Archive for the ‘design thinking’ Category

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idea generation tools for the lonely head

January 3, 2014

Two heads are better than one. Yes. Sometimes that is correct. But other times, there’s only one head to think of ideas or solutions. So what’s that head to do?

Creativity can be taught, nurtured, and enhanced. We are all born with it. In fact, the right brain part  – responsible for ideas, intuition, love and absorbing information fast – is developed faster in the fetus than the left brain that is in charge of rational, linear or logical thinking. Geniuses are no different than any of us. They are not smarter by birth, but they know how to balance logic with play and therefore think smarter, a tool anyone can learn

Luckily, there are hundreds of tools to generate ideas. Sadly, not many people use those tools regularly. There is a strong correlation between the quality and the quantity of ideas. There’s a need to try many ideas in order to generate something groundbreaking. My intention here is to showcase some simple tools, each can be done in 5 minutes or less, and require nothing but a pen and paper to produce a lot of ideas to solve one problem or challenge. And remember, just like Einstein claimed, sometimes imagination is more important than knowledge.

CHANGE THE WORD

A simple change of words or the order of words in a problem statement will stimulate your imagination by adding new dimensions of meaning, as an unobservable process in your mind has initiated and may lead to a new thought or idea, says Michael Michalko  in his book, Cracking Creativity. Suppose you want to increase sales. See how you can change perspectives by changing the verb:

In what ways might I increase sales?

In what ways might I attract sales?

In what ways might I develop sales?

In what ways might I extend sales?

In what ways might repeat sales?

In what ways might I stop sales?

Notice the last question has a negative aspect. By thinking in the opposite way, you can rid your mind from all the reasons why you cannot make sales. And when you set to plan, plan the opposite.

Using the same exercise, try to change the words in your challenge. If you look at the opening between two rooms and think door, that’s the only idea you will get. But if you consider another word like passageway, air curtain, tunnel, or even a hole in a wall, you will bring your thinking into a different lateral level.

PROVOCATIVE STATEMENT  

Deliberately ask stupid questions to shock your mind out of its original patterns. Then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make a statement (examples: people should fly to work, we should eat for free in restaurants, people need to sleep standing up)
  1. Examine it
    1. Consequences of the statement
    2. What the benefits would be
    3. What special circumstances will make it a sensible solution
    4. Principles needed to support it and make it work.
    5. How it would work moment-to-moment
    6. What would happen if a sequence of events was changed

The more outrageous your statement is, the more creative your ideas to try and make it work. It’s worth a try.

CONCEPT FAN

Take a step back to look at the bigger picture.

Place your problem in a bubble (draw it) and then produce the ideas or solutions that you can think of for this problem. Next, move that problem into a bigger area or category. Come up with ideas or solutions for that bigger issue. Repeat another time if needed and then choose the level at which you find an inspiring solution.

concept fan

5 WHYS  + HOW

Are you solving the right problem? Or is it a symptom of it? To find out the right level at which you need to focus, do the 5 whys method. Write your problem down, and ask yourself “why” do I need to do it. Write your answer down (so now you have 2 sentences written on top of each other). Then ask again, why (for the second statement) and write the third response and then ask again, why. Do that 5 times and each time you will reach a higher level of abstract thinking. Make sure to write your answers on top of each other with the “why” in between each sentence.

Then go for the “how” and next to each sentence you wrote, ask “How” and give an idea or two on how you can solve the problem at that level, and at each level consequently. Once you’ve answered all 5 hows, you can see your problem, and some initial ideas on different levels of abstraction. Choose the one you are comfortable with to try out and continue from there. Here’s an example. The first “steps” WHY are in blue, the second steps HOW are in orange

Choose the level which you are comfortable (and able) to work with and generate as many ideas as you can to solve that issue.

