Tag Archives: Brainstorming

Miscellany

Mandatory Sensations / The Experimental

In most organizations, there’s going to be a tension between what’s been proven to work, and what’s worth experimenting with for the future.  Last time I checked, facebook is a company that experiments a lot; it’s a core value at the company.

Of course, new initiatives aren’t always successful.  I can remember a long time back when Monday Night Football selected comedian Dennis Miller to be a commentator.  My recollection is that it was not a good idea at all.  However, one certainly can’t fault Miller, and although the ABC network was perhaps too lax in screening this experiment beforehand, you can at least credit them for being willing to fail.

Virtually all organizations – no matter how ancient and stoic – have to eventually try something new and risk failure.

Moving along with a simple case study, I can’t really remember the last time I saw much or any of the Academy Awards, but in recent years I more or less remember the headlines surrounding the event.  To be pretty general, there were calls for change regarding the award results.

Now, my gut feeling is whether or not the suggested changes were warranted, the Academy Awards was like a sitting duck.  It’s perceived lack of experimentation, and more generally any sense of movement or change, inadvertently created a curious vulnerability for it at that point in time.

This is the curious vulnerability:  It didn’t really matter if it made sense for the Academy Awards to experiment radically.  It also didn’t really matter if the changes demanded by external forces were warranted.  Today, by default, an organization is expected to experiment, and more generally, exude a sense of movement or changingirrespective of what that movement or change is!  Organizations that don’t do this are automatically, implicitly, and perhaps subconsciously, considered faulty, if not guilty!

Yes, it seems as though your organization has to propagate a sense of movement or change, even if completely vague, just for the sake of producing that sensation.  We’re now several generations past the “MTV generation”, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

In a motto: If you don’t control the conversation about “change” in your organization, the odds are much higher than someone else will.

With respect to the Academy Awards, I think the experimentation that they’d need to embark on to effect that general sense of change would have to go beyond who is the host.  The experimentation will have to affect the fundamental nature of the event.  For instance, award categories.  Perhaps add some new experimental categories, and try them out in the run-up to the actual show.  Perhaps include some in the time slot where they kind of just show actors walking into the building.  And perhaps others in the days and weeks preceding the actual event.

And to that end, I’ve had musings for some time that are somewhat obscure, but nevertheless interesting and perhaps worthy of some kind of experimentation one day.  They probably also cater more to cinephiles than the average consumer, and that, specifically, could be a great part of the experimentation.  In my opinion, they’re legitimate categories in their own right.

1. New Experimental Category: Highest Ratio of Trailer Quality to Motion Picture Quality

In other words, it was an incredible trailer for an awful movie.

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily an awful movie.  In fact, my current all-time pick for this category is Safe, which was not bad at all.

The bottom line is trailer composition is an art that’s currently not recognized in any way.  The producer for the trailer may have the lamest film of all time to work with, but his job is to take that, and from it create the most compelling 60-second preview possible.  That is an art!

To drive this home further, Hollywood is approaching $50 billion a year in revenue, and this is easily the most unheralded facet of that cash cow, even though it’s one of the absolute most critical trades.  Imagine a Hollywood where all the films were the same, but all the trailers were absolutely awful.  I would envision many billions of dollars in lost revenue.

2. New Experimental Category: Greatest Motion Picture Over-Performance

In other words, you saw the poster, you saw the trailer, you knew about the cast, you knew who the director was, and… you were completely shocked at how good the film was.

Similar to before, it doesn’t necessarily mean all those aforementioned ingredients were of low quality.  And of course it doesn’t necessarily mean the film is that great.

Picks from recent memory include Law Abiding Citizen, Broken City, and Prisoners.  Perhaps owing to the complexity of the measurement, it’s difficult for me to choose one as the clear winner.

To drive home the above points, the best film I’ve seen from the recent past is The Dark Knight.  However, it wouldn’t be a contender because, although it actually did over-perform, I expected a very high level of quality to begin with.

