John Stone's Design and Innovation Blog
John Stone's Design and Innovation Blog

Seven Leading Personality Types

Reading an article the other day about seven types of people (personalities).

  1. Reformer: an independant thinker, craving harmony and authenticity.
  2. Explorer: someone disiring discovery, challenge and new experiences.
  3. Succeeder: a goal-oriented organiser who needs control.
  4. Aspirer: a materialistic seeker of status.
  5. Mainstreamer: someone in search of security, belonging and routine.
  6. Struggler: an escapist who lives for today but is often viewed as a loser.
  7. Resigned: someone focused on survival and nostalgia with long held values.

Now ask yourself 3 questions

How do I view

  1. myself?
  2. How do others view me?
  3. How do the consumers of my product view themselves.

You will often find we are a victim of our self image. So how do we map who we really are (the answer to number 2) to who we desire to be (number 1) and how do we relate to those who receive from us (number 3).

We often design our products with our own self image in mind and it causes our output to fall flat as our consumers can't relate to our vision. 

Parking on Plastic Number Puzzles

Do you remember those little plastic number puzzles? I loved those things. Well, innovation strikes again. When trying to solve a parking space problem, the idea of going vertical is nothing new. But what happens when you don’t want the massive time and cost involved in building a parking garage? Believe it or not, a portable vertical parking structure has been created and it’s based on the number puzzle system. Each slot has a numeric ID and can be shifted into any other location. The attendant simply enters the slot ID that is needed at ground level and the number puzzle algorithm takes over. It takes up to 3 minutes for a car at the top level to be available on the bottom level, so call ahead. The old systems of this nature typically require the cars from the lower levels to be removed while the higher platforms are lowered. Not so here. The cars are shuffled. No worries about the valet or attendant marking the outside of your car, taking your change or leaving strange odors behind.

Eliminating Personal Bias

Getting to the correct answer is not always as easy as it seems it should be. One of the leading roadblocks is personal bias. Personal biases are a culmination of our experiences, beliefs, misconceptions, desires, motivations, pride and many other elements that make up our day-to-day thought patterns. Unfortunately, personal bias can be destructive when it comes to solving problems. Yes, I know that's a bold statement. I wont get into the justification here; let’s just assume that I am right. That is your first exercise in letting go of a personal bias…

The goal of this article is to discuss ways to reduce your personal biases and thus experience a richer set of successes, correct answers and rewarding experiences. For the seeker of simplicity and innovation, this will mean a greater probability of creating perfect solution.

To overcome personal bias, one must:

  1. Accept ones own fallibility – when we assume that our way is the only way, we miss out on opportunities to grow and enrich the things that are important to us.
  2. Cultivate intellectual empathy – this can only be achieved by gaining experience and constructing points of view towards another’s negative feelings. Opening yourself up to find your blind spots is especially useful when you are hearing complaints about something you believe to be in good working order.
  3. Develop intellectual humility – identify the extent of your own ignorance and become "ego-sensitive." Is your current position one of fact, pride or belief?
  4. Identify the extent of your own ignorance – perhaps some of your biases are not as concrete as you think. Recall previous beliefs that you once held but now reject.

Perhaps Steven Covey stated it best; "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." You can’t solve other peoples problems as you understand them, you have to solve them the way they understand them.

The Long Tail

What is the digital age doing for you and how is it changing media distribution networks? The Long Tail by Chris Anderson dives into this subject and reveals "Why the future of business is selling less of more." Back in the day (I just love saying that), the channels by which we accessed our entertainment were very few. We had the three big networks, one or two independent TV stations, a few AM and FM radio stations and a movie house that, if it were big, had four screens. We were a captive audience. The hits were recounted on top 40 lists and as a society, we all pretty much listened to and watched the same thing. The hits, or the Head, was tall and the misses, or the Tail, was very short.

With the rise of cable TV and the creation of the multi-plex movie theater, the tail began to expand. We had more choice. An interesting fact cited in the book is that as the length of the tail increases, the height of the head decreases. This means that there are fewer smash hits and block-buster movies. Add iTunes, Amazon, YoutubeLulu and Rhapsody to the distribution network and the tail becomes limitless.

The Long Tail has also changed our purchasing behavior. We are less likely to arrange our schedule around a TV show or a movie, knowing that we can watch it where we want, when we want. We are becoming less likely to buy an entire CD and more likely to pick and choose our music to create our own compilations.

So what does this mean to us? As a consumer, it means that you have greater access to things that you feel are more personalized to you. Individualism is reinforced and you are not forced to conform to the masses. As a  business, it means that you have to think about who it is you are really trying to reach. Markets are becoming smaller in size, but larger in quantity. To deliver your product, you have to be skilled at finding the community, and in a sense, becoming the head, buried in the long tail. It also means that if you have seeminly valuless content sitting around... Think again! Chances are there really is a way to create value from those old archives.

