The design process applied to office sanctioned crafting

design processCreative problem solving isn’t about sitting by yourself in a little corner hashing out some rigid step by step plan of action. It’s about responding to your materials, interacting with your environment, and fearlessly risking your time and ego by challenging your ideation at every step of the process.

When my boss asked me to design paper gauges for our two giant printers, I was thrilled; especially considering that despite my background, I’ve deliberately chosen a job that strictly confines me to rolling said paper when it comes out the other side of said behemoth printers (but that’s another story).

“Ooooo yes please!” I said, always eager to engage in any office sanctioned crafting. And really, is there any better kind?

I quizzed him on the design criteria: show amount of available paper (two sizes) without having to open the machines. And set to work, scouring our office for any potentially useful materials. A key exercise in creativity – feel free to try this at home – is to look at objects in terms of their inherent physical properties, not just by their associations (click here for classic candle/box experiment). For example, an elastic’s basic properties can allow it to become be a shock absorber, a vice, a sound generator, a friction enhancer, a weapon, a hinge, a sex toy… etc.

First attempt: I cut out the center of two paper plates (using small ceramic plate template), used Sharpie coloured wood coffee stirrers as indicators around a central pivot made of a paper clip (by first creating holes with thumbtacks and securing potential wood splitting with packing tape), then partook in label making to obscene excess. Brilliant!!

Except… for the fact that the resulting gauge looked exactly like two paper plates with coffee stirrers sandwiched in between, and carried the ugly evidence of someone with an obsessive fetish for label makers. And then there was the embarrassing discovery that moving one indicator influenced the rotation of the other. Sigh… not so brilliant after all.

Solution: Back to the drawing board. Always a sharp physical pain, but part of the creative process that must never smell your fear. There can be no mourning period. Huzza! Onwards and Upwards! I extended my foraging area to include resources available within walking distance on my lunchbreak.gauge design Brass spread-leg fasteners obtained! Cardstock… cardstock? After waiting for an eternity at the counter of a print shop, I’d almost given up hope. Then low and behold, a miracle! A dashing, ever so gallant, white knight of customer service came to my rescue with a stack of backroom off-of-stock-list sheets of two different weights. Huzza!

Sometimes, when you go out into the world with excitement, openness, and a clear mission, that world gets excited along with you and gives you what you so desperately need without asking anything in return. The gift of those few sheets were more than enough motivation to re-energize my demand for perfection from this project. No more compromises! This gauge was going to be perfect down to the mm… who are we kidding… the 1/2 mm!

Final design: So what if the heavier cardstock jammed the printer. I simply laminated the lighter version with packing tape and got on with X-acto-ing and blending my pencil crayons to a professional blur with strips of Kleenex. Brilliant! Perfection achieved! Perfectly proportioned, eminently easy to read, two super pro looking paper gauges = Mission accomplished?

“What do you think?” I asked my boss, proudly showing off my brand new twins.

“Hmmm,” he said, “I was thinking of something maybe a bit smaller.”

…oh for the lova’ pete.

How to use brain priming to improve your productivity and quality of life

spring cleaningThis simple 3 step formula will allow you to design life strategies based on your own unique neural network of associations and experiences. Brain priming, where “exposure to a stimulus influences a response to a later stimulus”, is essentially the firing of neurons that are linked in your brain. This happens automatically and below the level of conscious thought. For example, student subjects primed with words related to the elderly left the experiment walking slower than the control group.

But we can make brain priming an active, rather than just a passive, process. Self-priming before an activity and extending that stimulus throughout its duration can help us tackle difficult tasks with more energy and improved perspective by taking advantage of the brain’s existing network of linkages. And what task could be more difficult, more intimidating, more soul destroying, more ‘oh-gawd-why-me’ agonizing than… cleaning the house.

Brain Network MapStep 1: Identify the activity and hypothesis your initial linkages (concepts, associations, emotions). Try to be as honest and intuitive as you can. You can use the diagram above as a model. It shows a simplified network of what, in reality, is quite a messy bit of between-the-ears business. But I’m a sucker for symmetry, both in my men and in my visual aids.

Step 2: Identify the positive (encouraging links are in blue) and negative (paralyzing links are in red) connections/associations. The positive links are your Gateway Connections.

