Monday, December 21, 2015

Balancing Brains and Teams

Tony Buzan's classic Use Both Sides of Your Brain has gone thru three editions since 1976 and is still considered by many to be foundational in the area of brain science. His step-by-step exercises for discovering the powers of the right and left sides of the brain and learning to use them more effectively have been a source of inspiration and insight for millions.

Two recent articles, one in FastCompany; 4 Tips to Master Thinking with Both Side of Your Brain and Boot Creativity and the other from the National Institutes of Heath; The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism, offer further insights on the inner workings and wiring of the brain and the interplay between Cognitive Bias and Creativity.

FastCo; "The right side of the brain remembers the big picture, the left side of the brain recalls the details. Complex cognitive functions require the brain regions to work in integrated fashion, shifting between divergent and convergent thinking to combine new information with old and even forgotten knowledge... the more easily you shift between both sides, the more complex a creative a thinker you can be."

NIH; "Like all other human experiences, the basic mental attitudes of optimism and pessimism are closely interlinked with distinct physiological processes. Pessimistic views are generally mediated by the right-hemisphere (RH), whereas optimistic attitudes are mediated primarily by the left-hemisphere (LH)."
If the right side of the brain remembers the big picture and is more pessimistic and the left side recalls the details and is more optimistic, what does this tell us about how to creatively problem solve?

It appears that when we're in the details we're more optimistic and when we're looking at the future we're more pessimistic. What is the difference? The perceived degree of ambiguity. This also offers some insights in to why "analysts" may be more risk averse and pessimistic and "synthesists" more optimistic and tolerant of ambiguity.

Awareness of this element is critical when using or facilitating Design Thinking's problem solving process. If the composition of the team makes it highly risk averse (analytical and intolerant of ambiguity) or short term focused (impatient) it will be difficult for the them to generate ideas that are very different and diverse. At the same time, if the team is heavily loaded with out-of-the-box thinkers it could be a challenge to converge on a viable solution.

This isn't to say that all you want on the team are Dreamstormers. In order to narrow down to an executable solution which is also viable, deep critical consideration of weaknesses and potential failure points has to occur somewhere in the design process. That should happen after the dreamstorming is over and the ideas have been captured and organized, but it has to happen if you are going to achieve any useful success.

This idea is reminiscent of Disney's Three Rooms and the associated roles of Dreamer, Realist and Critic. Leave any one of them out of the process and there is a much greater chance of having missed something important to the success of the project.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Radical Collaboartion - How Lunch Saved EPCOT

The biggest challenge getting EPCOT ready for opening day wasn’t technological, WED does technology with the best of them. The VP of Engineering, John Zovich, called the problem "the invisible stuff" or "the voodoo," and the Engineering division of WED wouldn't get anywhere until the problem was sorted out.

Soon after he starting at Disney Art Frohwerk discovered that engineering was the most misunderstood and disliked group in the entire organization. At the heart of this was a lot of finger pointing. The Creative group complained that Engineering hadn't listened to what was at the heart of the story. Engineering would counter that the creative concept was impractical. At the same time, Purchasing was begging to get orders for materials like circuit boards, which had a painfully long lead-times and were difficult to obtain, while Engineering was struggling to work out the details of the design.

Frohwerk knew that something needed to change and decided it needed to begin with Engineering. He gathered the entire team together to go over the new rules; Rule number one was no more finger pointing. Art explained what that looked like and emphasized that if any more finger pointing occurred the perpetrators would visit with him personally, in his office. The second visit would include a set of empty cardboard boxes. The success of EPCOT was too critical for the teams to not get along with each other.

Having drawn the line in the sand, Art added a carrot to the end of the stick. Engineering Management would pay its Imagineers to have lunch with their peers from the other divisions — storytellers, show designers, manufacturing, purchasing, planning, etc.

He set aside about $5,000, and initially the plan worked. People started turning in lunch receipts. Then, after a couple of months, it stopped. Art wasn't sure what was happening. He asked the leadership team why he wasn't seeing any more receipts. At first no one said anything. Finally, an Imagineer spoke up and said: "Art, we wouldn't charge the company to take our friends out to lunch."

Art succeeded in busting down the silos and in establishing working relationships throughout the organization. Some six months later, everyone was invited to a meeting with Ron Miller and other Disney executives, to celebrate the progress and turn-around that Engineering had made, not only in organizing themselves for building EPCOT, but in their becoming better team players.

Everyone received a shirt with a graphic that stated "I love 510" with Mickey peering over the top. 510 referred to the name of their department. It was a celebration that the department Walt Disney Productions hated to deal with the most was now the department most loved by others. Department 510 had learned to collaborate, explain itself, and facilitate whatever it took to pull off the mission.

