“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” – Dr. Emmett Brown
Back to the Future is by far one of my favorite movies. And here we are, October 14th, 2015 – just a few more days until the date (October 21st, 2015) that Marty McFly travels into the future in BTTF II.
With that, here are some ideas on how we might just get the hoverboard we’ve all been wanting…
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Just an idea… but that’s where these things usually start… right?
“The main thing is that everything become simple, easy enough for a child to understand.” – Albert Camus
If you are a human, and you have a brain, you are capable of being a better designer and a better problem solver. One way to find improvement is through use of a process to help guide your own development while giving you experience that lets you refine your approach and techniques over time.
With that, below is a simple framework I use to solve problems quickly and creatively. Below that is a supporting example of the process in use.
3 Tips for More Efficient Problem Solving and Design Solutions
1. Understand the problem. Engage stakeholders early and often. Too many engineers and designers rush into ideating before understanding the problem fully. Resist the urge!
2. Look for prior solutions and guiding lights. Once the problem is understood, spend a little time Googling. There is truth in the belief that most new ideas are just a version or collision of old ideas. Someone may have spent considerable time solving a similar problem so resist the urge to re-invent. This simple practice will make ideation much more efficient.
3. Align it all to your design principles. This step takes a bit of practice and experience to become efficient at, but if you understand your problem and the constraints/requirements of the project – there will generally be a clear path to bringing the idea into reality without compromising your core design principles.
A Case Study: Experiential Coaching via Technology
A month ago, a team mate of mine at Red Bull dropped by and casually asked if I could come up with some tech kit that could “motivate an endurance athlete to give 110% during a cycle sprint around a Velodrome track”… and could it be done in 2 weeks.
These days there are more than enough opportunities to “toss some sensors on it” and call it coaching. When implemented properly, with thoughtful design, technology can play an incredible role in the athletics coaching process. I was excited for the challenge to explore this.
To preface, when it comes to using technology to enhance athletic performance, there is a set of core design principles I have and stick to. A) Technology is a tool and it should only be used if it adds value. B) Experiences that deliver quick and honest feedback in a meaningful and engaging manner are more powerful. ** Notice that these are experience and human driven – find your core principles then layer on things like how something looks, feels, etc**
With that in mind – the first step in design is to understand the problem. This required a visit to the Velodrome in Carson, interviews with coaches and athletes, and some initial idea exploration based on initial stakeholder feedback. After letting that simmer in the subconscious – the second step involved looking at examples of “motivation in racing”, a vague enough query that led to an interesting recollection – the Ghost Driver from the Mario Kart Nintendo games.
This concept of the ghost driver resonated well with the criteria of motivation. It was almost perfect. It let you race yourself. It gave you instant feedback. You became the time to beat. But how could this be quickly implemented on a budget? How could a simple, yet powerful experience be curated for the participants? How could you bring Mario Kart to real life?
The last step to was to bring it all together in a solution that fit the requirements (feasibility) and the core design principles. Many ideas where put through the filter, and a winning combination was derived via two series of long LED light strips that would send a programmable light pulse down the length of the Velodrome, conveying visual information to the athlete about their pace, while gamifying the experience such that they strive to beat or catch the light each lap. This was the Mario Kart Ghost Driver… in real life!
With a feasible and novel solution in place (yes, I know, I glossed over the details of fine tuning the idea, but that’s for another blog post), add-ons and additional function can be created if value added. The timing of the light could be loaded with performance times, making the performance of the light a version of their own performance. This enabled us to tell the athletes that the light was traveling at a time they had previously set, while in reality we made the light 2% faster – meaning they were now competing against a slightly faster version of themselves. Without knowing, they pushed themselves harder to keep up with something they “knew” they had accomplished in the past and should be able to beat or at least tie. Technology, in this case, has now enabled a motivation piece that all involved could experience, from the athletes, to the coaches, to the bystanders watching the light and cheering them on – amplifying the power of the whole experience.
A photo posted by Brandon Larson (@concvcre8repeat) on
Above is a full set of array assignable LED strips. They are driven by PixelPusher hardware from Heroic Robotics. The team over there is stellar! The controlling program was written in Processing. Below is the system in action.
