Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Brainstorming: "The Rule of 3" , part one

I have found that the Aptness of any given solution is both greater and quicker in the coming when I use a rule of three.

  • Establish at least 3 non-related solutions to a problem before proceeding to developing any one solution.
In contrast, only having one solution and proceeding with it cuts-off other ideas and can easily lead to less than a great solution (sub-optimization, low-Aptness).  Having two solutions tends to lead to either-or, this-or-that type of thinking which degrades into the one solution focus.

Having three seems to allow for some type of a Compare & Contrast thinking activity as well as other things that are best unfolded using examples.  Four or more solutions is OK but doesn't seem to bring proportionately more value to the process, and is usually too much for my little brain to handle.

The rule can and should be applied to any-portion or any level of the solution during the brainstorming process.  The restriction of non-related is subjective and a part of this learned skill.

Here is a simplistic example for starters:  I want to build a deck on the back of my house. I want something innovative, not just another variation of the same old thing. 

Three non-related solutions at the highest level:     
           Cement deck
           Wood deck
           Stone deck

Compare and Contrast these 3 solutions and you get: wood-grain-imprinted cement, stone-imprinted cement, or wood arranged like stone. Would you agree that these are innovative solutions? 

Let's suppose that the wood post idea is something that I would like to use for a 10 ft long pathway out to a different area of the yard.  Now I need to innovate how to "manufacture" or build that pathway.  

General Criteria: needs to be level for walking, needs to allow for water drainage (no standing puddles).  Needs to look good (like the picture).  Assume the walkway can be straight, without a curve.

Applying the rule of 3:

Solution #1:  Build an upside-down Mosaic.  Cut wood into roughly 4 inch long pieces, set the flat, clean-cut pieces surface onto a level surface.  Arrange "artistically".  Put some duct-tape along the outside to hold everything together.  Pour some sand down between the cracks to a depth of about 1".  Pour some very liquid cement into the cracks to bind it all together.  Once the cement is cured, flip over and remove the sand.

Solution #2:  Brick and Mortar Style.  Start with wood that is roughly 10" to 12" long.  Set the wood onto a flat surface and begin to build a pile (visualize stacking firewood).  Artistically arrange small diameter wood with larger wood to minimize void areas (like the picture above)  While doing this process, use cement  to bind the pieces together, but apply cement only in two strips, one about 2" back from one end of the wood, and the other 2" back from the other end (like railroad tracks).  Build a rectangle the height that will equal the width of your pathway.  Once cement is set, use a large chainsaw to cut flat the two ends, and cut the pile in half, between the two strips of cement.  Result, two flat sheets.

Solution #3:  Pile Driver.  Cut wood into roughly 4 to 6 inch pieces.  Dig trench in yard where path is desired.  Create dams at intervals in the trench. Pour soupy cement (or soupy clay with cement) into the trench between two dams and begin to push the wood down into the cement in an artistic manner.  Use a 2 x 8 plank of wood to press the wood down to achieve a level walking surface.  Careful not to overfill with cement since you don't want the cement all the way to the top.  Use garden hose to rinse away excess.

End of example.

As you have read through the three solutions you may have found faults with all or parts of each, and there are indeed faults with aspects of each solution.  Also as you read through each, you likely came up with another solution, or different ways to do a step in one of the solutions.  This is how the Rule of 3 works.

More on this topic to come.

Brainstorming with Your Mother

The old adage “necessity is the Mother of invention” is both quaint and points to an underlying truth that can be applied in general.  Brainstorming (Wikipedia) is the mental process of thinking up ideas to solve a problem, combine elements to innovate, define a future state, map a course of action, and so on.

Setting the Table

Here is the thought process: When a person has a perceived necessity, their mind goes to work focusing on possible solutions (or portions of the solution) and evaluating the merit of each solution.  For me, this mental activity is non-verbal, ie: my mind is not using words to process thought.

Pouring the Coffee, Buttering the Croissant

The Necessity, The Resources, and the Aptness of the resulting idea(s)

Using a sloppy analogy to Ohms' Law  for electricity: (Voltage = Current * Resistance) Necessity is like voltage, it is the driving force.  Resources are akin (in an inverse way) to Resistance, the more resources you have (smarts, knowledge, experience, material resources, etc.) the easier it is to come up with a better (more Apt) solution. There is lower resistance.  The fewer the Resources (a slobbering idiot sitting in the middle of a wasteland), the more difficult it will be to arrive at an Apt solution. There is higher resistance. (No offence intended to any slobbering idiots who may be reading this article).  Aptness then is like Current, which is where the analogy doesn't fit so well for the moment, but I am going with it in hopes that it sparks something in you.

Sitting down with your Mother

One technique in problem solving is to first clearly define the problem.  It is the vector, the direction to focus the thinking activity. When brainstorming for innovation, clearly establishing necessity is the first step, it is how you build voltage.  This is an odd thing because necessity is more of a feeling, a motivation, an impetus, drive, animating force, ambition, needling.  It is something that touches a core part of our humanity. 

Going back to the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” implies that external circumstances have set that persons’ internal motivation, it sets their voltage.   A parched person feels a greater sense of need to find water, and may even be motivated to drink ……. than a person who is merely thirsty.  

Common experience is that the internal animating drive is often induced by an external circumstance such as “we need to leapfrog the competitor” or “I will lose the customer if I don’t come up with the solution”, or even “I am going to prove to them that I ……”  There are many ways to self-induce a sense of necessity.  Procrastination is a favorite for a majority of us.

The crux of the matter is that it is a human thing to innovate and a human thing to experience motivation, impetus, drive, animating force, or ambition, and that an essential first step in brainstorming is to establish this voltage.

More on brainstorming later.  I welcome your experience and thoughts.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Innovation Through Combining Conceptual Elements

Innovation most often, it seems, comes in the form of combining existing elements.  How things are combined, the “form and fit” of the blending (combining) has a large impact on the outcome, but conceptually all the items being combined already exist. 
Combinations can be between items within the same “conceptual category” such as iPhone and Laptop combined to iPad .  Combinations can be between two disparate conceptual-categories such as Pet and Rock, or Shower and Radio.  The scope and boundaries of any “conceptual category” certainly makes for lively discussion, perhaps best with a latte and a cigar.  I believe the argument could be made that the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci could be distilled to combinations of existing elements.  The Archimedes screw was already in existence to pump water from the Nile river.  The da Vinci helicopter, whether a device that descends slowly through the atmosphere (ie: the water turning the screw) or a device which ascends in the atmosphere (the screw moving through the water) 
Certainly I mean no disrespect to one of the greatest inventors of his time.  The point is not personal; it is that innovation comes most often from combining existing elements from similar or disparate conceptual categories.

An Invitation

Innovation: To begin or introduce (something new) for or as if for the first time, to renew, make new.

People are creative, problem solvers, creatures of innovation.  The act of innovation sparks joy in our beings.  Innovation changes the course of humanity.

A person can learn the craft of being an engineer, cook, musician, speaker, etc. However, it is rare to find teaching on how to help people become more creative, innovative in their craft.  Regardless of the specific craft or endeavor, there are innovative qualities within the human spirit that can be strengthened, nurtured, expanded, fostered, and magnified.

To those out there whose passion it is to innovate, what practical and pragmatic ways have you found to increase your ability to innovate well, and to teach others?

Thanks, Cliff