Exercising A Whole New Mind: Play


try to have this much fun!

Kids are so good at play.  Their ability to experience such unadulterated joy just running around and laughing is a pure delight.  We could all do with more of this.  Not only will you live a longer, more enjoyable life, you might actually work better too.

Turns out video games can be good for you too.  The US Army is finding they help with perception, the medical industry is finding they can be used for simulations.

And a little humor can help ease tense situations and help everyone get along.  Who doesn’t like where this is going?

In terms of the exercises, I’m not convinced by the laughter club, the humor scale, or joke dissection. There are many game recommendations but I’m always scared to try new games, because I know if I like it, I’ll end up staying up all night playing it.  He does recommend two specifically for developing the right brain: Right Brain Game and Right Brain Paradise that I would like to look at.

Cartoon Captions: one more reason to subscribe to the New Yorker: playing the captions game.  BTW, about 2 years ago we received a gift subscription with a KQED membership and it soon became one of my favorite magazines – we have been subscribing ever since – the covers are brilliant, the writers are incredible (definitely something to aspire too), and I love the film, TV and book reviews.

Watch Kids Play: this is a winner.  The energy, laughter and joy are infectious (at least until you or they get tired).

Tomorrow we finish the series with Meaning.  I’m also going to post on FailCon as there were some good adds to my 10 Years, 10 Lessons series.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Empathy


photo courtesy of D. C. Atty

How was your day? It’s all relative, but I bet it was better than this guy’s.    Today is all about empathy.

The most famous design firm, IDEO is huge on this. At FailCon today Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path was big on this. Empathy is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Pink writes about the life or death differences in healthcare that empathy can bring.

My favorite exercises:

  • Eavesdrop: listen to nearby conversations and imagine yourself as a protagonist.  Now you have an excuse to eavesdrop at restaurants: “sorry, just exercising my right brain, didn’t mean to intrude”
  • Play “whose life”: this sounds fun – go through someone’s backpack, purse, … (removed of stuff bearing their name) and divine their life.  This section mentions the IDEO Method Cards  – $49 for a bunch of their techniques.  If you get one good idea from one of these techniques its covered the cost.
  • Empathize on the job: Experience a day in the life of your colleagues or customers.  Very illuminating.  I like shadowing.  Pink suggests having people guess their colleagues highs, lows, frustrations and rewards and then have them describe reality.   Results will vary with culture and individuals.
  • Do a home made greeting card: we do this each Christmas.  Its fun and very easy with digital cameras, and shutterfly or Kodak Gallery.  I also like doing calendars because they force you through that exercise of picking the best 12-20 shots for the year, which is a delight because you reflect on what you’ve done and get to see a bunch of photos you didn’t watch when they were first uploaded.

Tomorrow: Play.  Much more upbeat.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Symphony


drawing courtesy of Craig Spence

Symphony, fortunately, is not about musical ability.  According to Dan Pink its the ability to put together the pieces.  Capabilities such as: find patterns, cross boundaries to bring knowledge from one specialization to another, create metaphors, see the big picture.

My favorite exercises from this list:

  • Hit the Newsstand: buy mags you’ve never noticed before and look for ways to use the content in work or life.  I haven’t tried this, but I definitely want to.  May indeed be confusing for rest of family though…
  • Draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the classic by Betty Edwards (I was lucky enough to get this from my mom in my teenage years).  Line drawing is such a meditative in-the-moment exercise – once you start concentrating time flies and you feel quite peaceful once you’re done.  And there’s that pleasure of rediscovering how to draw – you can still do art!  (BTW, the picture above is just one of the exercises, recreating a childhood drawing.  You can see others in Craig Spence’s photostream. You will actually learn to draw well from this book 🙂 ) Thoroughly recommended.
  • Follow the Links:  An argument for random surfing via U Roulette or Random Web Search (as if we don’t do enough of this already – the last thing I need is a right-brain exercise as justification!)
  • Look for Solutions in Search of Problems: could you take a solution and use it somewhere else, or flip the default to make it work?
  • Books: I’ve been wanting to pick up George Nelson’s classic How to See but that puppy is $75 used!  Thanks DWR.
  • Brainstorming: Pink summarizes the IDEO brainstorming technique from Ten Faces of Innovation.  I first tried this out back in 2007 when I was interviewing with IDEO and was working on a new car seat design.  Its amazing: had about 10 friends over and 30 minutes later, 100 novel ideas which you cull later.  The basics: go for quantity over quality,  encourage wild and crazy ideas, defer judgment, and use pictures and change the focus when the ideas slow down.

Tomorrow, time for some Empathy.  Have a good one.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Story

photo courtesy of Nufkin

photo courtesy of Nufkin

The second of Dan Pink’s six right brain senses is Story.