3. New Experimental Category: Best Scene From A Motion Picture

This is self explanatory, and there are too many possibilities to list right here.

I also think this is a non-cinephile category that could captivate the average consumer.

4. New Experimental Category: Moodiest Motion Picture Film

Wow, now this is a niche experimental category!

I have no idea how to quantify the moodiness of a film, or articulate what this category even really means, but you know it when you see it.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is music tends to play a critical role.  That said, this isn’t Best Motion Picture Score or Best Motion Picture Soundtrack.

For me, the film that really stands out is the mostly-unknown 1996 Spanish film by Carlos Saura, Taxi.

Fittingly, the soundtrack featured cult band Mano Negra, which was noteworthy for its very high level of experimentation.  Numerous multilingual tracks from the the band’s relevant album Casa Babylon have a very unconventional and original sound, and are worth a listen.

Equally worthy of consideration, with an equally moody score,  soundtrack, visuals, and writing, is Yimou Zhang’s 1995 film, Shanghai Triad.

Miscellany

Excellence By Accident

“Fanedits” are one of the newer trends in cinema.  It’s when amateurs attempt to edit a film, in an attempt to achieve what they believe is perfection.  Their legality is sketchy as is their typical distribution.  I encountered the strangest fanedit by accident.

I had received a bargain-bin DVD copy of Pearl Harbor.  Since I had never seen it, I eventually decided to view the DVD.  It was a 2-disc set, but one of the discs was missing.  I figured it must have been the special features.

I was very impressed with the film, instantly captivated by a very interesting cold opening, intrigued by the chosen timeline for the film, and the general pacing and structure felt very, very different and definitely refreshing!  I didn’t realize the disc clearly said “Disc 2”, and I was in fact watching the second half of the film like an idiot.

(Eventually, I finally saw the first half of the three-hour film.)

My final analysis is that Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-2 can actually be viewed as a self-contained film.  As for references to things in the first half of the film, they generally turn out to be better when you imagine what happened, or speculate what they might be talking about.  Of course, due to time constraints, it’s a common occurrence in films anyway – so in this case you don’t even realize there’s something strange going on.

Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-2 is better than Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-1 .

More surprisingly, it’s also better than Pearl-Harbor-the-DVD-Part-1-and-Part-2!

I don’t claim it’s perfect, but I do claim it’s better.  Much better, in fact.

Throw away the first disc, and you have the ultimate Pearl Harbor fanedit.  If you’ve never seen Pearl Harbor, you’re the next-to-perfect test subject.  (In this case the perfect test subject would be completely unaware of what’s going on.)  Watch the second half of the film and see for yourself.

Can something more useful than a random film review be gleaned from this?  Yes, I believe so.  Sometimes, superior quality and solutions can be found in the strangest places.  Never close the door on brainstorming methods or approaches.  You never know what you’ll find.  And sometimes a lack of awareness can open the mind, when otherwise it might be gridlocked with conventional thinking.

I can't read.
I can’t read.

Great Design

Optimizing Our Government

An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.
An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.

I once joked that there must be a Japanese word somewhere for the visceral enjoyment of seeing your current political party torn to shreds after performing pitifully in office.  With the general poll numbers that we’re seeing, if there is such a word I think that word might soon become a loan word to the English language.

In a previous blog post, I stated that solutions to address the national debt can only be deemed credible if they actually have a reasonable chance of being accepted by both major parties.  In the days since that blog post, just as in the days before it, we have seen what we always see: politicians basically talking past each other, touting pet policy ideas that are or will be dead on arrival.

But what’s truly remarkable is the number of credible solutions you can actually come up with off the top of your head, without even putting that much effort into it, and how our so-called leaders in Washington somehow can’t operate similarly.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 government optimizations that are indeed credible national debt solutions.  I will list them in order of increasing impactfulness.

