Archive for May, 2014

ACTIVITY: Filtering at the Early Prototyping Stage

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Prototyping is the second stage of the YCISL simple innovation framework. In this stage, you select some of the best candidates from the brainstorming stage and try to construct simple models or simulations of the select ideas in order to quickly identify weaknesses, challenges and problems associated with each of the prototyping candidates. This is in line with the “Fail early, fail fast” mindset we apply in our workshops. The aim is to advance just one of the prototyping candidates to the engineering level.

However, this is also a good time to document the main advantages of each of the prototyping candidates as well. The potential distance and impact of each prototype candidate are valuable considerations and will help maintain a positive mindset as development continues. Therefore, a technique for early prototyping is proposed where the positive aspects (“praises”) and negative aspects (“criticisms”) are extracted and sorted into their respective boxes. For prototyping, we are usually looking for prospective showstoppers, dead-ends and oopsie daisies! These will be dropped into the CRITICISMS box but this box will also contain the lesser risk and lower severity issues – and this whole box should be saved for later in the testing and readiness stages. This late engineering stage will be where the user guide and other “accident avoidance” strategies will be developed to steer the user away from or around known issues – or fixes could be developed if there is an opportunity.

The other aspect of the PRAISES-CRITICISMS filtering is the collection of the positive aspects (“motivators”) which move the work forward. Prioritization is needed for this box but comparative analysis of the PRAISES box for each prototyping candidate will help provide guidance on the risk-benefit and competitive advantage. The PRAISES BOX can be used in the mid-prototyping stage where the team can evaluate how fantastic a feature can be (e.g., battery life which could be good, better and wow!) Remember that the aim of prototyping is to find the most compelling product to solve the problem and invest the most resources in getting the product to be successful and displacing existing alternatives.

In sum, a PRAISES-CRITICISMS filter is recommended in early prototyping to help weight the benefits of advancing prototyping candidates, set the criteria for early failure and build a bank for late engineering testing and readiness.



LECTURE: 2014 “Harry’s Last Lecture on a Meaningful Life” by Garry B. Trudeau

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

On April 28, 2014, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, gave the fifth guest lecture in the series “Harry’s Last Lecture on a Meaningful Life.” I watched the video at but understand that it would only be posted online until May 18, 2014. The lecture was reported by Stanford News here. This entry contains a few notes I made while watching the video.

Overall, I found the lecture to be an informative personal story with many agreeable observations about generational change.

– “…I gave no serious thought as to whether the work was either useful or meaningful in any way…” Commentary: “serious thought” would be something that an older person might have come up with which would have resulted in less productivity, satisfaction and success. This alludes to the fear mindset that adults fall into. His youth focused on the intrinsic motivation (autonomy, mastery and purpose) and fear about it as a career did not enter his mind at the start (it might have stepped into his parents’ minds though).

– “…it was my perspective they were interested in – my generational identity…” Commentary: one of the YCISL take-home messages is to use youth (your generational knowledge) as an advantage.

– “I didn’t know any better.” Commentary: Another take on how adults filter out many options because of a pile of prior negative experiences.

– “In college, there’s very little downside.” Commentary: Balance is key in college. If you can manage the coursework that will get you the diploma at the end, then any free time (and there’s quite a lot compared to high school) can be used to get involved in differentiating pursuits – and develop that EQ.

– “…but the whole dynamic has been speeded up.” Commentary: And there are a lot more traps along the way. Speed may also be reducing intrinsic motivation.

– “We start telling stories almost as soon as we speak.” Commentary: Evidence of creative energy in early childhood. Then adults get in the way.

– “…the opposite of comedy is not seriousness, it’s despair.” Commentary: Finding such useful perspectives is probably a key differentiator between people who succeed or fail in the same pursuit.


Exercise: Teamwork & Self-Training

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

In my workshops, I describe the process I learned to coach the basketball free throw. I use it to frame the workshop goals where I aim to coach techniques and mindsets, and encourage “players” to practice on their own to get ready for the game. In this process, there’s the setup first, followed by the action then the endpoint check; this is how each component of the workshop is delivered.

As a teamwork exercise for the workshop, I am thinking we could have a team free throw contest but allow a period of time for the team to work on their free throwing skills first. The idea is for those who feel they have the better shooting skill to coach others. This will require team leadership as well as coaching skills. Group dynamics will likely also be a factor.

The simple contest will be to see how many shots a team can make in an allotted amount of time (this could vary as well). We could have one or two setups (I am thinking of getting indoor mini hoops with foam balls but we could just as easily do this outdoors with real basketballs on a regular basketball court).


