Archive for April, 2012

Exercise: Team Design Challenge var.1 – Chute Races

Thursday, April 26th, 2012


This is partly a recount of the team design challenge from June 2011. It is also an opportunity to think why we do this exercise, and variations that are consistent with the objectives.

To provide engaged team atmosphere.
To test team dynamics under time-constrained conditions.
To experience rapid team idea exchange, design and decision-making.
For the teambuilding lessons.
To create an impromptu structure of leadership and functional responsibilities.
To focus on blend of instant creativity and teamwork.
To work with basic (on-hand) materials.

Sometimes, when you’re given a small window of opportunity to prove or demonstrate something, you have to build that thing with just the materials at hand and with only your instinct about whether it will work. Think MacGyver. Think Top Chef Quickfire Challenge.

Students will not be given the details of this exercise until the start of the time slot.
Time slot will be 3 hours: 15 minutes explanation, 30 minutes brainstorming and design, 1 hour construction, 1 hour set-up and execution, 15 minutes discussion.
The aim will be to design a chute using some basic materials.
Last year’s materials: aluminum foil (1 roll), elastic bands (1 box), paper clips (1 box), tape (1 roll), cup (1 ea), golf balls (4 ea), string (1 ball).
Materials are open to variation.
Examples: water instead of golf balls; chute must have Y- junction; baseball instead of golf ball; curvature (spiral, bend or mole-hill); ramp-jump; jump and land in receptacle (eg, a bucket).

Assignment: Photo Essay (Formalization)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Almost a year ago, I made an entry alluding to Praveena Sridhar’s photo essay and a few ideas of what a Photo Essay assignment could be on. First, I just realized that the entry did not have specific detail on the assignment. Second, I did not elaborate on Praveena’s Photo Essay.

Here are the notes I have shared with my interns:

Demonstrate a documentation method.
Encourage reflection.
Use photos to record things that might be missed the first time.
Long-term record.
Pictures are worth a thousand words.
Photos show perspectives.
Use photos to reflect personal viewpoint.
Taking photos is a creative exercise.
A collection of photos can be set along a theme.
A themed photo essay can be persuasive.
The theme can be “vertical” or “lateral” or perhaps both.
The product should be personal and contribute student’s personal identity “un-generic.”
Can be used as point of discussion in personal statements or interviews.
The combination of pictures and words is an effective start for future use. The words capture facts and emotions of the moment. The picture makes the overall exercise sustainable into the future

Students will be introduced to the idea of a photo essay.
Students will be shown Praveena’s photo essay as an example.
I will show two or three photo essays from last year’s group.
We will discuss the intellectual as well as emotional value of Praveena’s photo essay on Water Loss.
Students will be oriented to the photo essay assignment (separate document).
Mentors may help students develop theme ideas – using questions.
Mentors may only superficially help students with content – again, using questions.
Photo essay exhibition is intended for students to share and exchange perspectives.
Promote understanding. Minimize judging.

Exercise: 90-Second “Elevator” Pitch

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

I mentioned the 90-second elevator pitch idea in an earlier entry based on my reading of  “The Most Awkward Meeting: New Elevators Sort Employees, Foiling Manners And Face Time” that was published in the WSJ (

Here is an attempt to formalize an exercise that could fit into one of the pre-speaker “mental wake-up/warm-up” workshop slot that have been under consideration.

PURPOSE: to get students to focus on the most important points, to think on their feet, and have a sense of time when they are trying to persuade someone. They need to appreciate that they need to grab attention and that once they have it, they only have it for a short time. [Aside: this makes me think of another WSJ article (April 24, 2012 issue) I just read “What Cocktail Parties Teach Us” by Melinda Beck ( where the term “cocktail-party effect” is used to describe how the “auditory complex boosts some sounds to help the brain prioritize what’s important.” I’ll reflect on the significance of this in another entry but suffice it say that one needs to gain the FULL attention of the listener to have an effective pitch experience.]

1. We will do this in teams. Whether we use the Project Studio teams, or some other team formation (for variety) is up for consideration. For example, if the number of members in each Project Studio team is quite different, it might be prudent to re-sort the teams so the number of people of team is the same – mainly to make sure we have the best chance of getting through the exercise.

2. Put an assortment of products into a box – one for each participant. Each participant will draw out an item and that becomes their product (or idea) to pitch. Perhaps include an option to employ something of their own.

