Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

The technological legacy of Steve Jobs

Friday, October 7th, 2011

On Wednesday of this week, we lost a great industrialist and creator. Steve Jobs was a true innovator and has left us with many ideas to work with. Suzanne Fischer, The Henry Ford’s curator of technology, shared her thoughts on why we often clamor for the products Jobs and his company created. This blog post is co-posted here and on The Henry Ford’s blog.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, passed away yesterday, and the web is filled with an astounding outpouring of respect and gratitude for his work. It’s a testament to the impact personal technology — mass-produced consumer products — can have on people’s lives.

At The Henry Ford, we document not only the work of innovators, but the ways people use technology in their everyday lives. We collect artifacts that by their physicality and tangibility, their heft and their look, connect visitors to history and the lives of the people who used them. The Apple products in our collection — including an Apple IIe, a Lisa, a Macintosh, an iMac, an iPod and an iPhone — were used by ordinary people to write, teach, do business, play games, listen to music and connect to each other. Jobs’ product genius was in making those activities easy, transparent and fun — and in making the products highly desirable.

An Apple iMac, on display in the Your Place In Time exhibit inside Henry Ford Museum.

In the early 1980s, with Jobs at Apple’s helm, the company popularized the mouse and “graphic user interface” — the cheerful icons and desktop and folder metaphors that we still use in everyday computing. These innovations made computing accessible to everybody, not only people who could code. Over at our OnInnovation site, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s brilliant engineer co-found, talks about how making computing fun and easy was the company’s goal from the beginning.

Jobs famously described the company as located at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He infused a respect for creativity, intelligence and design into the company’s products — integrating color graphics quite early, for instance, and making one of his own passions, music, the key to a new kind of product, the digital music player.

The products Apple made under Jobs were never cheap. They were aspirational consumer goods that promised to make your life better, to make you a cool nonconformist, to make you “think different.” Did they? Maybe and maybe not, but Jobs’ legacy reminds us that our tools can change not only the way we live our lives, but the way we think about ourselves.

Amplifying The Maker Force

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We met Jeff Sturges at Maker Fair Detroit 2010, where he introduced us to Fab Lab and its impact with urban farming in Detroit.

Jeff came back for Maker Faire Detroit 2011 and left very inspired and motivated. In this guest blog post, Jeff shares his enthusiasm and shares ideas about how anyone can get involved in the wonderful world of DIY.

Maker Faire Detroit 2011 was truly a grand celebration of creative awesomeness! From the fire breathing Gon KiRin to the handmade Paper House Dolls, the grounds of the Henry Ford were covered with exhibitions and projects that were as incredible as they were ingenious. No matter what your passion, there was something exciting for everyone.

During the drive home after Maker Faire, my mind was abuzz with romantic visions of my own future projects. I envisioned many other wide-eyed makers and makers-to-be doing the same…dreaming of such silliness as robotic quadcopters equipped with mini-marshmallow shooters, or perhaps such seriousness as the next generation of alternative fuel automobile.

My musings simmered to concerns when I considered the dreams that might fade away before making it to reality…perhaps due to busy schedules, limited resources, lack of knowledge, or loss of drive. I also considered folks that may have been been bitten by the maker “bug” at the Faire, but left without an idea of how to connect with the local maker community. How does one get involved in the maker movement? How do we keep the Maker Force surging through our hands, hearts and minds long enough for our ideas to become real?

Doing It Yourself (DIY) vs. Doing It Together (DIT) – The power of community workshops and maker networks
There is a powerful energy created when groups ofenthusiastic people work together…either as a team on a single effort, or simply side-by-side focusing on their own projects. Joining or creating a community workshop where passionate people gather to share the space, tools, and knowledge of making concentrates energy and resources. This concentration often has an exponential effect on the speed, quality and enjoyability of making. Community workshops can and do exist on various scales and for various purposes. There are many examples to consider for either participation or startup.

The Neighborhood Garage
The most creative spaces are often found in garages, basements, and even kitchens. Why not simply open yours to a few like-minded friends in your area? Perhaps meet at one location or even rotating locations if projects are portable? Maybe one evening per week, or two weekend afternoons per month?

The Back Room in The Community Center
Know of an underutilized space in a community center, school, or place of worship? Consider examples such as the Mt Elliott Makerspace in Detroit and Parts and Crafts in Cambridge, MI. Both workshops launched and continue to operate in church basements, and both focus on youth learning through making.