how how

DECOMPOSITION BY SEQUENCE

There are a number of ways to decompose a challenge to smaller more workable bits. One can decompose it based on sequence of events. If it’s a product to be used, then what are the steps to use such product (from needing the product, to looking for it, finding it, using and then releasing or archiving it). If it’s a service, then those are the steps to accomplish it. Note down the sequence of steps as a diagram and then work on each one to generate more ideas on how to improve that step. For example, how to make our morning routines go smoother and maybe faster. We note the steps and then we find a way to combine, shorten or eliminate unnecessary ones

decompose sequence

IMAGINE YOU ARE YOUR PROBLEM

What if you were the very same idea you are trying to come up with. What if you were the project you’re trying to complete at work. How does it if feel to get close to a “dead” line? How could you be easier to handle? Who do you need to speak with when you are happy? When suffering? Imagine yourself a watch or a chair. How could you become more attractive? More comfortable? How can you make others want to be around you, and you only?

CREATE A METAPHOR

Roger von Oech advices in his Creative Whack Pack that the key to metaphorical thinking is comparing unrelated concepts and finding similarities between them. What similarities does your idea have with cooking a meal? Conducting an orchestra? Building a house? Raising a child? What can you compare your idea to?

SIMPLIFY

Explain your problem to a 5 years old. What would you say? Explain it to your great grandmother. How would you relate? Simplify your language to get a clearer image of what you’re up against.

PUT ON A HAT

write a random list of jobs that are as far from your immediate life as possible. A nurse, a truck driver, an architect, a fire fighter or a winter sports olymian. State your problem as you see it, then re-state it thinking how would that person in one of those professions see it. Then generate ideas from his/her point of view.

For example, if your problem is manging the overloaded sales for a particular product, you can ask, how would a nurse manage  an overloaded ICU unit, giving each patient what they need, when they need it? how would a truck driver manage an overloaded vehicle or an overloaded street? how would a fire fighter mange to take care of a full “overloaded” building that has a fire alarm set and no sign of fire, yet. Write ideas for each new hat you are wearing, then re-group all ideas and see which ones you can alter or change or use as it is for your overloaded sales problem

NATURE’S PROBLEM SOLVING

Use what you know about nature in imagining your problem from its perspective. Choose an animal you are familiar with, and ask yourself how would this animal solve your problem? Do the exercise another time and choose a plant, and then a third time and chose an insect. Repeat.

…….  Now that you have a number of tools to work with, let me know which one did magic for you and which was lame. I will add more tools or ideas to help you out whether you are a long, or with a group of people, anything from 2 to 200 people. Good Luck. Cheers!

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Bringing facilitation into the classroom

February 22, 2012

The word facilitation comes from the Latin facilis, which means to make easy. While normally, facilitation is used in organizations and companies trying to figure out solutions to their problems, it is alos a skill, if applied correctly in a classroom environment will help students learn through self-discovery using techniques that encourage sharing group’s knowledge and experience. It is a learner-centered method of teaching. You share control with students and let them decide, with you, on the path the class should take.

Process vs. Content

The facilitator is the process expert, and not necessarily the master of knowledge; the one who’s responsible for keeping track of logistics, timing, idea flow, and group development.I say  not the master of knowledge because he or she normally would not concern themselves with providing information directly, but rather the group members’ involvement in learning all the data themselves. This position of neutrality must be understood and practiced by the teacher if the students’ potential is to be fully reached. And with a position title as “Instructor, Lecturer, or professor”, this is not always easy.

In an ideal classroom that uses the facilitative method, the content would be the subject matter, the facts, data, and background information are the responsibility of the students who have the freedom to decide to get more information, continue to work with what they have, or choose a different area to focus on. It will be their job to bring and study the material, put their thoughts in it, and make decisions on the subject matter. The teacher in such a class simply leads the process, guides the students through it, and brings to their attetion where to locate the information and which is the most important.