  1. Scrap the televised State of the Union.  This now-painfully-outdated requirement in the Constitution has slowly mutated into the absolute biggest waste of time and money in America.  A perfunctory written report from the President to Congress would satisfy the requirement.  It’s time to trim the fat!
  2. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize prison labor, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to prison inmates.  This is a win/win.  Prisoners represent a large, untapped labor pool.  For each individual prisoner, it would provide a positive, constructive purpose; a way to create a bigger, better résumé while serving their sentence; and presumably a merit system that could reduce their sentence.  For the federal government, it provides cheap labor to throw at federal projects that would otherwise be more expensive.  They could also accept bids from state and local governments for use of the labor, and the state and local governments would benefit in the same manner.  The same type of workforce administration could possibly be devised for homeless U.S. citizens, and it might be wise to keeps these two administrations tightly coupled; inherent differences would probably prevent them from being merged completely.
  3. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize military personnel, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to military personnel.  Same as solution #2 above, but with the following specific differences.  In order to receive college benefits and any other negotiated enlistment benefits, military recruits must perform 3 months in the workforce service on the back end of their military service.  The requirement gets waived if the individual is seriously injured, has served in an extensive number of active tours, has his enlistment lengthened, or satisfies the 3-month requirement during the main enlistment time frame.  The idea behind that last clause is that if soldiers are stationed somewhere (e.g. Germany or the Middle East), and it’s deemed that the peace-time situation does not require a full presence at all times, then some soldiers can be cycled out to perform some or all of their workforce duty within their regular enlistment period.  During times of peace, this should provide a major windfall for this prospective workforce; in times of war, the impact wouldn’t be as great and might be zero.
  4. Monetize state assets via advertising.  Yes, some things like the front of the White House should be off limits.  But other things – like the exterior sides and certain interiors of a Navy destroyer – must be open for discussion.  Money has to be balanced with dignity and function.  Sports stadiums figured it out decades ago.  Why is our government behind the curve?
  5. Create a National Monument of Debt Philanthropists and Heroes.  If I can walk into a hospital and see the silver, gold, and platinum donors for some pet project at that hospital, why can’t a find a way to donate to solve the federal debt problem?  If I can visit monuments dedicated to war heroes, why can’t we create a monument dedicated to those citizens who might help us avert a financial defeat?  If we created a simple mechanism by which corporate, group, individual, and anonymous donors could provide tax-deductible donations to be used only for national debt obligations, and also provided visibility and status for the greatest among those philanthropists, those donors will eventually donate a significant amount of money.

I think this last one is interesting to brainstorm a little.  You want micro-donations, and you also want mega-donations.  So create a monument space catering to both donation sizes.

For micro-donations, you have an enormous, next-generation TitanTron-esque digital display.  In front of the TitanTron, you have a sprawling landscape for picnics and BBQs.  People who submit micro-donations online can submit their name.  For larger donations, they can upload additional text (e.g. quotes, shout outs, etc).  Perhaps a picture for larger donations, and possibly even video for the largest micro-donations.  Video content above a certain time length requires an additional donation.  And for a few dollars more, they can have their content displayed completely ad-free.  In return, they receive access-code/log-in information that can be used to always determine the next day and time that their content will scroll across the Individual Heroes TitanTron.  Then, you can make a trip out of it – vaguely like the Mecca pilgrimage.  Take your family and friends to Washington D.C., see the standard attractions, and then have a BBQ picnic just in time to see and take selfies with your Individual Hero name/picture/video for 10 seconds or so, of course with important Washington D.C. buildings and monuments perfectly framed in the background.  Artists can bid to have their music played when non-audio content is displayed; of course free music can also be used.  If the people-watching aspect of the TitanTron content ever took on a life of its own and started drawing big enough crowds, you could even charge a small fee to enter the park, and of course add a gift shop.  (People who are scheduled to have their content displayed on that day always get in free.)  And of course, you can brainstorm any number of secondary uses for this enormous, next-generation display during very special holidays and similar events.