Soon after, Department 510 had its own visioning session to reflect on what it had now started to accomplish. Their internal motto became to: "Pick up where dreams left off."

We all have opportunities to "pick up where dreams left off," Its accomplished by effectively working with those around us - and a key element of Design Thinking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bob Gurr on Imagineering Part III

This last edit of the July 2015 Bob Gurr talk at Google gets into some very interesting material about Bob's departure from Disney and his take on the future of Themed Amusement. It's vintage Gurr, calling it like he sees it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

In the Details at Jock's

Jock Lindsey's Hanger Bar
One of the hallmarks of Walt Disney Imagineering is their attention to detail. In a recent posting Stephanie Pashowsky takes us on a delicious visual tour of the new Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar at Disney Springs. I love aviation and old radios, so some of her images are more than just eye candy for me.

Jock's Radios
The Indiana Jones saga covers a lot of ground chronologically; Temple of Doom was set in 1935, Raiders of the Lost Ark was set in 1936, and Last Crusade was circa 1938. Crystal Skull was two decades later in 1957, so I was curious about how well the Imagineers did at getting the radio gear right.

Stephanie's image (above) shows three pieces of equipment if you include the microphone. The radio on the top is a Hallicrafters SX-99, a four band single conversion general coverage HF receiver which was in production in 1957 - so they are spot on with the a Crystal Skull radio selection.

Hallicrafters SX-99 (1957)
The radio on the bottom is a Hallicrafters, S-20R although the grill and the knob below it are different. The microphone is also plugged into the headphone jack. BTW - this radio made another appearance in Some Like it Hot, the 1959 comedy film starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Joe E. Brown, when Osgood Fielding III makes a ship-to-shore telephone call to the hotel, with his feet propped up on a S-20R. This radio is *close* to the date for Last Crusade, but the S-16, S-20, S-21 S-22, SX-16, SX-17, or SX-18 would have been spot on.

Hallicrafters S-20R (1939)

The S-20R Sky Champion was made from 1939-1945 and sold for $49.50. It was the first in a long line of receivers, running from the S-40 (1946-1955), to the S-85 (1955-1959), and finally the S-108 (1959-1961). It covered frequencies from 540 Khz to 44 Mhz and had bandspread tuning, Automatic Volume Control, Automatic Noise Limiting, a Beat Frequency Oscillator, three-position tone control and a headphone jack!

The microphone appears to be an Astatic D-104. The earliest were made about 1933 and continued in production with little change until the 1960s.

In 1935, the era of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hallicrafters offered the S-7 and SX-9, but neither of them are particularly photogenic.

The next year, 1936, Raiders of the Lost Ark, featured the S-9, S-10, S-14, SX-10, SX-11 and SX-12.

If you were looking for the iconic radios of the era, you'd would have to include SX-17 and the SX-28.

Hallicrafters SX-17 (1938)

If I had to pick one radio that represents the peak of the Hallicrafter's World War II era offerings it would have to the be SX-28.  Introduced in 1940, this radio has enough knobs, switches and dials to keep any one busy for days. This radio almost defines the term "boatanchor" which is the nickname many vacuum tube radio fans use to describe equipment from this era.

 Hallicrafters SX-28 (1940)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What Design Thinking Really Is

Over the past few years I've participated in a number of online forums devoted to the subject of Design Thinking. I have a personal interest in the subject because 40 years ago I was present when the seeds of the were planted at Stanford.  I subsequently graduated from it's forerunner; the Product Design Program, and went on to successfully apply what I'd been taught there in both my personal and professional life.

Having that background in Design Thinking may help explain my amusement, amazement and occasional irritation, when someone levels a critical eye at DT and declares it a fraud. I probably should be more understanding of the critics and in fact I want to be and have spent countless hours asking myself why anyone would take issue with something which has so much potential for good.

A thought occurred to me about this recently which may bear some fruit. It has to do with something that will be familiar to teachers called Bloom's Taxonomy.

The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives came out of a series of conferences which were held between 1949 and 1953, which were designed to improve communication between educators on the design of curricula and examinations. Bloom's Taxonomy is a framework teachers use to evaluate how well a student understands a subject.

Although there are several ways to represent it, I like the pyramid-cake model because its structure closely follows the phases of Design Thinking and the behaviors associated the the highest level, which is called Create, are "combining parts to make a new whole."

