Archive for January, 2011

Evaluation Question Example

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Using a Jeopardy (the game show) format, I would present applicants with a (seemingly) simple object and have them create a question for which that object is the answer.

Example: Pencil (answer)

Possible Questions:
(1) What do we use to do our homework? This question relates to a personal functional description.
(2) What has a pointed tip on one end and sometimes has an eraser attached on the other? This question is a visual description.
(3) What writing instrument keeps getting renewed by sharpening? This question focuses on the maintenance of the item.
(4) What do some people wedge on their ear? This question has multiple possible answers and relies on people’s “common” view.
(5) What do artists use and come in many colors? This question shows some differentiation and avoids being overly general.
(6) What can you use to poke a hole through the bottom of a paper cup? This question is fairly original and constructive.
(7) What can you use to scratch an itch on your head when you are in class? Again, a fairly original question and shows a non-usual use of the object.
(8) What can you use as a plant stake? This is a creative question but one would normally not do it since it would be a waste compared to some alternative objects.

This reminds me to make a note about artists who collect used pencils (they never completely disappear do they?) to create works of art.

Q. What are the three most significant shifts in sustainability?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

In the US, many people might say that the hybrid vehicle (such as the Prius) represented a remarkable shift towards more sustainable fuel consumption – this is under the assumption that the fossil fuel supply could be depleted before humans disappear. Would you also consider that fossil fuel production and use is so polluting that we are actually trying to sustain human life rather than the fuel supply? Other candidates that I can think of in the “today” mindset are CFLs (maybe LEDs) and solar energy panels (generally the renewable energy concept). If we choose to think broader and more historically, sustainability is not really technology-driven and certainly not a new idea. If we stretch our imagination way back, we can imagine the application of sustainability as early man created ways to keep fires going for heat or light (it is believed that man initially “controlled” fire by using fires started by lightning strikes). Later (but still a long time ago), humans figured out how to sustain fires over long periods of time in hearths to cook food. The first really well-known innovation in sustainability is that of crop rotation. In the 20th century, accelerated urbanization and increased waste production pushed greater effort in agricultural (or food supply) sustainability, and actually opened up the consideration of sustainability economics – which sustainability  trends could financially survive and yield a meaningful shift? Today, we are engaged in sustainable development (optimizing the way resources are consumed and, if possible, replenished), and sustainable business development (integrating strategies into business practices that are financially- and product-competitive; we’d like to think GREEN too which is more about satisfying regulatory constraint). What sustainability trends can see if we try to look into the future? I would sure like to see trends that help us use time more efficiently; think of time as a limited resource and perhaps this will drive you to be creative.

Other candidates: insulation, double-paned windows, faucet aerators, recycling bins and recycling facilities, the pencil …

Calibrating Our Views of Innovation

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

The simple objective is to personally list and rank objects (tangible or intangible) in order of innovativeness. Some lists we could ask applicants to submit along with their application (and we would discuss in one of our meetings):

(1) List and rank three of the most innovative products that became available in your lifetime.
(2) List and rank three of the most innovative products that became available in the last 12 months.
(3) List and rank three of the most innovative products that became available in the last 50 years.
(4) List and rank three of the most innovative products ever.
(5) List and rank three of the most currently pressing problems.

This should help us understand the magnitude of shift that innovations enable. We also should be able to identify who or what innovations impact. These are all things an “innovator” should consider in their work. We might also discover that timeliness is key to innovations becoming significant such that innovation is often a perception and not an exact assignment of creativity.

More thoughts about questions (and a little about answers)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Another skill that I have come to greatly appreciate and value is being able to phrase a flexible question. I observe this in homework and tests given by various Stanford instructors. Most directly, the objective is to provide less than adequate information to derive a perfect answer, and to have students make their best assumptions or estimates in the thought process. Conversely, questions are sometimes formed with too much information, and the student has to use their discretion and be selective. Beyond the academic value of approaching problems through various methodologies and frameworks, this encourages students to take risks, support themselves, and develop confidence. These are all extensible skills that are required in creative and leadership work. We can provide exercises with the too little or too much information situations, and see the behavior that results. This would be an interesting experiment on an individual scale as well as at a group or team level.

Skill: Asking Questions

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

One of the oddest things in secondary (and sometimes tertiary) education is that questions such as those in textbooks, homework, tests and exams are derived from perfected answers. That is, someone composes the answer before creating the question. This more often than not results in poor questions because one ends up trying to jam in several ideas into a brief question that usually maps to a lengthy and detailed answer. And because the question-creators are adults, the context of the questions are often poorly selected. When I became a postdoc, I realized that the “art” is being able to ask questions on the fly as information/knowledge is revealed – in simpler terms, to be able to ask questions skillfully with the intention to have the knowledge provider (a seminar speaker, for example) to clarify, reiterate or verify (if you think the speaker may have made a mistake). The skill of asking purposeful questions is a highly creative one, and something we can pursue to develop upon in our YCISL students. This is especially timely to help students go beyond a single perspective on a topic (like a textbook or a state curriculum), and is a skill that will continue to pay dividends over time – for example, to be able to ask helpful questions efficiently in a cross-functional team meeting; questions that can foster improved decision-making and leadership. To start, I intend to include in the application form a section that lists a selection of objects as “answers” and the students have to create questions for those object answers. This will reveal whether the student has the propensity to employ “normal” ideas or creative ones in their problem solving (at least at the stage of framing the problem in the form of a question).

Photo Essay: Campus Guide (Photos + Text)

Friday, January 21st, 2011

An idea for the photo essay: take photos around Stanford and design a walking guidebook that would be interesting to a particular person (age, language, etc)