BOOK: Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

In case you want to know, I recommend putting “Show Your Work” at the top of your reading list and adding “Steal Like An Artist” to the same list but not necessarily at the top. The messages in “Show Your Work” just seemed more actionable and resonating – and that’s what I was expecting from books with action-oriented self-help titles.

The format of the two books are similar with enlightening quotes and imaginative graphics. Since I read “Show Your Work” first, “Steal Like An Artist” felt less invigorating. My bad. Certainly not Kleon’s fault since this is how good sequels go. Case in point: sometimes, I start to watch a TV series in a later season, then I start watching earlier seasons (thanks Netflix and Hulu) – sometimes the earlier seasons have rougher edges.

I found the description of his analog and digital division in his workspace interesting and wonder if the YCISL Photo Essay project should have an analog-digital cycle – for the sake of limiting excessive use of DELETE for part of this creative and reflective exercise.

I also liked his Deleted Scenes section of the book which might play in to the PostIt brainstorming part of the workshop.

One quote from the book I will share: “The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial, place: Your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas. Never again in your life will you have such a captive audience.” I think Kleon is talking only about college so I am wondering to what extent I can promote this setting in the YCISL workshops to enrich the high school experience. The aim is to get the students to feel invested but perhaps there are other incentives besides money that could be leveraged. Certainly at the end of the workshop with product rollouts, we have a “captive audience” but is there more I can do to optimize the experience?


Exercise: A Training Regimen for Positive Thinking

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

In YCISL, we view positive thinking as a requirement in creativity, innovation and great leadership. In our workshops, we watch and discuss Shawn Achor’s TED Talk “The happy secret to better work” (introduced to me by mentor Navid). I also present lessons I learned about smiling from Guy Kawasaki’s book “Enchantment” and the WSJ article “Stress-Busting Smiles.”

From the discussion in “Enchantment,” we can learn to detect the authenticity of a smile on others by crow’s feet. Conversely, we can learn to feel our own smile authenticity. A simple exercise to practice oneself is to associate the “scrunching” of the orbicularis oculi muscle with turning on a (highly) positive mindset. Practice this regularly and see if you can condition yourself to activate your own positivity with the act of a real smile. At the start, perhaps you might need a visual or audio aid that will help you get in the positive mindset, but train yourself to eventually get to the positive state with just your thoughts. A variation on this would be to start off by putting yourself in a mindful or meditative state, then go for repetitions (mindful-positive-mindful-positive-etc) and sets just as if you were working out with weights.

The next level up may be to train yourself to find the positive disposition despite a mixed field of positive and negative stimuli – a real world situation where sometimes the negative drown out the positives or the negative sticks better. The aim of this exercise will be to expose oneself to the mixed stimuli array and be able to filter out the negative so that only the positive remain. For example, if you are leading a team, could you look past all the problems and identify things which are working? Here are a few variations on a drill with this aim in mind:

– Pick a restaurant (or some other business) listed on Yelp. Read the reviews with the mindset that you are going to dine at this restaurant. Make only one pass through the reviews. When you are done reading the reviews, can you list 5 positive things about the restaurant? Could you compose a justification for going to this restaurant? Are you able to block out the negative comments?

– Read a newspaper or listen to an evening news broadcast. Can you make a list of the positive news that was covered?

– Observe how a person is dressed and make mental notes. When the person is gone and out of sight, can you list 5 positive thoughts about what you saw? Variations on this could be how a person spoke or how they performed (e.g., music or sports).

– Go to a restaurant (or any store). After you’re done at the restaurant, can you list 5 good things about the experience?

– After a week of school or work, can you list 5 things that went well or made you feel good?

When you feel you have started to master being able to focus on the positive aspects, try extending your lists so that you can exhaustively include all the positives. Vary the time horizons too – the last one in the list is over a time period of one week and the others are over a few minutes to about an hour. Feel free to customize as well to suit what is going on around you or what you regularly encounter. Try doing this in a quiet place to start (e.g. your room) then try to do it in a busy place (e.g., at a sports event). I recommend mostly training yourself in a quiet place. If you want to make it a competitive challenge, do the drill together with another person and see whose positivity is more focused.

I intend to develop a YCISL workshop module that uses the Yelp setting. Yelp is replete with low-value negative compositions – that is the natural bias – and it takes focus and skill to find the positive comments worth remembering and acting upon. Similar situation with the news which generally feeds on a bad news bias. And for both of these, there is no shortage in the supply of material to sort through.

