Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation Mindsets, Motivation

Shooting for the Moon

I trip-to-the-moon-movieam a sucker for a well-crafted motivational phrase. That’s actually how “Go Forth And Be Awesome” got started. But not all motivational phrases are created equal. Some go too far for the cute analogy and miss the point altogether.

It’s hokey hokum.

Today’s egregious example is about aiming for big goals. When I was researching it, I found two distinct versions. Let’s dispense with the wrongest of the wrong first.

“If you shoot for the stars, you’ll at least hit the moon.”

No, that’s not how the universe works. I can’t tell you “Pick up a dart and aim for a wall because at least you’ll hit the bullseye.” You absolutely COULD, but the geometric probability is astronomical. In fact, humankind is especially good at aiming for stars and NOT hitting the moon. As of January 2017, there have been 314 space flights with people, and only 6 of those landed on the moon. Zero of which were by accident. That gives you, at very best, a 1.9% chance of hitting the moon. Hardly an “at least” scenario.

On to the most prevalent version…

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, at least you’ll land amongst the stars.”

You missaiming the moon but you’re still in space. Not what you were aiming for, but it is kind of neat. Who says you only get to aim once, though? This isn’t basketball, it’s rocket science! NASA doesn’t aim just once and neither should you. Shoot, check, adjust. Translating that to Lean Startup vocabulary gives you “build, measure, learn”.


It is a well-meaning phrase at its heart. No need to jettison it into space. We just need to give it a little corrective push into effectiveness.

“Shoot for the moon. Check your path. Adjust as needed.”

Not as snappy, but it will prevent from people realizing they aren’t headed on the right trajectory and just accepting their lonely drift into space.

Being Awesome, Lenses

The Friction of Innovation

Innovation needs movement. Paradigms shift, viewpoints redirect, and new ideas flow. But anytime there is movement, there is friction.

Friction is the surface or environment resisting the movement. Rub your hands together, they get warm. You have friction to thank for that.

Ok, don’t run from the science. Stick with me.

To create acceleration, you need to push on an object with more force than the force of friction. So if we can figure out what makes the Force of Friction, we can learn to overcome it.

Friction is the Coefficient of Friction (µ) times the Normal Force.

The Coefficient of Friction (µ) is specific for the surfaces interacting and the higher the coefficient, the more friction generated. Carpet = high coefficient, icy driveway = low coefficient.

The Normal Force is the surface pushing back up on the object and can be thought of as the counterpart to gravity. Your laptop doesn’t accelerate down through your desk because your desk pushes back up on the laptop. For the sake of the analogy, the Normal Force is equal to the weight of the idea.

We know have some great components for our analogy. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’re almost to the payoff.

  • The Coefficient of Friction
    • This is the culture of your organization. How open to change is it? How accepting of new ideas are they? Do they give you resources to make new things happen?
      • If you get told “But this is the way we’ve always done it”, chances are your location has a high Coefficient of Innovation Friction.
  • Weight
    • This is the disruptiveness of your idea. If it is going to keep people up at night, you’ve got a large disruptive weight. If it builds on existing ideas with existing customers, then you’ve got a small disruptive weight.
  • The Force of Innovative Friction
    • This is equal to your Coefficient of Innovative Friction multiplied by the Disruptive Weight of your idea.

It’s important to point out that there isn’t a right or wrong here. I’m not going to tell you to have smaller ideas to reduce friction, or that a culture is bad if it has a high coefficient. This just gives you a model to evaluate how hard you need to push.

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it to happen, others MAKE IT HAPPEN.” – Michael Jordan

You want an innovative idea to pick up speed? You want to make it happen? You’re going to have to push on it MORE than the Innovation Friction around it. And if we know that in innovation you have to be prepared to learn from failures.

Sometimes what you learn is that you should’ve pushed harder.




Being Awesome, Empathy, Micro-Patterns, Motivation, Persona

Why Do We Search For Identity?

