Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Experiences with Robert McKim

The design of products from the 1950s through 70s were illuminated by designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Eliot Noyes. Their iconic works, such as the IBM Selectric Typewriter and the distinctive Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company logo, stand as testimony to why corporations in the post war period needed the skills of graphic, industrial and architectural designers as well as mechanical and electrical engineers.

In 1957, recognizing the need for design education in Stanford’s curriculum, provost Frederick Terman hired John Arnold from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to lead the effort. Arnold became founding director of the Design Division and began executing on his vision of human centeredness and creative engineering. Arnold next hired two PhD students; Robert McKim (Pratt) and James Adams (Cal Tech & UCLA), and together they laid the foundation for what became Stanford's “Joint Program in Design” (JPD) a multidisciplinary program combining engineering, art, and creative problem solving.
When Sindey Parnes, Ruth Noller and Angelo Biondi compiled their encyclopedic, 400 page, Guide to Creative Action in 1977, they cataloged the work of dozens of academics and researchers studying creativity.  Parnes also contributed writings on problem solving methods and idea generation techniques which discussed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Solving Process.

Guide to Creative Action refers to McKim's Experiences in Visual Thinking as a "classic" and included a full chapter on Relaxed Attention because it "stressed the nature and importance of of relaxation and attention in the creative process" and as an introduction to "valuable exercises in visual thinking."

We may never know exactly why Parnes, Noller and Biondi selected only those six pages of Experiences in Visual Thinking for inclusion, but McKim's material in the other 21 chapters is also worthy of our attention;

In the Introduction, McKim immediately turns to thinking; asking what is is, how to observe it in ourselves, and the importance of flexibility in thinking. From there he explores some background and preparation for the process of thinking visually and then dives into the process of seeing, imagining, and idea-sketching in problem solving.

The last few pages are a "strategy index" which diagrams his idea of a problem solving process flow, including methods and techniques;

These images lack the raw simplicity of McKim's Express-Test-Cycle view of problem solving, but provide significant insight into his ideas of a comprehensive problem solving process utilizing imagining, drawing and seeing.

Still in its second printing and available on Amazon, Experiences in Visual Thinking is a still a valuable reference after over three decades.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Road from Hypothetical Situations to Design Thinking

Publish or Perish
(Cartoon by Nick Kim, Massey University, Wellington)

Chapter Two of Part Three of Guide to Creative Action (1976) is an article by J. H. McPherson entitled; The People, The Problems and the Problem Solving Methods, which was reprinted from the Journal of Creative Behavior in 1968. The majority of the article is a spreadsheet of 18 problem solving methods varying in length from two to eight steps, including methods proposed by individuals including Dewey, Guilford, Osborn and Parnes, organizations including General Electric and the US Military and areas of study including Synectics and Operations Research.

Of particular interest is the entry for "Hypothetical Situation" by John Arnold with the following two-step description, three years after Arnold's untimely death.
  • Develop a hypothetical situation with many unusual conditions.
  • Using this situation as a stimulus, design practical answers to fit the situation.
Today, this approach is called Project Based Learning, a teaching method where students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. John Dewey promoted the idea of "learning by doing" as early as 1897,  in his book My Pedagogical Creed.

Arnold's classroom notes and material cover a much wider range of approaches and activities than are described by McPherson, with the creative process being a kind of problem-solving, distinguished from analytical decision-making. Arnold believed a handful of results made an outcome "creative":

  • A better combination, not just something different.
  • Tangible results; something you can see, or feel or react to in some fashion, not just an idea.
  • Forward-looking in time, relating to society’s needs, not merely “recreative.”
  • A “synergetic” quality—the value achieved in the combination is much greater than the sum of the parts (a multiplicative effect).
Arnold also believed that creativity can be enhanced by scientifically understanding the inventive process and improving it, so that it becomes more organized and deliberate with a step-by-step approach. Arnold defined a framework for the creative process involving a combination of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in three phases:
  • Question and Observation (Preparation / analysis)
  • Associate (Production / synthesis)
  • Predict (Decision / evaluation)

The value of a creative result was judged by its increased function, improved performance, and lowered cost. The most important aspect of the creative process was in figuring out what people need and thus would want to buy, in other words; technology applied to human-centered business.

Arnold sought to balance analytical approaches to technology by combining different perspectives for understanding and solving a problem, advocating a broad perspective. He stated that challenges of “the modern age” called for engineers to be bold, devising entirely new kinds of solutions.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

J. P. Guilford Discovers Empathy in the Creative Process

J. P. Guilford

Donald W. MacKinnon credited J. P. Guilford with stirring the scientific study of creativity with a presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1950. Guilford is best remembered for his psychometric study of human intelligence, including the distinction between convergent and divergent production. He proposed that three dimensions were necessary for an accurate description: operations, content, and products.