Chip and dan Heath convinced me of the importance and power of Story in Made to Stick which I thoroughly recommend as a handbook for creating communication people will remember.  I’m not sure if it is because Pink was a speechwriter and is now a writer, but I find these exercises less attractive.

What’s your 50-word story? Some of the other ideas I’m not personally motivated to try: enlist in StoryCorps, tape record a friend or relative’s story, got to a storytelling festival, subscribe to OneStory, try telling a digital story, read texts on storytelling.  There are a few fun ideas here though:

  • Write a mini saga: 50 words long on your life or something that happened. Henry Olson introduced me to this great quote from Blaise Pascal: “I am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had not the time to write a short one.” Editing 2000 words down to 1000 is actually more time consuming than writing the 2000 words.  50 words really focuses your attention on just what’s important
  • Riff on opening lines: at a party, throw a bunch of opening lines from books into a bowl and draw cars and construct stories from them.  I’ve played a very fun variant where one person reads the description on the back of a book, then writes down the first sentence.  Everyone else makes up a first sentence.  The real and made up lines are thrown into a bowl, read out loud, and you have to guess which is the real one.  Very amusing.
  • Play Photo Finish: similar but show pictures and have people come up with a story.
  • “Who Are These People?”: look at people in public and try to make up a life story for them.

If you want to learn how to write more memorable stories, go with the Heath brothers’ advice, if you want to learn how to write well, then Pink’s suggestions are useful.  I’m surprised he doesn’t mention blogs or writer’s festivals.

Tomorrow we look at symphony.  Fortunately its not just about music.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Design

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. As a right-brainer who woke up a few years ago realizing how I’d been neglecting my creative side, and that I needed to re-engage it to increase my personal well-being, I was both thrilled at the prospect of the ascendance of the Conceptual Age (replacing the Information Age) and motivated to accelerate the role of the right brain in my life.

One of the great aspects of Pink’s book is the Portfolio section at the end of each of the Six Senses of the Conceptual Age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, to complement the left-brain predilections for Function, Argument, Focus, Logic, Seriousness, and Accumulation respectively.  Why these are the right six senses he doesn’t explain (no doubt frustrating to left-brainers), but they certainly feel like a good list. After describing each sense he provides a host of practical exercises you can undertake to engage them. I’m not going to review the book itself in great detail, as that is readily available elsewhere. Instead I’ll focus on sharing the results of my experiences with these Portfolio activities, which may be helpful for others interested in upping the role of the right brain in their lives.  There’s a lot of experiments for each sense, so I’m going to break this into six posts.

Review Summary: I Loved It (But I’m Biased)
Clearly I’m pre-disposed to believe the central thesis, which I find to be self-evident. For left-brain cynics Pink has a whole chapter of evidence. For those who think in black and white (as opposed to my preferences for shades of gray) I’d stress that he’s not saying there is no place for the left-brain, and that’s precisely why he called it A Whole New Mind. Pink is arguing that more use of right-brain skills will be more highly valued in the new world order. There will still be bankers and accountants. And anyone who can combine both will have the potential to enjoy the best of both worlds.

In terms of the book itself, Pink writes extremely well and/or has a fabulous editor. It’s a very easy read, well-structured, peppered with humor, and absent the frustrating, endless repetition typical of so many business books.

Portfolio Review: Testing the Senses

None of these will turn you into a creative guru overnight.  I see them really as just fun exercises that help you to re-connect with the right brain and find what works for you.  Turn what you like into a habit and forget the rest.


  • Design Notebook: use to note good and bad design. Great training for the eye. I’ve already accumulated some blog topics on this one.
  • Channel Your Annoyance: sketch up a solution to bad design and mail to manufacturer. I’m going to try this with yoghurt tubes, juice boxes, and gym equipment. It’s quite cathartic to determine what annoys you and actually do something about it
  • Read Design Magazines: As a retired architect, I already subscribe to a range of architectural porn including Metropolis and Dwell. I think Pink forgot Sunset which is a delight for all the senses. I miss Real Simple for its overwhelming sense of calming layout and life organization (the magazine, not the website!), but I found it was just too overtly targeted at women, which was a little alienating –  maybe its time to see if this has changed.
  • Be Like Karim: excerpts from Karim Rashid’s manifesto are immensely appealing – to a generalist, starting with “#1. Don’t specialize” was a breath of fresh air in a world that overly favors specialization. I loved “Know everything about your profession and then forget it all when you design something new.” and “Normal is not good”
  • Participate in the “Third Industrial Revolution” – create a product tailored just for you.  Used NikeiD once for Christmas which was very popular.  Quite like doing custom t-shirts, calendars etc for gifts.   For 3-D design I’m really excited about the falling cost of design software (e.g. Google SketchUp) and availability of 3-D printing for prototypes.
  • C-R-A-Pify Your Design – a few minor hints on cleaning up the visual appearance of materials you develop – we’ll have to talk about PowerPoint’s another day – huge topic.  Once you know what look for cleaning up a PowerPoint is actually pretty easy. Start with consistent colors and fonts and alignment of elements on a page. Removing all the unnecessary slides, removing all the crap from the slides and endless bullets is key. Strongly recommend Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology.

