Having Trouble Being Creative? Here Are Five Steps to Beat the Blank Page Syndrome.

There are a lot of necessary skills to have these days in order to thrive at this game of life. The ability to think creatively, when you want and where you want, will be one of the most valuable.  As more and more tasks are taken over by computers, those that are truly creative and operate at a high level will be the indispensable ones among us. They will be the ones that solve the world’s problems. They will be the ones building new companies and they will be the ones with job security in the next decade and beyond.

There are so many ways to be creative. There are so many areas to be creative. There is one common denominator. All creativity requires coming up with something new that cannot be gleaned just from straight logical thinking. True creativity requires thinking that is greater than the sum of the parts.

If creativity is so important, how can we be more creative? How can we live a life where creativity flows out of us like a rushing waterfall? I believe that we are all creative as human beings. Some of us have learned to tap into that creativity more than others. Creativity is like a muscle and the more you use it the better it gets. Here are a few things I have done over the years to improve my creativity.

Create parameters – Staring at that blank sheet of paper is intimidating.  If you have a tight deadline where you have to have a particular creative solution complete, it can seem even more daunting. Confidence and belief that you can do it can really help here. If you don’t have that confidence though, what can you do?

The first place I start is to set parameters. When you begin any creative process, the overabundance of options can cause paralysis. It makes sense.  With almost limitless possibilities, where do you begin? Everything you put on that white sheet of paper seems wrong.

Parameters allow the brain to work within certain requirements, and that makes it easier to get started. It doesn’t always matter if the parameters you set are the right ones or not. You can change them, modify them, and refine them once you get started. The trick is to get started. Once you get on a roll with your creative thinking, all kinds of great things start happening.

Momentum is required to get the creative ideas flowing, and the blank sheet of paper is the enemy to that momentum. I have done this process of setting parameters so much in my career, that I set them in my head without even realizing it.

Start with the obvious solutions – Once you have some parameters in place, the best thing to do to keep the momentum going is to start with the obvious ideas first. It doesn’t matter that you will probably throw all those ideas out. What matters is that you are generating ideas. Often after a bit of time generating the obvious solutions, you will begin to notice that interesting or useful ideas start to surface. You can then built on those ideas or explore concepts around them.

Establish the main goals – With any problem that needs solving with a creative solution, there will be many different goals. Some of them will be contradictory goals. Not all goals are equal in importance either.  Knowing how to organize the goals in terms of their priority or importance in the final solution is the key to structuring the creative process. It can be difficult to, not only list out all the possible goals, but to then order them in importance.

How you organize your goals will dictate where the creative process will end up. You can list the pros and cons of each goal and use those results as a way to determine the order of importance. The problem with making too many goals have top priority is that the ultimate solution will lack focus as it tries to achieve too much.

Break the problem that you are trying to solve into smaller pieces – Often large or complicated problems that need creative solutions can be solved by breaking them up into parts. Not all parts of a problem directly affect each other, or maybe only slightly overlap.  By isolating them, they can be solved more easily. Once you have solutions for separate parts of your problem, the parts can be reassembled and evaluated on how well they work together.

Hard effort is not the same as smart effort - It is possible to work really hard and not get anywhere.  You can even go backwards. Hard work is not the foundation for successful creativity, smart work is. Unless you build a foundation for your creative thinking process which you practice over and over again, you will continue to struggle with hit or miss creative sessions, never knowing when that blank page syndrome will take you out. Each step in the creative process needs to be learned, mastered, and then built upon in order to improve.  It’s how we master anything in life!

Creativity is a lifelong process that one can always improve upon. I personally believe that being creative is one of our greatest gifts. And the fact that you might be able to use that gift to solve one of the world's pressing problems, well that is even better.


Contact us at www.DrivenInnovation.com, and let us help you develop your new product idea to a successful prodcution solution.

Does Your Engineering Team Understand Your Marketing Team?

We work on a lot of hardware development programs. They are usually run by either a marketing lead or an engineering lead. Both organizations run their programs in very different ways. Understanding the critical needs and wants of either discipline can be the difference between success and failure.  At the very least, it can eliminate a lot of headaches resulting from miscommunication.

Lack of proper communication or miscommunication between engineering and marketing is a big problem in product development.  It is no wonder that it is such a big issue. The sheer amount of information that needs to be shared, the constant changes in program direction and the long amount of time it takes to bring a product to production are all contributing factors. Add in the fact that engineers and marketers usually have very different personalities, have different ways of working, don’t always see eye to eye, so it seems inevitable that there will be problems. Sometimes these problems are just annoying; sometimes they can cost real time and money.

In this article I want to discuss marketing driven hardware programs and how engineering teams can better understand the needs of marketing. I also want to touch on how marketing teams can better understand how engineering teams see hardware development.  

Engineering and marketing see things differently, very differently.  It can be very difficult for engineering teams to react to marketing requests during the product development process.  In some instances, reacting to marketing requests can actually be the problem. In reaction mode, engineering teams can feel out of control. Marketing can feel frustrated when they don’t see the results they want.

It can, at times, seem to engineering teams that marketing is giving unclear or contradictory directions. I believe that there are some fundamental objectives that most marketing teams are trying to achieve.

One of marketing’s main tasks is to determine what the end customer and ultimate buyer of the product wants. This is a difficult task and the ultimate success of the product depends on marketing getting this right. Marketing needs to determine the correct features and optimal product cost in order to assure that the product is successfully adopted by the target market.

The problem is that no marketing team has a crystal ball. No matter how much research is done, at the end of the day assumptions have to be made. It makes sense that marketing teams might change their direction as new critical information is learned.