In November 1964, The UCLA Brain Research Institute, in conjunction with the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research, sponsored a conference on Brain Function and Learning, the proceedings of which were published in 1967.   In one session titled Creativity and Learning, Guilford characterized creativity as a learning process.

In addition to expanding the definition of creativity Guilford brought in another element which would not gain traction for another half century; empathy. What follows is an edited extract from Guilford's presentation;

"It is quite appropriate that there should be a session devoted to creativity in a conference on learning. A broad, non-popular view of creativity recognizes an act as creative when there is something novel about it; novel, that is, for the person performing the act. The act must also be relevant, a qualification added to distinguish the creative output from the productions of the schizophrenic or manic.

Novel behavior means a change in behavior, and change means learning when “learning” is defined as a relatively enduring change in behavior as a consequence of behavior...

The conclusion that learning and creativity are much the same phenomenon can be reached by another route. From my fifteen years of study of the intellectual aspects of creative production, it seems apparent to me that creative thinking can be equated essentially with problem solving.

Identifying these two phenomena with each other does seem to deglamorize the topic of creativity, and perhaps takes away some of its mystery. On the other hand, it gives some added significance to problem solving, which has been quite commonly recognized as an important instance of learning. 

By its nature, a genuine problem is a cognized situation for which the organism appreciates that it has no ready coping response; something new or novel must be done - in other words, a creative act. I use the term “appreciates” here deliberately, within implications of either conscious or human qualities."

Guilford's Model of Brian Function

In the area of behavioral information - my students found evidence for, and I added a category with, six new factors… the kind we get from cues other people give us (through what we see or hear) about our own states of mind, feelings, intentions, perceptions and so on. This represents what some people call the area of “social intelligence”, or the area including “empathy”, which may be equated with behavioral cognition."

nGram of Creativity and Empathy.

Creativity and Empathy doesn't begin to appear the in literature much until after 1960, with local peaks in 1970 and 1990. One paper; Promoting Creativity in Young Children, (2000) associated creativity and empathy in childhood education. n it, Alice Sterling Honig specifically addressed the relationship between creativity and empathy for others. Another reference is found in Martha Raile Alligood (1986); The relationship of creativity, actualization, and empathy in unitary human development.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Who Inspired Alex Osborn?

History may  have been kinder to me, if I'd written it.

Based on numbers of book editions, copies printed and sold, Alex Osborn inspired millions of people to become more creative. But who, or what, inspired Alex Osborn? His books are filled with ideas and opinions, supported by stories and quotes, so perhaps we can discover who he admired and learned from.

In the introduction to Your Creative Power; Osborn gives thanks and credit to nearly two dozen people and specifically mentions the books they wrote;
  • Julius Boraas (Teaching to Think)
  • Alexis Carrel (Man the Unknown)
  • James B. Conant (On Understanding Science)
  • Robert P. Crawford (Think for Yourself)
  • Paul de Kruif (The Microbe Hunters)
  • John Dewey (How We Think)
  • Ernest Dimnet (The Art of Thinking)
  • William H. Easton (Creative Thinking)
  • Joseph Jastrow (Effective Thinking)
  • T. Sharper Knowlson (Originality)
  • Matthew Thompson McClure (How to Think in Business)
  • Johnson O’Connor (Ideaphoria)
  • Harry Allen Overstreet (Let Me Think)
  • James Harvey Robinson (Mind in the Making)
  • C. Spearman (Creative Mind)
  • Graham Wallas (The Art of Thought)
  • J. F. Dashiell
  • Floyd C. Dockeray
  • Fryer and Henry 
  • A. T. Poffenberger 
  • F. Wayland Vaughan
  • W. B. Wiegand

Which of these authors did Osborn rely on most heavily? Consulting the Index and searching the text reveals his favorites;
  • Thomas Edison - 23 mentions
  • James B Conant, - 16 mentions
  • Alexander Graham Bell -10 mentions
  • Dr. Alexis Carrel - 7 mentions
  • Paul de Kruif, Paul - 7 mentions
  • Dr. R. W. Gerard - 6 mentions
  • Walt Disney - 6 mentions
  • Henry Ford - 6 mentions
  • Ray Giles - 6 mentions
Thomas Edison's contributions relate to the value of first hand experience, persistence, cautions about perfectionism and stubbornness, the value of optimism, self-confidence and courage, not fearing failure, dealing with discouragement, the value of curiosity, quizzes and puzzles, the principe of substitution, multi-tasking, luck, building on the work of others, and being open to all possibilities.