Personal Experience

Teaching studends about the principles of design and ordering in the Architecture Design Studios at the undergraudate level fits the profile of the environment that requires a facilitative teacher. The students were given a suggestion of a book that taught the basics, but they were free to bring other material. They learned about the subject and experimented in class on their new findings. There were no lectures per se, it was more like bringing all the information to the same table and sharing it. Every class had different information, material, and pictures to share. The basics were always visible to all. My role was certainly just to help them go through the design process, from understanding the situation, researching the facts, sketching out initial ideas, developing the promising ones, and finaly making decisions, all the while continuing on prototyping their solution to perfection. As you imagine, in such a studio, it’s easy to apply such a role, but what about “theory” classes?

With some imagination, one might be able to pull out a facilitator mode every now and then. By definition, these classes require an “expert” giving the informaiton and explaining the theories. But what if the students were required to pre-read before class? then perhaps the instructor can offer exercises for them to experiment with their newfound information straight away. What if they could be given contrasting or un-true facts?  This might be a good job for them to debate it in class and find the right answer.

Designing your course

Many educators make the mistake of thinking that their extensive knowledge makes them good at helping others learn. Although what you teach is a cornerstone for students at college, it will make little difference if you do not know how to engage the minds of your audience effectively. Words alone will not ensure transfer of knowledge to others. To really take advantage of student-led methods in teaching, be careful not to assume the role of “expert” automatically and continuously during the course. For active learning to happen, use activities that will force students to use their knowledge, skills, and abilities in passing their grades. With all the resources available at your fingertips, there is little reason for you to do all the work in stimulating learning. You want your students to think, discuss, feel, and act using as many senses as they can engage. Rather than giving them answers, provide the theory, tools, support, and an opportunity for them to resolve issues.

Anne Davidson writes in The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook about three levels of the process. First, process designs structure the whole facilitation or a major portion of it. This addresses the students’ purpose for taking the course, their goals after completing it, assignments and projects to assess their knowledge, etc. Methods are more specific processes used to move the group through a series of steps (for example using the Design Thinking or the Creative Problem Solving models). At the most micro level, tools represent discrete activities used within a method. To emphasize divergent and convergent tools for example, one can use brainstorming or card sorting, consecutively.

If you’re thinking of changing the format of your next class, try one of these methods:

Open ended questions: encourage input and feedback

Small group learning: form small groups to address parts of the problem

Teacher-led discussions: Use dialog to draw from the collective knowledge of students.

Group learning: When you need to get consensus or teach a theory

Team activities: Exercises, Games, Role plays all enhance class time

Peer Coaching: out-of-class practice or rehearsal can provide feedback.

Individual learning: out-of-class work to ensure the full value of the course is met

Participant teaching: Presetations are an excellent method of a practiced skill.

The above were examples adapted from Robert Lucas’s The Creative Training Idea Book. Take the time to choose appropriate learning techniques as you design your course. Mix up the format to provide variety, contrast, and stimulation for yourself and your learners. Most importantly, have fun with it.

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A Rabbit Detour

February 12, 2011

It is said that Rabbits are one of the only species of animal simultaneously considered pets, pests, and livestock animals by people in the same culture. talk about being so versatile!

Rabbits, animals, forests, and the whole ecosystem are fascinating me these days. I’m looking at nature as a live book or a very animated teacher, sometimes, it becomes a good listerner friend when I find myself babbling on today’s issues and problems we face daily.

In celebrating the new Chineese Year, and in keeping with the spirit of the rabbit, I will maintain sensitive ears and eyes to watch my surrounding, continue an unpredictable way of dealing with life’s detours, and still go with the flow.

It’s been almost 2 years since i last wrote something on this blog, or any place for the matter. it was not beacuse i didn’t have anything to say or the time to say it. i was simply getting too much involved in everything that i didn’t take the time to reflect on things as they happen. A requirement to make the necessary connections.

To say the least, it was a speedy, bumpy ride. However, with every slow-down over a bump, i managed to take a quick glance on the scenery around me, get lost numerous times, and overall enjoyed the ride. In times of change like this one, i plan to write about those speedy roads, as well as the unpredictable detours.