The book is a great read for most and a must read for anyone in the business of content delivery.

Problems to Products

When things go wrong, are you prepared to look at the failure for possible successes? When I think of the chain of events that created penicillin, Post-It Notes, and other inventions seemingly gone wrong, I can’t help but think how lucky we are that the inventors saw alternate uses and ultimately brought them to market.

Recently we ran across a new children’s toy that could have been born out of just this kind of model. Do I know for sure that this toy was born from error? No! But that is not the point. I am pretty sure that no one set out to create a new material that would allow a toy that splat on the ground and then re-form to its original shape. The Splatback does just that.

The point is this, whoever created this thing was very imaginative. They saw, found, created a material with incredible elastic properties and formed it into a new toy that sells in mall stores for around $5 US. The price is another giveaway that all that research and development was not spent on the creation of this toy. Somewhere, someone saw this material and determined an alternate use in an alternate market, or so I am guessing. But again, my guessing is not the point.

Do you look at something that would normally be considered waste and try to find value? New value… Do you look at successes in parallel industries and tinker with ways to bring that concept to bear in your space?

  1. Take an ordinary plastic ball point pen. Take five minutes and write down as many alternate, non-writing related uses for this pen as you can. Try to get a least ten.
  2. Take a paper clip and repeat the above exercise.

Dragging the Wagon

Getting new ideas off of the ground can be difficult, especially when we believe ourselves to be a lone idea champion. "The lone champion is often relegated to drag along the organizational dead-weight of the enterprise," or so it goes in their mind. After watching this video, I was reminded of a few facts:

  1. You are probably here because you thought you could pull the organization all by yourself.
  2. Someone in management believes you can create change.
  3. Organizations are hard to move.
  4. You are getting more help then they realize.

The next time you think you are dragging an organization along all by yourself, remember, there are others helping to push it along. Just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they are not there helping you.

Road Coloring Problem Solved

A mathematical puzzle that baffled the top minds in the esoteric field of symbolic dynamics for nearly four decades has been cracked — by a 63-year-old immigrant who once had to work as a security guard.

Avraham Trahtman, a mathematician who also toiled as a laborer after moving to Israel from Russia, succeeded where dozens failed, solving the elusive "Road Coloring Problem."

The conjecture essentially assumed it's possible to create a "universal map" that can direct people to arrive at a certain destination, at the same time, regardless of starting point. More

Trahtman, an immigrant to Israel from Yekaterinburg, Russia, solved a problem that had been stumping mathematicians for over 30 years. When it was all said and done, the professor said "The solution is not that complicated. It's hard, but it is not that complicated. Some people think they need to be complicated. I think they need to be nice and simple."

The solution has practical implications in highway navigation, data storage, file systems, network architectures and user interfaces. What is as striking as the solution is the statement made by Trahtman that ‘Solutions need to be nice and simple.’ That should be the ultimate goal of design in general, to take the complexities of everyday life and reduce them to simple, understandable navigations.

It’s easy to make things complicated. But it’s difficult to make things simple. Perhaps simplicity is one of the most challenging problems of our time.

Here is how the puzzle works. Start at any point and use a 3 word pattern to describe directions to the yellow or green end points. An example of a 3 word pattern is 'red - blue - blue', since this puzzle uses two colors only. Repeat the pattern until you arrive at your destination.

Directions to Yellow = "Blue - Red - Red"
Directions to Green = "Blue - Blue - Red"

Choosing Not To Decide Is Still A Choice

Increased choice brings discontentment until the choice is perceived as unlimited and there are appropriate filters in place.

Many, many years ago, I lived in a very small town in a studio apartment working two jobs to survive. My tiny apartment was fitted with a 13" color TV that received exactly one station at about 75% clarity. Each night of the week I looked forward to the shows presented by my one network station. I knew them by heart. Some I liked better than others, but each was a hit, at least to me. My only choice was TV or no TV.

In modern days, my family is one that tends to eat out a fair bit. It is somewhat comical to say the least. As a family of six, we struggle to find a place we can all agree on. Each restaurant has several dozen foods to choose from, and yet at least one or two people just can't seem to find a thing they like. Choosing where we eat has become known as the dinner game. When it's time to play, everyone moans, except dad, of course. In contrast, when we eat at home, everyone eats the same thing, no complaints. 

In the decisions where we have less to choose from, we know our options are limited and we are more content with, or at least willing to accept, what we have. When the range of choices increases, two things happen: 1) we become more discriminating in our tastes and are less likely to settle for mediocrity; 2) we fear that we may miss something better and are willing to pass up something that would have otherwise been acceptable.

