Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ideas are Like Chili

On a cold winter day in Missouri, nothing warms the body like a great pot of chili.

My chili recipe is pretty easy.  I like to start with the right ingredients: lean beef, dark red kidney beans, fresh peppers and onions in a tomato sauce base. A little salt, garlic powder and cayenne pepper contribute to the flavor.

After everything comes together, the chili needs to cook slowly over a low flame for a good long time to allow the flavors to cook together.

The evaluation phase of a creative project is like the simmering chili. The brain needs time to synthesize all of the inputs and connect the dots in a new and unique way.

After the initial research, after the brainstorming sessions, after reviewing the initial flowcharts and process documents, take a break.  You need to allow the information to sink deep into your unconscious and simmer for a while.  Your brain does its best work in quiet obscurity while you are concentrating on something else.

In The Man Who Invented the Computer, Jane Smiley tells a wonderful story about the night that John Atansoff invented the first electronic computer while having a drink in a roadhouse in Rock Island Illinois. He jotted his notes on a cocktail napkin.

Atansoff had been working on concepts for a calculating machine for years and on that night in December 1937, he was frustrated and baffled.  So he jumped in his car and drove from his office at Iowa State College across the flatlands of central Iowa, through the rolling hills of the Eastern Iowa, crossed the Mississippi river and stopped for a drink in Rock Island.

The concentration of driving and the change of scenery kept Atansoff’s mind off of the problems of computational design.  But his unconscious mind was free to explore ideas in depth.  As soon as he sat down in that roadhouse, all four of the key design features of the system came to him at once. He sketched his ideas on his napkin, finished his drink, drove back home and began the long process of putting his ideas into action.

Like Atansoff’s road trip, or the simmering chili, we need to give our ideas time and space to develop. Do the hard work first.  Then relax for a while and let your mind work in peace.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Final Fantasy Life Lessons

Image from Final Fantasy XIII review at http://www.bigshinyrobot.com/reviews/archives/12678

With all the current buzz about gamification, it seems like a good time to reflect upon the important life lessons that can be learned from playing a good game.  Here are some of the things I have learned from playing Final Fantasy XIII.

Welcome Every Mission

Just like the game, life is filled with small challenges. If you avoid these encounters, you won’t gain the experience that you need for the big challenges.  Throw yourself enthusiastically into every opportunity and you will learn the lessons and acquire the experience you will need for the big battles that are coming.

Always Give 100%

You may be able to win a battle without trying very hard. But you will level up faster and higher if you approach every challenge with skill and enthusiasm.  Dealing with everyday challenges skillfully prepares you to unlock the epic accomplishments.

Try Again

The game wouldn’t be very much fun if you could win every battle the first time.  Neither would life.  When things go wrong, adjust your strategy and try again. And keep trying until you figure it out.

Embrace Diversity

When things get rough, you are going to need a team with the skills and flexibility to adapt to the situation. Make sure you choose people with different backgrounds, experience and skills that can complement your own.

Level Up Everyone

Winning the epic battles will require every member of your team to be at their best.  Make sure that everyone has the training, experience and skills they need to make their contribution.

If You Can’t Win, Expand Your Abilities

In some cases, you and your team will not be able to defeat your enemy with the equipment and abilities that you have accumulated.  When this happens, you need to retrace your steps and build more abilities and upgrade your equipment by taking on simpler missions.   When you have leveled up sufficiently, it’s time to try the epic battle again.  In real life, when you find yourself in over your head, figure out what you need to know then learn it.

What have you learned from playing games?  How has it impacted your life?

Final Fantasy XIII 

Monday, April 11, 2011

DC in 3D

When I was a child, I had a Viewmaster with an Americana disc.  While exploring Washington DC this weekend with a 3D camera, those memories came back vividly.  I hope you enjoy these stereo pairs and anaglyph 3D images from our nation's capitol.

Washington Circle

Washington Monument

Jefferson Memorial

Lantern and Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Terri in Smithsonian Garden

Magnolia Blossoms

Roosevelt Memorial

Lincoln Memorial from Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

All images Copyright 2011 David Williams

Sunday, April 3, 2011

+50 Gamefulness

In Disney’s children’s classic Mary Poppins, the creative nanny, who is practically perfect in every way, teaches the children how to turn their chores into a game. In A Spoonful of Sugar, she explains:

In ev'ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job's a game
And ev'ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake.

Mary Poppins Inspires a Generation of Gamers

Game Developer and Futurist Jane McGonigal has taken Mary Poppin’s philosophy and explored it in detail in her book Reality is Broken. Drawing upon her own research and the work of Mihályi Csíkszentmihályi and others, McGonigal points out that real life is often less engaging than games because it is too easy, doesn’t activate positive emotions, isn’t satisfying enough, offers too few avenues for success and doesn’t strengthen our social connectivity.

It is hard to disagree that the real world is filled with problems that could use the energy and concentration of the typical Halo player. How do we get people to approach these as epic, awe inspiring quests?  How do we get our associates to collaborate on project tasks with the intensity of a World of Warcraft quest? McGonigal suggests the answer is to structure real world activities with game elements designed to drive wholehearted participation and develop what she calls “massively
multiplayer foresight.”


Jane McGonigal Explains how Gaming can Make a Better World at TED 2010

Last Friday, the New York Public Library announced Find the Future: The Game developed by McGonigal with Natron Baxter and Playmatics that combines real-world missions with virtual clues and online collaboration inspired by items in the library collections. The game will kick off on May 20th when 500 prequalified players will explore the library’s 70 miles of stacks with laptops and smartphones to follow clues to treasures such as the library’s copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand.

Players will use an app on their iPhone or Android phone to take pictures of QR codes that are attached to 100 of the library's notable objects. At each object, the player will find a challenge related to the artifact. After the kick-off, Find the Future: The Game will open up to gamers across the city and around the world who will be able to play using their own smartphones or computers, or on free computers at any of the library’s locations.

Find the Future: The Game Trailer

"The library's collection has all of these rare and just precious, awe-inspiring objects that you really have to come face to face with," McGonigal explains. "It's one thing to look at it online and it can really have some impact, but when you're there it really becomes clear that for every moment in history there was a person who set that moment in action -- and you could be that person."

Find the Future:The Game is an excellent example of using gaming elements to transform an ordinary visit to the library into an epic quest. How can you engineer happiness into your company or use game elements to inspire enthusiasm in your products and projects?

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World