Blog Archives

An Early Start

This is a remarkably simple and perfect example of the essential concepts of innovation:

Fragments | Borrowing | Combinations.

Here is a toy set for young children that presents a manageable set of fragments that can be combined to create unexpected creatures with unusual characteristics. The play includes decomposition of objects into fragments, borrowing from unrelated fields, and innovative combinations.

KidOFeb2016Plus, the opportunity to start developing storytelling skills early, an essential leadership competency.

These are designed and manufactured by a company called Kid O,

Taking Imagination Seriously

Janet Echelman, Artist

After college, rejected from seven out of seven art schools, then pursuing ten years of painting, leading to a scholarship to teach in India:

Taking Imagination Seriously

Her story contains the following elements:

  • Scarcity (unexpected)
  • Transition from painting to sculpture, bronze casting (something new)
  • Opportunity (place and time) to see something already present in a new way (fishnet)
  • Combinations: fishnet + sculpture, borrowing fishnet from completely different field
  • Collaborate with a domain expert (net makers then aeronautical engineer/sail maker)
  • Mix domains (architecture, engineering, manufacturing, sculpture )
  • Time to research, experiment, design, test, and refine (years)
  • Something unexpected in the outcome
  • Evolve by adding new ideas to platform (Philadelphia subway + mist production) with increasing complexity
  • Develop new analysis and modeling tools and software

Janet Echelman

NYT Virtual Reality

I’m a subscriber to the New York Times and recently found a small cardboard box with my morning paper. The box contained a folding fixture that holds a cell phone in the back and lenses to view a special stereo video format downloaded from the NYT site.


The first stories offer a very intense personal experience with the people who have been displaced from their homes by conflict, war, and terrorism. This is something completely different, a dramatic reframing of what we expect from news providers with traditional text, image, and video content. It is completely immersive with the ability to look about at all angles to examine and experience rich detail in the environment, the people, and their challenges.

I’ve been experimenting with augmented reality which I believe has many practical and useful applications. This however brings us deeply into individual lives and personal experiences in a way I did not expect, maybe even closer and more sharply focused that our regular daily interactions in our own worlds.

100 Prototypes for One Design

Kikkoman Feb 2015

For some projects, the process of exploring ideas may benefit from sustaining an extended period of uncertainty. The instantly recognizable red-caped Kikkoman soy sauce bottle is one example. The designer, Kenji Ekuan, developed 100 prototypes over three years to come up with his final design, which combined an elegant and simple curving form with an innovative drip-free spout. It would be interesting to see the range of concepts and ideas developed and considered before converging on the final solution. Clearly a successful project, introduced in 1961, more than 300 million of the bottles have been sold and is on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What’s your car’s IP address?

Everything connected: Your phone, watch, house, and now your car.


The US government is moving forward assertively with a plan and standards that call for personal vehicles to be part of and always connected to a wireless Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) network, constantly sharing information as they navigate roads and intersections.

Preliminary estimates of safety benefits suggest V2V could prevent 600K crashes and save over a thousand lives each year. Additional applications could also help avoid other risks through forward collision, blind spot, do not pass, and stop light/stop sign warnings.

A live pilot has been underway in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, starting in 2012. In this real-world study, residents are driving nearly 3,000 personal vehicles equipped with V2V safety technology.

V2V-equipped vehicles can perceive some threats sooner than sensors such as cameras, or radar, and warn their drivers with immediate information. V2V can also be combined with vehicle-resident technologies to provide even greater benefits. Road surface sensors in cold climates could transmit warnings on icy conditions miles in advance and rapidly in the face of changing weather conditions. Better to know about black ice before you have the frightening experience of applying the brakes and nothing happens.

The question of privacy rises to the surface. With every private vehicle continuously transmitting GPS location, speed, direction and other information, who manages this data? Do insurance companies or law enforcement agencies have access? And, what happens to the poor pedestrian, when stop lights are no longer needed at intersections and disappear?

Although no dates are mentioned in recent NHTSA announcements, reports have suggested that V2V communications could be mandated as soon as 2017. Rearview cameras will be required in 2018.

The integration of sophisticated technology into the automotive industry will only accelerate. Traditionally, the industry produces products made of steel, glass, and rubber. The future is clearly a world of talented people from computer science, engineering, system engineering, and project management delivering amazing new capabilities and benefits.

Observational Prototyping

This scenario is a simple but powerful example of the remarkable value of observing user/consumer behavior in a real-world environment. It is an example with a prototype with enough fidelity that is close enough to a finished product (a sliver bracelet) to enable a user to interact and offer accurate feedback on their experience. This took place in a live outdoor exhibit booth in a public setting, was impromptu, and not formally structured.

Observe client learning experience and reactions-I observed a few steps removed from the immediate area, close enough to hear and see, but not influence the dynamics of the one-on-one discussion.

