The Forest: A Perfect New Conference Room?

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Is the traditional conference room really a good place to hold an innovation session? Are creativity, energy, and involvement from participants predicated on where the event takes place? In this post I will show you how it really is all about “Location, Location, Location” – a phrase realtors often use in explaining how the value of a home can increase or decrease drastically depending upon where it is.

Many times when planning an innovation session, a lot of attention is given to the structure of the events, schedule for the day, and participants. There are lots of ideas all over the internet and available from consultants on what events to include and their proper implementation. However, when it comes time to find a location, typically a conference room within either the company or some hotel is booked and no more thought is given – the task is done.

Although many hotel conference rooms are convenient due to their catering, climate control, and familiar corporate setting (think large well lit room with table and chairs around it) they still fall short of being an ideal venue for holding an innovation event for the following reasons. First, they keep participants within a familiar surrounding enabling it easy to remain in the corporate mindset. Because of this, participants tend to check emails, talk to colleagues about projects, and in general not be as completely immersed as they should be in the creative process. Secondly, people equate conference rooms with long tiring meetings, and so innovation sessions can unfortunately fall victim rather easily to this psychological association. Overcoming this requires numerous breaks throughout the day to keep peoples attention span at peak performance and hopefully prevent them from fatigue. This takes valuable time away from actual ideation and can become a factor which limits the number of activities that can be done in the allotted time span. Lastly, nothing beyond ideation effectively happens outside the planned events. If you want little extra bonuses like team building or people getting to know each other better, they would have to be built into the events in some way – and even then it is not completely effective. This also takes time away from the main goal of generating new ideas and tends to make it seem as though the team bonding aspect is in some way forced.

So then if the traditional conference room is ineffective, what are some good alternatives? Here is where creativity on the part of the session planner is required. Take some time to choose completely different and non traditional locations. Try to think of places that would either be challenging to the senses or elicit an emotionally uncomfortable environmental response. Off the top of my head, some suggestions may be using an abandoned building, going deep in an underground cave, or ideate while on different rides at an amusement park. Going even further, why not consider renting out an empty space and transforming it into the surface of the moon or some distant planet. Why not be innovative in the construction and planning the innovation event? Recently, Osmotic Innovation was made aware of a large global company within the NJ/NY area that took participants out into the middle of the forest to innovate. No comfy climate controlled conference rooms here – but just imagine the ideas and team building that came from camping overnight while trying to avoid bears and other wildlife! As I am sure most Social Psychologists would agree, a highly effective way to brings teams together while simultaneously engaging different parts of the brain would certainly be that of everyone experiencing and overcoming some sort of emotional experience together. Can you visualize how different the environment would be sitting with colleagues in an old abandoned building? What do you think the ominous sounds, musty scents, and graffiti sprayed on the peeling wallpaper would contribute towards forcing participants to forget about work and be in the moment? Imagine the unique and effective events one could plan while in such an environment (taking safety precautions, of course). I don’t know about you, but I know for sure if I were there, checking work emails and worrying about project deadlines would be last on the list!

Therefore, as Osmotic Innovators, lets push ourselves to think of ways to overturn the traditional (cookie cutter type) innovation session and find ways to challenge participants beyond the events by immersing them in new and stimulating environments. Retire the thought of using boring conference rooms and make innovation sessions both an event and experience. Why do we expect participants to provide creative ideas if the innovation sessions themselves are not dynamic? After all, wasn’t it stated that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results? Well, the same phrase can certainly be applied to innovation sessions. Push participants even further by removing their comfort zones and you will be amazed at the output and level of engagement you will begin to see in response.

Puzzles: An Exercise for Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

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There are many in the field of Psychology and Neuroscience that point to the benefits of solving puzzles. Claims of increasing memory and cognitive performance to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s all point to solving puzzles as a key factor. In fact, one such professor of neurology at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Richard Restak, published a book called Think Smart: A Neuroscientists Prescription for Improving Your Brain Performance. Among many of his tips, one of them is to simply solve puzzles. By doing so, Dr. Restak argues that different parts of the brain will be used depending upon what kind of puzzle you work on.

Within innovation sessions, I have personally observed the increased creativity in individuals when given a riddle or puzzle to solve before being asked to generate ideas. The act of solving something abstract removes the mind from its common everyday “rut” and opens up fresh ways of thinking that are non-linear.