Engineering, on the other hand, wants clear and concise direction that has as much information as possible.  Once that information is given, engineering doesn’t like changes. When both engineering and marketing can be aware of the difficulties each faces, there can be empathy and understanding. This leads to solutions and teams working together to anticipate each others’ needs, instead of frustration, blaming and finger pointing. This awareness starts with honest discussion about areas where missing knowledge exists. Teams can work with the missing information. Teams will struggle when they receive direct information that is then contradicted later in the process.

Figure out what people want, instead of relying on what they say. Being a mind reader is a great skill to have as a team member. But if you are not well versed at that skill, there are things you can do to anticipate future requests or product course changes. For example, if something is brought up in meeting and then ruled out because it might be too difficult or costly to implement, you can bet it might be brought up again. You see, we all want what we want, and don’t like to be told what we can’t have.  Just because someone agrees to drop a particular topic, does not mean they have let it go. Conversely, if you see a product feature that is really needed, and will make the product more saleable, suggest it and find a way to proactively design it into the product. Most everyone appreciates proactive action. Plan in contingencies to your designs in areas that you feel might change. That way you will be prepared when asked to implement them. Don’t know what those areas might be, ask those that might know.

When in doubt, give tangible options.  It can be difficult for even those proficient in visualizing product solutions, to understand all of a potential new product’s embodiments. Most don’t have this skill and if they can’t see it they can’t understand it. When physical options are given, even just to show why a direction is not a good one, the value is great.

When asked to implement a design direction you know is fraught with problems, develop that solution anyway and then develop your better solution. You may say that is twice the work, and yes it is. But either you want to do great work or you don’t. If you don’t care about the outcome of your work, then nothing I say here will make a difference. But if you do care, providing options, in the long run will save you time and energy as you avoid being run around in circles with endless changes and reworks.

Contradicting information confuses everyone.  When uncertain of the correct product direction, pick a desired goal and then let the team provide options on how to get here. Giving precise information, such as target unit volumes and then ordering substantially lower or higher unit numbers, causes problems in engineering as the incorrect manufacturing processes might have been chosen.

On the other hand, there are areas that consistently cause design problems and they can be anticipated. These areas could be part sourcing, required features, unit cost, NRE budget, target customer needs, and first product ship date to name a few. Knowing that these areas can be difficult to predict will open up the dialog of what to do should the current direction change. I am a big fan of having alternative plans in place.  

Product development programs seem to always follow the same path; marketing and engineering teams need to make critical decisions at the beginning of the design process when the least amount of information is known. If new information is not evaluated in real time as it is learned then teams run the risk of going down the wrong path and into a dead end. At that point, change is costly. More frequent, smaller course corrections are much less costly in time and money than fewer bigger ones.

Anticipate the natural trajectory of a product's lifecycle.  All products go through a lifecycle. They are born, hit maturity and then they die. In the beginning, as a new product is being introduced it will be difficult to know exactly how many units will be sold. Initial unit volumes may be substantially lower than expected as the product ramps ups. Conversely, once a product takes hold, unit volumes may ramp up quite quickly.

Sometimes initial manufacturing methods are not suitable for the higher volume production. Often, initial lower production orders are much higher in cost then after they hit sustained production volumes. Engineering teams can anticipate this and have a plan in place to scale up manufacturing, and then be able to redesign to cost reduce once product maturity is reached and the market is saturated.

Having plans for how to handle inevitable situations such as this can save engineering massive headaches as they will already know what to do when marketing requests them. It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by the day to day tasks. The thought of future planning can seem overly time consuming and not worth the effort.  By analyzing a few previous programs, patterns can be noticed and those patterns can be applied to new programs. This is where looking backwards can really help with moving forward.

There will always be differences between how different disciplines think and act. It is not only a fact, it is necessary. It is those differences that allow those teams to function and get their respective tasks done. With a little bit of awareness in the areas I discussed above, engineering and marketing can better serve each other and also build better and more successful products.


Driven Innovation develops products in the consumer, medical and technology space. If you need help getting your product idea to a successful mass produced state, contact us at www.driveninnovation.com and make sure to download our free product development checklist on our homepage.

When Does Being Overly Confident Cost Others Money?

Confidence is a wonderful thing. In fact, it is absolutely necessary when you are developing a new product idea. Without confidence you will struggle to manage teams effectively, have trouble getting others on board with your vision, or fail at solving difficult problems with effective win-win solutions. We require self confidence in order to be highly creative. The ability to project confidence externally is required to get anything meaningful accomplished when two or more people are involved.

Having high levels of confidence is fantastic, so when does it stop being a value and end up costing other people money? When does being too confident about one’s capabilities become detrimental?  When does using one’s overconfidence to convince others that your way is the right way, ultimately turn into a failed solution?

As a product designer, I see a lot of failed projects, and regrettably, have even been involved in a few. They were painful experiences, to say the least, and they taught me a lot. I have seen more than a few development programs that ventured down the wrong path walk through my office door looking to be rescued.  They were in serious jeopardy of ending in the junk pile. Some of these programs had experienced team members and were managed by very smart people. At a point in my career, I started to ask myself, what happened to send these programs into such a dire state? I wanted to be able to provide value to fix these programs. I wanted to be able to advise future teams of what to do and what not to do in order to increase their chances of success when developing a product.

Of course there are a lot of items that contribute to failed programs. I will address some of them in other articles.  For this post, I want to delve into the issue of being overconfident and how confidence, which is so valuable, can become such a liability when it crosses the line. I have learned when to be confident that my direction is correct, knowing from my past experience that my team and I can deliver results. I also know when to acknowledge that I am in unsure territory, and I can’t in good conscience, guarantee results.  Here are a five of my value bombs about confidence when developing new products.