Growing up, I was a fan of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Well, specifically Tony Gwynn, but the Padres came with him. There have been years where I watched them trade away quality top talent, in hopes of landing a large quantity of moderate talent. Why have one 5-star player, when you can have three 2-stars? So when a team I loved had replaced every player at every position with new players, were they still “my team”?tonygwynn

This is the crux of the thought experiment raised by Plutarch. Not Hunger Games Plutarch; I’m talking about ancient Greek Plutarch. He wanted to know when the Ship of Theseus stopped being the Ship of Theseus, if it was replaced with replica parts, one by one. You can check out a discussion at Brain Pickings.

At least make sure you watch the video in the Brain Pickings article, which can also be found here: Who Am I?

Humankind asks “Who am I?” At least since we’ve been able to think these types of thoughts. There may be some earlier humans who never really contemplated their place in the universe, or if Oog and Thag talk about them when they’re not in the cave… I digress.

Both the video and article are fantastic for explaining what is at the heart of the conundrum. However, I want to know what’s at the heart of the human. This leads me to a different question.

Why do we ask “Who am I”?

“Who am I?” gets at identity. I want to understand why we question it. I am going to spoil the end of this post and tell you right now, I don’t know. But it does generate interesting questions that need to be explored. Surely, some folks have explored one or more of these. I want to to talk to these folks. If you are one of these folks, let me know! I want to talk to you.


  • Is who we are different from time to time? From place to place? From situation to situation?
  • Is “Who am I?” even what we want to know?
    • Should it be “Am I being who I want to be?”
    • Should it be “What’s my place in the universe?”
    • Should it be “Who do others think I am?”
  • Do people with extreme levels of self-confidence ask “Who am I?” (extreme = really high AND really low)
  • Does “wearing many hats” fragment our identity?
    • Why can’t we be the same person and keep our identity whole?
    • Are the forces on the need for “many hats” external or internal?
  • Does finding an answer to “Who am I?” solve anything?

One Last Thing Before You Go

This search for identity generates a new-to-me connection. Our inability to satisfyingly answer “Who am I?” leads to a void that “things” have been able to fill.  If I buy a cat, I open the door to becoming a cat person. If I buy activewear from Nike, I showcase my athletic identity. Heck, you can’t even properly root for the Padres without buying some team gear. Maybe that’s part of how we cement part of our identity answer.

“Who am I? Well, I got all these Padres hats and shirts, so clearly I’m a Padres fan.”

It feels like those are the easy answers to what is supposed to be a deep and soul-searching question. “Who am I?” sounds like a status report on the path to the ideal you want to achieve.

But still, I gotta know, why are you asking?

Empathy, Innovation, User Experience

The Monopoly Hotline

51% of Monopoly games result in an argument, according to a Hasbro survey of roughly 2,000 players. You have the same odds of having an argument with a friend of family member over Boardwalk and thimbles, as you do at calling a coin flip. In order to help smooth things over during the holidays, Hasbro UK and Ireland has launched a Monopoly help-line, which you can read about here.

While a noble gesture, my question is “why?” Does it address the problem at the root of the heated arguments? Does it add unique value that the players can’t achieve on their own? Their survey also collected the top ten reasons for Monopoly-related madness. I’ve added a column to their results to sort responses into categories.

Stated Problem Category
1. People making up rules Rules and mechanics
2. Unsportsmanlike conduct of winners The unspoken code
3. People buying un-needed property you want The unspoken code
4. People taking too long on their turn The unspoken code
5. Bank heists Cheating
6. Deliberate miscounting when moving Cheating
7. Who plays banker Rules and mechanics
8. Property auction process Rules and mechanics
9. Choice over tokens Rules and mechanics
10. Rules of “Free Parking” Rules and mechanics

Now some of these categories, Hasbro would have a hard time fixing. Cheating is already against the rules and has more to do with inter-player trust and false accusations from sore losers. The unspoken code feels like baseball, where you have to tip your hat when a pitch plunks a batter, not get too excited about a home run, or slide too hard.