Osborn used Conant to illustrate the value of creative imagination, lots of wild ideas, withholding judgement, role reversals and time travel in ideation, following thru on accidental discoveries, the tradeoffs of working singly or in groups, the power of science in creative activity, the value of precision in experimentation, iteration, and the power of mixing science and liberal arts.

From Bell, Osborn learned that age need not be a damper to creativity, The Rule of 3 in self-education (Observe, Remember, Compare), the need for new facts, being cross-disciplinary and cross cultural, and the importance of finding out things for one's self.

Dr. Carrel emphasized the value of awareness, curiosity; pursuing the "impossible and unknowable," and persistence.

Osborn seems to have used de Kruif as a philosophical counterweight, as his quotes are typically about some great inventors being arrogant and overly confident.

Gerard emphasized the value of analysis in the creative process.

Disney was used to illustrate the power of what Osborn termed vicarious imagination, the importance of exercising your imagination like a muscle, exaggeration and transposition in ideation.

Henry Ford was used to illustrate that there is value in imagination other than money, that lateral thinking can lead to success, the importance of persistence and creative leadership.

Ray Giles also advised to be persistent in the face of discouragement, asking "Why not...?", recording everything and going for quantity in ideation and asking various forms of "What if..."; "What new use...", "What other use..." and "How might we..." questions.

This list of ideas and suggestions which inspired Osborn and which he used to illustrate the chapters of his book provide a useful reference to anyone interested in expanding and enhancing their creative problem solving skills.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

20 Questions on Design Thinking

The popular question and answer game "20 Questions" often opens with; "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?" If we were trying to get at the root identity of Design Thinking, we might start with; "Does in involve Feeling, Thinking or Doing?" The correct answer would be "Yes!"

Whether you prefer to think of it in the context of Root Cause Analysis, Effective Problem Solving, or just Learning, there seems to be broad agreement that several steps are involved. Here is one expression of a seven step process;

Step 1: Identify the Problem
Ask what the problem is. There may be multiple issues within the problem.

Step 2: Define Goals
Try to define your goals specifically, while making them as realistic and attainable as possible.
Step 3: Generate Ideas
Write down all ideas, even the ones that seem absurd or bizarre. Try to find 6-8 varying alternatives when resolving a particular problem.
Step 4: Assess Alternatives
For every alternative you formed in the previous step, weigh the positive effects and negative consequences that each solution would bring. For every and any option, determine its advantages and its risks.
Step 5: Choose a Solution
Carefully weigh all solutions. Think about which solution can highlight the positive effects that matter the most and which solution produces the mildest consequences.

Step 6: Prototype Solutions
Don't worry about "failures" - they are steps on the pathway to success.
Step 7: Evaluate the Results and Iterate
 Take and newfound knowledge, rturn to the beginning, and try again.

This looks a lot like the Science Technology Engineering and Math cycle;

And the Engineering is Elementary (EIE) Design Process being taught in Elementary Education today;

So, with these clear similarities in all these processes, is there anything about the Stanford/IDEO model of Design Thinking which sets it apart from the others? The answer is an unequivocal Yes! but we have to drill down a bit to find it because none of these models specifically highlight it in their images.

Let's look at two representations from IDEO Published materials;

Hexagonal DT Phases
Loopy DT Process

Let's take a closer look at the front end or Inspiration Stage of the "Loopy DT Process";

This phase is where a deep understanding of the user is developed thru observation, which leads to the creation of a persona and Point of View statements.  This section corresponds with EMPATHIZE in the Stanford/IDEO Hexagon model published by Kelley and Brown.

It is the inclusion of this element; which requires "emotional" intelligence, that is the single biggest differentiator between the Nigel Cross' (Cognitive) version of Design Thinking and the John Arnold / Stanford / IDEO (Comprehensive Design) model.

It is also 1/3 of the ways that Design Thinking can deeply fail. Can you guess what the other two are?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Design Thinking as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

If you've been following this blog for more than a few months you may recall some of my earlier postings where I compared Design Thinking to core concepts in other areas like Bloom's Taxonomy in teaching and Adizes' model of management theory. Today we're going out on the limb again, but this time in the realm of psychology, to compare DT with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This was prompted by my recent discovery of a graphic used to describe CBT, The Thinking - Feeling - Behavior triangle;

In layman's terms, cognitive behavioral therapy helps you learn to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviors so you feel better. By targeting your responses to situations, CBT can help you react more effectively in challenging situations, and even learn to feel better when you are unable to change situations happening around you.

Three areas of interest

Comparing these two; business is behavior, technology is the thinking and people are the feelings.

