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)[http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/info/inventions.htm] 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!

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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

Even the best laid plans will change

Do you plan or fly by the seat of your pants? What happens when the plans go wrong? Are you prepared for the unexpected?


“plans are useless but planning is indispensable” said, Dwight D. Eisenhower when talking about planning for battle. And Helmuth Von Moltke said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

Now not every plan is preparing for war, and I certainly don’t think of everyone as the enemy. However, the sentiment of these quotes is about the balance of planning and thinking on your feet – or improvising.

I first really learned this lesson whilst walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail – a National Scenic Trail in the US. After a few days I met up with a nice group of other solo hikers and we hiked together for almost 2000 of the 2654 mile trail. Each day plans were discussed, debated and defined with some good amount of data, maps and opinions. What really happened was always a variation of that plan based on the actual situation, flow of the stream, beauty of the lake, view of the valley, or difficulty of the climb.

This is true with prototyping – the idea is to have a rough idea of the goal, and then to see it when you get there. You can’t plan away the work of building or doing.

Once you start building , new ideas will come to you. You need to adapt to what is, not what you thought it would be.

What have you been planning that you need to get into action? Start on it today, let it be an imperfect version and see what you learn by doing.

Prototype Yourself

What do you do? What are you as a minimal viable product? How can you get that across in 30 seconds? In 3 minutes? In 30 minutes?

Personal branding has been a buzzy topic for several years now. As you move farther into the Information Age, working with others, collaborating, and communicating who you are and what you has become a critical business skill.

So, in some sense, we all have to sell ourselves to others. We have to sell others on our ideas. We need to get them on board.

As a consultant I need to let people know what I can do to make them more effective, more creative, more… something. And that means explaining to them how experiential activities feel.

The reason Prototyping is part of the design thinking process is that it gives the user a chance to experience the idea in a tangible way and give feedback. Using low-resolution prototyping can be a great way of explaining your idea or yourself.

So I use low resolution versions of what I do to introduce them in a real way. That can be a short user journey story, a quick exercise, or a small group interaction with a few people around a conference room table.

If you can develop low resolution ways to show your idea to others it can help them understand it an a deeper way and get them more engaged. That can make all the difference on getting them on board with you.

Give it a try, try again.