If you haven’t done it before, you are not an expert. In fact, even if you have done it before, if you can’t comprehensibly explain it to someone else, you probably don’t really understand it well enough to be called an expert. I am always amazed in life by the mistakes I have made. You know what? It was always something that I didn’t expect because I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. We can’t know what we don’t know. Not being very familiar with the task at hand and all the potential pitfalls and problems is where we all run into trouble. In my mind, being an expert in any particular area, among other things, means you understand potential risks and know how to react if and when they occur. As an expert, others are relying on you to lead them to safety. It is a great responsibility.

Do not minimize the potential risks. No one wants that person on the team that is always pointing out the potential problems. That behavior pattern creates its own negative self-fulfilling prophecy.  What I am referring to is a healthy dose of respect for what can happen if we underestimate potential problems.  Unfortunately, thinking everything is just going to be fine regardless of things like physics and the laws of gravity, doesn’t make it so, at least not in my world.  Overconfidence in your abilities and thinking you will succeed, can lead a team into a wall at top speed with no chance for recovery.

For example, if you plan on pushing a particular process to its limits, or expect to make something truly unique, you can expect problems. If you are not very clear of what those problems might be, then you need someone on your team that does. I am a big believer in contingency plans throughout the entire process. Contingency plans don’t mean you’re not committed to success, they mean you’re smart.

When we rock climb we use ropes. Not because we don’t expect to get to the top, but because we don’t want to die if we fall. The point being, what you don’t know can certainly be the source of future problems.  It may even take a while for those problems to surface. As a consultant, the last thing I want to hear is that a client has problems with our design months or more after we completed our part.

Overconfidence leads to complacency. A successful business man, whom I did yard work for as a teenager, told me this.  He was referring directly to the large tractor I was operating when he saw me whipping around the yard. He pointed out, that if I got overconfident I might disregard how dangerous that piece of machinery was and end up under it.  The same holds true for product development, and especially in building and manufacturing products.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pushing ourselves into areas where we are not experts. This is how we grow. The problem occurs when we believe that we are experts in areas where we are not.  Others on our team believe that we are experts as well, and they rely on us to deliver.  This can lead to missing critical issues. That can result in big problems. When developing a part or product that is unique, extra time must be allowed for the unknown to happen. If you don’t have extra time, and extra budget, be very wary of how far you stray from your core knowledge base.

Knowing is not the same as doing. I learned this the hard way a very long time ago. I remember as a kid, boldly jumping into making repairs on my car with more confidence than brains. Only to find out that I caused more damage breaking other parts in the process. I have seen this as well with people in positions of authority or represented as an expert in a specific area when they give incorrect advice. They were so confident and sure of what they were saying, had I not had previous experience in that specific area, I would have believed them. We all need to be able to trust the advice we are given by experts we rely on to guide us. There is no way we can know everything ourselves.  Almost everything we need to build these days requires a team and each member to provide valuable and correct information for that program to succeed.

Managing and leading others is really hard. If you are a leader of teams, you have to manage both the team and the ultimate deliverable of that team. As the leader you have to project confidently, to your client or customer, the capabilities of your team and what they can deliver. When team members are overly confident in their abilities or don’t fully understand the risks associated with a particular task, they compromise everyone.  In business, that ultimately means that someone loses money. Maybe it means that the product is delayed, fails to reach the market or the business goes under.

I get it.  We all want to be valuable.  We want to provide useful information and think optimistically about what we can achieve. I have a standard that I now hold myself to; if I have not done it before, or am unable to articulate the risk versus reward of any particular task, I need to fully disclose that to the team, my client or anyone else involved.  I also bring someone onboard that has demonstrated knowledge and experience. Or, I need to decline to work on the program.

As a leader or team manager you need to empower your team to have the confidence to know when they can accomplish a task and when it is beyond them. This is not an easy thing to do and requires a process in place that continually reinforces this ideal. Sometimes getting in over our heads is a slippery slope, and before we know it we are committing ourselves in areas way beyond our skill set. With big dollars and tight schedules on the line, it can be very difficult to admit we don’t have the skills required, or that we need to bring in new resources, or we should completely reevaluate a part design due to potential risks of failure. This IS the type of confidence that is required. I believe we all have a responsibility to care about the outcome from our words and actions. In regard to caring about the quality of what we deliver on a daily basis, I don’t believe we can be overconfident enough!

If you are developing a hardware product, contemplate the following questions:

1)      Do you have all the skill sets required to get successfully to production?

2)      Do you have a good understanding of the potential program pitfalls?

3)      Do you know how to solve those pitfalls and have the resources to do so?


If you would like to discuss your hardware development program and get an assessment of where you are in relation to these questions, reach out to us at www.driveninnovation.com.

Are Your Teams Generating Amazing Ideas Together?

The ability to be creative, in my opinion, is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as human beings.  As rewarding as it is to be creative all by ourselves, being creative in groups can be even more productive and yield solutions that are beyond what we can do on our own. As a design consultant, I have managed creative’s my entire career. A team working together with proper training and preparation can outperform any one person in terms of generating new and unique solutions to problems.  I have seen great ideas evolve out of group participation or group sharing that really leave me feeling that something amazing just happened!

I have participated in creative sessions with high level individuals, multiple day long sessions run by some of the world’s top innovation companies, and small groups of just a handful of individuals. At Driven Innovation, we regularly run creative sessions to solve our client’s problems.   We experiment with different formats to find and produce the best ideas.  

There is a catch, though. Working in groups with the goal of being creative problem solvers can be a total waste of time.  Over my career, I have witnessed some abysmal brainstorming sessions.  I have seen a complete lack of enthusiasm, poor ideas, and lack of focus. I have seen this behavior from, both inexperienced and highly experienced individuals. What happens to make a creative mix of individuals so poor at generating ideas as a group?