With that in mind, I would like to challenge your creativity and get your brain thinking a bit by providing you with the following mix of riddles and puzzles. How many can you solve?


Hands I do not have, yet I grasp so tight.

I love darkness, my enemy is light.

Both the mighty and low know me well,

For in the hearts of men I dwell!

What am I?


Echoes from a shadow realm,

whispers of things yet to come.

Thoughts strange sister dwells in night,

is swept away in dawning light.

What am I?


I am said by one letter    

I am spelled by three

Two letter the same in me

I am double or single

Or brown, blue, or green

I am read from either end and understood

What am I?


I can be touched,

but I hurt those who touch me.

I move swiftly through a dry forest,

but die in a mountain stream.

Where I pass, I leave a black shroud.

What am I?


A boy and a girl have some candies. If the girl gives one candy to the boy, he will have double the amount of candies that the girl does but if the boy gives the girl a candy, they will have the same amount. How many candies does the girl have and how many does the boy have? Hint: The boy and the girl don’t have the same amount.


If you put a coin in an empty bottle and insert a cork into the neck of the bottle, how could you remove the coin without taking the cork out or breaking the bottle?


You must cut a birthday cake into exactly eight pieces, but you’re only allowed to make three straight cuts, and you can’t move pieces of the cake as you cut. How can you do it?

Why is Desktop Manufacturing Important for the Osmotic Innovator?

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MakerBot 3D Printer (source: Hack N Mod)

In recent months there have been increasing mentions of the concept of “desktop manufacturing” in both technical and lay press. “Desktop manufacturing” refers to the use of 3D Printing technologies to generate products using designs developed on or delivered to a user’s computer. This revolution has been coming for some time; with Fast Company stating that “the end of the  current production- manufacturing economic model may be on the horizon” back in 2009. In a keynote at the FEI 2012 conference Chris Anderson of Wired magazine spoke on the new business models that these technologies are enabling –enthralling the audience with stories of successful application of the technology. Anderson went so far as to say we are only at the dot-matrix stage of this technology, with massive growth and development poised to occur.

Indeed, increasingly advanced 3D printers and the computer-aided design (CAD) programs that support them are being made available at lower and lower prices to small companies that rent time and capacity to other companies and to individual consumers with the interest.

But why should this topic be important to the Osmotic Innovator?

–         Rapid Prototyping: the ability to quickly turn-around prototype products should not be underestimated. Only 10 years ago prototypes were used sparingly due to cost and time to manufacture, limiting consumer interactions with test concept designs to 2D images and descriptions. Even today many large companies have their own 3D printing capacity to churn out test designs quickly. The 3D printers of tomorrow may be simple enough to allow product developers with no design experience to create and modify innovative new solutions early in the process. It appears inevitable that the 3D printers of tomorrow will be capable of handling multiple materials to create complex mechanical objects. Making efficient use of these systems has the potential to transform the product development process even further.

–         Do-It-Yourself Mentality: the students of today (as well as many of the tinkerers) are beginning to see this technology as a normal part of doing business. Whereas teams that want to have the capability to model and create products on the fly currently need to staff individuals with design competency and engineering backgrounds the skills needed to use these tools are increasingly part of a basic technical education. Workshops that allow creative people to access these tools in their free time are also democratizing the product development process, making it possible that competition (or opportunity) for your company is going to come from unanticipated sources in the future. Your best customers might become your worst competition as they are able to harness this technology to make their own product improvements. Having a strategy to harness this technology and those with the skills appropriately will part of doing business in the future.

–         Future Technologies / Business Models: just as desktop publishing transformed the creation and distribution of printed content innovators should be ready for desktop manufacturing to have a similar impact on the creation, manufacturing, and distribution of new products. How your company will respond to, or position itself within these changes will go far to determining its future.

Regardless of your experiences with desktop manufacturing in the past, it is clear it is a concept that is poised to transform a multitude of industries. As an Osmotic Innovator there are a number of opportunities that can be leveraged to boost your teams’ effectiveness. Are you ready to seize the chance before your competitors do?

Does Mathematics Enhance Creativity? (Part II)

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In the first post in this series, I explored how despite the common tendency to categorize mathematics as a subject concerned with rules and complexity, it can actually provide ways to lead one to think creatively. Instead of getting lost in the specific complexity of Calculus and Differential Equations, we took a step laterally and showed how these areas manifest themselves in the creative beauty around us.

