Dan Zen TEDx Hamilton Talk – Transcript


[Enter Dan Zen, rolling Rolli the robot]

[intro slide]

Hello. Welcome to TEDx Hamilton in a city where we are experiencing a cultural revolution!

I am inventor, Dan Zen, and this is Rolli.

While others are walking their dogs, I am walking my robot. [parks Rolli]

An art collector from Toronto offered me $500 for Rolli. But she was drunk… so I didn’t sell it to her. Ya… she couldn’t operate the bank machine! Sigh.

If Rolli leaves nuts and bolts around, I sweep them up with the Hockey Stick Broom [Dan Zen sweeps with broom]. We inherited an old push broom when we moved into our house in Dundas 17 years ago. I used it for a couple years and then the handle broke off. So I was down on my hands and knees sweeping with the bristles when I got an Aha! moment. This was easier than pushing the broom. And the motion was familiar. Aha! It was like a hockey stick. So I screwed the bristles to a hockey stick and it has been my favourite broom ever since! I stick handle berries and shoot dirt off the patio. Kids love it too!

The title of the talk is “Simply Inventive, No More Waiting for Aha!” Because we don’t want to Aha! only when we break brooms.

In the case of Rolli, I knew I wanted to make a robot that rolled around and it was only a matter of engineering – problem solving. But we don’t want to only be creative when we problem solve.

We should demand to be creative… on demand!

That’s what I did for the next examples. I wanted to make a mobile game so I sat down with a sketchbook and right then and there, was creative on demand. Let’s see what I came up with:

[slides with pictures of apps in use]

Touchy – the mobile app where you take away other player’s points by touching a target on their screen.

Tilty – players try and keep their device level while jostling each other in the physical world.

Hangy – wear your own mobile device as a mobidallion and express yourself with happy faces, messages, light shows, etc. to people near by.

Trippy – view the world through the camera in your device and Trippy applies effects like inverting colors so your friends look like zombies, Kaleidoscoping your girlfriend or jogging through rings of op art!

Droner – At a gathering or party, Droner, lets you control your friends!

[focuso slide]

So… how did we come up with these ideas? Well, that’s the first part of the title – Simply Inventive. And I am playing with words because:

It is simple to invent… if we invent with simplicity.

Designers in the audience might say… ya, I know… simplicity is a design tenant. But those designers will also tell you that SIMPLE… is HARD.

So I would like to share some techniques to make SIMPLE SIMPLE!

Look for basic properties – like position and dimensions. Dimensions have width, height and depth. These are not always easy to see.

For example, look how long we were printing with only two dimensions – width and height. And then along comes 3D printing and we finally have depth. This has opened up a whole realm of creativity.

Now, there is another basic property at play here. Once again, it can be hard to see – so let’s use a technique called abstraction. The picture behind us is shot in Focuso – out of focus on purpose. This removes the details and simplifies the scene. The wrinkled towels take on an elegant aura of colors.

Let’s try abstraction with the words 3D printing. We can abstract the word printing – take it away and we are left with 3D – three dimensions. Let’s take away the word dimensions and we are left with 3. Do we see it now? The basic property I was talking about is the number of things. So we have 2D printing, 3D printing – are you now thinking of 4D printing? Printing that changes with time perhaps – could be cool.

But once again, we need to see another basic property. We are counting up – what about counting down. Direction. Perhaps there are inventions waiting in the world of 1D printing. That could have been done already – ticker tape? But in maybe there are new uses in the context of today. Simplicity often comes when we reduce the number of things.

That is what I did with Rolli. Most things roll of four wheels – like cars and roller skates. If we go to two wheels we get bicycles and roller blades and things just seem to get more magical. With Rolli, we went to one wheel and this gives us the degree of freedom to make using Rolli elegant – even graceful.

With the hockey stick broom, the basic property we used was the angle.

The basic property we used with the mobile games is more sublime. To give a hint… it is a relative of position. Not absolute position – location – although there are inventive things happening with GPS and location based interactivity. Not absolute position, but rather relative position.

Almost every mobile game happens inside the device. My games happen outside the device. So just that simple switch – inside / outside… in / out let me build powerful, basic games that no one else has made.

So how do we find these basic properties? Well, in the case of numbers, we might ask, “how many”. In the case of location, we might ask, “where”. Ya… twenty years of analyzing creativity… ten years of synthesizing that into a philosophy and a creativity framework. And the answer is found on Sesame Street – who, what, when, where, why, how, how much, how many.

Unfortunately, it is still tricky because we tend to get caught on the specifics. So I would like to show you a slide from the creativity framework that will help us get past the specifics.

When we invent, we usually have a topic in mind – for example, mobile games.

[slides from creativity framework]

Well here we have chairs. If you don’t have a topic, you may as well poke your finger in a dictionary.

The first step we do is analyze. We break the chair into its parts – its aspects. If we want, we can just describe a specific chair – use the who, what, when, etc. if you like.

(Slides showing four legs L-shaped, black leather, for sitting etc.)

The next step is to generalize. So analyze and then generalize. Four is a number, L is a shape, black is a color, leather is a material, sitting is a purpose, etc.

Then we think of options. For instance, a chair might not have four legs, it could be three or two, etc. If we’re still too specific, we can generalize again – for instance, color and material have to do with appearance. This reminded me that we can have pattern too – and here is a good one that relates to “when”: does it change? Is it static or dynamic? Lazy Boy made a fortune on chairs that change shape.

The final step is to synthesize – join options together. What about a chair that changes color? But why? So when we synthesize, we look for relevance. And if we look at the options for the purpose of the chair, we see – oh… what about a chair that changes color depending on occupant weight! Imagine, sitting on your couch eating pizza and the couch is slowly turning red – not sure we want this! Laugh, laugh.

So once again, we analyze – pull things apart, generalize and list options, and then synthesize with relevance in mind. This leads us to purposeful creation.

[conclusion slide]

To conclude… let’s do a mantra. Could we all stand please – and repeat after me:

I pledge to make simple simple
And to study a creativity framework
So that I can engineer grace.

Clap clap.

I am Inventor, Dan Zen – thank you.


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