Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Long Shadow of Rene Descartes

Clear, efficient communication is a key skill to accomplishing anything as a group. Once a project is so big and complicated that one person can't do it alone, the ability to clearly express the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How becomes crucial. The story of the Tower of Babel is illustrative of this principle. Genesis 11:16 comments:

"If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

Do you doubt it?
Such is the power of clear communication. However, there is another force at work which we overlook at our peril. It is the outgrowth of the Modern Scientific Method as fathered by Rene Descartes; The universal application of doubt, which turns "probable" into "possible", possible into unlikely, and unlikely into; "Ain't happening, bro'."

Descartes clearly had a problem with ambiguity and spent years trying to eradicate it in himself and others. He eventually retreated to "I think therefore I am." and realized that he was certain that he couldn't be certain of anything, and therefore was at least capable of being certain of something about himself.

We shouldn't be to hard on Rene. His intentions were good. He just wanted to be able to test the truthfulness of everything in the face of the limitations of human perception and thought. The difficulty arises when the subject of interest shifts from being something which already exists to something which has as yet only been imagined, that is; when our role shifts to being a creator.

We'll come back to this later...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


It's interesting how the Japanese took to Kaizen so enthusiastically.  Japan Today ran an article listing the ten words that westerners most commonly associate with the Japanese. It is even more interesting when compared with a list of traits associated with Americans;

The Japanese are described as;

  • Polite, Kind, Respectful and Shy. 
  • Clean and formal.
  • Punctual, Intelligent, hard working and group minded.
  • Culturally monolithic

Americans are associated with being;

  • Time conscious, energetic achievers.
  • Individualistic, independent, self-reliant and  competitive.
  • Materialistic and internationally naive (Self absorbed)

There are some interesting  similarities and contrasts here, particularly with respect to Japanese group mindedness. Americans understand team effort, but their sense of competitiveness is highly individual. Japanese win in teams. America's heroes are typically solo.

In communication, Americans tend to be more direct, desiring eye contact but wanting "personal space". They are also friendly, but mobile, so the duration of their relationships tend to be elastic.

Lean is about resource management - big piles of unused stuff are a sign of waste. Traditional manufacturing techniques emphasized speed and individual, high volume production rather than optimizing the whole process by talking with other members of the group and helping them do better.

All this helps explain why the Japanese took so well to Kaizen. Lean is an unselfish group activity. It is also why management attitude is very important in lean cultures and Kaizen embodies essential elements of Japanese culture. The strangest thing is that Kaizen's roots are the outgrowth of techniques "foreign" to Japan.

After the armistice, Allied occupation forces brought in American experts to help rebuild Japanese industry. The Civil Communications Section (CCS) developed a Management Training Program which included statistical control methods. The course was developed and taught by Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman in 1949 and 1950. Sarasohn recommended that W. Edwards Deming be brought in to provide further training in Statistical Methods.

The Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) group was tasked with improving Japanese management skills. In 1951 they produced a film called "Good Change in 4 Steps" (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai) and the term Kaizen was born.

Two significant aspects of Kaizen are its scaleability and durability.  It might be better called Eternal Progression. It can be applied daily, to all types and sizes of problems, across an entire organization. In that respect it is more like a religious philosophy than a management technique, particularly with its goal of continually trying to achieve a perfectly waste free process. This mirrors Japanese devotion to cleanliness and work and a company's life long commitment to the employee. The game of Kaizen applies everywhere and never ends.

On the other hand, there nothing which can't be made worse with a sufficient application of self righteousness. That is where Design Thinking, with it's emphasis on Empathic Listening, shines.

DT is an innocent, unselfish process, something which everyone can learn and apply, if they are willing to check their egos at the door.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Leaning into Efficient Design (Thinking)

I recently attended a seminar about Lean Processes and was pleasantly surprised to see this image used in the presentation. It immediately reminded me of another circular process which I was first exposed to nearly 30 years ago:

ETC - Express - Test - Cycle

Express - Test - Cycle
This is the Design Thinking framework; Express - Test - Cycle.  PDCA follows it by using the terms Do for Prototype/Build, Check for  Test and Adjust  for Cycle. It's also an expression of another idea, vigorously adopted by some Japanese companies since the 1950's; Kaizen.

Kaizen's Improvement Proposal

"Improvement Proposal"

After WWII, American occupation forces brought in experts to help with the rebuilding of Japanese industry. One of the instructors, Homer Sarasohn, recommended that W. Edwards Deming provide further training in statistical methods.