In this second part, I would like to introduce another area of study within mathematics that is commonly viewed with dread when one decides to either major or minor in the subject – mathematical logic and proofs.  Many (if not all) math textbooks contain a section proving how and why different theorems work. Although ignored by many students due to their high complexity, they are the reason why the theorems work and are rather important to the field of study. So why does a course in something like mathematical logic help enhance creativity? Put simply, it forces you to think differently. In mathematics, the goal is to find truth and proofs are the explanation we use to convince ourselves and others. I am not going to now go into any further discussion on how to write mathematical proofs, but instead focus on some of the simplistic components. In writing a proof, you have a few options:

  1. Simply find an example of something that works
  2. Contrapositive – which simply means negating both sides of the statement
  3. Induction – try using a low number and then if it works, prove that it will work for when that number is increased by 1
  4. Contradiction

There are many other ways, but I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. So knowing this, you may now wonder how it could be applied in your next innovation session. As a starting point, it is important to note that each of these techniques enhances reasoning and enables you think creatively by forcing you to look logically and break things down, analyze them, and build them back up. Therefore, you may want to try a few of the following:

  1. Break the challenge statement down into its components
  2. Ask questions assuming the opposite situation is occurring
  3. Use contradiction – find examples of things that didn’t work and ask why. Then add something incremental to it (e.g. a motor, magnet, sensors, etc) and ask if that works
  4. Examine a new product idea that really resonates with consumers. Ask why as many times as possible to get to the core as to its success
  5. Take something from a completely different industry and try to apply it to your challenge

Lastly, allow me to provide you one more example of a problem found in the book Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics that is solved using techniques from Mathematical proofs

Three prisoners have been sentenced to long terms in prison, but due to overcrowding, one must be released. The warden devises a scheme to determine which prisoner is to be released. He tells the prisoners that he will blindfold them and paint a red or blue line on each forehead. After this is done, he will remove the blindfolds and a prisoner should raise his hand if he sees a red line on at least one of the other two prisoners. The first prisoner to identify the color of the line on his own forehead will be released. Of course the prisoners agree to this. The warden blindfolds them and then proceeds to paint a red line on all three prisoners. He removes the blindfolds and, since each prisoner sees a red line, each prisoner raises his hand. Some time passes when one of the prisoners exclaims: “I know what color my line is! It’s red!” This prisoner is then released. Now, we must ask: How did this prisoner correctly identify the color of the line painted on his forehead?

I will let you think about that and have some fun with it. Hopefully by now in reading the two blogs about mathematics, you have some better appreciation and understanding how such a subject can indeed enhance creativity and exercise the mind.

Mathematical techniques like proofs challenge the practitioner to become adept at understanding the process by which you reach a conclusion. Having all that skill can improve innovation and creativity by allowing a person to inherently examine the truth in a problem and solution – not to just take it for granted. That level of analysis can manifest itself in recognizing new solutions or incorrect assumptions to create better innovations

Creativity, as we all know, comes in many forms and is a huge part of Mathematics. Allow me to end with the quote from well-known writer J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter novels).

“Sometimes ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.”

Where Good Ideas Come From

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Ever wonder how the best ideas come together? Here Steven Johnson gives a preview of his book on the topic while detailing the importance of allowing ideas to develop, mingle, and grow.

Can Music and Color Enhance Creativity?

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Are you the type of person who listens to their iPod while working?  What about when you are at the gym?  Is the music different depending upon what you are doing and when?  It is often said that music is the soundtrack of our life, and has the ability to make us smile, cry, feel energized, or relaxed.  What about color?  Are there certain colors you like or dislike?

Applying this thinking to structuring an innovation session, you might want to find a way to provoke an emotional response.  In this post, we will explore how incorporating (or manipulating) our sense of hearing and sight via music and color may assist in enhancing peoples creativity.

All of us have at some point studied the physiology of our eyes and ears.  Different frequencies and vibrations in the air reach our eardrum and produce what we term “sound”.  Light gets focused, forms an image, and the image is converted to electrical signals that tell the brain of what we “see”.  Understanding each of these organs could require extensive study of Anatomy & Physiology and Physics by themselves, but putting the complexity of the human physiology aside, do these senses affect the individual psychologically?

