Archive for the ‘People’ Category

NewSchools Venture Fund: A YCISL Perspective

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Last week, I sent in a job application for the position of Associate Partner, Innovative Schools at the NewSchools Venture Fund. My cover letter stated that I was seeking flexible part-time activity that would complement my Stanford youth creativity project. Apparently what I was offering was a non-starter which is not a big surprise. But since I found what they were doing quite interesting in the education space, I will write a brief entry here to share my views of their mission and strategy.

Their “Our Model” statement is quite compelling. The words “philanthropy”, “partnership” and “innovative” are the three keywords that I would pick out for their main feature list. To choose one sentence that I feel represents the overall effort, it would be “We seek out promising innovators from around the country, and invest in those with the greatest potential to improve student learning and make a positive impact.” A highly revealing design thinking statement. It has the Who? Where? What? How? and Why? that I ask for in the YCISL Asking Questions Design Thinking method. There is no When? element here or elsewhere in the Our Model statement. I think it should be added.

On their Core Values page, they list Bold, Passionate, Connected, Inclusive and Accountable. This reminds me of my visit with the Lili`uokalani Trust – in several respects. Admirable. In terms of a YCISL review of the core values, I think of Satoru Iwata’s GDC Keynote statement about his business card, mind and heart, and there is a fairly good connection with these core values: Accountable->Business Card, Connected & Inclusive->Mind, Bold & Passionate->Heart. YCISL-type words that may work better in characterizing the needed effort include: Mindful, Uplifting & Optimistic (reflective of our fondness for emotional intelligence and positivity).

Actually, even beyond the inconvenience of the flexible part-time condition in my application, there is admittedly sparing overlap of interests. Awkward momentary silence. The YCISL program is based on a premise that there is a universal lack of creativity in education and that leads to educational misses. The YCISL program is open to all and we have hope to assist any young person at any interface who will take personal ownership and has a desire to improve their own life. Let’s just say our napkin doodle may be quite different from their napkin doodle. Still, we can learn from each other.


LinkedIn: The Lego Data Story

Saturday, September 4th, 2021

You know, YCISL and “Lego” (the pieces) have been together since the start. We’ve had our Lego Exercise since our first workshop in 2011. We’ve used it to demonstrate creativity, visualization and team collaboration.

In my LinkedIn newsfeed this week, I saw a graphic that uses Lego pieces. I managed to trace it back to a company called Hot Butter Studio and a photographer named Brandon Rossen. The LinkedIn version is an extended modification of the original and I found yet an even more extended version on Reddit in an article titled “The Lego Data Story, adapted from original image by Monica Rosales Ascenio.

I find the LinkedIn version thought provoking when it comes to design thinking. In our YCISL ITW-DTI design thinking workshops, we are using an asking questions method to acquire pieces of information that subsequently get architectured into a story worldview. This model also fits well with our Divergent-Convergent Thinking Feature List exercise where we gather as many options as possible, categorize them into priority levels, and use select attributes to differentiate for innovation.

I feel the “Explained with a Story” step enters the emotional intelligence realm by applying resources with purpose and meaning. The prior four steps (data, sorted, arranged & presented visually) are essentially analysis steps and would be considered part of the knowledge intelligence …and as per the YCISL KI + EI -> LI formula, we need to flex our EQ to achieve leadership and success.

If we also remind ourselves of Sir Ken Robinson’s thought that “In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”…we also can appreciate the Actionable (Useful) extension of this graphic because the energy we put into our own creativity is intrinsically motivating when we receive feedback that we are serving something of value (further credit to Richard St John’s thought “…you’ve got to serve others something of value.”)

Activity: Mentoring Short Essays

Monday, July 19th, 2021

I have asked the mentors who have participated so far in the current season’s ITW-DTI workshops to compose short essays reflecting on their experience interacting with students and the life skills involved. The opportunity to mentor in a creativity setting is as significant to the YCISL program is as the opportunity to participate. The concepts of design thinking are as relevant to mentoring as they are to ideation and product realization.

This short essay collection assignment for the mentors is an additional chance for me to inspire these few students to be leaders lifted by emotional intelligence and deep thought on their journey. I have a few ideas in mind on how to fulfill this request:

(1) Storytelling. Through our YCISL technique in storytelling, we paint world views which detail the setting and circumstance, and enliven it with actions.

(2) Elevator Pitch. Using our YCISL “The Art of the Executive Summary” technique, we edit scenes and storyboard them in different orders to check for flow and meaning.

(3) Your Personal Story. Using our 3-part YCISL Your Personal Story technique, we build a resume-like chronicle of our past experiences, our present mindsets and behaviors, and ideas on our aspirational pursuit of meaning and fulfillment.

This could turn into one of those procrastination-type endeavors, so I am setting a 30-day goal of completing this assignment. Better this way anyway as the ITW-DTI workshops are still quite fresh in memory.

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.



SCMP: Chinese university professor complains ‘lower IQ’ daughter is ‘mediocre student’ due to poor primary school results in viral video

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

 PRNT 101: Introduction to Parenting. Introduction to the parenting of children emphasizing modern soft-skill engineering principles: object-oriented design, decomposition, encapsulation, abstraction, and testing. Emphasis is on good parenting style and the built-in facilities of parenting languages. No prior parenting experience required. 