All the phases in the Design Thinking process are here; The fact collecting of the Deep Dive, Empathic Inquiry leading to Understanding, Application of the ideas in Rapid Prototyping, Analyzing and Evaluating the results and the most creative step; combining things into a new whole to tell the story or solve the problem.  Another aspect of Blooms Taxonomy is its consideration for emotional content and the student's ability to appreciate other living things' pain or joy.

In today's STEM classrooms this is being taught as Problem Based Learning. My wife is teaching it to 4th graders.

Placed into the context of education, Design Thinking is a group of methods to learn what is needed to solve almost any type of problem as rapidly and efficiently as possible. At the highest level the result are creative solutions for highly complex, ambiguous, even life threatening situations.

Even our understanding of DT can be viewed in the context of Blooms Taxonomy. Novices are at the stage of gathering and recognizing facts about DT. Some have actual experience applying it to real world problems. Others are evaluating and judging its application and results. A handful are even pushing the practice to develop fuller more effective methods.

Underneath it all, Design Thinking is about learning what we need to know in order to solve life's most challenging problems. Call it what you want, as long as you "Just Do It."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bob Gurr on Imagineering - Part II

Here is Part II of Bob Gurr at Google, talking about "Free Thinking" and "No-Process" in the context of his time with WED Imagineering.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bob Gurr on Imagineering

On July 30, 2015 Imagineering Legend Bob Gurr visited Google's Headquarters in Mountain View California, sharing his reflections and experiences as an Imagineer.

The full presentation lasted an hour with the last half devoted to questions from the Google employees. Bob covered a lot of ground, but his comments about Walt and the way Imagineering was done "back in the day" were very interesting. (I've edited the first part down to 6 minutes.)

My key takeaways were that when you are doing something that's never been done before, trying to apply an existing process doesn't have a high probability of success.

Although Bob initially says "we don't use processes", he follows up with; "we just do it."
While he doesn't provide a short list of what that means, he describes "just do it" in his stories.

When you put all the pieces together; non-judgmental brainstorming ("French cats bouncing off the walls"), daily, tight communication (Empathic Inquiry), prototyping (build-it), Bob's non-process fits the Express-Test-Cycle basics of Design Thinking / expert class problem solving model perfectly.

Friday, December 4, 2015

First Principles of Design Thinking

Gordian Brain Knot
Two years ago posted a video on YouTube of Elon Musk explaining the First Principles Method of problem solving, which he characterized as a "boiling things down to the most fundamental truths." That got me thinking about what the fundamental truths of Design Thinking might be.  There are a handful of core characteristics;
  • Start with Empathy
  • Embrace Ambiguity
  • Novice Mindset
  • Radical Collaboration
What does “empathy” mean exactly, and how is it different from sympathy or other emotional experiences?  Frans de Waal and Stephanie Preston compiled a list for their 2002 article, “Empathy: Its Ultimate and Proximate Bases,” which appeared in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  From Design Thinking's interest in determining of Point of View it appears DT considers both emotional and cognitive empathy.
  • Empathy: The subject has a similar emotional state to the object as a result of perceiving the object’s situation. Empathy preserves the distinction between self and other. The subject’s emotional state is partially focused on the other, often resulting in kind or helping behavior.
  • Cognitive empathy: Apart from being emotionally affected, the subject cognitively understands the object’s predicament and situation. This implies perspective-taking and attribution.
Although there are many creative skill building techniques, until recently there hasn't been much addressing the development of empathy or tolerance for ambiguity, both of which are important because if you lack either, your creative teams' abilities are probably compromised. There are some simple tests which can be used to gauge capabilities in these areas.

Empathy Quotient Test - developed by Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge.

Roman Krznari says we can cultivate empathy and use it as a radical force for social transformation.
Here are his Six Habits of Highly Empathic People;
  1. Cultivate curiosity about strangers
  2. Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
  3. Try another person’s life
  4. Listen hard—and open up
  5. Inspire mass action and social change
  6. Develop an ambitious imagination
Tolerance for Ambiguity - from a study at the University of California, Berkeley

With regard to ambiguity there is a deeply neurobiological component having to do with the structure and function of the brain.

Your brain has three parts which respond to various stimuli differently in the creation of thoughts, feelings and reflexes. What is interesting is the way stimuli are filtered as they travel from the spinal cord to the cerebral cortex, passing thru the emotional brain. In particular, the Amygdala is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation and works with the the deep layers of superior colliculus (DLSC), to elicit defensive behaviors. These defensive behaviors can be helpful when analyzing and critiquing ideas, but can be show stoppers in brainstorming sessions.

For that reason, when building a team, it would be a good idea to have a balance of skills.
This is reminiscent of Disney's Three Rooms process.