A Hackerspace is a collective of creative innovators that may include designers and engineers as well as artists and musicians. While In the past, the term “hacker” applied to software programmers breaking into computer mainframes, nowadays the term is associated with anyone who is involved in hands-on experimentation with materials, tools, and technologies. Participation in a hackerspace normally involves paying monthly dues to support the costs of operation, and sharing responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep. Members often range in age from 18 to 88 years, and number from 10 to over 75 people. Examples of local Michigan hackerspaces include OmniCorpDetroit in Detroit, i3Detroit in Ferndale and All Hands Active in Ann

Professional Workspaces
Community workshops also exist less in the form of collectives and more in the form of a professional workspaces. Examples include the upcoming Maker Works in Ann Arbor and TechShop in Allen Park. These workshops offer a wider range of advanced tools and resources that may not be available at a typical hackerspace.

Maker Networks
Prefer to work solo but desire some sort of a connection to other makers? Check out the various online community resources offered through Make Magazine such as their forum, community directory, newsletter, maker maps, etc. Attend local meetups such as hackerspace Open Hack nights where it is possible to mingle with local makers more about projects, organizations, and events. See the hackerspace websites listed above for schedules and details.

Small is Big – Start with small projects, and break up big projects into mini-projects
One of my all time favorite lessons…
Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

If you are a young maker or a maker-to-be (or a parent of either), I suggest developing skills and building confidence with small projects that are simple, quick, easy and cheap. Once the basics are mastered and the taste of success is palpable, it is easier to move on to more challenging and time-intensive projects. Examples might include LED throwies as found on Make: Projects, or Sock Puppets as found on Instructables. In addition, various kit-based projects are available such as the Drawdio sold via the MakerSHED or the MintyBoost sold by Adafruit Industries. For youth ages 6-12, HowToons brilliantly uses a comic format to present tutorials for simple projects that use common household materials.

If you are ready for an ambitious project, “eating the elephant one bite at a time” is key to keeping things manageable. Set up a schedule with specific times to work on projects, perhaps once per week for a few hours. Break up the project into smaller mini-projects, map out the associated tasks necessary to accomplish each mini-project, and plug these tasks into your schedule. Most importantly, maintain a positive mental attitude. Everything will take longer than expected, and problems and obstacles will arise. All of this you can and will overcome.

Over-Thinking leads to Under-Doing – Stop thinking and DO IT!
One of the most dreadful black holes for maker energy is over-thinking. Of course, careful planning is essential for the success of any project, but at a certain point one must stop planning and dive in. I have witnessed many people, including myself, plan and design a project to death. Trying to solve every problem and address every detail in the early stages leads to “paralysis by analysis.” Rarely are all problems solved on a sketchpad, and often you will uncover new problems in the process of making anyway, so you may as well get started! Once hand and mind begin working in beautiful harmony, brilliant solutions and new discoveries will present themselves.

Celebrate Progress – Join or create events where you can share your projects and ideas
An event need not be the colossal scale of the Detroit Maker Faire in order to generate the Maker Force. Attending, joining, or creating events that involve the display of projects provide occasions share your work, develop new ideas, and connect with other makers. Community groups, galleries and hackerspaces occasionally host events that include open calls for projects. Submit your work! Check out local newspapers such as the Detroit Metro Times for details on creative events such as the upcoming DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. Feeling particularly
ambitious? Consider starting a Mini Maker Faire in your city such as the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.

Keep the Maker Force strong! See you and your projects at Maker Faire Detroit 2012!

Innovation in the Classroom

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

In a classroom in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, students were weary of learning the same way, and in the same styles and formats, as students did 100 years ago. They were not satisfied to sit in rows while their teachers lectured them. They wanted to interact and collaborate with each other. They wanted to learn from each other’s interests and ideas.

Do you think these students are on to something? Should schools change the traditional learning structure? How can educators embrace the rapidly-changing technology to keep their students engaged and inspired?

Education Evolution

“Education Evolution” was conceived by a group of Texas middle school students who wondered, “Could children, using the internet, have a dramatic impact on the world around them? Could they influence public opinion, and make a mark on their world?”

Using digital tools they already had in their backpacks, the students share the alternative working environment they created for their classroom. The students were convinced they could increase learning through collaboration, technology and a better use of their space and surroundings.

