Great Innovator – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of America’s famous inventors. He is credited with many innovative ideas including (electricity, bifocals, Franklin Stove, glass armonica, lightning rod)[] and several other ideas. Of course he didn’t invent electricity, but did make many discoveries regarding it.

But that is just the new devices, designs, or products that he created and popularized. He also was a life hacker – design-thinker of life. He incorporated his curiosity, openness to ideas, and bias toward action into his whole life.

Up, sluggard, and waste not life; in the grave will be sleeping enough.
– Benjamin Franklin

Leather Apron Club

Franklin started a secret club called the Leather Apron Club. It was secret not in its existence but in its membership for fear that if people knew they would want to join also and it would become to big. A key element were that each of the members were from distinctly different backgrounds and brought their own perspectives to the discussions.

The Leather Apron Club was called Junto which is a mistaken variation of the Spanish word Junta or “joined”- how fitting that mistakes were baked into the name of this innovative idea.

The Junto met to discuss ideas, problems, business, society and worked together to bring their perspectives together and solve the problems. This is the basis of collaborative problem solving and design thinking.

Defining your Junto

Who is in your Junto? Who are your life-collaborators? Who do you bring together to help solve problems and chew on solutions?

These were the questions that came to my mind as I heard about Franklin’s club. I get to define and decide on the answers to these questions – how great is that?

Franklin didn’t file for patents, he published his ideas (like the Franklin Stove) and shared them with the world so people to adopt them and make the world a better place. Adopt his Junto idea today and you are following in the steps of a great innovator and who knows, maybe someday you can invent electricity yourself!

Experimental Life

How do you change? What would you change if you could? If you changed one thing, what else would change with it?

In his article Successfully Integrate Your Work Life, Stew Friedman looks at rebalancing life, work and self by changing how you integrate them together.

If you are like me, you would love to make some changes in your life – but how? We each are like massive planets in orbit in our lives. When we try to move a little bit from where we are – the other planets in the solar system tend to pull us back to our nice safe gravity well of status quo.

Stew suggest that you start with some small experiments – life experiments. In design thinking this we might call them prototypes. But why not prototype changes to your life.

Small changes, that you spend little time on are easy to abandon, transform, or take the next small step.

Big changes, where you make a radical change, gear up, spend time and money pressure us to “make it work” or “succeed” and failure comes with huge stopping power.

Try it now

  1. Choose anything you would like to change in your life.
  2. What is the minimal step you could take that moves it a little bit – maybe even right now as you sit there reading this.
  3. Try it a few times and hold these questions in your mind while you try – “how is this working? what else would make this a little better?”

The main idea here is when you want to change – Don’t try to boil the ocean! make small tests, steps, changes and see how it works.

What can you start changing today with a small change? What is a big change you are trying to make that you can simplify? What have you tried that didn’t work so far?

Life Work Balance

Do you keep work life and personal life distinct? Do you struggle with the boundaries? Can you reframe it?

In his article Successfully Integrate Your Work Life, Stew Friedman reframes the definition of work and personal life, and an alternative that gives you more satisfaction, less stress, and can actually improve your relationships in both places.

Just like in Design Thinking – it’s starting with the right question that makes all the difference.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
― Albert Einstein

It starts with self-definition in this case instead of empathy. Although a case could be made that self-empathy, as a objective observer of your self, is really what is going on here.

He suggests starting with a good understanding clearly what you want (or need) from each area and the expectations of the relationships in each of those areas.

The next piece is to leave your assumptions at the door. Set aside what work is supposed to be. The plethora of advise about keeping work and personal separate – much of which goes back 60 years or more. What is true today?

If you take a look at what you want things to work like, you can start to make that happen. In fact – sometimes that’s the only critical step – to be aware.

What is important for you today? What would the world look like if you could change anything? Who could benefit from changes?

Baby Steps to Run

What is the minimum you can get away with starting? Where are you trying to start by boiling the ocean? What can you do that is the littlest step forward?

This week I met up with my family for a reunion of fun. It was the first time we had all been together in years and we did a lot of – what have you been up to? What do you DO anyway? Where are things going.

One of my cousins (technically first cousin once removed) and her boyfriend have a dream of opening a restaurant. They are building experience working with another owner and learning the ropes and both have quite a bit of experience given that they are both in their mid twenties.