3. What kind of products? Junk? The hottest gadgets? Weird things? I’ll get back to you on this.

4. After selecting the item, the “pitcher” will have 15 minutes to map out their pitch. I would suggest that the pitch includes a grab, a short set of feature highlights and differentiators, why people are going to be enchanted by it, and how there is competitive advantage. Of course, the pitcher should also use visual clues to steer their pitch as needed. For example, if eye contact is not attained or is lost (looks at watch, smiles at someone else), then it might be time to jump to Plan B or the next grabber.

5. The pitch. Will need some sort of timer, probably in view of the audience but not the pitcher (or maybe both actors).

6. Feedback. The pitchee should give a quick , spontaneous and genuine response when the time is up. It could be something like “I’ll take 100!” or “Send me your business plan” or “Come to my office later and tell me more” or …

7. Maybe we should video these interactions on an iPad for later review?

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).

Creative Choices: How Many Ways Are There to Cut a Strawberry?

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Just put together some fruit and cereal for breakfast. Made some choices (creativity at work): got my usual bowl, added the usual Honey Bunches of Oats, some ground flaxseed, and frozen blueberries. Right before drowning everything in 1% milk, I spotted fresh strawberries in the fridge (an occasional treat in our house). I decided to add strawberries to my otherwise typical breakfast (actually a snack at any time for me). Pulled out the chopping board and a paring knife. Took a couple of strawberries out of their container and rinsed them. I knew I had to remove the strawberry leaves and core so I did that. Then I paused a few seconds to decide how I wanted to slice the strawberry. There were at least two possible ways I was contemplating – from top to bottom, or side to side. I decided I wanted to make o-rings today so chose to slice them top to bottom. I didn’t really think about slice thickness. So, for a few seconds, I employed creative (although not innovative) energy. Like regular physical exercise, it must be good and healthy to regularly work out with creative exercise. Fortunately, I was able to make a fairly quick decision as indecisiveness in a creative situation would be a bad thing.

In the SP YCISL workshop, I used dressing in the morning as an example of a creative exercise (more so perhaps than other dressing occasions because there really is usually a blank slate, new attitude and refreshed inspiration after waking up in the morning – at least normally, I would guess). Even where a uniform is involved and choices are limited, there may be at least one creative decision involved even if the decision is the same as the one chosen the day before.

Book: Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

I just finished reading “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions” by Guy Kawasaki. It joins my collection of Could-Not-Put-It-Down books. It was overall a fluid and well-structured treatise filled with practical suggestions and insightful observations on behaviors that trigger responses of inner attraction and appeal. (Underlines are my way of “sucking up.” Read the book and you’ll get the idea!)

[I will digress for a moment to put enchantment in terms of the ion attraction models that I am familiar with. If two bodies are at infinite distance apart, there is theoretically zero attraction. At any real distance however there is some level of attraction (think exponential decay, approaching but never reaching zero). As the bodies get closer, there is an increase in attraction. At some point, the bodies are close enough to be involved in some weak holding pattern (the outer layer of influence -> speaking in 2d but we could just as readily say outer sphere for a 3d model). Closer still, the bodies interact and actually form a strong bond (high energy) and deviation becomes limited (an inner layer that is somewhat structured and ordered). If the resulting proximity of the bodies can result in a reaction, then the two bodies might transform into a new entity (hopefully stable) OR if there is a propensity for it, a smaller body might bind in the inner channels of the larger body.]

So how did that relate to the book at hand? Enchantment discusses a phenomenon like the inner layer bonding. Enchantment happens at a point at which reactions are likely to occur and there is a level of fixation. But the bodies need to get close enough, through the outer layer – and in a realistic scenario there will be many competing bodies that will serve to thwart bodies reaching the inner layer level (unless sheer Brownian motion or physical momentum causes an actual or near collision).

Time to list my favorite parts of the book:

(1) I found Chapter 2 How to Achieve Likability – Make Crow’s-Feet a great way to show that Enchantment is a genuine and honest pursuit. You can think about your own likability as shown by your muscle behavior, or detecting other’s likability. Likability may be difficult for some to pervade or one may have a phobia about putting forth a likable personality. However, understanding that Likability is an early step to achieving a connection will help our students find an opportunity to even “step into the ring” to start their journey of innovation and leadership.

(2) Chapter 5’s discussion about the “First Follower” is worth presenting to our students.Working in teams in a school (where social structures generally guarantee the availability of first followers), it would be useful to begin the presentation of a new product or idea by having a first follower become engaged in plain sight of potential additional followers. [Quick digression: I guess this has started to get me to think about Flash Mob Dancing – what an exhilarating phenomenon!]