One of those short turns was my initial encounter with biomimicry 4 years ago. I fail to remember when did i hear about it first, but i rememeber very well how much sense it made to me. The basics are considering nature as a model, as a measure, and as a mentor. In Janine Benyus’s book “Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature”, she explained those facts:

1. Nature as model. Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf.

2. Nature as measure. Biomimicry uses an ecologucal standard to judge the “rightness” of our innovations. After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned. What works. What is appropriate. What lasts.

3. Nature as mentor. Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. it introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it.

As i hit another bump in my life, Architectural Engineering, I see a big connection between both fields and a story that screams to be told. There has been many attemps and examples on using nature as our inspirational teacher when desinging our buildings. One of the famous ones is the East Gate Center in Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by Mick Pearce and Arup Associates, developed an air conditioning system modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Termites.

Image source: http://inhabitat.com/building-modelled-on-termites-eastgate-centre-in-zimbabwe/

I claim no interest in developing a final model of a building that took nature as its first draft, but i have an urge to find where biomimicry links with the design process or design thinking for the matter. If the Rabbit lives in burrows or underground passages which they excavate in the soil, how does one of its predators (the fox for example) design its home? Does it look for rabbit hideouts or it locates it in a place that best fits the family need? does it consider the material available on hand or it has special requirements? how does their home serve their lifestyle?

That, and other things, are some of the upcoming bumps I look forward to find on my road.

Happy Rabbit’s Year.

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Learning to measure participation – act 2

May 4, 2009

I recently read a post by Tim Brown on measuring participation. The thought having a non-monetary economic system really caught my imagination and I thought to give it a try and play with the idea.

Basically his suggestion was to have 6 economies to measure our personal, corporate or national wealth. The economies are:

Network

Knowledge value

Brand value

Social value

Meaning

and Monetary value

Since we know how the cash system work, I’m not going to pay much attention to it here, but if you want to know the details, read his post to understand his suggestions and the measurable currency, then come back here to have fun.

Here’s what happened with me

1. I plotted the 6 economies and branched out the measurements

2. Found further connections between them and added some (see drawing)

6 economies of wealth measurement as suggested by Tim

6 economies of wealth measurement as suggested by Tim

funny i noticed that money is not a method of “inclusion”.

3. I realized that from all they fall in two streams, diverging and converging economies… (noted as D in a circle, and C in a square).

The “networks” and “social” are diverging, as they are built on connections, on influencing others and on specializations..

The “meaning” and “brand” are converging streams as the focus on quality rather than quantity, they establish reputation based on previous work and they are more reliable.

The knowledge economy fell in the middle, feeding in both streams, you search information to add to your knowledge (diverge) and then you create theories and focus on what’s useful to you (converge).

4. After my initial discovery I built on these economies, rebuilt the imaginary nation and found that within each economy, a complex system of rating can be established behind the scenes, but to the other world, a simple toolbar can explain how high or low are you in each economy (i.e. rich or poor). I then drew it again in color (see diagram 2)

BARTer wealth economies - diverging and converging

BARTer wealth economies - diverging and converging

5. As I saw the color dancing in streams, I realized this is a barter system in disguise!

You teach me your knowledge in xyz, I’ll connect you with a leader in this field who I know but really cannot understand. So I give you my contact, my network bar might decrease slightly, but my knowledge bar increases. I can also work with you on your image or brand, and you will give me feedback on my service (provide meaning).. etc.

6. Further connections were made… the knowledge economy provided numbers of ideas as well as quality ones… these connected with the ideas you get from networks (like going to TED), and these ideas can also be made (or eavesdropped in café conversation when you’re being in your social richness). By the same token the quality of ideas are linked to the inclusion part when providing meaning value and when you’re building your reputation  (therefore brand value). Ratings can be made by you (self assessment) as well as your network (connection with the other economy)

on both steams (the divergent and convergent) I noticed the opportunities are in abundance. They come from the interconnected system from multidisciplinary teams and people that are not only from government or tax offices.