A video posted by Brandon Larson (@concvcre8repeat) on
And the best way to know if you hit the mark – is if the users intuitively arrive at the value proposition that the design was striving to provide. In this case the athletes noted that they could not just put in 100% at that one point one the track where their coach was pushing them hard, but now they had to give it 100% all around the track b/c the light was relentless and everywhere.
In the end, following a pretty simple set of guidelines enabled the quick creation of an exciting training tool and highlighted the power of technology when implemented in a thoughtful way, again, through a simple and repeatable design process.
Check out the incredible work by the Red Bull High Performance team for Project Endurance. Youtube video below. Full editorial story found here.
“Good design is partially creativity and innovation, but primarily knowledge and awareness.”— Chuck Green
Best wishes for a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson conceive.create.repeat.
“Inspiration is everywhere so don’t get trapped in reading and watching too much. Get out. Talk to people, friends, family, loved ones. Draw inspiration from everyday life. It has inexhaustible references and is always original.” – Arnold Arre
At Snapden Photobooths we strive to provide the best product to our customers who rely on this to then provide the best experiences to their customers. A laser focus on experience and always putting the customer first were two things that were engrained into our culture from the beginning. When something is so engrained it constantly reminds you to be aware of ways to give more to your customers and pay attention to the world around you for inspiration. Keeping your head on what I call an “ideation swivel” will almost always enable new realizations which can often lead to new business opportunities or services.
One of these realizations came to me while at a friend’s event who had a photo booth rental. When we went to pick up our pictures that were being printed onsite and saw this really old, very used, battle worn, scratched up printer. It was still pumping out photos like a champ, but with all the couple had spent on the rental and with all the work the rental company has put into their business, why would they risk this unsightly device impacting the experience of the users?
They made a nice unit, but then lost it with the naked inconsistent aesthetic printer!
Cool design, but points deducted for printer and cables.
Everything a customer sees is a direct reflection of your photography business. Actually, this likely applies to nearly every business.
And from this the printer cover was born. Protection, aesthetics, modular stacking features, branding abilities, improvement of the overall photo booth usage experience! It’s a simple thing that our customers didn’t even know was missing, but once seen, they have been very well received.
Snapden Photo Booth Printer Cover
One thing to add : You don’t always have to solve a frustration or pain point – since 2009 there has been a shift to putting more value on simplicity and things that improve the quality of an experience. It’s no longer about making the fastest or cheapest widget – it’s now much more about the design, the feel, and the user experience.
“Design is where science and art break even.” – Robin Matthew
Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson conceive.create.repeat
“Perfect partners don’t exist. Perfect conditions exist for a limited time in which partnerships express themselves best.” – Wayne Rooney
I’m sure you have heard comparisons of starting business with someone to getting married. It’s really not that far off.
Businesses come from ideas – over beers or not over beers (there is no other way…) and there is a lot of vetting that needs to go into these endeavors beyond the “cheers – let’s do this” phase.
One of those critical phases that should be addressed very seriously early in the business is the Operations Agreement – basically everyone’s agreed upon commitments and criteria for the overall operation of the business. This should also include (MUST INCLUDE) a process or protocol for the, heaven forbid, bad times. This should cover buy-outs, deaths, transfers of ownership, expulsions, and the sort. I won’t go into details as there are a ton of resources online – even calling them prenups! Here is one for instance.
You never want to plan for this, but you should. Simply the act of going through the motions of creating these agreements will flush out tons of new pieces of information about your partners and will often create a stronger bond – trust me – it’s very worthwhile.
And why am I writing about this? Well – two reasons.
1) We’ve hit a bit of a rough patch with the founding partners of Snapden and we are seriously happy we did the work upfront as the buy-out currently happening could have easily gotten nasty without the documentation we put in place almost 2 years ago. Our agreement then is settling disagreements now. Our foresight is saving friendships.