·         Lack of focus

·         Not being prepared

·         No rules for interaction

·         Lack of leadership

·         The wrong mix of individuals

·         Lack of energy

·         Too much time allotted to a session

·         Too much pressure to succeed

·         Outcome expectations

It is true that having a successful group creative session is a lot of work and the result can be hit or miss. If you can dial in the process, the benefits of team collaboration for creative idea generation are definitely worth the effort required. There will be a need to nurture the proper company culture and establish healthy team attitudes.  There will also be a dollar cost associated with putting a group of people together in a room for a period of time with no set expectations of the outcome.

These days the competition for great new ideas is more important than ever. If you are not being highly creative, you will lose ground and ultimately be replaced by those who are. If you would like to rise above all the noise of our current market economy, it truly requires every competitive advantage possible. Being creative as an individual is absolutely essential, and adding group creative sessions to the mix is a great way to up your game.

There is a lot written about innovation and design creativity in groups, but having the stamina to go through the process of training and nurturing the proper process and outcome requires work. Innovation can be a long, boring and ultimately failed endeavor if your team is not up for the challenge. I have personally witnessed teams that give up because they let the challenges overwhelm them and that leads to paralysis. Here are some tips to getting the most out of a team creative session.

Prepare beforehand

Successful group ideation requires up front work to be really productive. It is not enough that the group members know about the topic and the specific problem to be solved. In order to get past the superficial ideas and get to the really good stuff, having each member of the group spend time beforehand thinking up ideas on their own is very important. This is a great way for the group to have starter ideas to discuss when they are in the group session. The quality of ideas is then higher right out of the gate. The team can build on each other’s ideas and this can also spark new ideas in completely different directions. I have seen some truly great ideas generated this way. Ideas that I realized later would never have materialized otherwise.

Someone needs to be the leader and facilitate the session

There needs to be a structure to the creative session.  So, there needs to be a leader. That leader should be really good at keeping the ideation session on track. If this individual is not present in the group, the session will most likely languish and die. With a group dynamic, multiple individuals all need to be in peak creative mode at the same time. Realistically, this might be tough to accomplish all the time.  I believe the individual that is in charge of the session should be the one to help the group members achieve this creative state and sustain it as long as possible. The facilitator needs to keep the energy of the group up and to artfully transition from one idea to the next. Excitement and enthusiasm are great ways to keep the collective creative energy high. It is so easy for a lull in the group to kill the forward momentum and have every one staring at their phones wondering when it will be over. The leader of the group should also know when to call the session quits before it turns into a counterproductive struggle.

Creative groups are made not born

Creativity is available to all of us. Creativity is a state of mind and with training you can get to that state at any moment. (See my other articles about being more creative as an individual).  How to Be in Peak Creative Shape Many people who don’t consider themselves creative could be sitting on the next great idea. Without the opportunity and the training to access those creative ideas, they may never get the chance. Coach and train your team on how to get in the creative flow and then how to work with others in order to elevate those ideas to a whole new level. Group idea sessions, when not invested in properly, can be a total waste of time. Training and cultivating a company culture that encourages creativity requires effort from the leaders of the organization.

Everyone must participate; having individuals that sit there without contributing is an energy suck that will depress or kill the creative idea generation. This really is the case with any team meeting.  In regards to group idea generation, it is even more important. All the members of the team need to be trained to feel empowered to contribute and they must provide ideas. A high level of excitement and enthusiasm is so important to the group creative energy.  Training ahead of time is required so individuals know how to access those states under the pressure of a group creative session.

Choose the group participants wisely

Just throwing a group of people together and expecting great ideas from them most likely will not work. The whole goal of this article is to provide ideas on how to consistently generate unique and innovative ideas as a group. This means that the individuals in the group need to know how to work together and must have complementary skills. They must also have the proper temperament and personalities to work together.  Before you choose whom to put together for your next group brainstorm session, spend some time assessing the individual's strengths and weaknesses to choose appropriately. If you do not have a large pool of individuals to choose from, take the information you compile and start to work with those individuals beforehand.   They can focus in the areas that need improvement. I promise that if you take the time to do this with your team, not only will your group idea sessions get better, but the working relationships between you and the members of your team will also improve. That is what I call a win-win!

Encourage your team to consistently improve their knowledge base

Great innovation cannot happen consistently in an ongoing way if your team is not constantly increasing their knowledge base. Group innovation also cannot thrive if the individuals are not proficient at taking that new knowledge and learning how to apply it to new areas. It is easy to get complacent in regard to constant improvement. So many different factors can contribute to this. For this article I will say, that if your goal is to have a highly creative team that can generate amazing ideas together, you have to have this as part of your team’s culture.  Encourage your team members to want to seek out knowledge. Make finding new ways to apply that knowledge more fun. I personally believe that being creative will be ever more important in regard to any company’s future. Those that are not consistently creative as groups will continue to lose out to those who are. If that is not enough of a reason to pursue elevating your team’s creativity, then I don’t know what is.

If you want to learn more about group creativity, or how we can help you develop your next creative idea, contact us at www.driveninnovation.com.  I hope the points in this article help your team become even more of a creative powerhouse!

How to Be in Peak Creative Shape

We all know that in order to be good or even great at any sport, we need to train to be in peak physical shape to excel at the chosen activity. But, when it comes to our careers, we don’t seem to make the same correlation between peak performance and the shape of our bodies. For example, lack of sleep, poor diet, too much alcohol, massive amounts of stress, no exercise and staring endlessly at computer screens, are just a few of the things we put ourselves through. We all know these things are not good for us, but we do them anyway.  However, what is the cost of these actions on our ability to be highly creative? What really interests me in regard to how we treat our physical bodies, is the correlation between our physical health and our ability to be innovative and creative whenever and wherever we want.