7. It seems that the complex system of rating can be really simple, and potentially this “tax” system can become an indicator of curiosity?

8. I designed a primitive ID card for this BARTer system based on self assessment of my economic wealth. It’s no longer a consumer and supplier world, it’s a whole new experience.. and I’m feeling pretty lucky 🙂

~ Randah

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Prototype this!

March 10, 2009

Here comes the fun part…

From as early as our elementary years, we are taught how to be smart by thinking through our problems and then be graded for our final projects or that one-time final exam.

What a boring and inefficient method of learning.

Prototyping brings a much more vivid and interactive method of learning from our “thinking”. If we are adept in using whatever available materials to quickly build a model for the issue we’re working on, we get to learn from the simulation of the experience using the prototype immediately rather than wait for the final product to arrive.

Why is this useful? According to IDEO, the design consultancy company, prototyping is useful for revealing unanticipated issues or needs, as well as evaluating ideas.

How else would you move from technical competence to true innovation? By experimenting ofcourse! When you get into the habit of prototyping new ideas continuously, you learn by the process of trial and error. And just like kids in the playground, you need to have a curious attitude and an open mind to notice the things you are expecting, and not expecting.

It shouldn’t be a big task on your to-do list either. Prototyping can be anything: a drawing, a model, a picture or a film you snap in a minute. If it’s a service you’re focused on, a simple role playing or scenario writing can be used. You build it very quickly, roughly, and without any worries of being elegant or presentable. The goal is not to present it to your board at the end of the day as a draft of a product (for an example), it is to get instant feedback that will help solve problems with the product or the process. In a sense, it helps you think. Get as many versions as your aspects that needs highlighting.

Here’s a snap shop from IDEO’s Toolkit for Human Centered Design that was put together to enhance the lives of smallholder farmers around the world.

prototype example

Try it! Take delight in how fast you take a concept from words to sketch, to model, to a successful new offering. The fun is in the process!

Randah

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Ideating in Design Thinking.

January 15, 2009

According to legend …  or at least to the d school , the next two steps in design thinking is to ideate and prototype under the Exploration phase.

let’s try to understand what does ideate means.d-school-design-thinking-model-elaborate

To visualize, is to have a vision of your desired outcome. To ideate, is to come up with as many images in your mind in relation to the issue at hand. The problem that many people face when ideating is they become overly concerned about how their ideas will be perceived. Most ideas never leave the thinker’s mind because of the internal calculations and scrutinizing. This has many reasons, it could be to save face and not seem ridiculous, not feeling confident in own idea, or not trusting the receiving end. Sadly, it is everybody’s loss as well.

To overcome such situation, an important concept needs to be in place: that is separating divergent and convergent thinking when addressing issues at hand. The balance between both is so central that I will focus on each separately while explaining the design thinking model at hand.

Puccio, Murdock and Mance in their book “Creative leadership” (2007) explained how Guilford identified four basic characteristics of divergent thinking: fluency, flexibility, elaboration and originality. I won’t go into detail in each one of them but the idea is when we ideate, we don’t squelsh the ideas made by us or by others and we come up with as many from our minds as well as building on others.

Many tools have been used for ideating. For example, in brainstorming we come up with numerous point of views that are directly or indirectly related to our subject matter. The trick is not to give any idea more than few seconds of our time when it is stated and documented, then we move on to other ideas until we are ready to converge or evaluate. brainstorming has many variations, such as brain writing, brain walking, or SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Other Uses, Eliminate, Rearrange).  You can find out more about conducing a good brainstorming session from this short article titled “10 guidelines for effective brainstorming“.