2) This makes me recall another venture that I was ready to become involved with several months ago. The team seemed great, the idea was solid, a plan was set in place but when I suggested we all sit down and knock out an operation agreement, two members were in and two members fought it. One of those members was very against it, but with no good explanation. To me this was a red flag and I opted to part ways before too much time had been invested. It turned out that about 6 months later that member screwed the other original team mates out of the business and since there was no operations agreement in place there was nothing anyone could do but take a loss and walk. I dodged a bullet and to this day and into the future I will always ensure there are agreements in place upfront to cover all aspects of a future business. And in the end – I don’t want to work with individuals who wouldn’t take part in this practice. You shouldn’t either. We should all hold each other to a higher standard.
Not many people like having these difficult ad hypothetical conversations so early in a business, but trust me, you’ll be glad you did and you’ll be wiser for it.
“Commitment is an act, not a word.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson conceive.create.repeat
8 years later… Today is my last day at the Boeing Company a big aerospace company.
I’ve learned so much, experienced so much, worked with some of brightest engineers on this planet, and can’t tell you anything about it! Thank you to everyone I’ve learned from and have worked with, both in Boeing and outside to this point. It’s the cumulative collaboration over years and years of hard work, failures and successes, that are now allowing me to shift my focus to my entrepreneurial endeavors full time. I’m thankful and humble for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met and am seriously looking forward to the next chapter of adventure. Bring it!
“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.” – John C. Maxwell
“If you believe you can, you probably can. If you believe you won’t, you most assuredly won’t. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad.” – Denis Waitley
At Snapden Photo Booths we believe that photo booths could be more fun and a focus on design has been the missing link. We have completely re-thought the photo booth experience to create a system that is more fun, more interesting, more beautiful – all in all a better experience. I’m really excited to have the Module and Convertible Shell here! Two more Shells coming VERY soon… and they’ll blow you away.
Today is a day to celebrate – but only a little – now that we are visible, it’s time to drum up sales.
I got some great news today. The kind of news that makes you look back on all the years of hard work you’ve put into an idea and allows you a moment of clarity where everything comes together. You can let out a long exhale and smile.
This clarity came to me at a red light while I was riding my motorcycle home from work (my aerospace day job). Slight aside, but I’m a huge motorcycle fan. I’m not the kind that gushes over the new releases or follows all the races – I’m the kind that loves the feeling of riding – the air speeding around you, the tone of the exhaust in the power band, the thrill available at any moment via a twist of the wrist (cranking on the throttle for the non-motorcycle folks out there), the openness of the road and the ability to take advantage or not take advantage of any part of it at any time.
In this moment of clarity – I realized that this life long motorcycle passion has many similarities with another passion that makes me feel alive – entrepreneurship. Here are my observations on how they compare; why entrepreneurship is a lot like riding a motorcycle… in no particular order:
There is something sexy about them both – an allure that many have but not all will act on.
Most people will tell you that you are crazy, some people will support you, the rest are a little jealous
Find the right support system and magic can happen
There is a great amount of risk associated with both
People will always give you their opinions on how to be better, but one size never fits all, there is no straight line to success
There is no overnight success – if you want to get good, if you want to find success, you have to put in the miles
There will be a ton of little failures along the way but each one is a learning experience and will only make you better/stronger in the future – if you are open to it
If you handle situations unwisely you can fail in a most spectacular of ways that can leave serious bruises and even life long scars – if you were somewhat prepared for a major failure you can often recover a lot more quickly – simply stated – Everyone crashes. Some get back on. Some don’t. Some can’t.
Never be afraid to slow down
You are often the only one standing in the way of your progress
If you get really good at it people will want your opinion and they will listen
There will be many close calls and many moments where you will have to overcome fears if you want to grow
Routine maintenance should never be neglected
Doing counter-intuitive things is a big part of it all
You are almost automatically a member of a club with everyone else doing something similar, unless you are in a gang which has rivals
Having it all come together and just work right is very confidence inspiring
Some people will want to ride along with you, but they won’t always like it
With enough passion you can spread the bug – and once bitten it’s hard to turn away
You will meet a lot of new and interesting people
It never looks that far on the map…
There is a great amount of reward associated with both, through learning to mastering
“Never trade the thrills of living for the security of existence.” – Unknown
“Whatever makes an impression on the heart seems lovely in the eye.” – Saadi
Impressions matter in business and since aesthetics and experience are core to our values at Snapden, we are heading out to our first product photo shoot. Feels wonderful to see the fruits of so much labor and so many late nights come together at the hands of a talented photographer.