The discussion about where creativity actually comes from is a fascinating one and might be the topic of another article!  Whether you believe it comes only from within us or comes through us from a higher consciousness, our ability to have our bodies in the right physical state to create it or to receive it is crucial.  As a creative person who makes a living by always coming up with ideas, any way that I can increase my ability to create elegant and unique solutions to problems is of huge value.

As a product development consultant for over thirty years, I have definitely noticed what physical states work and which ones definitely don’t work in regard to improving my creative skills. Here are some habits I have adopted to increase my creative ability.

Physical Discipline – Physical discipline to me means doing what you tell yourself you will do. Not necessarily just the things you say out loud, but the little things you only say to yourself that no one else knows about. Not doing those things has an effect on how we feel about ourselves.  I believe if we make it a habit of ignoring what we tell ourselves we want to do, it affects how we feel about ourselves and then gets in the way of our peak creative thoughts. When I tell myself that I am going to work out at 5pm and I go do it, regardless of how much I want to or not, I free my mind of the punishing thoughts that will surface if I blow it off. Those punishing thoughts I have found, over time, start to have an effect on my flow of creative ideas. If I tell myself that I will get up and stretch and move my body every  twenty minutes when I am working at my computer and I don’t, then I feel less in control of my own mind. Not feeling in control of my own mind is a creativity killer. If I tell myself to live in the moment, quit worrying about the past or the future, and I don’t do that, then my creativity suffers as my mind space is consumed by the thoughts of what I didn’t do and the excuses of why.  The mind needs to be open and receptive for creativity to flourish.  The mind, left to its own devices, can be a real complainer sometimes, which has a real effect on the physical body and its state. Having physical discipline or in other words, control over ourselves is a crucial aspect of keeping the mind free and allowing the creative thoughts to prosper.

Belief and Faith – This is the most significant aspects that allows me to be creative more times than not.  Believing that I could be a creative person on command didn’t happen overnight. I first made a decision that I was going to be faster at coming up with creative ideas, and then I worked at it year after year.  It did get easier and easier, until I didn’t worry that much about being creative.  That led me to the ability to believe and have faith that in the future; I would be able to be creative on command.

Having the confidence to know that you can and will find a creative solution takes continued practice, constant education and increasing knowledge. It is a very wonderful feeling to be in the creative state with ideas flowing. I believe that as human beings, the ability to be creative is one of our highest callings on Earth, and for that reason, it is worth all the effort and energy required to be in that state as much as possible.

Reduce Physical Stress – Too much stress is a killer to our bodies. Reducing our stress to a good level is one of the best things we can do to increase our creative confidence. When we are overly stressed we physically start to break down and our minds function less and less efficiently. It is why there is awareness that working extra long hours, or always being available for work is counterproductive. The reality is after an excessive number of work hours, the ideas we come up with get less and less creative. In the right physical state, a great idea can take minutes, and in the wrong physical state you can hammer away for days and get nowhere.

Alcohol Consumption – Let’s just put this out there; I really enjoy drinking with friends. It is fun for me and I have tons of great memories. The other side of that coin is that it also can affect how creative I am, in small but insidious ways. I recently took an entire month off from any alcohol.   At the end of the month, I realized I had a substantial amount of increased energy. It was easier for me to get up in the morning and I was less exhausted in the evenings after work. I noticed that my attention span during the day was greater. I could focus more easily and the feeling of boredom or the need to distract, that sometimes overtakes me when trying to solve a really difficult problem, was lessened. It was much easier to get into and stay in the creative state where really great ideas flow to or through me. The point is not whether to drink or not, but to be aware of every action we take in regard to our mind and physical body.   We must try not to abuse the body so much that it makes mind mastery control even harder.

Get Out Of Bed On Time  – Some people swear that the best time to be creative is in the early morning. I don’t really know if it is true or not or just personal preference. What I do know is that my job requires me to be creative at all times throughout the day.  At a moment’s notice I can be called into a meeting to review a design, or have a phone conversation brainstorming with a client or looking for a solution to a problem that just arose. When I get out of bed at the time I committed, I have improved creativity and feel more in control of my mind and physical being. I am starting my day with intention and purpose. That simple action increases my confidence and I feel more in control of my mental state. My physical state is no longer ruling my mind. Similar to some of the other points in this article, mastery of the mind over the physical can help increase creativity. Train both the mind and body to work together, which creates mind / body harmony and watch your thinking and creative power increase.

Sleep – I believe that too much sleep is just as bad as too little for our creative abilities. What is the right amount of sleep is anyone’s guess.   When I found the right amount of sleep for me, the best times for me to go to sleep and the best time to wake up, I noticed that I was more “on” when it came to having creative ideas at the ready.

Hunger – Eating just the right amount of food is important, and since most of us want to be creative during the work day, breakfast, lunch and mid-meal snacks are the meals of importance. Eating large meals or heavy food is a creativity killer, in my experience. The body is forced to use precious energy to digest the food and that takes energy away from the creative process. It also can lead to feeling lethargic or maybe even a bit sleepy. On the other hand, eating more vegetables with a smaller amount of protein, just enough to be satiated but not overly full, can leave you feeling alert and awake. In the quest to be in as creative a state as possible, every advantage is a benefit.

There is really no one thing that leads us into becoming a creative machine. But, I have found that some of my happiest moments are when I am creative.  For that reason, anything I can do to foster that creativity seems worth it.  From my experience it has been a lot of little things all together that has made the real difference in my ability to be creative. Our physical bodies are the only thing we have to carry us around on this Earth.   If taking care of them is part of a happy and fulfilled life, and one that is full of creativity as a result, then sign me up!