The big idea is vegan and vegetarian pizzas that bring their lifestyle and his italian heritage and family restaurant experience together with their passion for opening a restaurant. But, they lack capital and experience with running things completely on their own.

After I explained design thinking we had a series of brainstorming sessions over the next two days refining the idea. We went from a brick and mortar restaurant in another state – which is the final dream – down to a pop-up kitchen version that they can try for a single day at farmers markets with minimal entry costs and a lot to learn from the experience.

This is the minimal viable product or a low resolution prototype of their ultimate idea. Within that they have already determined several questions to be answered by this small step and it has propelled them into action!

That is the power of prototyping – it gets you started and learning.

What project are you working on that needs some action? What is the minimal viable version of that?

Don’t wait. Do something small.

Live Intentionally

Where do you accept the defaults? When do you get to decide how life goes? Why take life as it’s handed to you when you can make it what you want?

Life happens. It is always moving along, moving forward, moving on. You put plans in place or plans are made for you and it’s easy to be in the flow of it. But what if the flow is now the direction you want it to go?

I had plans to stay on after three days of workshops in Hawaii. I got the tickets with just enough time to fly off to Kauai and hike for four days then return on a late night flight back to SFO. But when the campsites were full I had my plans changed for me and stayed on Oahu.

After checking out on the last day with no inter-island flight to catch back go Honolulu, I had 12 hours to wait for a flight which I no longer needed so late. That meant the red-eye flight back and leaving at 11pm.

This was the moment – to stop the flow of plans and see what the options were. I went to the counter and just asked for what I wanted. And now I am writing this on flight 10 hours earlier than my plan, upgrade included! That means an good nights sleep and a fresh start – just because I didn’t accept the default plan.

Design Thinking requires that you always have an observer eye looking from above to see “what should we do next?” Design Thinking is not a process – no matter how many bubble diagrams people draw. You never know what you need until you are in that moment. More empathy? Another iteration? Back to brainstorming? What comes next?

And, It can be anything and some of the currents are very strong.

  • Working Meetings The reigning corporate culture is to book a room, bring your laptop, sit down, flip up, tune in or out depending on your interest, your day, and your inbox. And it’s true whether you schedule the meeting or you attend. If it was a brainstorm meeting – you need to loose the table and add music, open space, and people gathered around a vertical surface.
  • Interviews Common wisdom dictates that people come in suits, they are asked questions, put on the spot and tested. Microsoft brings in engineers to play 8 hours of pictionary and learns how they work in a collaborative environment. Why not change the game to get what you need?
  • Staff Meetings Every week, every month in the conference room or the cafeteria report out the status and Q&A. The new software movements like SCRUM and agile turned that idea on it’s head with daily standup meetings because it’s what you need now what you did.

Where are the the places you are defaulting? What are the obvious routines, the ongoing traditions, the project planning you did months ago that need to change?

Who *will* let the dogs out?

Who will let the dogs out?

When things fail – what do you focus on? Whose fault is it? What did I learn? Where do I go from here?

I woke up in my retreat rental on Lanakai beach in Kailua Hawaii and was just sitting down to a perfect breakfast of pineapple and mango I cut fresh that morning. Then I got a text message, the kind that I hate to get when traveling. Somewhere along the lines there was a hitch in my plan for taking care of my dogs. Normally I have a great system for while I travel and it’s no problem. This time – a mix up left me with a hole in my schedule starting… tonight!

I could have spent a lot of time working out who to blame, including finding ways to blame myself and the beating myself up for it. But instead I too a deep breath and focused on moving things forward. A few text messages and phone calls later everything was on track again. And I was on my way for a nice run and swim on the beach.

Failure happens. We don’t set out to fail, but it happens. When it does what you focus on is your choice.

  • Whose fault is it? This is not usually a helpful place to start. Perhaps there is some learning there – but mostly this leads to the blame game. Figuring out who to pin things on just takes time – time sitting in the failure.
  • What did I learn? A much more helpful question. This one is worth spending a little time on and usually leads to good insights. Careful not to subvert this back into blame like “I learned that it’s Joe’s fault”. Focus the learning on what you learned for next time.
  • Where do I go from here? This is the sweet spot. The sooner you can get to this the better. No matter what has failed, you are going to go into the future. So focus on what you want that to be. Take what you learned and turn it into what you want to happen. Focusing on where you are going and getting into action makes all he difference.

In design thinking we need to be resilient to failure, accept it, move past it and keep going.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~ Abraham Lincoln