But Rules and mechanics, this should be in a board game’s wheelhouse. Let’s examine Hasbro’s solution. You are having an argument and you call the hotline to say you are having a problem. On the other end of the phone is a person with the same rule book you have, and they will read the rules back to you. Tell me this doesn’t sound maddening. If it can be solved with someone reading the rulebook, a player already has the tools in hand to solve it.

This feels like a case where player empathy has only hit the shallow end of the solution pool. With 50% of the top ten resulting from Rules and mechanics (or lack thereof), we can dig a little deeper and create unique solutions beyond the rulebook.

PROBLEM: Rules of “Free Parking”

This results from generations of House Rules that disagree with the rulebook. One idea would be to write out the House Rules as amendments to the existing rules. Also, this would be one main point of a “Quick Play Rule Blitz”. After years of playing the same game, we all play the game on our memories of the rules. Let’s have a fast and furious refresher that hits the three to five most contentious points.

PROBLEM: Choice over tokens

Look, we all have our favorite. And sometimes, many people share the same favorite. This can be quickly solved with any number of minigames: draw straws, guess a number, draw a card. How about a token draft? Start with the youngest and draft up. Or the person who played the game the most recent. Lots of options here if we step beyond the “free-for-all” lack of structure.

PROBLEM: Property auction process

See “Rules for Free Parking” solutions above. There are rules, people use their own rules, agreements need to be made.

PROBLEM: Who plays banker

The Oregon Trail Card Game has a great solution for this. The youngest player is the shopkeep until someone dies, then they are the shopkeep. Monopoly could institute a similar selection process. However, the bank seems to be a constant point of cheating accusations as well. So let’s not have one person be the banker. Let the banker responsibility move. The player with the least amount of properties could be the banker. You catch up, then the responsibility shifts. If you’re cheating, you can only cheat so much before someone else gets a chance.

PROBLEM: People making up rules

This also feels like years of House Rules from different houses combined with faulty memories. Again, I think the “Quick Play Rule Blitz” at the beginning of a game gets everyone on the same page. There is also a chance for people to submit a House Rule, an alternate rule, that the rest of the players can vote on. Perhaps an extended part of the game token draft.

The next step is to try some of these solutions. They could smooth out the pain points, they could make them all worse. We won’t know until we try. The best part is they’re all actionable with only minimal planning. In fact, we’ll try these on our next playthrough of Monopoly.

Go forth and be awesome, and if you pass Go, collect 200 imaginary dollars.


Touristification of Innovation

“Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” – Jurassic Park

Note the touristy, on-rails experience
Jurassic Park as intended was a delightful journey in a self-driving jeep on rail through some thoughtfully planned dinosaur habitats. Tourists were to have a safe and scripted experience; seeing exactly what was on the brochure.

Jurassic Park as a reality involved broken fences and wild chases off the preferred path. Between Jurassic Park as intended and as reality, only one of them is an authentic adventure with the thunder-lizards.

This is what Nassim Taleb calls “Touristification” in his book AntifragileHe refers to touristification as the opposite of chaotic and rich adventure; experiences lined up that can be played by actors reading from a script.

“It is the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest details.” – Nassim Taleb, Antifragile

Touristification is rampant in innovation. Too many people use the jargony buzzword of “innovation” because it looks good to investors and no one wants to not “do innovation”. And let’s be honest, touristifying innovation isn’t malicious. It’s just a different level of commitment. It’s the pig and chicken breakfast fable. Who is really all in?

Touristification of innovation is easy to do. There are so many slides, models, webinars that we can attend. Some are really fantastic. What makes the difference is how they are applied afterwards.

Taking what you learned and just slapping it on your own problems, in a One Size Fits All manner, and you’re one step closer to jeeps on rails and audio-animatronic dinos.

What those seminars, blogs, books, and trainings offer are mental models for getting started. They are lenses to apply to your situation. But you cannot rely on the universe always adhering to your mental model. The universe, quite frankly, doesn’t care. Ed Catmull, in Creativity, Inc., talked about how failed mental models based on one event can be difficult to divert from.