If you need help executing your next creative product endeavor, please look us up at www.driveninnovation.com

How rock climbing made me smarter in my business and better at handling stress!

I have been rock climbing for about six years now and it is hands down, one of my favorite activities. I started rock climbing as a little kid on a set of granite cliffs across the street from where I grew up. I climbed sporadically until I was about 18, and then didn’t climb again for almost 25 years, until I met my wife, who is a rock climber. We went to the local gym a couple of months after we started dating and I just loved climbing!  

I loved how physical it is and how much brain focus is required. But when I started climbing, I did what most beginners do; pulling hard with the hands and arms, while barely using the feet and legs. This results in the weaker arm muscles getting pumped and tired fairly quickly and ultimately, to a loss of grip strength. With no ability to hold on, that pretty much ends the day of climbing. The more experienced climbers would say, “Use the feet, trust the feet”.  But, relying on the feet, and sometimes just the tip of the big toe, can be quite unnerving at first. Thoughts of slipping and catching the chin on the rock or taking the skin off any part of the body that comes in contact with the rock is a reality. And, I think it is a natural thing as humans to want to cling and hold on with our hands.  It can feel very unnatural to step on a small foot hold and support the entire body weight, on a vertical piece of rock, barely holding on with the hands. But changing the way we approach anything can be difficult because we have to overcome the fear of change.  There also may be practice required to learn the new skill.

Now, after many years of rock climbing, I realize there are a lot of similarities between the path of mastering the process of climbing and what I experience on a daily basis in my product development business.  I realize much more about myself, my limiting beliefs, how I react under pressure and also how I instinctively approach problems.  I have been able to apply this awareness to the other areas of my life, including how I run my business.  As a consultant, this information is really useful to know.  I find it very interesting that our hobbies can be educational and provide valuable insights, if we know where to look, and how to apply the insights.

Here are some of the things I have learned through rock climbing:

Technique is very important in rock climbing. Without the proper understanding of the body’s physiology, balance and leverage, your rock climbing progress will slow to a halt and cease to progress. It really is that way with almost everything in life. If you don’t understand the fundamentals, all improvements that are made, such as increasing grip strength, will not yield the full results because the foundation to build on is not in place.

Trusting the feet and conserving the strength of the arms has taught me to look for the best technique for tackling everything I do.   There is always a better technique. You can do a task elegantly and with less energy, or conversely,  use brute strength. The elegant way may require some practice or learned skill.  It is well worth the effort, as not only do I believe the task will be done with more ease, but will also have a better result.

How do you approach your business tasks? How do you run programs? Have you mastered the fundamental skills?  Does your process leave you excited and motivated or exhausted and tired?

The ability to think under pressure is definitely something I learned to appreciate much more through rock climbing. We all want to be cool and collected under pressure so we can perform better and reduce  unhealthy stress!  Rock climbing showed me something about the ability to think under stress in a way that I had never experienced before.

I noticed one time, when I thought I had no other option, I made a frantic grab for a little hold that I knew I couldn’t stick and consequently fell.  After pulling myself back up to the spot where I made that fateful move, I looked around and could see  all types of hand and foot holds! What gives? Why hadn’t I seen them before? I realized that under the extreme physical and mental stress of being about to fall, my actual vision became narrow and focused only on what was right before my eyes. I truly was almost blind.

I see the same condition happen in highly stressful business situations. The more stress and pressure, the less we become able to think clearly to see all the potential options available.  Under either physical or mental extreme stress we literally become dumber.  In actuality,  our IQ drops, and we see less and less options.  We certainly do not see what we want, when we need to operate at a peek creative level.

In order to remain as calm as possible under pressure to avoid the tunnel vision, one option is to increase our skill level and our confidence.  That can lower the stress and panic feelings that result from being overwhelmed.

Having a process based on proper knowledge and experience in rock climbing is essential. Situations can degrade quickly and if the proper actions are not taken at the right moment, you can get very hurt or die.

I once learned, after the fact, that I had made my anchor improperly.  If my climbing partner had fallen, I would have been yanked off the rock and strangled around the waste by the rope.  I would have been banged up, to say the least.   At the time I was 130 feet in the air.  The point is that I thought I knew what I was doing, but I missed a critical step that made all the difference.

In our business of product design, missing a critical step can also have disastrous consequences. I have learned that if I haven’t done a particular task before, then I really don’t know that task. A solid process comes from the experience of having done a particular task over and over.  This will teach you  how to do it correctly and also what could potentially go wrong.   Knowing what can go wrong can be a lifesaver because you can be prepared if and when things go sideways.

Knowing your weaknesses is very important and as the saying goes in rock climbing; it all comes out on the rock. Whatever you struggle with, that hard, unyielding piece of stone will beat out of you. If you have trouble taking risks, you will hang onto holds too long burning precious energy.  Fear will keep you from making that next move. If you are impulsive and move quickly before planning your next few moves ahead, you will undoubtedly get to a point where you won’t know what to do next.   If the route is at the edge of your skill level, you may be stuck or fall. If you are unprepared you will get hurt or hurt someone else. Underestimating the consequences of our weaknesses doesn’t allow us to acknowledge them and then to improve. If you don’t train the areas where you are weakest and don’t continually educate yourself you will be continually frustrated and never get any better.

As professionals in our respective fields, we owe it to our clients to be highly skilled and ever improving. Rock climbing has shown me that losing the ego in regard to knowing it all, has really allowed me to learn so much more from others. And in the end that really does make us better.

Staying healthy is something I constantly battle with rock climbing. Because I just turned 50, I find I get injured much easier than I did when I was younger. I realize that I now require a lot of stretching and conditioning before I climb or I risk an injury that can take me out for months. We don’t always realize how important our physical conditioning is to our day to day life. Sitting in our chairs all day, staring at a computer screen until we are cross-eyed is not the way to be in peak condition.   