Although I had seen both of these before, I hadn't noticed the parallels between the three part (Feelings, Thoughts and Actions) brain model and the Feel - Think - Do/Build and Empathy - Technology - Busi-ness triads of Design Thinking or the meta-level Design is a process of Learning framework. Of course, now that I see it, it seems obvious. 

Another obvious parallel is that in CBT human needs are the focus of the process.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Alex Osborn on Judgement in the Creative Process

Alex Osborn is generally remembered as the inventor of Brainstorming, but that characterization falls far short of the breadth of his experienced insights regarding creativity.

In chapter 13 of Your Creative Power Osborn explored the value of judgement in the creative process. He suggests that there are two types of thinking, one he called Judicial and the other Creative. Many of his ideas are still alive, vibrant and illustrated in today's best creative engineering practices.

This post is an edited version of Chapter 13 from Your Creative Power, with emphasis on Osborn's key ideas about judgement in the creative process.


Our thinking is mainly two-fold: We have a Judicial Mind which analyzes, compares and chooses and a Creative Mind which visualizes, foresees, and generates ideas. These two minds work best together. Judgment keeps imagination on track. Imagination opens ways to action, and can enlighten judgment. In creative efforts, judgment is good, when properly timed.

Both judgement and creativity call for analysis and synthesis. Judgement breaks down facts, weighs them, compares them, rejects some, keeps others—and then puts the resultant elements together to form a conclusion. The creative mind does much the same, except that the end-product is an idea instead of a verdict. Judgment tends to confine itself to facts, imagination has to reach out for the unknown, at times making two plus two something more than four.

Basically there are two kinds of judgment—critical judgment and constructive judgment. Critical judgment relies on knowledge. Constructive judgment needs help from our imagination. Answering the question; "Is Nylon better than silk?” calls for a process of critical analysis.

Asking “Should we do this or that?” requires us to think up all possible alternatives, and foresee the results. We have to ask ourselves questions such as, “What are the consequences?” . . . “What if others did that?” “What if conditions change?” And in each case we have to tap imagination for the answer.

Circumstances force us to use our judicial mind every waking hour. We also study mathematics, logic, debate, history, discuss pros and cons. Much of our educations train and strengthen our judicial faculties. Another consequence of well developed judgment is dislike of failure. We often praise the unerring judge. You will hear; “He’s a wonderful man—he never makes any mistakes.” ten times as often as you hear, “He has imagination and he makes it work.” We are more likely to call creatively imaginative people “nuts.” A good slogan for all of us would be, “Judge wisely, but at the right time.”

The right mood for judicial thinking is largely negative. “What’s wrong with this?” . . . “What’s bad about that?” . . . “No, that won’t work.” Such reflexes are right and proper when trying to judge. We also need a negative attitude for caution such as: “Beware of it—it’s too new.” . . . “Are we sure this won’t be a mistake?”

In contrast, our creative thinking calls for a positive attitude. We have to be hopeful. We need enthusiasm. We have to encourage ourselves to the point of self-confidence. At the same time, we have to beware of perfectionism. (A trait exhibited by both Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. - df)

Edison looking somewhat critically at his invention

Edison’s first lamp was a crude affair. He knew that it could be improved—if not by him, by somebody else. He could have hung onto his imperfect version while he tried and tried to make it better. Or he could have junked the whole idea. But, he didn’t do either. His first electric lamps were better than candles, kerosene lamps, or gaslight, so he introduced them. Then he went to work on improvements.

Positive attitude is a characteristic of creative people. Form the habit of reacting Yes! to a new idea. First, think of all the reasons why it’s good; there will be plenty of people around to tell you why it won’t work. (Today we call this improv; The Yes and... or Yes if.... responses. -df)

Judgment and imagination can help each other if kept apart when they should be kept apart. In creative effort we have to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde. From time to time, we must turn off our judicial mind and light up our creative mind. (Similar to Disney's Three Roles. -df

We must wait long enough before turning up our judicial light again. Otherwise, premature judgment may douse our creative flames, and even wash away ideas already generated. Especially in approaching a creative problem, we should give imagination priority over judgment and let it roam around our objective. We might even make a conscious effort to think up the wildest ideas that could possibly apply. (On the doorstep of brainstorming here. -df)

Let’s not let judgment throttle imagination. Instead, let’s check our ideas through tests. If we can’t test and have to rely on somebody’s judgment, let’s not allow our critic to sap our creative energy. Let’s judge such judgment. If it’s adverse—and we’re convinced it’s right—we should then get busy, do a backtrack and turn up more alternative ideas. If unconvinced, we should “damn the torpedoes” and go “full speed ahead.” (This is re-expressed in McKim's  "Express - Test - Cycle" -df)

Derived from; Osborn, Alex. Your Creative Power (pp. 88-95). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.