Archive for April, 2015

Innovation and the Convenience Feature

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

True innovations have one feature that sets them apart from the numerous pseudo-innovations that are actually experiments carried out on the masses. And that is the CONVENIENCE feature. Innovation is convenient at its core and meets or exceeds the convenience in technologies or methods that are being displaced. Such convenience cannot be an afterthought or involve excessive sacrifice.

The product/process that I feel has been most revolutionized in my lifetime so far by true innovation is photography (yes, more than computing). The industry as well as consumer experience changed in spectacular fashion. Industry shifted and adapted – some successfully but others less so. Consumer choices (and consumerism) grew. But the factor that sets it apart from other can’t-live-without candidates such as computers and phones is convenience. Here are three selected convenience features that make digital photography a true innovation:

1. Convenience of preservation: With negative film photography, preservation (even in the short term) was difficult for both the negative and the print. Negatives would get scratched and colors on prints would fade. With digital photography, image damage due to handling or age is impossible, and archiving and backup are straightforward.

2. Convenience of touch-up: Touching up digital images is massively more accessible than with darkroom photographs…and quicker. Experimentation with effects is also easier thanks to Undo.

3. Convenience of self-mastery: With film photography, one had to take the exposure then wait hours or days for the print results. With digital photography, one takes multiple shots and can delete instantly the ones not worth saving. This raised the virtual mastery level (and motivation) for practically every photographer.

So when choosing to recognize innovation, take a measure of the rise in convenience as well as its accessibility, influence, impact and longevity – on technology as well as society.

Activity: The Thomas Interview

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

While YCISL emphasizes “Your Personal Story” as a theme, it may be worthwhile to develop an exercise where one develops a personal story of another person through an interview. The interview would involve questions based on a variety of YCISL topics such as “Purpose” and “Motivation.” Through such an exercise, students would learn to frame their personal story using the YCISL elements and appreciate the directions that can be taken.

Thought: Connecting Emotional Intelligence to Driving?

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

One question that often surfaces in adult minds is “Why are there so many bad drivers?” Traffic accidents, road rage, distracted driving and just plain running into stationary objects are things that most of us have witnessed. Sometimes these incidents are related to weather or mechanical issues but for the most part, I think we can acknowledge bad driving aptitude and attitude is the problem.

So I was wondering whether emotional intelligence plays into the bad driver phenomenon. I am further wondering whether early emotional intelligence education (pre-license) can also contribute to an improved driving population. Further, what role could a parent have in shaping the outcome? After all, I have previously commented as parent driving habits as highly influential on overall child mindset.

Exercise: Turn It Inside Out (or Upside Down)

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

One of the features that makes Stanford unique is its upside down hierarchy. Think of it as a pyramid standing on its tip. At Stanford, students are at the top (Stanford is defined by its students) followed by faculty then staff and administrators. Stanford’s framework truly nurtures intrinsic motivation by empowering individuals with personal opportunities for mastery, autonomy and purpose.

So along the same lines, let’s devise an exercise by reversing/turning inside out/rearranging common frameworks. Through this exercise, we can pursue the “crazy” end of the brainstorming spectrum and identify opportunities for competitive advantage. Our aim is to strengthen how youth critically question a common framework before we consider accepting it.

In the prototype for this exercise, students will study a restaurant or cafeteria and make a list of how it functions (perhaps using one of the IDEO Method Cards). [One of the YCISL workshop projects was on a school cafeteria which operated quite differently from what I have seen myself – from a ticket machine]. Then the students will try imagineering those functions with a reversed view.

Discussion: I Tried Something New Today!

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

From the very beginning of YCISL, we included a “Placement” level in our Leadership Objectives framework which is shown in orientation for every YCISL workshop as well as on the CSDGC Youth Development web page. By “Placement” we mean to try different things and see which fits best – kind of like shopping for new clothes or shoes – taking into consideration practical as well as emotional factors.

Our framework says that “Placement” is a practice to start at the pre-High School level, a time where going to college or work still seems distant and hardly discussed. With my own children, we’ve tried new paths when the one they were on didn’t seem to be resonating. My daughter dropped ballet after one class. My son switched from violin to classical guitar after a couple of years. In response to parents of pre-high school students who have enquired about attending the YCISL program, I have advised them to support (encouragement as well as arranging, if needed) their children in trying new things on a regular basis. I composed and posted a white paper on this topic, positioning it as preparation for eventually attending a YCISL workshop. In this way, YCISL workshop participants will hopefully be experience-rich at the time they are in the workshop and can relate better to the myriad of personal skills – seeing how the skills could have enhanced their experience and the potential for future applications.