Just like in rock climbing, if we don’t feel healthy, we are certainly not going to perform our jobs at a peak state. We need to stretch both our bodies and our minds so we don’t get hurt. How many of us have missed days at the office with back problems? I don’t always enjoy the training, stretching, and core exercises required for rock climbing, but when I notice improvement it seems worth it. What things can you do to improve your physical and mental conditioning so you operate your business at the best state possible for you?

I believe that everything we have in our lives is exactly what we asked for on a conscious and subconscious level. Rock climbing is a way to push myself both physically and mentally to achieve new heights, literally!  It shows me how I can take that same drive, push through fear and, at times, laziness, to achieve so much more, in both my business and personal relationships. What is your rock climbing metaphor?

For more information on Driven Innovation and how we can help you through your hardware product development process, contact us at www.driveninnovation.com

Our design of the X-1 x-ray device

This one thing truly never gets old and is one of my favorite parts about being a product design consultant, and that is seeing our product designs being used in the most interesting of ways! This product, the X1, is a portable X-ray device and it is being used on the new BBC show airing now about the Galapagos Islands. The X1 is being used, for the first time to x-ray lizards and birds in the wild. I mean how cool is that?!

Developing a hardware product...you need to read this!

If you are in the process of developing a hardware product or planning on developing one, you need to know about DFM, three little letters that can cause a world of hurt. For those of you who don’t know what they stand for, it is design for manufacture. But what it actually means for your specific product and how to do it successfully can take decades to learn and a whole book to explain. There are lots of designers and engineers that talk about designing for manufacturing, but to fully understand how to successfully design your product and then transition to manufacturing requires in-depth knowledge and experience of BOTH design and manufacturing. And ideally you have gone through the design and manufacturing process a lot of times. You see, it is rare that you run into the same problems on every program. Having exposure to many different types of product development programs can help in knowing what problems may arise. And there are literally hundreds of ways your product can hit the skids once it reaches manufacturing. We have seen all of the following occur:

·         Drastic changes required to a design by the manufacturer

·         Parts that have horrible aesthetic quality and can’t be fixed

·         Parts that break

·         Parts that cost 3X to 4X more than estimated

·         Massive delays and crucial deadlines missed

·         Poor performance of parts

·         Non functioning parts

·         Catastrophic failures

·         Teams that don’t get along and point blame for problems

·         Breakdowns in communication

·         Design changes once final DFM and manufacturing have already begun

·         Parts built from incorrect databases or down rev. designs

·         Assemblies that cannot be built as designed

·         Designs that are too loud or have unpleasant sounds

·         Designs that overheat

·         Design with unsightly injection mold flow lines, sink marks , gate issues and surface blemishes

·         Sourcing problems

·         Manufacturing problems that never get fully resolved and end up killing the product

And the list goes on and on. With all this attention to designing for manufacture these days, how come all these problems still exist? Well, here are five things we have found that it pays to watch out for during your design for manufacturing program:

·         Don’t underestimate the difficulties of product development. For one thing, hardware design is, hard. It can seem simple enough; after all it’s just hardware. But that is where one of the problems happens, thinking that the risks are less than they actually are / underestimating potential issues and taking shortcuts in engineering and prototyping to reduce costs or to shorten the development timeline; even a lack of understanding of what can actually go wrong in manufacturing can come back to haunt you. Unless you have successfully completed a lot of products, seen them all the way through to the very bitter end, researched and visited factories of all kinds, and evaluated past programs on a consistent basis to find problem areas and asses how to make improvements, you are probably going to run into some issues that will cause you heartburn and gray hair. Get people on your team that have been through the process and have the experience to guide you. Be leery of anyone that discounts risks and has no allowances or contingency plans for manufacturing the more complicated parts of your product.

·         Don’t push manufacturing to its limits. Design deals with the clean and perfect world of CAD, and manufacturing deals with real materials, like metals and plastics. It is always harder to execute properly in the manufacturing world. Unless you have the time, budget and stomach to troubleshoot your product design until it is right, don’t push manufacturing to its edges. And it is very easy to push manufacturing past its limits. You may think your design is simple to manufacture, but it may not be. Stick with more conservative, simple design solutions unless you really know what you are getting yourself into. And yes this may mean that you have to simplify your design and remove some of the less critical features in order to do this.

·         Be prepared for higher initial unit costs. No one has ever come to us and said they wanted their product to cost as much as possible. We usually start every program off with a cost target that was arrived at based on a marketing analysis.  The problem is always that manufacturing costs vary quite a bit for any number of reasons. Startups or companies without bargaining power with their manufacturers will usually pay higher costs because the new product is an unknown entity. We routinely see manufacturing prices drop over time as we continue to order more product. The take away here is to be prepared for higher manufacturing costs initially as you ramp up your production and try not to sacrifice quality to achieve an initial lower cost. And do not assume because you saw a similar product to yours for a particular price, that you too can get that price. There is no exact formula for what a manufactured price should be; only what you have the bargaining power to negotiate based on how much the factory stands to gain from building your product. Moving your product from factory to factory always searching for a lower price has costs associated with it too as well as potential quality problems.