(3) In Chapter 8 How to Use Push Technology, I like the section on Email. Perhaps I will try it by composing an email to Guy Kawasaki, and see if this works for me (I realize mileage may vary). In particular, I like the advice to “Keep it to six sentences.” This is highly consistent with how I have created assignments in my teaching career. When I design an assignment or question, I am looking for an initial response showing that the student is revealing thoughts in an appropriate direction. I would prefer to leave it to the student to determine the depth to which they would go to be satisfied, and develop their answer in a short form just to convince me that that is where they are headed.

I would close by noting that there are many useful tips in this book that could potentially fit into the YCISL content and benefit the participants. These tips could help inspire us to create some great modules. However, the book does seem to weigh closer to adults so some refining or contextual adjustment may be necessary but when it comes to life lessons, there is great value that Guy Kawasaki has shared.

I am also quite excited to start a new analysis based on the fact that for the books I am reading in printed format, I am attaching PostIt tags when I find something that I may want to go back to because it might contribute to the YCISL program. Enchantment received 18 tags. For an 184 page book, that becomes an Earned Tag Percentage (ETP) of 9.8 (divide tags by number of pages then multiply by 100). I am also attaching a photo of the book with its tags showing, and will retroactively update earlier wiki entries with photos and their ETPs. What fun!

Module: Our Guest Answers Your Questions

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Imagine you’re in a school lecture: how likely are you to ask a question? Imagine you’re competing in a science fair: how likely are you to have prepared your presentation with the help of questions? Just what opportunities are there for youth to learn to ask questions and ask them well? Not many really. Youth are taught mainly to provide answers. But the skill of asking questions, especially creative ones, is critical for discovery, innovation and leadership.

In a university setting, creative questioning sadly does not become a significant opportunity until graduate school. So, one of the skills our youth program would like to impart to youth is thinking of and asking good questions. First, it would help to know what kind of questions are at one’s disposal:

(a) clarification – perhaps the easiest because it safely stays within current scope and can cycle on itself until full clarity is reached.

(b) extension or tangent – the question could suggest a further conclusion or further work. Ask if it is useful to the discussion.

(c) speculation or propositional – the question could suggest an alternate interpretation or conclusion that has yet to be supported. Some element of risk but potentially impressive. Demonstrates vertical thinking.

(d) connecting – the question could ask whether the topic at hand is connected to another topic that was not presented. Demonstrates lateral thinking.

(e) gap-filling – the question could ask about the existence of missing information or if/when a gap might be filled.

(f) philosophical – especially useful in data-driven communications is to look for the intangible forces behind a work. For example, ask who would benefit from a product or new knowledge, or how a paradigm might shift as a result of the new findings or strategies.

(g) critical – a difficult question to frame because of potential misunderstanding and conflict. Requires experienced questioning skill.

Now down to the practical application of this to a YCISL workshop. We could have a guest speaker prepare just a few minutes introduction or none at all. It would be entirely up to the audience of students to ask questions to drive the conversation. This is consistent with the desires to: (a) facilitate bi-directional flow of ideas and thoughts, (b) encourage students to discover by asking questions, (c) ease the pressure on speakers to formally prepare material or topics for their session, and (d) encourage spontaneity.

For this to work, we would need a good moderator. We might videotape such a session so the students can (a) review how they asked the question, (b) gauge the speaker’s reaction, (c) listen to the response elicited by the question, and (d) gauge the audience’s reaction to the resulting question-answer exchange.

And I should mention why I even considered such a module. It’s because I have observed how some students might not get connected with a speaker because (a) they are the silent type, (b) they are worried about how they will be perceived by their interaction, and (c) they are worried that their knowledge about the subject matter is novice and potentially annoying to the speaker. By putting the responsibility to drive the conversation on the students (and having a speaker who is open to questions), we can demonstrate to the students the importance of asking good questions.

Opportunity: A Day in the World

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Just got around to browsing the May 2012 issue of Popular Photography, and the Editor’s Letter by Miriam Leuchter has caused a spark. It describes the “A Day in the World” project which is similar in concept to the “A Day in the Life of…” series of books that enraptured me back in the mid-1980s starting with the A Day in the Life of America [honestly, I know I bought one of the books in the series but can’t find it presently; no matter].

At this time where digital photography and near instantaneous sharing of such photos is possible, it is truly exciting to see this project concept return. It is happening in a new age of crowdsourcing and eBooks which will be deeply transforming to the original idea.

For the record, this is some of what is found at the organizer’s web site (

Capture daily life

On May 15th we ask you to photograph what is close to you. Upload a photo, share it, compare it and join others all around the world doing the same. Let a part of your life inspire generations to come.

Photographing the world on a single day

Together we will photograph what our lives look like on May 15th 2012. Our goal is to inspire perspectives on humankind – today and tomorrow.