Let There Be Light

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Millions of people around the world can’t afford electric bulbs and live in homes that lack windows, resulting in lives spent mostly in darkness. However, thanks to a program called Liter of Light, many families in the Philippines will be able to afford light in their homes by a new innovation — old soda bottles now converted to solar bulbs.

Over 10,000 homes across Manila and Laguna have the solar bulbs installed. The light source improves the standard of living in the poorest areas. You can watch a story about the invention here.

A solar bulb is created by adding water and bleach into the plastic bottle and inserting the bottle into the roof through a custom-cut hole. The sunlight goes through the bottle and the added water refracts it, creating 55-60 watts of clear light in the home. The bleach in the bottle is used to keep the water clean of algae. The device can be built and installed in less than an hour and lasts for about five years. The idea is inexpensive for the financially-disadvantaged residents. It’s a practical combination of simple technology and reuse of disposed soda bottles.

Are you creating something unique and useful? We want to know about it. Share a video of what you are making with us here.

Preserving Dignity to Drive Creativity

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Brainstorms at INDEX: Views

We’ve all had the nightmares in one form or another.  You find yourself at a podium and you forgot what your speech was about.  Or you are at the office and realize that you aren’t wearing any pants.  These nightmares are powerful reminders of our deep seated fear of exposing ourselves to the judgment of our peers, and the associated loss of dignity when we feel we are not prepared to face that exposure.

Now think about the way many companies solicit new ideas from their employees.  In their quest to remove constraints to encourage the flow of ideas, they can inadvertently set up a similar situation in which employees are expected expose their ideas to the judgment of their peers without any way to prepare themselves for the exposure.

People who facilitate workshops, brainstorms and ideation sessions understand this, and take great pains to establish a “safe” environment in which people can feel free to contribute thoughts and not be judged personally.  Yet, what is missing are any tools to enable people to prepare themselves for the exposure.

Rather than removing constraints to solicit new ideas, a better strategy would be to provide clear direction for what successful ideas would achieve.  Humans are natural problem-solvers.  When they clearly understand a challenge, their brains will be continually working in the background to solve it.  They will be able to build a rationale for their own ideas, and provide better support for others’ ideas.  Enabling people to prepare themselves to expose new ideas will go much farther than putting them in an environment that is superficially safe.  It will preserve their dignity.

“The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” Oscar Wilde

In setting a clear direction that will encourage new ideas it is easy to either make it too broad, like a company mission statement, or too narrow, such as a specific definition of what needs to be done.  It needs to stretch far enough to solicit ideas that are not basic variations on existing solutions, yet not so far that people can’t critically evaluate the merit of a solution.  While the right direction will differ for each company and industry, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind to make sure it will work for you.

Present the direction as a problem that, if solved, will add value to the company

Posing problem statements is a good way to set the tone to solicit new ideas.  As mentioned before, people are natural problem-solvers.  This helps to establish a balanced environment of creative problem-solving and critical thinking; a good recipe for generating new ideas that may actually work!

Posing problems also helps people to self-critique, so that the ideas presented to broader groups have already passed at least one filter as to whether they are worth pursuing.  It encourages critique that is based on objective rationale, rather than personal preference.

Pose a problem that is market focused

Most companies have a steady stream of ideas for how to do what they are already doing, but better.  However, market-focused problems are the ones that will lead to solutions for new offerings.  The onus is on company leadership to guide the direction of these problems, as this direction is a direct expression of how the company has strategically chosen to compete in the market.  For example, a good market-focused challenge would be “How do we provide a banking experience that is both secure and convenient?”, as opposed to an operationally-focused challenge such as “How do we use fewer buttons on the front of the ATM?”

Use brainstorming and other techniques to iterate solutions and the problem

Using idea generation sessions as a forum to present, critique, and build ideas often results fewer, more solid ideas than open-ended sessions.  It also sets the tone for continual improvement and building upon ideas, resulting in more collaborative participation.  In addition, more iterative sessions will allow facilitators to examine the scope of the solutions presented, and decide whether the challenge should be broadened or narrowed for future sessions.

Preservation of dignity is a fundamental human motivation.  Admitting it could be the cause of stifled creative pursuits is itself an exposure most would rather avoid.  By setting clear direction for idea generation leaders can pave the way for creative contributions that avoid the nightmare of exposure and add great value in return.

Photo Credit: @boetter