The photos are coming out great – finally things to update the website and our product literature with. Module Gen 2 is looking great! I’m very happy we were able to scrape together budget to do this.
In your business – what lengths have you gone to and financial decision have you made to impact your image, your first impression?
Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson conceive.create.repeat
“Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.” – Kin Hubbard
Warning: The following contains the word poop a lot. It’s also a pretty rough post.
As mentioned before I’m a very observant person. I like people watching, I like to see what makes people tick, I like to find trends, and I LOVE when I notice something that does or does not work. I’m an observer and proud of it.
This pertains to something I’ve observed about leadership and management. It is a theory of mine I call the Principle of Poop Location. Yeah it’s a bit strange, but hopefully it will make more sense very shortly.
I have heard horror stories from all over about really bad bosses. For me, I can’t say I have had one myself, but I have definitely observed them and listened to and read many a detailed story about this breed.
I should back up for a moment and give some perspective on how my opinion was formed. I believe that leaders are not always managers and managers are not always leaders. I also firmly believe that a managers role is to create an environment in which workers can succeed. A manager, when you really break it down, usually does not do much of the work him/herself but instead oversees the work of others and in this role the manager really is there to work hard for the employees, not boss them around, not rule with an iron fist, etc. This is not to be confused with the person, a leader, who adds inspiration and motivation to the equations. I’ve known tons and tons of managers in my life, but very few leaders.
“A manager is an assistant to his men.” –Thomas J. Watson
Okay, back to the poop.
The theory goes like this: There are two trays of brownies. The first tray looks really delicious until you notice a large pile of poop in the corner of the tray. You are immediately turned toward the other tray which looks even more delicious. As you go to take a piece the baker says there was a tiny tiny bit of poop in the batter of that dish of brownies. You are now faced with a dilemma – you can eat from the tray with the pile of poop and very easily eat around it, or you can take a bite from the tray where a “small” amount was baked in. Either way you are in sh*tty situation, but you have to make a choice.
I don’t know about you, but I’d go for the brownie that I could clearly see the poop and avoid it by cutting around it. It’s a little more extreme of an example but similar to dropping something on the ground and then picking off the bad spot and still being able to eat it.
This applies all too well to many work situations I have been in as well as some corporate cultures I’ve observed. In the aerospace company I currently work for, every product/business unit has a slightly different culture. One building can be full of happy people and another can be full of really unhappy stressed out people. The work isn’t that much different from one to the other so what’s the deal? I’ve noticed that in the happy buildings there are more leaders and more career managers. In the unhappy buildings I’ve seen a track record of promotion of technical minds into management. These individuals often lack the skills to be managers and their technical powers often cloud their understanding of what a good manager is and is supposed to do for their team. This is where the poop comes in. In an environment of leaders and good managers and positive culture, the brownies are cooked perfectly and ready to be consumed. If a bad manager is introduced into that system it’s poop on top of the brownie and while a little brownie will get ruined, you can often avoid the problem until it is removed. No baby being tossed out with the bath water. The system will eventually correct itself.
In the situation of bad managers (or in aerospace = promotion based on technical prowess only) there is a bad culture that develops and this is the case where the poop is put into the brownie batter. You can’t find, you can’t separate yourself from it. The only way to fix it is to start over. Sadly, many organizations will get stuck in this and can not simply start over as the organizations are large and change is more difficult the larger a company gets (mostly). It is sad to me because many times there are very talented people that will either leave or be under utilized due to this environment. Not many people like poop in their brownies.
Think about any jobs you’ve liked or didn’t like, teams you’ve liked or didn’t like. Can you find where the poop was? For me there was poop in the batter in my entire business unit and it made it really made me lose faith in the decision makers and lose trust that we as a company were operating effectively. My direct managers were great, but that means little when the batter has been tainted. Fortunately this has been a driver for me to work hard outside of the office to make a career for myself.
My advice here is to always think what you do as a leader or a manager or a worker and always try to avoid the poop. Try to create the poop resistant environment and culture. You and your employees will be a lot happier (and fuller) – I promise.
Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson conceive.create.repeat