Remember that the aim is to train yourself to strengthen and more quickly activate your positive thinking mindset. Such things take time so don’t rush it. Understand the purpose, direct yourself and sense the mastery developing within you (yes, I’m trying to get you intrinsically motivated!) With a developed positive mindset, we hope that your decision making and strategizing leadership skills will shine. Your innovation process will also make more progress as a successful innovation result comes from doting on the positive attributes, not the negative ones.

BOOK: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Highly recommended book. Watch his TED Talk too.

This is one type of book I very much enjoy to read. Very much to the point with touches of personal revelation. What makes it a great read is the resonation of ideas – there’s no mire of detail (or a need for it) to justify the points he makes. It’s essentially a list of life lessons he feels worth sharing and presents in a takeaway message format. I am going to try to fit several of the things I learned from this book into the YCISL workshop. Note that I also have his book “Steal Like an Artist” and expect I will learn more useful things from that.

Remember that quite a bit of  YCISL comes from self-help writings aimed at adults and I try to transfer to a youth context. Here are some of my favorite parts of the book that work with the YCISL program…

THINK PROCESS, NOT PRODUCT. This is his chapter 2 title and it coincides exactly with how I coach innovation – train for innovation as a process (way of doing things) and not as a product (an outcome that may or may not happen).

Become a Documentarian of What You Do. In this section, he writes “Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process.” In YCISL, we promote these ideas through our photo essay and personal journal activities.

Always be sure to run everything you share with others through The “So What?” Test. I think this is good advice EXCEPT during brainstorming. In brainstorming, treat all ideas as equal and let them all out. It’s like the voice drills of ridiculous noises one might make before singing or making a speech (yes, I’m thinking High School Musical). But get that “So What?” filter running in all the other processes. Use it in prototyping to find the tracks you may want to run on. Use it in testing to empathize with users and anyone else who will be in contact with your product. I will also add that you should use it in user support.

Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request––they’re all pitches. In YCISL, we follow this perspective through our “Your Personal Story” and elevator pitch activities. Not only is there a lot of possible uses for pitches, there is a lesson about readiness and anticipation, an elevated (and hopefully excited) state for ideas and work. In this state, it is waiting for the opportunity to become part of a longer chain of events.

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. Teaching doesn’t have to be a career. In a creativity and innovation context, teaching is the core of leadership. It is part of a growth mindset.

Yet a life of creativity is all about change––moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers. Change isn’t always about moving forward but it is about being willing to be agile and applying divergent thinking to complement logical deductive convergent reasoning. Sometimes, you have to retreat a little to find a strong base (think lessons from Jeff Raskin about citation). Sometimes, you have to look left and right before crossing. And occasionally look behind you. Also, remember the movement pattern within the exploration section of the Gamestorming framework.

Note too that the style of this writing is worth promoting as a YCISL Your Personal Story style in that the personal story is interwoven with snippets from other personal stories.


WSJ: “Test Shows U.S. 12th Graders Aren’t Improving in Reading or Math”

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

There is a WSJ article (“Test Shows U.S. 12th Graders Aren’t Improving in Reading or Math” by Carolyn Porter in the WSJ, May 8, 2014) describing how there isn’t much progress towards boosting test scores. The news is about a widespread muddle in education and illustrates the continuing confusion surrounding what to do. This article and others like it are indicative of an experimental design that no one wants to shut down and shift resources to a better experiment. Stagnation.

Let’s apply some lessons from YCISL…

– Apply innovation thinking. Education needs to re-designed from start to finish. Apply an innovation process so that all parts are optimized. Put everything in the current scheme up on the chopping block. Assemble an innovation A-team and go for quantity-not-quality brainstorming.

– “Fail early, fail fast.” Look for better models and not just band-aids. Rapid prototype to uncover showstoppers.

– Start from scratch applying “game storming.” Set new rules that are customized for your users (i.e., the students), allow opportunity for exploration and experience, and conclude with a point that motivates. No judgement allowed during the exploration phase.

– Adopt Dan Pink’s Intrinsic Motivation (Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose) into the educational process. Make the purpose clear and accessible. Tune autonomy for maximum performance. Define mastery in meaningful ways. Remove the money factor. And do this for all stakeholders.

– Adults fear failure more than kids. Adopt a fear-less culture.

– Adults need to listen to kids. As Adora Svitak says, “Learning should be reciprocal.”

– Engage in a growth mindset. In a growth mindset, we develop a love of learning. We should analyze academic growth as much as academic attainment. Together, you will get a measure of academic achievement – a more complete sense of accomplishment.