This is a YCISL analysis of the article “Chinese university professor complains ‘lower IQ’ daughter is ‘mediocre student’ due to poor primary school results in viral video” written by Alice Yan and published by the South China Morning Post on June 1, 2021. This article refers to a video showing a person, presumably Associate Professor Ding Yanqing, sharing his experience parenting his daughter and lamenting her school performance. A video of a news broadcast on this story is posted on Baidu.

I am relying on the translation into English that is reported as quotes in the SCMP article.

“I tutored her every day. But she still finds it difficult to study. There is a big gap between her scores and that of the second-last student.” This reminds me of Daniel Pink’s TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” where he said “When I got to law school, I didn’t do very well. To put it mildly, I didn’t do very well. I, in fact, graduated in the part of my law school class that made the top 90% possible.” The question that should be asked is whether the student was (1) in a class that would allow her to succeed; was she placed correctly? (2) in a school that would allow her to succeed; was the teaching a good fit for her learning? (3) in a place that would allow her to succeed; are there any non-academic co-factors?

“I am at a loss: this is destiny. I can’t do anything about it.” So he might be at the bottom of the parenting class? If anything, this should raise empathy. The other possible thought is that he is actually responsible for this outcome. Was there any attempt at prototyping? – “fail early, fail fast” as I like to suggest during prototyping – to consider several promising candidates and invest energy and resources wisely. I would also suggest that he reflect on what successes he encountered in this experience. Finding the positivity in failures is crucial to avoid worse outcomes.

“…force her to study or do homework.” In the YCISL, we use the idea of oblique change forces as well as setting up for an exploratory time period (Gamestorming framework). Is his daughter in peak mental and physical health? Are there distractions? The parenting question is what can you integrate with the need to study and do homework that would have a better chance at better learning? A 15-minute nap? A nutritious snack? A caring “how was your day?” chat? More information is needed to analyze this properly…perhaps she has a love of learning for certain subjects, but not others? How much sleep does she get? Does she have active listening filters?

“My daughter is definitely not a wonder child. Her IQ is far lower than both of us.” Any idea about her EQ? And have they all really been tested for IQ? Is it possible that he has a parenting bias because he has a daughter, not a son? Reminds me of the story about Gillian Lynne told by Sir Ken Robinson in his “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED Talk.

“No matter how outstanding you are, your child may be just an ordinary person.” Hmmm…humility appears not to be one of his strong points. I wonder if cultural toxicity is unusually high in his worldview.

“Ding admitted it was 95 per cent likely that his daughter would not be able to achieve scores good enough to be admitted to PKU in the future.” Ummm…did you ask your daughter whether she wanted to go to PKU? You also never know. I am at Stanford now…but I am quite “ordinary” and happy.

“Parents should identify their kids’ unique qualities in different aspects other than academic studies. They should find a path suitable for the kids to develop and assist them in that direction.” Finally, some good advice. But let’s add some design thinking to this statement. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? The Who? should be more than just the parents and kids…it needs at the core to also include the school community as well as social support network. The Where? needs to identify the places where the love of learning thrives. The When? should be addressed through optimized time management that promotes well-being. The What?, Why? and How? is up to each family to explore in their own worldview.

Here is a suggestion for parents in similar situations: Find a list of careers. Imagine your child in those careers. Are you able to accept that your child may be in that career? Can you imagine them being happy in that career? This is just a conditioning exercise. Whether the careers are feasible is not of concern for this purpose. Let’s try to picture a worldview with our children succeeding in each of the ways told to us by Richard St John in his TED Talk “8 Secrets of Success.” Another one of the YCISL “Simple, but not Easy” practical designs.

I will also share a thought that Assoc. Prof. Ding shared this story so publicly because of his academic interest in “reforms of Chinese compulsory education” (listed on his PKU web page) and was actually trying to stir and spin with connection to recent governmental reforms in education. This might explain the narrow thoughts early, and the final “good advice” thought.

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.

Activity: LwL The Principal Dialogues

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

I’ve been partnering with Learn with Leaders (LwL) on YCISL programs for about 8 months. It has inspired and enabled me to reach out to new horizons and focus on Zoom-enabled coaching. It’s been a fun challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an event called “The Principal Dialogues” where LwL invited a group of school heads/principals for a Popcorn with Colin-like online Zoom discussion group. The event came about as a result of discussions about how to partner with schools with our new series of online programs. As reflected by my organizing partner in Japan, it may be that (1) schools are still putting their focus and energy into re-grouping from the virus-induced disruption and concentrating on curriculum continuity,  or (2) the on again-off again switches creates too much uncertainty to make commitments. To find out more, we thought we would ask the school leaders.

