefulness. This reminded me that Shawn Achor (in his TEDx Talk mentioned above) had also suggested a gratefulness training routine to increase optimism and focus on positives among the thatch of negatives. These ideas – and more – had led me to start an iOS app project called the GratitudeApp (that’s another story) in late 2016.

The final piece that has converged on this YCISL activity is the 2014 opening of the Windhover Contemplation Center at Stanford which demonstrated that the university considered mindful behavior of having merit and value in its academic setting. This has become the place we bring our YCISL workshop students so that they can focus on the Your Personal Story mid-series question of “Who am I?” and appreciate the present.

All this has led to the refinement of our Visit-Experience Photo Essay into a Visit-Experience-Gratitude Photo Essay where the emotional component is focused on the daily training of grateful reflection. Students in our most recent workshop were first introduced to the practice of being grateful in the present, then tasked with building a gratitude photo essay through daily reflection on that day’s events and experiences. We set up our Photo Essay Gallery on the last workshop day as usual. This was a great example of simple, but not easy. The idea of building this photo essay is a simple idea, but the emotionally positive portraits were powerful and lent great insight into the leadership confidence that gratitude enables.

We have a keeper.

Mel Robbins: How to stop screwing yourself over (TEDxSF Talk)

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

This is a two-part entry for two lessons I learned from  the Mel Robbins TEDxSF talk “How to stop screwing yourself over” (you can find it on YouTube).

In the Summer 2016 YCISL workshops, I added the message “Simple, but not easy” [SBNE, for short] which I derived from this talk. Robbins’ full message is that “Getting what you want… is SIMPLE (but not easy)” meaning the process to reach a goal usually consists of a few steps but there is a caveat that getting there takes energy, focus, persistence, etc.

In the YCISL workshop, I talk about my desire to lose weight and body fat – to do it, there are only two main steps: eat less and exercise more. But is it easy? Nooooooo!

The same thinking can be applied to the YCISL skills such as creativity, fast-thinking, emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation, etc. Building up these skills is simple…practice, practice, practice…and you will become more creative, more innovative and a better leader. But I cannot promise that it’s easy.

And it can also be applied to our academic, work and social lives. For example: (i) to be a successful student, study hard and get good grades, (ii) to be successful at work, do good work and be rewarded, and (iii) to be socially active, get out more and make lots of friends.

This is a perfect example of how leadership usually works: here is point A and there is point B. Call me when you get there. [Think of Rory Sutherland’s strategic myth of management and tactical advantage in his TED Talk “Sweat the small stuff”]. However, if I place this in a positive frame, you can think of SBNE as the competitive advantage that we coach in the YCISL elevator pitch, PostIt Brainstorming and Rapid Prototyping exercises. Ideas, solutions and products that are simple may be worth pursuing because many others will find it too difficult to realize.

In the YCISL workshops, we coach fast-thinking as an essential self-trained skill. The YCISL Photo Essay assignment is an example of a “5-second rule” method…take a photo and capture the emotional thoughts as soon as possible. Most of our YCISL exercises that build fast-thinking involve decisions and actions that take on the order of seconds or even milliseconds.

Exercise: Turning the Donkey

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Many of the activities in the YCISL program are derived from existing games – and we connect our topics to them. An example is the Spaghetti Tower-Marshmallow exercise where we demonstrate prototyping and “fail early, fail fast” as well as collaborative teamwork.

Today, I was searching the internet for a puzzle and came across a web site with a collection of matchstick puzzles ( I was looking for something that would require divergent thinking. I didn’t have matchsticks, so I tried the puzzle with some pens. I confess I am bad at these types of puzzles and in the end, snuck a peek at the posted solution. But more importantly, I found that doing such a puzzle connects many of the topics we touch on in the YCISL workshops.

So I created a “Lessons” document which describes the puzzle and asks questions to reflect on. I have posted a link to this document in our LinkedIn Group Discussion and will likely incorporate it or something similar into the workshops.

Found on

turnthedonkey_rMove 1 pen to turn the donkey.


  • Did you see the solution on your first pass? WOW! – if you did.
  • Did you sense creative energy well up in you?
  • Did you feel (instrinsic) motivation?
  • Did you experience divergent fast thinking (iterating over many possible solutions)?
  • Did you apply logical deductive reasoning (eliminating non-solutions)?
  • Did you experience optimism?
  • Did you notice frustration or self-doubt?
  • Did you think about giving up?
  • Did you second guess what the problem was asking?
  • Do you think you accomplished something?

James Veitch: This is what happens when you reply to spam email (TEDTalk)

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Watch the video for the humor. Commiserate in the vengeance exacted on an email spammer. But hear what was discovered when someone opted for the “crazy” option. It’s the extraordinary tale that connects yet another dot.

In the PostIt brainstorming exercise we have in YCISL workshops, we position our ideas along a normal to crazy axis. We view the crazy end as the area with the greatest opportunity for creative challenge and outcome.

In his December 2015 TED Talk, James Veitch spins his story about toying with email scammers. It’s a great story but I especially was struck by how this got started – with him almost by instinct tapping the delete button which is conditioned behavior for many of us, but instead deciding to see what would happen if he responded. What seemed to have ensued was highly creative thinking.

“I thought, I could just delete this. Or I could do what I think we’ve all always wanted to do.”

How often has this sort of choice come across our minds? How fast have we been to self-check ourselves and do the thing that we have short-circuited our thinking for the sake of convenience and saving time?

What about when we are shopping in a supermarket? With all the product choices on a shelf (at an instant) and the change in choices (over longer time periods) which we sometimes register – not to mention reshuffling (over medium time periods), have we conditioned ourselves to have “tunnel vision” when selecting products? And when we do notice a new competing product, we ask the “what if?” question to check whether we might be making a mistake.

For YCISL, we should consider our behavior when our our path gives us choices. Are we being “mindful” at these paths or do we become engrossed by the past or future?

What exercise can we conduct to illuminate our tendencies and train our behavior to be more mindful?