Then, behind and to the sides of the micro-donations TitanTron, you have the No Limit Donors park.  Unlike traditional plaque-based donation systems, mega-donors will have a plaque sized to their donation size, most likely snapped to various integer values.  For example, you could set it so that if someone somehow donated $20 trillion, a permanent, indelible No Limit Donor physical plaque would be built for him that is half a mile tall.  Based on a calculation like that, you just scale down from there.  And you aim to have a system where a good-sized rectangular square is what comes up the most often.  What’s important is that you create an incentive to have the biggest.

Americans donate almost a half a trillion dollars a year, and the bottom line is the United States government is not competing for any of those dollars!  If curing Cancer is worthwhile, then so is averting an grave nation-wide meltdown, which could easily lead to severe worldwide chaos.  Offering personalized immortality on what would be the nation’s biggest stage is a very compelling value proposition.

If you build it, they will come!

American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

 

Great Design

Rhyming With The World

We’re going to take two trips at the same time.  One through time and one through an ecological life cycle.  Both will be through vignettes and neither will be linear.

– Gone To Texas –

Cow hoof prints in cement. One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.
Cow hoof prints in cement.  One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.

Even though my great-grandfather hailed from Nebraska, his first name was extremely Scandinavian.  This may have been a contributing factor in his decision to only go by his initials.  He did this so much so, in fact, that even friends and family had no idea what his actual name was.

He came to Texas to work on the expansion of the existing irrigation system.  What they were working on would allow more water from the Rio Grande River to be channeled northwards.  More water would reach more farm fields, and I believed it helped the cities as well.

He eventually started a dairy farm as a side business. His son, my grandfather, disliked it so much that he dismantled it almost immediately after inheriting it.  And so, many old dairy farm structures were either torn down or left to eventually disintegrate on their own.  As a result, our property tends to have pieces of very old lumber laying around, and we haven’t ever had a good use for them.

– Brand Management –

I would call it “rhyming with the world”.  It’s a phrase I found in a book, but in the book they call it “rhyming with nature”.  Let’s be honest – doing something with “nature” sounds kind of passé doesn’t it?  It sounds like you have to find a tie-die shirt and a headband to get in.  But “rhyming with the world”?  That sounds like something exotic!  Maybe some sort of never-to-be-forgotten trip to the Caribbean.  Branding is always important, don’t you think?

http://www.aikidofaq.com/introduction.html
http://www.aikidofaq.com/introduction.html

Now, to illustrate a different point, what if instead of calling it “rhyming with the world”, we called it “organizational efficiency”?  That almost kind of sounds like something a Fortune 500 company might employ.  How about “operational effectiveness”?  That sounds like it might involve some kind of modern military strategy.  “Harmony of motion”?  Perhaps that’s distinctly Aikido.  It’s all the exact same thing, just in different contexts: maximizing efficiency.  (Sometimes, to reach this optimal efficiency, you must find a solution that may not be the first item on everyone’s brainstorming list!)

– Humans, Everything Else, And Life And Death –

A still from the film Aliens.
A still from the film Aliens.

In Aliens, Ripley brazenly and shamelessly betrays the queen alien in a classic deal gone bad.  After being given everything she had wanted, Ripley breaks her tacit agreement with the queen alien.  She blows away the queen, along with all of her eggs, pointlessly, for no reason other than malice.  This is the glorification of anthropocentrism.  (Nearly 20 years after James Cameron shot this scene, it still stands as one of the most unique and one of the best film sequences ever produced.)

Strange as it may sound, this film scene is something of a guilty pleasure.  I am anthropocentric, and this scene is a personal reminder of my own anthropocentricity.  Proof that my worldview holds humans to be preeminent.  In fact, my views on global ecology, and my general desire to not inflict harm on other life unnecessarily, is actually just an extension of this worldview.  It is the way that I, for various anthropocentric reasons, personally choose to exercise free will as an anthropocentric agent.

