Design, innovation & our future: why should we care?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. – Henry Ford

We are by our nature curious! We see patterns, ask questions, and draw conclusions. Occasionally we ask more questions. If we don’t get answers that make sense, we wonder. Not always for ourselves, for others too. We see things through their eyes. Often, we don’t stop there. We go beyond wonder and take action. We take a few notes, make a sketch, and connect a few dots. I would argue, we are all designers provided we work at it; else we risk becoming a group of passive consumers. We must care about design because the world does not need faster horses.

Future ready
I never let my schooling get in the way of my education. – Mark Twain

We can no longer accurately predict the future. Social media strategist, blogger, data miner, drone pilot, who knew these would be jobs? 1 We are creating artificial intelligence (AI) that does the amazing, drives, writes, and grades. We replace TVs, phones, and computers, not fix. Cars run for ten+ years. The future looks good. Yet, if we eliminate more jobs then we create, what will we all do? This is why we need our curiosity, interesting questions, and our ability to care; it defines our “humanness” if you will. We need to focus our educational efforts on our uniquely human qualities, which cannot be duplicated; else what job is next.

Creativity & innovation
Repetition is the death of magic. –Bill Watterson

Self-driving cars, stores where you don’t line up,2 and AI that writes poetry3 all seem wildly creative and innovative. Yet, so many products are poorly designed or lack empathy. We wait in too many lines. And standardized tests still define our future. We are in an age of transition. We struggle with how to teach creativity and define innovation. The top ten grossing films in each year of the first decade of the millennium, seventy-four of the one hundred were sequels, adaptations of an earlier work, or based on comic book/video games.4 Going forward, we need to be comfortable with the dynamic nature of terms like original, inventive, fresh, surprising, risk, better, and useful. Algorithms/AI cannot yet solve complex problems, build social collateral, or be empathetic. Remember when we used to play in the sandbox? We build stuff, worked with others, and sought feedback from parents. Teamwork can be infectious, if we let it. The future needs creativity and innovation and people who question authority. Let’s get back in the sandbox and keep magic alive.

What can we do?
Every great design begins with an even better story. – Lorinda Mamo

Don’t wait! Curiosity, wonder, the design cycle, these are not top down movements. It is not going to come from admin, the school board, or even parents. We are all creative provided we give ourselves the permission. Celebrate good design when we see it. Call out bad design, but be prepared to ask questions, to step up, and offer insights and solutions based on research. Critics only and passive consumers need not apply. Stop just reading and discussing what defines creativity, innovation, and design and take responsibility for our future! Go create a story to own. There no shame in failing, so why not do it with a little style?

Note: this post is a result of an on going collaborative between myself and  John McBryde the Director of Origins Education. Without his guidance and friendship, it would look quite different.


1. 10 jobs that did not exist 10 years ago – Digital Marketing Institute
2. Amazon to open convenience store with no lines – the two way breaking news from NPR
3. Google’s AI has written some amazingly mournful poetry – Wired
4. Everything’s a remix part 1 – Kirby Ferguson


Houdini – Escapologist & Technologist

Over the Winter Holiday break, Hui and I took in the exhibit “Houdini: Art and Magic” at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.  Unfortunately, Alex could not accompany us. So, I took lots of notes in order to assemble a story of Houdini for Alex.

McManus-Young Collection, Library of Congress

Harry Houdini was a magician who used showmanship to make his tricks into a performance where hearts raced, heads turned away, and people were left amazed. He seemed to be able to escape from anything. He starred in films. He produced movies. He read everything he could find about magic, escapes, illusions, and the super natural. To learn more about the details of Houdini’s life, click here. To know more about Houdini’s as a technologist, read on!

At the exhibit, I discovered Houdini was always using technology to improve his magic act. Whether it be new rope or improved locks or stronger steel he identified new technologies that he could use to impress audiences even more. Despite the fact that the information super highway would not exist for another 100 years, Houdini managed to tap into a variety of data and information in his day.

Houdini as a Technologist

King of Handcuffs! He even came to call himself Harry Handcuff Houdini. People were always developing new handcuffs and challenging him to escape from them. How did he get so good at escaping from handcuffs? As a young man living in Appleton, Wisconsin, he apprenticed with a locksmith. Houdini learned how to make locks and how to open locks. As handcuffs are essentially locks, Houdini knew all to well how to escape. 100 years ago, each city’s police department thought their handcuffs were the best and the strongest. So wherever Houdini travelled, he was challenged to escape from all kinds of handcuffs. Through these continual challenges, Houdini managed always be researching and learning about handcuffs. So, by staying current with developments in lock and handcuffs, Houdini managed to defy police departments and to amaze his audiences.

Images from Wiki Commons

Houdini as a Collaborator

Although Houdini’s formal education time was limited, he constantly read to improve himself. He eventually came to reside in New York City, the epicenter of immigration in the US. He worked in dime museums, sideshows, and traveling circuses. He met amazing people from all over the world. He listened and learned fascinating stories of strange and enchanting tricks. He would learn the tricks and then add a bit of showmanship to turn them into extraordinary performances.In the  Needle Threading Trick, Houdini would swallow needles and thread, separately. Miraculously he would pull the needles from his mouth threaded. Although the trick is credited with an East Indian origin, the museum indicated the trick came from Russia. My point, Houdini collected data in the form of stories and tricks. He assessed it, tagged it, and then repackaged things for others to enjoy.

Houdini as as a Life Long Learner

He was always shopping for the next trick whether at home or on the road. He was always in top physical shape. As a boy, he was a star cross country runner. At age nine, he preformed as a trapeze artist at age nine in his own back yard. Houdini kept his abdominal muscles so strong it was like punching a tree. He dove off bridges into rivers in handcuffs. He escaped from straight jackets suspended in mid air. He submerged himself in locked milk cans and chambers full of water. Houdini could control his breathing and could even hold his breath for up to seven minutes. He learned to fly. He could project his voice and appear to be in two places at once. Houdini never stopped pushing himself to learn new things.

In today’s collaborative Youtube available information society, would Houdini be the man he was? As we break down the barriers of different cultures, societies, and access to data, so much of what is amazing we take for granted. The world needs more than ever, more people like Houdini who add some showmanship and leave us all wanting a little bit more.