An event for everyone, everywhere

Professionals, amateurs, school children, farmers, social media fans, astronauts, office workers and you. Cell phone camera, Hasselblad, home made or borrowed. We are looking for the perspectives of everyone who enjoys photography!

Picture today, inspire tomorrow

All images will be displayed online for you and everyone to explore. Some of them will be selected for a book, A Day In the World, others in digital exhibitions. Every single one will be saved for future research and inspiration.

Our YCISL Photo Essay assignment is but a tiny version of this project, but I feel that this is a germane opportunity for the SP 2011 students to participate and expand on what they experienced from their YCISL workshop. I will encourage them to enroll and submit photographs – and suggest if they need it to reflect on something significant to them on that day.

Modules: Transitions

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

One idea for the next modules is to demonstrate the link between (1) creativity and innovation, and (2) innovation and leadership. This will reinforce the link and provide practice in connecting the pairs. As with a basketball drill, we could start with beginner/easy drills, and include optional steps to make it more challenging, if desired.


Modules: Prototyping

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012


One of the products from this program will be lesson modules that can be applied in workshops as well as at alumni events (as follow-on sharing). I am not considering selling modules to 3rd parties since quality control and experience may be off-base.

The first module that I am working on is one which is based on the pocket guides developed by the SeafoodWatch program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I remember how this seemingly simple printed material had such an influential piece of sustainability knowledge contained within. It certainly promotes the desired human behavior and makes it easier to sustain the behavior.

I intend to introduce this module initially during my alumni visit to SP, and apply it to one or more of the Summer 2012 workshops. I think this module contains all the elements we desire to apply: knowledge, communication, persuasion, utility, access, competitive, scalable, directional, and not least of all, affordable to produce.

In a way, I have prototyped the experience by working on my own portable pocket guide and I have been carrying it around in my wallet for several months now, and even occasionally pulled it out to show people. As a prototype, such a card is a great conversation piece and a simple way to start introducing an idea.

For this module at the start, we will need materials and a way to design the layout (hand drawn/sketched or computer-generated?). One should probably then engage in a brief brainstorming/sandbox exercise to divergently think of possible topics. Then would come the prototype designs (including how to fold; the final product should be professionally printed). One should then carry around the prototype and perform focus group use to get feedback.

One could even practice how to get the topic that is on the card into a conversation to give oneself the guerrilla marketing edge and create the opportunity to pull out the card.

This has made me think about the Chinese language iPad app that Prof Leckie just showed me this week. What would be the competitive advantage/weakness of this wallet-fitting card? People still carry business cards, so card carrying doesn’t seem to be disappearing.

UPDATE: I recently went for a visit to Singapore Polytechnic – mainly to followup with students who attended the June 2011 workshop – and had the opportunity to test the exercise in quick-designing pocket guides such as those mentioned above. The group consisted of about 13 students of the forthcoming June 2012 group, and 9 students of the June 2011 group. I started by handing out the SeafoodWatch pocket guides as a reference point. Then I explained that the objective of the exercise was to design your own pocket guide. Each person in the group had 15 minutes to design a pocket guide, thinking up a topic, figuring out the folded layout and drawing on a piece of paper. 15 minutes is hardly enough to complete the pocket guide, and so after 15 minutes the work-in-progress was passed to another student – whose job was to finish off the card – which included figuring out the idea of the card and filling the rest of the content. After another 15 minutes, the pocket guide was passed to another student who was given 15 minutes to analyze the card and come up with a 15 second pitch (i.e., something to say about the card and interest a passer-by). SP staff took turns being the casual passer-by and each student took turns making their 15 second pitch. We made remarks about eye-contact, grabbing interest and covering the most relevant feature – within the 15 seconds which is about the time limit a stranger might allow – if all goes well. We made observations how our passer-by actors reacted to the pitch – with positive interaction (i.e., taking hold of the card) or disinterest (e.g., lost eye contact). This exercise demonstrated:

(a) how a small object (i.e., the pocket guide) can be used to advance an idea,
(b) seat-of-the-pants design keeps the overall theme simple enough to be able to collaborate with others (i.e., the second designer and the pitcher),
(c) that focus is critical when pitching an idea to a stranger,
(d) the process of extending an idea (second designer) also requires creativity,
(e) always have an idea (or a few) at the ready in case an opportunity arises suddenly.

Based on this experience, we could use this exercise for open house events as a way of showing how creativity, ideation, design, readiness and delivery have to come together. And when the delivery is “pitch-perfect” and shows personal commitment to the idea, leadership comes through.