Global ecology and the role we play in it isn’t an abstract academic exercise.  For example, in Australia, finding out the daily UV index is a life and death matter.  The state of the ozone layer around Australia is so bad now that skin cancer there is described as an epidemic.  Some estimate that one in two, or an almost unbelievable two in three, Australians will contract skin cancer in their lifetime.  If humans truly are supreme, then they will surely keep this world, the collective human home, in order.

– Open Your Eyes –

There is a useful mental exercise where someone is shown something, and then that person is asked what they see.  They are supposed to guess what the object is for, or think up additional and perhaps non-intuitive uses for it.  (This is actually a regular segment on Ask This Old House, but in truth I believe I first saw something like it in an old Adrian Lyne production.)

So, what do you see?

Newspapers and Packing Materials

Looks like some discarded paper products – newspapers and packing materials.  In other words, trash, or perhaps paper recycling if we were being good global citizens.  There are surely many secondary uses for something like this.  I’ll give you my answer on this in just a second.

What do you see?

Texas Ebony Seed Pods 1

These are seed pods from the Texas Ebony tree.  It stands to reason that the Texas Ebony trees in my yard are the very distant descendants of ancient Texas Ebony trees.  Trees that probably stood here in this very same region, perhaps in a tranquil near silence, before humans were ever here.  Just as today, their seed pods would have fallen everywhere and would have almost been a nuisance had anyone been here to care.  My answer on this, too, in just a second.

Texas Weeds 1

The above picture is your only clue.  It may help you deduce where I’m going with part of this.  The clue is this: Near-useless weeds are endemic in South Texas just like they are endemic in many other places.  There are many ways you can try to manage or eliminate them…

Texas Ebony Seeds Pods 2

What if we harnessed the shape and size of Texas Ebony seed pods by placing them and the newspaper down over weed growth? Then you would have a semi-permanent weed barrier, and best of all, it would have style. To me, this is an instance of perfect South Texas Style.  Truly, this is something that cannot be bought. You can’t buy this weed barrier at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  If you’re in the U.S., you have to be in South Texas to get it, and when you go to get it, there’s usually an abundance waiting for you.

The newspapers will break down over time, but that’s OK.  Their purpose is actually two-fold.  First, depending on how much you put down, the newspapers all but guarantee the existing weeds will die.  Otherwise, it will be a huge struggle keeping them from pushing through the second weed barrier (in this case, seed pods).  Second, they buy you time.  We didn’t want to have to round up two or three layers of seed pods all at once for our various yard projects.  The newspapers allow you to incrementally add that second weed barrier without having to deal with new weed growth.

Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.
Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.

One reason, in particular, we want to place weed barriers around trees and small structures is that we want to be able to cut every blade of grass or every weed with a lawn mower, and not have to bring out another tool to deal with the remaining weeds that are right up against the tree or structure.

Getting closer to the beginning, we have several bamboo plants.  Bamboo can be used for a lot of things!  Some of its uses include food, structures, and weapons.

Bamboo Crater

We have dug out a small crater right next to one of our bamboo plants.  We route some of our graywater to this crater so it can be better utilized.  (The ideal design for such a crater would be a bowl-like, concave impression with the bamboo plant right in the middle.  However, for various reasons, we chose to do it this way.)

Chipped Wood and Bamboo

One other great bamboo use stems from the fact it is very easy to put through a chipper and turn into fine-grained bamboo pieces.  These chips are a great second-level weed barrier.  More bamboo growth will give us more ammunition to snuff out more weeds.  This is pretty good holistic efficiency.

But what about that huge crater?  It’s not very appealing to have a huge hold in the middle of your yard!

Bamboo Crater With Van Berg Dairy Farm Board Walkway

Now back at the very beginning, we take some of that old lumber, saw it down to size, and cover the crater so we can walk over it.

The old Van Berg dairy farm lives on.

 

South Texas 1

South Texas 2

South Texas 3