As the amount of choice increases, the complexity factor also increases until the point that choice is no longer a benefit. This is where the filters come in. With the appropriate filters, even though the available content is enormous, choice once again becomes limited. The difference is that is has been placed into context. This is the model of Amazon, YouTube, Google, iTunes and many, many more. Through power real-time data crunching, you receive recommendations of things you will like based on things you actually like. It is the appearance of lack of choice in a world of unlimited choice narrowed by filters.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "I wouldn't give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity." Or, as it is most modernly stated, "Elegance is simplicity found on the far side of complexity." (Thanks Chris). The simplicity on this side of complexity, in this case, is having but one choice, or very few choices. As choice and complexity increase, filters and super crunchers bring a new sense of order, the simplicity on the far side of complexity. We become content once again not because we have a lack of choice, but the apparent choice is an array of things that are almost guaranteed to be consistent with our desires.

Three Emotions of a High Energy Project

If you have ever worked a high energy project from beginning to end, there are three basic emotions you are sure to encounter. While two of them are nothing to worry about, one can be particularly dangerous. In the middle of every big project, there is always a slump that can cause depression, unbelief, burnout and other unhealthy symptoms that can threaten the much needed success.

Excitement: The launch of every project or program I have ever worked has been a very exciting time. While there was no shortage of skepticism about risks and obstacles, the excitement has far outweighed the pessimism. Our heads are filled with what can be, and the innovation and creativity that lies ahead. For people that have a proclivity to launch projects, just overcoming the hurdles to get to the kickoff can bring a euphoria.

Doubt: In middle of a program, it is inevitable that reality shows up under a microscope. We are faced with the size, complexity, budgets and even a few in-project failures that begin to zap our creativity and drive. Team members begin to feel overwhelmed with their own workload and, in many cases, blame their feelings on other groups or performers incompetence. This pessimism is a part of every program.

Euphoria: Assuming that our mid-program doubt has not killed us, we get to the end. The launch, the delivery... the finish line. There is a euphoria that kicks in that is sure to drive us in to the next big project or program. Success feels better than failure, there is no questioning that.

If we failed to exit the doubt stage, and fail to exit on multiple projects, it will be harder for us to succeed in the future. So, how do we deal with it? How can we keep ourselves focused and prevent the blues from sinking us?

  1. Acceptance: As stated earlier, mid-project doubt is a normal part of every project. Don't let it get you down.
  2. Identify Risk: make a list of all the things that are bothering you. Try to take some time every day or every week, as appropriate, to work through one of the big issues or follow up with the person or group responsible for the issue.
  3. Review the Risks: Go back through the risk list and evaluate the impact and probability. Sometimes risks take care of themselves. If not, make sure to focus on it as stated in item 2.
  4. Get rid of self doubt: You are on the project because you are a contributor. Don't let the slump zap you of our confidence.
  5. Change your perspective: Sometimes, working harder is not the answer. Take a break, checkout for a day or two. Read a comic book, watch a season of your favorite TV show, whatever. What you may be in need of is a creative breakthrough. Something new to help you solve your problem and attack from a new perspective.
  6. Create opportunities for small victories: If you are a leader, find mini projects that have a medium level of complexity that team members can work on part time. These projects could/should be department or program related to ensure that you are maximizing your yield. Small, targeted innovation projects will provide small victories. Nothing motivates future victories like past victories. Get your team seeing themselves as winners!

If you let the doubt stage overwhelm you, it will be hard to succeed. Work hard, but keep your priorities straight. Stay focused on the end game and don't get distracted by politics and doubt. Success is within reach.

Innovation Walk Part 2 - The Goals of Innovation

Why should you care about innovation? The question is very relevant considering it is being thrown around in just about every context in today's improvement culture. The article Innovation Walk Part 1 defined innovation for our purposes on this blog. We put forward that innovation is the process of creating valuable change, and not just change. To create a deeper context for innovation here are, from my perspective, the four primary goals:
  1. DisruptionDisruptive innovation is typically about shifting competitive advantage by changing the value chain or value network. Examples of disruptive innovations include internal combustion engines, telephones, iTunes, television, the Internet and cell phones. While incremental innovation tends to improve existing products, services and processes, disruptive innovations replace them and make the old obsolete.
  2. Speed: Innovations can be targeted to reduce time or accelerate schedules. A common reason for innovation is to reduce the time it takes to get to market. Too often, it is not our technical ability or our know how that keeps us from executing, it's that executing is too familiar. We get caught in ruts. Innovating for speed breaks the normal execution paradigms and gets us too our goal faster.
  3. Operational Efficiencies: The problem with process and process improvement is that over time, they naturally tend to become bloated. When something goes wrong, we patch the process to prevent the failure. In some cases, we end up with more time spent on quality control then we do on the act of producing. Innovating for Operational Efficiencies is not just leaning out the process, it's about approaching the operation from a new perspective that can drive higher quality, lower cost and greater outputs.
  4. Growth: In many worlds, growth is simply a function of doing more of the same. The same model, the same plan, the same market. But Innovation for growth is about changing the perspective and looking for ways to drive exponential growth. You can't do anything the same and triple output or revenue.

In all four cases, innovation requires us to change our perspective and drive new value into an existing problem.