Friday, January 15, 2016

Success is 1% inspiration, and ...

 (Authored August 2015)
Thomas Edison, when describing creativity, is quoted as saying "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." While that rhymes nicely, I think a more accurate description- one which I came up with for my workshops on creativity and innovation - is that "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perseverance." Let me explain.
While Edison's version is accurate, in the sense that it takes a lot of effort to see an idea through to completion, in my experience the problem is not that people aren't willing to put in the effort, but that it is hard to maintain motivation when you have had a string of failures.

Most of you who receive these emails know me for workshops and seminars on thinking and making decisions, and some of you are aware of my background in technology. What you may not know is that I continue to do technology design through my company Lightguide Systems Inc.
In the past year, we have been developing two measurement instruments for the sport of curling. The first is relatively simple; its design had some technical challenges, but there was never any doubt that it could work.
The second product has been a different matter. This world first, patent pending device is designed to measure the effectiveness of sweeping. It does this by pushing a curling rock across the ice and measuring the change in friction when someone sweeps in front of the rock. (If you are interested in more details, see "SweepTracker" below.)
There was a lot of uncertainty many points along the line, the first being "can a reasonably sized, battery powered device accelerate a 20 kg rock in a reasonable distance?" There were questions about rotating the rock, measuring friction, and many other aspects.
We went through numerous calculations, prototypes, and modifications in the past 9 months. (And finding curling ice in summer for testing was another challenge!)
There were also numerous times I considered throwing in the towel. At one point I called the patent lawyer and said "put it on hold." But one thing that kept me going was asking the question from the "Think About It!" worksheet: "What do I know for certain?" We know for certain that sweeping has an effect that should be measurable using the device, so I persevered. Near the end of July, up in Gravenhurst, I had the first definitive indication that sweeping changed the measurement. (I called the lawyer and said "go for the patent.") And in the past two weeks over several test sessions in Waterloo (fortuitously with the Ontario Men's under 21 champions) we were able to assess differences with different people sweeping, different brooms, and so on. There is still a lot of refinement to be done, but there is also a lot of interest from Olympic-class coaches, Curling Canada, some of Canada's top curlers, and others.
You may not be designing technology products, but I suspect that you often see creative ways to improve your own work or your workplace. Or you encounter changes in your work. Often when these are pursued it seems like they won't be successful. You, or others, may be tempted to quit. But perseverance can be a magical thing. If the idea or project is sound (and the "Think About It!" worksheet can help assess that) and you know there is a benefit, keep at it.
It turns out that two of Edison's lesser known quotes speak to this situation:

"Many of life's failures are people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up." and "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time."

And if you're a curler, watch for clinics this season to measure your sweeping!

More information on SweepTracker:
Measuring sweeping effectiveness has been considered from many angles over the years: infrared cameras to measure temperature change and brooms that measure pressure and sweeping speed are two attempts. But up until now, no one has directly measured the change in friction - something that can only be done by measuring the force required to keep the rock moving at a constant speed. SweepTracker is a motorized, battery powered device that cradles the rock and pushes it over the ice while measuring the force. It has a separate motor to keep the rock rotating. As it runs, it provides both audio and visual feedback of the effect of sweeping. Initial plans - as SweepTracker is being refined - is to offer sweeping clinics where teams can bring equipment and try different techniques to find which is their most effective approach. The latest information, and a photo, is posted on

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Catching up on blog posts

I don't know about you, but there are often things I start that then fall by the wayside. Blogging has been one of those; not that I haven't been writing "tips", it's just that they've only been going to my email list (send an email if you'd like to subscribe.)
So a few blog posts will catch up on the best email tips from the past year, starting with my experience from a trip to Japan a little over a year ago:

I just returned from Tokyo  - my first trip to Japan, and I was very impressed for many reasons. Aside from very polite people, they really do think things through. Three simple examples from my hotel: the elevators tell you which one will arrive next several floors before it arrives; the tracks for the curtains overlap in the middle (one curves behind the other); and in the morning as you are walking down the hallway they play pleasant bird sounds.
None of these are earth shattering, but they all make the experience a little bit more pleasant. And none require any significant amount of extra work. Elevators these days are all controlled by one building computer, which knows in advance which elevator it is sending where. The curved curtain tracks allow you to easily close the curtains tight (it gets light there early.) And bird sounds playing - simple.
When I mentioned these examples to my host, he said they were examples of  "kaizen". In North America,  "kaizen" usually is used to refer to continuous improvement in the sense of making things more efficient. But Wikipedia defines is simply as "good change", the idea of thinking things through.
A thought for you - what simple examples of "good change" could your organization implement to provide more value to your customers?

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