What experiments have you tried and with what results?

The Knowledge Management Holy Grail

photo courtesy of Eddi 07

photo courtesy of Eddi 07

For the 15+ years I’ve been working in knowledge worker roles, knowledge management has been much spoken about, but never seen.

I’m currently working with a virtual team of nearly 10 consultants.  The firm has had 0ver 80 clients since its founding in 2001, so there is a treasure trove of experience in the firm.  Unfortunately, its in people’s heads, on their laptops, and to a lesser degree on the shared network drive.  Sound familiar?  It’s the classic enterprise knowledge management problem.  You want to tap into the experience of your peers, but there is no easy way to do it.

For example, if I need to run a requirements session, and I know my colleagues have done many, I currently have to phone each one and rely on their memory and availability to send me what they have, or I can browse through the network client folders one-by-one randomly opening documents.  Inefficient and time-consuming.    A Google appliance would help, but the success of that approach depends on the discipline to save relevant files to the network drive.

We need a system which reduces the barriers to storage and search – organization with minimum overhead.  It seems the new abundances of storage, computing power and bandwidth would be amenable to cracking this decades old problem.  Perhaps a version of Google that can search nominated folders and Outlook files on everyone’s laptop that’s working on the same project? How cool would it be if you could just do a Google quality search of the team members’ laptops, maybe with an interrupt alert that seeks their approval of which folders and what results to share? Even cooler if a wiki or other centralized collection of notes and links was auto-created and updated on desired topics again with people’s approval of the search and results.  Any takers? (We could certainly use the help!)

Who is Going to Make the Clouds Play Nice Together?

photo courtesy of chascar

photo courtesy of chascar

I had lunch (at the fabulous Sanchos btw – love the fish tacos and tried a Mexican coke – they really do taste better) with my good friend and ex-boss, Henry Olson.  He has an uncanny ability to think one step ahead.

After our usual ruminations about what went wrong at Edge, and whether we would have the smarts to detect it next time (and, more importantly, the courage to act), Henry made the observation that companies need to shift from product-directed thinking to  market- directed thinking.  You can’t force the product on the customer – the customer defines the product and what they need from it. We covered this in You Don’t Know What Customers Want – make sure the market is driving requirements, not your perceptions of what the market wants.

Not content with cracking this nut, and as we are both headed for Enterprise 2.0, Henry quizzed me on what’s next for the enterprise.  He had observed last year that the SaaS revolution was in some ways a lot of same excrement with a different delivery method (i.e. paving the cowpath) and the gaps every one seems to be missing are between these disparate cloud apps.  Will anyone see that this year?  How do you solve user provisioning, application integration, and reporting and analytics with different data structures, and customer and product masters.  At this rate, there will be a new wave of consultants earning their fortunes wiring all these disparate cloud apps together – SaaS middleware anyone?

I’ve already observed that  enterprise software feels dead.  The new wave of cheaper, better, faster SaaS solutions are chipping away at traditional enterprise software with point solutions.   If we can stereotype who is doing this it’s unlikely to be the young bucks coming out of Stanford et. al. are going to fully grasp the challenges of enterprise computing, or otherwise be attracted to the relatively dismal world of B2B software.  Far more likely is B2B point solutions will be offered by grizzled corporate refugees, who are more interested in building a tidy nest egg than changing the world (as we are led to believe the starry-eyed younger entrepreneurs are wont to do).  This will most likely mean vertically- focused point solutions based on their experience.  In other words, our seasoned vets are unlikely to take on the tougher, larger problem of getting all of these cloud apps to play nicely together.

Henry wondered if NetSuite is the answer (I don’t know – can anyone comment?) It would seem that we need a bunch of open APIs and standards to make these different cloud applications work together.

Perhaps consumer apps not just raising the bar but pointing the way to new enterprise models? Facebook Connect has been a brilliant success for outsourced authentication – but it has the tiny advantage of being used by everyone (well ~300 million anyway). As more people work for themselves and have greater autonomy they will make the purchasing decisions for themselves –  laptops, productivity software, etc.  This market neatly sidesteps the traditional software problems of long sales cycles and difficulty communicating with the user community. This won’t replace SAP, but it might be the right path for collaboration and other productivity apps.

What are your thoughts for Enterprise 2.0?  How will the incumbents change and what new players will emerge?