The 4 Steps of Quality Improvement

The Economic and Scientific Section had made a training film called "Improvement in 4 Steps" (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai), which described the three"J" programs; Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations, introducing "Kaizen" to Japan. Today, the 4 Steps of Quality improvement are:

Identify  - Determine what we want to improve
Analyze - Learn about and Understand the problem
Develop - Hypothesize about what changes will improve the situation
Test       - Test the hypothesized solution to see if it yields improvement.
                 Decide whether to abandon, modify, or implement the solution.

Over the next 60 years Kaizen would become a cornerstone of Japan's global economic success.

Medal of the Sacred Treasure
For the pioneering, introduction, and implementation of Kaizen in Japan, Deming was awarded Japan's 2nd Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure in 1960.

Subsequently, the Union of Japanese Science and Engineering instituted annual Deming Prizes for achievement in product quality and dependability. In 1989, UJSE awarded the Deming Prize to Florida Power & Light for its exceptional accomplishments in process and quality control management. FPL was the first company outside of Japan to win the Deming Prize.

The 5 W's and One H

Kaizen's Five W's and 1 H
Another technique used in conjunction with Plan - Do - Check - Adjust is the 5 W's and 1 H, which are a form of root cause analysis. You ask a series of 5 questions about a failure, basing subsequent questions on the answers to the previous ones. Who, What, Why, Where, When and How are also essential elements of Interviewing With Empathy and good Storytelling.

FORD's Global 8D Method

Back in America, Ford Motor Company developed their 8 Disciplines (8D) Problem Solving Process, published in their 1987 manual, "Team Oriented Problem Solving (TOPS)." 

In the mid-90s, Ford added an additional discipline, D0: Plan - another nod back to PDCA. The process is now Ford's global standard, and is called Global 8D. The approach is intended to help teams deal with quality control and safety issues; develop customized, permanent solutions to problems; and prevent problems from recurring. Although the 8D Process was initially applied in the manufacturing, engineering, and aerospace industries, it's been useful and relevant in others.

Lean Product and Service Development

The core idea behind LEAN is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply put, lean means creating more value for customers while using fewer resources.

A lean organization understands what their customers want and focuses its processes to continuously improve their efficiency. The ultimate goal is to develop and employ a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

The high level concepts of Lean Processes have several things in common;

  • Creation of re-usable knowledge - A3s, Checksheets, Limit and Trade-Off curves
  • Concurrent Engineering - Rapid Prototyping to develop the strongest solution.
  • Teams of Responsible Experts - Integrated work teams with multiple competences in each. 
  • Rewards for Competence Building in teams and individuals. (Learning)
  • Cadence and Pull - Engineers plan their own work and work their own plans.
  • Visual Management - Visualization is a main enabler of management in Lean product development.
  • Entrepreneurial System Designers (ESD) - One person is responsible for the engineering, aesthetic design, market and business success, of the product.
All of which sounds a lot like Product Design and the phases in the Design Thinking process, which raises a question;

Is there a unifying name for all this?

Lean Processes, Design Thinking, Kaizen, Scientific Thinking, The 4 Steps and 8D all have a common underlying theme; Efficiency - (which is also one of Disney's Four Keys, BTW.) But we are all adrift in a sea of "experts" who can't seem to agree about what to call it or which terms to use in describing the process or the outcomes. An optimist might suggest that this is just a part of Design Thinking's process of maturing into a standard. However, there may be something else going on which isn't obvious; emerging standards aren't always the best - they are the best that a diverse group of people could agree upon.

There are many examples of this. The Betamax video tape format could deliver better picture quality than VHS. Bluetooth has supplanted Ultra-wideband USB. Then there is the Android vs. iOS debate.

As engineers, we focus on the analytic side of things. We understand and manipulate "stuff". Business is supposed to be concerned with organizing the process. (I wonder at times if it isn't really more about creating busy-ness. ) Designers are typically associated with art - expressing emotion.

Product Design - which in many parts of the world is still called Industrial Design - is supposed to be a method which addresses all three; the Stuff (technology), the Emotion and the Process of how all the pieces fit together to produce useful, efficient results.

Efficient Design and Manufacturing?

It's not catchy, but is clear.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Power of Human Touch

Handmade Full Size BMW Clay Model

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Joe Dehner, head of Dodge & Ram Truck exterior design for Fiat Chrysler commented about the power of handmade models and an unexpected result of the move to CAD in American car styling;

"Twenty-five years ago, as milling and computer-aided design programs transformed the design process, it seemed clay models would be all but extinct.

...the new technologies <were supposed to be> a way to shorten the design process and cut costs. But carmakers... were turning out lackluster vehicles due to a lack of hands-on interaction and being unable to effectively evaluate styling.

There was an infatuation with the technology where there was a rush to do totally digital... but the one thing about <clay modeling> is you're adding the human element."