For our most recent workshop (March 2015), I added a slide in the context of innovation that showed “Try new things to be able to make new things.” This ties in with the feature list exercise which in turn ties into the “Your Personal Story” theme. It also ties in with finding passion, a topic to which I am paying more attention thanks to Scott Adams and his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” in which he discusses the prerequisites for passion.

I am writing this entry to precede a discussion note I will add to our YCISL LinkedIn Group page. I would like to let the students know that I tried something new today, and check whether they have tried anything new recently. Trying new things (regularly and as a matter of habit) is a soft skill central to YCISL and should be a lifelong practice.

I tried green almonds today for the first time. Someone I know picked them fresh from their tree this morning and passed them to me at the gym (Thanks, K!). I had an idea of what to expect because I had looked up green almonds on Google a few days before – and words like”crispy and “green apple” helped me prepare for what was in store. This was a fascinating learning experience because I am so accustomed to other forms of almonds (e.g., whole, sliced, slivered, milk, flavored, roasted, dried) and ways to eat them (e.g., with cereal) as well seeing the ads on tv (California is big on growing almonds).


These almonds are a lot different than what I’ve had before – they’re a little fuzzy and have a “fruit” appearance. I like the fresh green color too. After biting through my first one, my attention was grabbed by the layers in the cross-section as well as the soft white complexion of the almond nut that we usually consume. As for taste, the green apple-type tartness from the hull came through clearly but moreso as perhaps an unripe green apple. I didn’t mind. I then sampled just the almond nut at the center and there was a faint milky sweetness that I appreciated.

So where does it go from here? Not every new experience will lead to something. I am considering getting an almond tree for my yard so I can grow my own green almonds. But even if it doesn’t, my growth mindset has been exercised and I am ready to try the next new thing.

What new thing have you tried today?


Exercise: A Message To My Future Self

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Earlier, I had made an entry on a WSJ article titled “Revisiting Teenage Dreams” where students watched video messages to themselves that they had recorded while in high school. At that time, I compared it to the end-of-workshop videos that the YCISL participants recorded to capture the thoughts that have inspired them from their Stanford experience.

We have now implemented a new workshop exercise called “A Message To My Future Self” in which students make a video message to themselves – to be viewed 5 years later or beyond. We also created a companion exercise called “A Message To My Past Self” in which students look back and reflect in written form on advice they would give themselves; a sort of lessons learned exercise. This is all tied in under our “Your Personal Story” theme.

In the AMTMSF exercise, we provided prompts with a couple of PowerPoint slides:

1. To say at the start of the video…

hi! my name is [name]
i am from [home]
today is [date]
i am [age] years old.
this is a message to my future self.

2. Possible things to talk about…

who i hope to be.
what i hope to find.
what i hope to do.
what i hope to have.
what i hope to accomplish.
what i hope to achieve.
what i hope to be remembered for.
how i plan to get there.

As with all YCISL exercises, we hope that all students will think more deeply over time about the thoughts raised by this exercise. Some of the students were able to be very thoughtful despite the short preparation time, whereas others could not put themselves in the necessary frame of mind. As we continue this exercise, I hope to find common threads that we can engrain into the YCISL program to encourage more consideration and discussion.

WSJ: Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Founding Father, Dies at 91

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Because the “L” in YCISL stands for Leadership, I will make a note of the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore. Although the YCISL program does not look to adults as leadership role models, there are quite a few valuable leadership life lessons that can be identified from Mr. Lee’s career. Although there are many news articles being published on this, I will use the WSJ article “Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Founding Father, Dies at 91” published March 22, 2015 as a reference point in order to highlight the YCISL topics.

The greatest leaders are those who reach back to their youth life experience to make their marks as adults. Their success is undoubtedly connected to the influence that youthful optimism and imagination had on their thinking and motivation. Their soft skills strength likely began development in their youth and they sustained growth of these skills.

But more than that (and as pointed out in this WSJ article), Mr. Lee succeeded despite criticism – the type of scathing adult criticism we discuss in YCISL that deters people from being expressively creative and optimistically motivated. He demonstrated high emotional intelligence, and understood how to balance and shift priorities in order to repeatedly attain visionary results.

No other political figure that I can think of has ever exhibited the same high level of commitment and enthusiasm. “Father Figure” comes to mind and that is also a core element of YCISL which is based largely on parental skills, emotions and thinking. A belief in intrinsic motivation (let’s call this in-mot from now on) was strong in particular because of the attention paid to mastery, autonomy and purpose – fostering it in himself and sharing it with his people; this is evident in the economic, social and educational accomplishments and gains experienced during his presence. And all this was achieved in the model of a start-up – few resources, little capital and a team of people who believed and shared a vision.

Well done, Mr. Lee.