We came up with an agenda where everyone took a turn to warm-up the discussion by sharing their reflections as an educator in 2020. For my part, I mentioned the ITW program and the five skills being coached, the NIFTI-SEWSS Scholars Program seminar series, and the in-progress NIFTI Roundtable planning activity. The uncertainty about whether we would resonate quickly dissipated as we found several in-common areas of thought. And we did this despite varying levels of disruption – or even non-disruption as described by Guy (Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Perth WA). Here are a few “bites” from the discussion (what I managed to jot down):

  • Awareness. We heard from Caroline (Liger Leadership Academy) about the importance of self-awareness. Mark (The British School, New Delhi) connected this to metacognition and the “snowflake” condition. To me, this fits well with my YCISL interest in emotional intelligence and the application of design thinking to developing a personal brand identity through our “Your Personal Story” exercises. I think the issue is that there is a common belief that one’s awareness and brand identity is already naturally present and needs no additional investment or work. The problem is in the form and function being absent of EQ.
  • Playfulness Quotient. Many of the participants identified social isolation as a front-line issue during the current educational rollercoaster ride. This isolation has inhibited in-person social interaction as well as creating new connections. Like a neural network, there is a decay going on. Monica (Shiv Nadar School, Gurgaon) raised the term “Playfulness Quotient” which piqued my interest as it resonated with the YCISL activities (eg, ping pong game) emphasizing play as a means for sparking creativity. This “PQ” idea extends well from Tim Brown’s “Tales of Creativity & Play” from which we learn that interventional action is needed during the school years to ensure happiness and well-being for life.
  • Thinking Skills and a Culture of Creativity. I am 100% sure that everyone present has “thinking skills” as a top priority. I specifically recall Meenakshi (Modern School, Delhi) bringing up the topic. This is one of those “simple, but not easy” areas because teachers are broadly accountable for the answers students give, but not the “thinking” route that led to the answer. At this point, I believe everyone jumped in to wonder whether teachers need to join this discussion. For my YCISL contribution, I offered the recommendation to visit Jef Raskin’s article “Holes in the Histories” to find a list of ways people mis-lead themselves as well as others with information that is mis-understood or mis-interpreted.

I would also like to acknowledge Kai (British School Muscat), Dominic (Liger Leadership Academy), and Gerald (North Jakarta Intercultural School) for their shared insights as well; my note-taking just wasn’t quick enough. Regardless, the international scope of the present challenge is clear.

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.



Decluttering…Inspired by Marie Kondo

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

It took a while (years, I think), but yesterday I finally took notice of the idea of decluttering (mainly thanks to a couple of articles on AsiaOne) as it is inspired by Marie Kondo. I decided to watch the first episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on NetFlix, and found engaged by the cultural bridging displayed on the show. The formula was fairly simple: putting the Japanese sense of less is more with the US sense of automatic-consumerism yielded a challenge worth viewing – kind of like rubbernecking a road accident.

Then the connection struck me. Several years ago, one of the YCISL workshop project teams had worked on a decluttering idea (of toys and clothes of children who outgrow the items) and it became one that I use as an example over and over again. Thinking broadly, decluttering (or at least envisioning, planning and empowering for) is a prime leadership skill. Defocused and un-collaborative teams or products are prime candidates for decluttering leadership. Getting teams to bring everything to the fore and sorting them into piles is needed. Showing appreciation for purpose is also emotionally soothing for saving or detaching issues.

Decluttering is about sharing the vision of Point A and Point B, and how to get from Point A to Point B (this has always been what I view as the primary task of leadership). Sharing in the journey is the touch that contributes to fulfillment and success.

So I am hoping to design “Decluttering” into the YCISL projects. The steps from Brainstorming to Prototyping to Feature List to Product Realization are each decluttering exercises. Even Testing & Readiness requires disciplined decluttering. I have a feeling this will be a very useful idea for the YCISL model of creativity, innovation and leadership.

Thanks Marie Kondo for reminding me of this.


Thoughts: Meltdown Uncertainty

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

“They live up there, and slightly to one side.”

Sir Ken Robinson in his TED 2006 Talk “Do schools kill creativity?”


A lack of emotional intelligence can lead to a meltdown – which includes irrationality, insecurity and isolation. At the social awareness level, people will notice defensiveness (“I” language) punctuated by jabs of aggression, and impatience. Truth in negotiation and compromise are impossible as trust has shrunk. This is typically found in adult behavior and signals an absence of self-awareness and self-management. It is likely rooted in an imaginary fear and lack of true confidence where the senses are numb and non-functional.

When you run into such a person, it can be horrifyingly puzzling. You wonder whether it is a reflection of their true unguarded personality or a circumstance of recent events leading up to the melting point (then you don’t know if it will get worse or better).

This is the kind of situation our YCISL program endeavors to train young people to gird themselves against in their own behavior, and to be able to recognize this problematic “pothole” behavior in others. When encountering such behavior in adults, our YCISL position is to step aside or put yourself into reverse. There’s no value in trying to save the other person or offering help; they are in adulthood where behaviors are unlikely to change and biased mindsets are entrenched. Adults who learn leadership later in life mostly learn to put on a facade – a modified interface layer on top of a complex and messy structure.

In YCISL, we train teams to ensure group positivity before launching into creativity. We encourage teams to have quick techniques to lift up the positivity, but what should you do when each has been used?