On a wilder side, you can use tools such as “Forced Connections” by using objects that are unrelated to the situation. This ability to borrow ideas from one context to solve a problem in other context. here’s how:

1. Identify a challenge. Offer it as a question to be answered. i.e. How might we address the pollution in the city?

2. Select an object unrelated to the challenge. Anything! a chair, a lamp, a an office building.

3. Note the characteristics of the object. What’s the size, shape, color, uses, texture, smell, etc.

4. Force a connection between the object and the challenge. Ask “what ideas do I get for addressing pollution from my jeans?

5. Repeat with additional objects. keep selecting new ones and connecting new ideas.

6. Use other senses and modalities. explore listening, touching, etc.

7. Let us know how did it go 🙂

While this tool requires effort only the first few times (after that it will be second to nature, believe me!), there are other tools that are less innovative in that sense but have the same effect such as the Random Word. Here’s how: Get a dictionary or open any book on any page and place your finger on any word, then force a connection between that word and your challenge and enjoy the rich texture of your new ideas.

In this step of design thinking, I have not connected directly with social innovation since ideational thinking is a skill applied to everything we do on a daily basis. Using stories to come up with scenarios and visualizing our solutions in very colorful mind images are very powerful tools that if one has, one can accomplish much.

Happy imagination.

Randah

ideating

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Creating a Point of View (step 3)

November 28, 2008

When we want to decide on a positive change in our lives..  we look at what we have, what we are missing and somehow figure out a way to solve the missing piece.

When we want to change a system, we have to look at what the system has (from the specific lens we are focusing on), what it is missing and figure out a way to bring back the missing.

One way of understanding systems is by using principles of ethnography.

tree

When we try to understand a point of view that is different from us, we go to the person’s (or subject) natural environment. There we are able to look, listen and ask questions… taking notes of all details. In explaining interaction design, Preece, Rogers and Sharp gives an understanding of what user-centered approaches may feel like. Ethnography in this sense can help with some tools and approaches. ٍSome examples of user-centered approaches are: Coherence (questions that guides towards issues of systems development), Contextual Design (gathering data and presenting practical design), and PICTIVE and CARD methods (participatory design techniques that empower users to take an active part in design decisions). There are millions of ways to do things.. the trick is to find one way that fits both the issue at hand and the styles of those who are tackling it. David Hurst, in talking about the challenges of organizational change, pointed out that in order to change the structure of something, you need to change the dynamics that supports it. Same thing goes to bigger innovations that involves a complex connections of systems and their dynamics.

When we go about finding data… we often misunderstand the task by looking only for facts and figures. If we really want to understand different points of views we need to dig deeper. we need to understand the emotions and the real reasons that make people (or system) do the things the way they do.  It helps to have more than one ethnographer studying the issue because we often note some salient features that are sometimes only visible to us (because of our background, experience and attached emotions). Design thinking is built on multidisciplinary teams where each one brings his/her own salient features of the issue, in which allows a better picture of all point of views.

In researching the issue of design thinking, in her studies, Helene Cahen attempted to answer the question that many of us will start wondering very soon: what are we observing??

** Behavior. for one. We want to see the rituals, roles, activities, play and diversions that people undertake when they mix with the issue we are studing.

** Meaning: what do those symbols, signs, beliefs, gestures, values, attitudes and opinion mean? what is the language used? (both practically and figuratively).

**Tools: space, technology, rules, techniques are only limited examples of what tools maybe. what is being used for communication? for progress? for play?

Observing and understanding others Points of View is something that requires some practice. The untrained eye will watch and connect what it sees with readily available patterns in the head. We are built that way and that’s the easiest way to understand our surroundings. But with practice, we can start looking at things in a new interesting (sometimes unusual) ways. Looking at things as if we don’t understand what’s going on and we’re trying to figure out this new piece of information.

Kids do it all the time. because of their limited background information, they treat all new information with an open mind and an interest to try things. The rules of the world (and us adults) stand in their way of this discovery by telling them what it is (very narrowly), warning them from danger, or asking them to do what we say.

that said, it takes time and much energy to allow ourselves to wander freely when we create many points of views, that may or may not, be in accordance of our own.

img_1247

Happy wandering.

Randah