Starting with music, there are numerous papers that examine its impact on intelligence and creativity.  You may be aware of the studies regarding pregnant mothers playing classical music and the belief they will have more intelligent children.  Although this is still debatable[1], fundamentally it stands that soothing sounds can induce creativity and increase intelligence.  What exactly is defined as soothing?  According to Dr. Jeffrey Thompson from the Center for Neuroacoustic Research, Delta rhythms of 0.5Hz induct meditative-like states of consciousness and “whenever there are extraordinary meditation states present, brainwave electrical activity between the right/left hemispheres tends to synchronize.  This synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres seems to only happen in special circumstances of consciousness – the “aha” state, the moment when the answer to a problem occurs, creative inspiration, great insight, and moments of awareness of ones own existence.”[2] Although a majority of us can not measure the frequency of music we listen to, it is safe to assume that sounds of the harp, Tibetan bowls, recordings of nature, and slow instrumental songs will certainly put us in this required state of mind.  It has also been shown that learning how to play an instrument can improve our intelligence and abilities.  In a study performed by the Association for Psychological Science, children taking music lessons scored higher on verbal memory tests than a control group without musical training[3].  Although not explored in this blog, it is important to note that music is additionally linked to reducing pain after surgery and is strongly suspected to increase/decrease the violent tendencies of people depending upon the kind of music listened to. 

There are many articles and studies explaining how color can enhance mood, productivity, physical performance, and what we purchase (to name but some of the many examples).  Several ancient cultures are known to employ what we now term color psychology for healing.  Although viewed with scepticism, studies have been conducted that suggest a link between different colors and the state of our mind.  One such study performed by the University of British Columbia (UBC) demonstrates how brain performance can be enhanced.  According to Juliet Zhu from UBC’s Saunder School of Business, researchers tracked more than 600 participants’ performance on six cognitive tasks that required detail orientation or creativity.  Most experiments were conducted on computers, with a screen that was red, blue, or white.  As it turns out, red boosted performance on detail oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31%. When confronted with creative tasks such as brainstorming, blue environmental cues were shown to produce twice as many outputs as compared to the other colours.  According to Juliet Zhu, “Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles, and teachers red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution.  The avoidance motivation or heightened state that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required.”  Blue, however, encourages us to think outside the box and be creative she says. “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace, and tranquillity.  The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory.”[4]   Other colors are also believed to affect the body and mind in certain ways – just do a quick Google search and you will be amazed at the abundance of information on both the positive and negative aspects assigned to each one.

For the Osmotic Innovator, this information is yet another technique to add to the growing toolbox of ways to bring out creativity in people during innovation sessions.  Some examples include:

  1. Keep people creative and energetic by alternating between classical and dance music.  Use the classical music when you need them to be focused and creative.  When needed, inject energy into the room by playing something with a faster beat.
  2. Place the challenge statement on a blue background and hang it up so everyone can see
  3. Play with the emotions different colors can evoke by use of colored lighting, and/or making available colored paper, crayons, and pens.  Have no “traditional” white paper available.
  4. Form teams and force each one to be immersed in a particular color as they innovate (have them wear that color shirt or other type of clothing and use supplies of only that color).  Allow the groups to experience being immersed in different colors.
  5. Do the same thing as described in the previous suggestion, but with the addition of music.  Maybe subject one group to Jazz, another to Classical, and another to Dance/Rock.

These are just a few examples of what could be done to improve creativity.  Experiment the incorporation of music and color with your own sessions and see what happens.

Osmotic Innovation is Linking You Up

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The Five Personalities of Innovators

According to this article by Brenna Sniderman published on the most successful teams include all five personality types. Click through to read about Movers and Shakers, Hangers-on, Experimenters, Star Pupils, and Controllers. Which are you and which are missing from your team?

Is Working for a Corporation Better?

The team at Fast Company gives 9 reasons you should work at a corporate job rather than a start-up. We’ll let the author, Jeetu Patel, sum it up; “Startups can be amazing places to work, and the euphoria surrounding them has a high degree of contagion. But future leaders have unique lessons to learn by working for larger, more established companies as well.”

Get Out of Your Box!

In previous blogs, we have explored the topic of groups and interactions among people and have described the drawbacks as well as importance of including people from outside a specific type of organization.  In this article, Jose Baldaia provides an argument on the importance of a team and the power of the contributions it can provide to a company.