“Our mental models aren’t reality. They are tools, like the models weather forecasters use to predict the weather.” – Ed Catmull

So what’s a good-natured innovator to do? How do we avoid the $5.99 t-shirt model of innovation?

I am a huge advocate of learning. Learning to deepen your knowledge AND learning to start digging into a new topic. So please, keep going to out and learning about innovation.

That’s some off-the-rail innovation!
But next you have to get your hands dirty. Get in the muck and the mire and make something. It is a practice in self-similarity. If you are looking to make changes about your product, then zoom out as well and look to how you can make changes to your own existing mental models. The adventure of innovation is that not only do your projects change, but you are also changed  when you come out the other side.

Empathy, Innovation, Understanding the Customer

Listening for Hidden Solutions

positivedevianceEvery cloud has its silver lining. At least that’s what were told, usually when things go bad. There has to be a nugget of hope somewhere. I can only imagine that thought ran through Jerry Sternin’s mind when he visited Vietnam in 1990. As part of Save the Children, Sternin was there to help the malnourished.

You see, at the time in Vietnam, nearly 65% of children under the age of 5 were malnourished. Water quality and poverty were known problems, but not something Sternin could fix. And he only had limited time before his visa expired. Not exactly fertile grounds for silver linings.

Picture a stream in the woods; twisting, turning and babbling. Until a stray boulder blocks the flow. In innovation, we commonly see user experience flows that abruptly halt due to pain points. As humans on Earth, we experience them first hand. As innovators, we are quick to seek empathy and design new solutions.

But focusing on only the pain points causes two problems.

The first is that you miss the hidden problems. During World War II, The Army Air Force asked Abraham Wald to figure out where to put more armor on their bombers, in order to survive more flights. They showed Wald, part of the Statistical Research Group, where bullet holes grouped on various parts of planes that returned home. Wald instructed them to place more armor where the bullet holes weren’t. You see, planes with holes in those areas, don’t make it back to be analyzed. This was the hidden problem.

The second is that you miss hidden solutions. The woodland stream, without your interference, may find its own solution to the rocky intruder. It may divert its flow, pool around, or erode away until it can burrow through. This is where Jerry Sternin comes back in.


He didn’t impact nutrition for the children in Vietnam by instituting changes. He looked for positive deviance. He was searching for outliers who had access to the same resources as the 65%, but somehow their children were healthy. And sure enough, he found them. They were making small adjustments to the diet, very simple adjustments. We’d call them lifehacks and they’d get on all kinds of top ten lists on social media. But Sternin did not have the power of Buzzfeed or Facebook. Instead he had the families with the positive deviance hold cooking classes with the other families. Doers impacting doers.

Next time you are digging in to gain empathy as part of your Design Thinking framework, or examining pain points and jobs to be done as part of your Value Proposition Design, be on the lookout for that positive deviance. Include questions into your user interviews in search of outliers of outrageous fortune. Your designed solution has much to learn by the handcrafted workaround by the user. If they solved it without you, you need to give them a reason to solve it with you.

Brainstorming, Ideation, Prototyping

Sticky Storm Innovation [100 Word Challenge]

Yelling out ideas in a crockpot of group-think fails, yet we keep brainstorming. Jake Knapp suggests that perhaps “brainstorming” lingers because of its “catchy name”. So I made some other weather-related portmanteau.


Empathy and journey mapping create a swell of idea; the thunderstanding comes before the brainstorms.


Structured time to work solo and think up some big ideas. Let everyone find their own Aha’s.


Swirling, rapid, and picks up and throws hypothesis into the world, and it isn’t always pretty.


Observe focus groups interact with your prototypes. Watch their emotions, see how they accomplish tasks.

Empathy, Innovation


lawnmowerCAN you make coleslaw with a gasoline-powered lawnmower? Of course you CAN. But SHOULD you?

