Archive for October, 2015

TED Radio Hour: The Source Of Creativity

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

It’s been a while since I have found something from TED provoking enough to comment on in this wiki. To some degree, the WSJ Personal Journal has been publishing articles on topics seemingly more relevant to the YCISL program, but I also feel the TED topics have become un-connectable; they are about personal experiences (yes, a good thing!) but not in a way that leads to connect-the-dots. So to my bemusement I now feel wont to comment here on “The Source of Creativity” which was the topic of the TED Radio Hour on October 3, 2014 (this was the original broadcast date, but it caught my attention now because it was re-broadcast in September 2015 and I happened to look for some podcasts to listen to on a long drive) and hosted by Guy Raz. I am particularly bemused because it refers to a collection of years past TED Talks (including one of my favorites by Ken Robinson) which goes to show how enduringly meaningful the older TED Talks are.

So if this is just a collection of older TED Talks, why not just listen to those TED Talks? It’s because the connections to past TED Talks is selective. These sound bites supported live interviews with those speakers and provided updates on their thoughts – further deepening the significance of the original TED Talks. I especially enjoyed listening to the part with Gillian Lynne which made Ken Robinson’s story about her become even better.

Besides being obviously in the Ken Robinson Fan Club, I would also mention that I found the part of the show with Sting also meaningful. In fact, in the week since listening to this show, I have referred to a point in this interview in two conversations with colleagues and it relates to the YCISL. There is reference to “a deeper place” and “comfort in being who I am” which comes from revisiting youth. This works with the YCISL exercise of “A Message to My Past Self” which is by natural perception deeper and vivid than the future outlook. This is motivating reason to work on reflections on the past – lessons learned and acceptance of paths chosen. For YCISL, KI, EI and LI all come from what Sting talks about in the interview. There is a struggle to maintain creativity, but strength from re-connecting with the past can help reinvigorate that creativity which can be smothered by C-R-A-P (reference to Richard St. John, btw).

Bottom line: yes, I recommend listening to this podcast. I plan to listen to it a few more times because I think I will learn more every time.

The Best in OOBE

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

My previous entry was about how prototyping can lead to productive failures. There is a lot of prototyping that can go into OOBE (“out of box experience”) design and those who do it well have excellent brand recognition.

Some companies spend a lot of effort on the OOBE where we know a positive impression in the first 15 seconds of sight of the package and the first 15 seconds of opening a package can set 80% of the overall impression of a product. Some products you might be able to relate to include an automobile or a hotel. Those who pride themselves in the customer experience will focus on that initial impression. So too did Apple back in the early Mac days. I spent some time working with product managers at Handspring looking into OOBE as determined by in-box collateral. Apple was the master of OOBE (and UI) until about the last 10 years. The product packaging of my latest iMac as well as the setup experience with my iPad show how off-track Apple has become.

In contrast, I want to share the best experience I have had recently with OOBE. And that’s with my Roku devices – a Roku 1 and a Roku 3 that were installed just this week. The box-opening experience was easy as was set-up. The on-screen directions for wi-fi and programming proceeded with ease. If I had to be critical of anything, I am not a fan of their color scheme.

So, when discussing OOBE in our workshop’s Project Studio, I will point to the Roku as one example of an OOBE to appreciate and use as a role model.

PS. We can also think of OOBE when we introduce ourselves to other people. I know you’re not supposed to “judge a book by its cover” but do you really want to finish a book that is off-putting at the start?


How many bad ideas before you find a good one? Learn to prototype.

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

In our YCISL workshops, we run the Spaghetti Tower-Marshmallow exercise as a lesson in prototyping with the message of “fail early, fail fast” [it is also used as a lesson in team dynamics]. In order to encourage fast-thinking, teams initially have 5 minutes to brainstorm the design then 15 minutes to build the tower. Usually, all teams fail because they neglect the marshmallow until the last minute and discover that their towers fall over due to the weight of the marshmallow and flexibility of the tower. We then give teams a second (and sometimes third) chance to build the tower – using lessons learned from their previous attempt. What happens in the second round is very interesting – some build shorter towers while others build wider bases and a few will support the marshmallow on multiple sticks of spaghetti instead of one. This exercise really reinforces the idea of making prototypes without investing too much time and resources – this is a lesson from the story of when Tony Fadell showed Steve Jobs some iPod models made from styrofoam [before reading this story in the biography written by Walter Isaacson, I knew of how Jeff Hawkins worked at his kitchen table with models for a PDA – something that would become the Palm Pilot; he would tell this story periodically during my time at Handspring].

So, it would seem the standard for a good innovator would be to be able to go through numerous prototypes to find showstopper failures and work towards a deliverable product.

The traffic circle at Campus Drive and Santa Teresa Street. More un-safe conditions at Stanford.

The traffic circle at Campus Drive and Santa Teresa Street. More un-safe conditions at Stanford.

And you might think that Stanford University, an oft-named place of innovation would have this prototyping process running smoothly. Not so. How could you explain the traffic circle they built where Campus Drive meets Santa Teresa Street? It’s perhaps the third circle they have built on campus: the first is where Panama Mall meets Lasuen Mall (the way people ride their bicycles at Stanford mixed with the heavy student and tourist foot traffic!?) and the second is where Escondido Campus Drive intersects Campus Drive (one of the busiest thoroughfares with pedestrian, bicycle, auto, campus bus, tour bus, delivery trucks and occasionally golf cart traffic). I am guessing the Stanford people got the idea from UC Davis where there are quite a few traffic circles – but it works at UC Davis because it is a bicycle-friendly campus. Wasted resources at Stanford. Accidents waiting to happen. Learn a little about de minimis risk.

A common sight in Y2E2 is emptiness.

A common sight in Y2E2 is emptiness: unfriendly, unused space.

Failures can be found all over Stanford. Stanford parking is one huge mistake that can’t seem to be turned around. It keeps getting worse and diminishes Stanford’s workplace appeal. My building, the Y2E2, is also a failed experiment that doesn’t seem to be able to find recourse. Then there’s the time that Stanford went with Oracle – perpetually compounding stress and waste. Oh and that Solar Charging station on Panama Mall that I have never seen anyone use. And if I want to go back to a Stanford-UC Davis comparison, there’s Stanford Marguerite and UC Davis’ Unitrans (one has lots of riders and the other hardly; guess which is which).

OK, to be fair, I can identify a few outstanding Stanford successes. One is the d.School which serves as a beacon for design thinking in both concept and application. Then there’s the CS 106A Programming Methodology Online Course with Mehran Sahami. Coursework also seems to have had a positive track record (thanks Christine); I recently built a pair of online quizzes in Coursework and it was both easy and a tremendous time-saver.

The idea is that success (as a standalone outcome) cannot be mastered. It is the “learn from failure+success” pairing that can and should be mastered. And from mastering this pairing, one can find the intrinsic motivation that we need to become the future generation of innovators.

Add-on: I just started working on scheduling classes for my summer academic program, and I have found the “New Meeting Pattern Grid” to be at new lows even for Stanford.