As designers we take upon ourselves the task of creating in response to needs. The choice is always before us to determine who's needs those are. If there is a lesson to learn early as designers it is that the odds are significantly stacked in that decision.  80% of new products fail in the first five years and one of the most significant reasons is that they aren't wanted by customers.

So, who is your customer? Is there only one customer? At the start of the creative process, there are usually several other people between us and the client. Each of those people can become a help or a hinderance in the creative process. The more "selfishness" is injected in the design chain, the greater the chance the final result will miss the target.

There is a secondary effect of design egocentricity; Designing low demand products for mass production is among the most wasteful of endeavors. It siphons off physical and temporal resources, filling garbage dumps rather than human needs.

As a designer, when someone comes to you for help, they are doing so because design is something which they cannot do for themselves. Responsiveness to real human needs at every step of the design chain is the name of the game. You may be the most talented designer on the planet, but if your solution fails to meet the needs of your client, your company's customers, or your show's guests, your efforts will be wasted. Everyone in the design chain needs to understand this.

In the end, it's the responsive, human touches on the design elements which resonate most deeply, create the strongest bond and most enduring brand loyalty in the marketplace.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to Design Like an Imagineer

The Artistic Engineer with Mouse Ears
In my previous post I outlined the steps of Design Thinking, in the context of Imagineering:
  • Identify specific customer needs with Storytelling
  • Generate ideas with Blue Sky Brainstorming
  • Test and Learn about ideas with Rapid Prototyping
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Plus it up to exceed customer expectation
In this post I'm going to reveal a way for almost anyone to develop the traits of an Imagineer or at least figure out how many of them you may already have.


If you do a web search on "How do I become an Imagineer?" Google will currently return about 5400 results, some of which are actually written by former Imagineers, like Bob Gurr, who said;

"You have to have an inherent internal drive within you that has always encompassed a range of characteristics that I think most successful Imagineers were born with. Characteristics that one might not be able to purchase in college."

Bob then went on to say that the Imagineers he has known have had three things in common;

1) Permanent curiosity about everything
2) Fearless creativity
3) The ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings.

Let's look at each of these and one way to learn them;

Permanent Curiosity about Everything

"The most important characteristic is to be permanently curious about everything, especially about stuff you don’t know, and stuff that does not seem relevant at the time."

Bob's advice to be permanently curious about everything is significant. This is one of the core principles of deep creativity. The more raw material (ideas) there are to work with, the greater the number of possible combinations. In addition, the hidden links between seemingly unrelated things (the ambiguities and unknowns) often contain the seeds of break-thru creative solutions.

One example of this is IDEO's Deep Dive Process.  Developing deep relevant knowledge is also the first step towards what Bloom's Taxonomy calls the Creating phase, where information can be put together in innovative ways. Walt Disney exhibited this sort of behavior constantly. It is also a fundamental trait of babies and children.  That is why DT recommends adopting the mindset of a novice.

Fearless Creativity

"Not being afraid to show others a dumb idea. Maybe it will lead to something practical."

Dozens of authors have written about the importance of overcoming fear. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review David Kelley commented:

"Students often come to Stanford University’s “” to develop their creativity. Clients work with IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the same reason. But along the way, we’ve learned that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out. We do this by giving them strategies to get past four fears that hold most of us back: 

1) Fear of the messy unknown
2) Fear of being judged
3) Fear of the first step
4) Fear of losing control.

Express ideas in both words and drawings

"Imagineers have the ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings."

Visual Thinking - the ability to conceptualize in both images and words - is a key aspect of creativity. Artists and engineers both use their abilities to create images. It is the merging of these two skills which creates the Storyteller, who uses words and images to connect on a deep emotional level with the audience. This is something Disney has excelled at for decades and is also key element of Design Thinking.

Focus on the user at every step of the value chain

This one is so powerful it should probably have been stated first. Great Design, which seems like magic to the customer, comes from responding in a deep, empathic way, to guests' unexpressed needs. Its what enables the "How did they know I needed that?" moment of delight. This focus is often targeted at the end user, but the truth is the process starts with the very next person in your value chain - the person you deliver your work product to. Skip them - or anyone else - along the way and the quality of the end product will be reduced because someone's needs were overlooked or ignored.

So, how can you buff up your creativity toolbox and at least act like an Imagineer? Simple! Use the same methods to enhance your creative process. Fortunately, there are sources you can turn to for lots of free high quality guidance, provided you are willing to call the toolkit by a different name;

Human Centered Design Toolkit - (IDEO) 154 pages 34.4 MB pdf download

Use our Methods - ( - "a collection of methods for folks new to design thinking."

Creative Confidence - Excerpts from the book

Rapid Viz - (Download/buy) The classic introduction to rapid drawing techniques