This post is not about being afraid to do risky things or to break expectations. It’s about understanding who you are innovating for; your target audience.

lawnmowerIf I am inventing a new way to make coleslaw, I’m not going to sell you a lawnmower… because it doesn’t mesh with your jobs to be done. The “coleslaw crowd” most likely wants something that shreds cabbage in a snap, requiring minimal storage space, and clean up should be a breeze. The mower ticks one of the boxes, but it fails on the other two. It also introduces new pain points, such as monitoring gas levels and the eventual spray-back of finely shredded cabbage on your kitchen walls.

While it CAN do the job, it SHOULD not do the job.

We see this too often when a tool or solution exists, typically crafted for a different problem or audience. “Wow! This thing is neat. CAN I also use it for this?”

“Wow! This mower cuts through yard foliage fast. CAN I also use it in the kitchen?”

CAN should be an innovator’s stop word. When a customer says “CAN it also do this?”, you should dive deep into why they even want to solve that problem this way. Think to yourself “How SHOULD we design a solution to this problem?” Sample questions to respond (out loud) to a CAN include:

  1. What is it about Solution X, that interests you in solving Problem Y?
  2. Why is Problem Y a problem?
    1. How does it make you feel?
    2. Where are you when you encounter Problem Y?
  3. How do you currently solve Problem Y?
    1. What don’t you like about your solution?
    2. What do you like about your solution?
    3. What do you wish your solution also had?

We should be designing solutions that customers SHOULD be enjoying, not simply delivering solutions that CAN kind-of work. CANs are tempting because the customer is happy that a solution is at hand. But it is an imperfect fit and will ultimately fail. SHOULDs take longer because they require customer empathy, build-measure-learn loops, and hypothesis testing. But SHOULDs perform better than CANs in user experience and long term feasibility.

Be brave and courageous enough to steer your customer away from the siren call of the CAN.

Design the SHOULD.

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Systems

Divergence, Convergence, and Roses

I’m going to show you an image and tell you a story, and you will believe it. You’ll believe not because I told you to believe it, but because you want to believe it is true.

The Story

plant cementThis is a place where mankind has sanitized, homogenized, and developed using a rigid and typically unforgiving material; concrete. A downfall of concrete’s hard-line take on the world is that sometimes cracks form. Cracks that let the organic spurt through. Dirt and rain make their way down, plants make their way up, and we’re left with this analogy. Creative ideas can grow in restrictive environments.

And it is true. I’ve even written about it here. But there is caution to the tale.

The Balancing Act

Just because creativity can grow like a plant in concrete doesn’t mean we don’t have to nurture it. You can’t go laying concrete everywhere in your innovation and expect the good stuff to always break through.

There is a time to let things diverge and a time to let things converge.

Your brainroses can growses, you knowses.

Imagine creat be thought is like a rosebush. You nurture it and let it grow; branches twisting and turning in their own way. Some are full of thorns, while others yield the most beautiful and fragrant blossoms. You, as the gardner, have your choice of the best idea roses for your bouquet.

Now imagine that when the rosebush was very small, you had placed a funnel on top. Everything that the rosebush wants to do, must be forced up and out a narrow opening. It’s like the Highlander but for plants; in the end there can be only one blossom. The funnel converges too soon. The only divergence happens just above the root, but it’s not enough to allow a variety of blossoms because they’re all now competing to get out of the funnel. When you go to trim, you don’t get a choice. You get the one idea-bloom that managed to make it out of the funnel, and you’ll never know if it was the best you could have produced.

The Summary

Constraints and restrictions are still valid. We put up fences because we don’t want ourroses rosebush growing into the neighbor’s yard. These restrictions come from your users (it needs to be mobile, it has to do [task] faster, etc). However if we don’t let solutions diverge from the root of the problem, we wont have a chance to converge them into the best bouquet of products possible.

Wouldn’t you rather have your choice and trim some back than stake it all in one bloom?

The Challenge

How might you encourage the timing of divergence and convergence in your life?