The participants included a prospective client with contextual background and understanding the environment, business, and products. A dialog was conducted with a knowledgeable facilitator explaining the product in greater detail and specifically articulating the unique value of features, construction, materials, design, etc.

What was new that the client had not fully appreciated that I learned through observation?

I observed that the prospective client was fully unaware of the specific differentiating value of the product. At first glance, jewelry is jewelry. But for this product, each and every individual component of the sliver bracelet is hand forged, hammered, drilled, assembled, and silver-soldered. However, there was nothing visible to indicate the bracelet was not simply manufactured from purchased parts. At first glance, prospective customers make false assumptions based on the environment and competitor offerings.

This new insight led directly to both tactical and strategic ideas:

  •  Develop short written descriptions to be placed in front of items on display with detail on the silversmith work that goes into each product for visitors to read on their own.
  • Develop larger general business write-up/poster describing the nature and positioning of the products.

The concept of incremental sales rose dramatically in importance as we became acutely aware that many prospective clients are likely making incorrect assumptions on the relative value of these products vs. other similar jewelry items, and simply walking on without engaging.

Interestingly, this type of information with very clear examples and photos to illustrate is a prominent part of the company website, but this did not transition to the active client-facing selling environment.


Two un-expected outcomes:

  •  The assumption that the standard product display effectively communicated the unique nature of the products and differentiation vs. pervasive category competition was flawed.
  • New insight that many incremental sales opportunities are likely being missed, and that a comprehensive strategy to capture all potential incremental sales should be a fundamental component of the 2015 business plan.

That observational prototyping can make an important contribution not only to product design but to business strategy is a key take away from this example.

100 Years without Challenge

Less than a decade after the end of the Civil War, in 1873, Ernst Abbe published an equation showing how microscope resolution is limited by the wavelength of the light. For the greater part of the 20th century scientists believed they would never be able to observe things with optical microscopes smaller than roughly half the wavelength of light. A principle set in stone for over one hundred years without challenge.

Stephan Hell was convinced that there had to be a way of circumventing Abbe’s diffraction limit. While exploring other topics, he read the words stimulated emission in a book on quantum optics and new line of thinking took shape in his mind: “At that moment, it dawned on me. I had finally found a concrete concept to pursue – a real thread.”

He devised a kind of nano-flashlight that could sweep along a sample, a nanometre at a time. Today, all nanoscopy concepts utilize a transition between two states which is operated as a fluorescence switch. In one state the molecule is fluorescent in the other state it is non-fluorescent; between both states can be switched via (nano-flashlight) light of a characteristic wavelength enabling higher resolution measurements.

Successful design tenants illustrated in this example:

  • Strong belief a solution could be devised, and that the search was worthwhile
  • Borrowed a concept from another field
  • The importance of diversity of ideas and thinking
  • Pursued his idea with intensity
  • Collaboration with other subject matter experts

His confidence and persistence paid off: he was one of three recipients of the 2014 Noble Prize for chemistry.


The future of empathetic design (Design Thinking) may arrive next year:


“It’s really important for technology to be humanized,” Dr. Breazeal said. “The next stage in computing, the next wave, is emotion.”

By placing an “intelligent” system in homes, she is hoping to transform the nature of computer-human interaction — from today’s systems using mice, keyboards, windows and touch to something that is more natural and mimics the way humans themselves interact.

Jibo also represents a model for robotics that is intended to extend or augment human capabilities rather than replace them.

  • It is a technology that uniquely infuses content with proactive intelligence and an “empathic” presence-link to design thinking
  • This enables new use cases and new opportunities for how we experience and incorporate technology in our life-a new look at behavioral analysis

“People think, feel, and act not just because of information, but also because of personally meaningful experience.”

“Technology needs to support what people need to be the most empowered to effect positive change in their life and for their loved ones. How we experience, think and behave at the intersection of our cognitive, social, emotional and physical capabilities.”

I sense a need to anthropomorphize this guy, but not sure just what character will emerge….

Frogs on a Mouse Wheel?


Current university research has shown that even a brief stroll can significantly increase creativity. Studies have measured participant’s ability to generate more than 50 percent new uses for an object, and the ideas were both novel and feasible. Interestingly, walking improved the ability to generate creative ideas even when they sat down after the walk.

Unfortunately, there is no argument to be made to your boss to go for a walk outside in a nice setting, as the research seems to show that it’s the walking that matters to invigorate creativity, not the setting. The hallway, basement, or warehouse will work just as well.

Recently researchers in the Netherlands placed a mouse wheel in the forest. It attracted wild mice that jumped on and ran for.…fun? They hopped on and ran, off and back on again. Perhaps inexplicably, frogs also jumped on and ran or hopped, and even hopped on and off….frogs on a mouse wheel….creative amphibians?

What listening to users can lead to….

This is a remarkable example of listening to users and formulating a completely new approach. It required suspension of long standing conventions and assumptions; fascinating work by two researchers in Sweden. I wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or skiing, and find this re-framing of what head safety protection can be completely unexpected.