·         Choose your manufacturing partner early. We have all heard this and done it. But here is something that you may not have run up against. Manufacturers brought in early but not guaranteed the project or paid for their time may not give you good advice. Do not assume that a manufacturer that sits in on a few meetings or conference calls during your engineering process is really up to speed on your product. Keep in mind that the design process can take seven months or much longer. That is a lot of time for you and your design team to be very familiar with all the aspects of your design. Manufacturers are not super humans who can look at your product and understand everything at once. It is not that manufacturers are intentionally giving wrong advice; they are just unable to spend the proper amount of time to fully understand all the ins and outs of your program. They may want your job, but they also have lots of other potential programs they are seeking to land. There is just no way that you can get the real in-depth advice you need. And if you place your program in the hands of misguided advice you can really go down the wrong path. The solution, decide early on what manufacturers resonate with your company and hire them, give them a purchase order so that they can bill the time they spend on your product design and assure them that they have your business. This will also allow them to be very familiar with your product once it makes it to manufacturing, another huge plus. 

·         Sending preliminary designs out for manufacturing quote estimates to find the best price is a waste of time. We have all sent preliminary designs out for production cost estimates, before the designs are finalized in order to see if the design is on cost target and to see who offers the best price. This rarely provides any real value for two reasons; #1) the unfinished details are usually where the big costs wind up, and #2) factories will often quote low on preliminary estimates to keep from scaring you off and they know that when you submit the final design they can re-quote and give a higher price based on the rationale of item #1). Manufacturers will need time to get up to speed on your product, and that usually means more than a week or two during the quoting process. And they can often miss important problems, which they will later require changes to address. And those changes can lead to a product that you don’t want, and one that you may ultimately have to live with. Work with a really good manufacturer throughout the entire process and design the best possible product, optimized for their factory. Ultimately that is how you get the best quality and cost. As the factory makes more and more of your product and makes a reasonable profit, they will become more efficient at manufacturing it and that can result in cost savings to you.

Getting a manufactured product to be close to perfect is difficult, and it certainly won’t happen unless you stay on top of your manufacturing. Just dropping your finished CAD files on a factory, demanding a low price, and expecting it to be built quickly is not a wise plan. Getting your product manufactured the way you want requires knowledge, experience and a humble understanding of the design and manufacturing process.

If you are wondering about your specific DFM program, contact us at Driven Innovation and let us help you out.

Is your design successful?

5 steps to create an awesome visual brand language.

There are a lot of factors that go into creating a successful product that people will love. No one thing is ever solely responsible for a product being a hit. But one area that is crucial is a product’s visual and tactile design language. As human beings, we are hard wired to make judgments and have opinions on how things look and feel when we touch them. And your new product is no exception. Here are some points to keep in mind when you get ready to create your next product.

1) What your potential customer sees first matters - Every detail of your product’s exterior design, such as the shape, color, user interface features, and logo help customers identify and remember your products. These are some of the most important factors that make up the visual brand language and how you use them can be the difference between a product that is average and a product that is great. Great products create customer loyalty and built brands. Average products don’t.

2) We live in a highly saturated world - Creating a recognizable brand is really the only way to stand out in today’s crowded product landscape. Your brand is reinforced by your product(s) visual language.  This visual brand is a part of the overall brand and consists of all the aspects of a product experience that the user can see and touch.  A brand is ultimately built on trust, meaning that the product delivers on the promise that is made, both overtly and implicitly.

3) You will be judged by your weakest link - A well thought out and cohesive visual language ties together different products / product lines and strengthens the user’s perception of quality. By creating a product that has been well designed, both from a user interface and visual stand point, the underlying user perception will be that if the outside is done so well, everything else must be too. We make immediate judgments on products based on how they look and feel. Sometimes this judgment can make or break how the user thinks about your product(s).

4) As in all areas of life, consistency is important - Creating a consistent visual brand language between products develops familiarity and can help users intuitively understand how to operate your products, even for the first time. Everyone likes it when they can easily understand how to use a product. And no one likes a product that confuses and frustrates them.  A consistent visual look helps customers easily recognize that different product offerings come from the same company. This builds brand awareness, which can translate into the customer purchasing more products from your company or to the customer attributing more value to your product(s).

5) A product makes a promise, good or bad - The visual product language is the physical embodiment of the products technology. This means that often the technology that powers a product is sealed inside a compartment and not viewable by the user. The user may not even really understand how the technology works. What they see and experience is the physical embodiment of the outside of the product. The quality of the design they can see and touch can be translated to the technology inside, because the user can, and usually does, form an opinion about how the product should function based on the look, feel and quality of the exterior of the product. If the function of the product does not match the user’s expectation based on the exterior experience, the user will feel that disconnect. We have all experienced this. A product looks great and we have high expectations, but it performs poorly and we are upset. The opposite is also true. A product can look dated, or of poor quality, and if we do use it, usually because of a lower price than the competition, we are surprised if it performs well. In this case, not matching your products look and feel to its performance is a major opportunity lost to attract yourself new customers and to build brand loyalty. The proper “brand promise” is that the quality of the look and feel must match the product’s performance.

The Driven team has three decades of product development knowledge. Contact us if you have questions about how to get the best possible visual design language for your next great product. 

Want to know how to get that perfect surface finish?

Complicated surface finishes can be difficult to manufacturer consistently and for a reasonable cost, but they can also make a product design spectacular.  A complex surface texture or a combination of surface textures can take some time to get right, so be prepared for that. But the reason for investing the effort is that sometimes a beautiful texture can make a design very eye catching and can convey a high level of quality and elegance. Some things to keep in mind when developing that texture and finish:

1)      Make sure to find a manufacturer that really understands the look and feel you want.

2)      Allow for some rounds of back and forth in order to get the texture right. There is nothing worse than trying to achieve a complex texture or texture combination and missing the mark.

3)      If you cannot get exactly the look you desire, dial it back and go for something simpler.

4)      Be open to different manufacturing methods in order to get the desired look at a manufactured price that is acceptable. This may result in slight design changes dictated by that manufacturing process.

5)      Once you start, see it through to the end. It will be worth it.

And contact us here at Driven if you need help getting your amazing product built!