Step 3: Identify sensory and memory recall experiences that will stimulate these same positive attitude/energy bundles of neurons. Here’s where it gets fun! Get psyched to try a tough new recipe by Youtubing with some Anthony Bourdain… Wear a tie and watch ‘Report on Business’ TV before an economics exam… Give your partner a massage before asking them to do the dishes (maybe I should have tried that one)… Go ahead and get creative! Engage your network strategy and keep those areas lit for as long, and as intensely, as possible. In this example, cute underwear (just don’t ask about the ‘in control’) and Janis Joplin’s rockin’ blues link to my three positives about cleaning. Cleaning the bathroom Note: ‘setting the stage’ has an extra semantic bonus with Joplin. Joplin and panties also have their own web of interconnecting linkages (shown in green) to directly counteract the original red negatives, thereby overriding them.

And because any scientific strategy is best served with a completely gratuitous selfie, I offer you hard-core proof that this brain priming formula will make even the most intimidating task suddenly… dare I say… far more enticing.

So hard to pick a toothpaste when all patterns end in sex or death

trauma in the toothpaste aisle

We process the world through pattern. Our brains filter the sensory madness of our culture through ever narrowing channels of meaning and importance. But let’s be honest, whatever your program of associations, all patterns end in either sex or death. Sex extends our genetics through time and is the only motivator on par with avoidance of death – the eventual, inevitable endgame to all sequences of decisions.

I’m paralyzed in the toothpaste aisle. I feel my temperature rising, my palms getting sweaty. Why the hell does my amygdala have to get involved! It’s just f*&^king toothpaste! The eternal struggle: buy my ‘usual’ and save myself some cognitive calories, or engage in a complex multi-variable algorithm steeped in conflict between conscious and unconscious influences and motivations. Do I want short term gains like fresh breath and whitening? Both driven by the ever tempting promise of getting laid. Or do I go for long term investment with tartar control, enamel repair, and preventing gingivitis (the villain in so many bacteria-in-the-bloodstream early death horror stories!)? Then there are the ‘do it all have it all’ formulas, the ‘full-time working mothers’ of oral hygiene. But like Sheryl Sandberg, I’m suspicious there’s some unspoken compromise that just might result in a root canal somewhere down the line. I grew up using Colgate… its red is so soothingly familiar… but ProNamel’s packaging looks so reassuringly clinical… and Aquafresh has… Oh for heavens sake!!

Pavlov’s dogs were trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell, but his subjects would often begin to drool far earlier in the experimental sequence: approaching the experimental apparatus, when lab assistants entered the room, etc. Our own programming wakes with us in the morning and maps the day into expectations and associations. Our circuitry can be as rigid as rail lines, and neuroplasticity involves the same taxing bureaucratic nightmare of time, energy, and ego as engineering Calgary’s West LRT line. Change is hell. With sex or death being their axiomed ends, we must confront our patterns at their beginnings, especially ones as powerful as those involving ‘the paradox of choice’.

I should have visualized a game plan and anticipated my distress. It’s too late by the time I’m standing here feeling like an idiot for being so overwhelmed by freakin’ toothpaste! At this point, metacognition is my only hope. I calm my breathing and my head begins to clear. My prefrontal cortex takes charge. “What’s the worst case scenario,” I ask myself. It’s just toothpaste! And four magic words follow the analysis: “I can handle it.” I engage a new pattern and apply the retail version of my good-girl-bad-girl personal philosophy, and come home with two tubes – ProNamel and Aquafresh – and ‘spit’ my time between. What can I say? I’m now a proud personal hygiene polygamist (but hopefully not “till death do us part”)!

Sandwich to Salad Week Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad

The happy ham and egg salad

What is joy? One brief moment of sensory/emotional bliss? Extend the moment retroactively through time with this ‘happy ham and egg salad’. This flavour preview lets you enjoy the raw exquisite anticipation of what lies just out of reach – the weekend. But this salad is more than its emotional garnish. ham and egg salad ingredientsIt is no mediation, no compromise. There’s no lettuce filler or mere hint of ham. This is not a Subway sandwich lying to your face with false promise of satisfaction. This is today. This moment is all we have, all we are. Let’s make this lunch as pure an indulgence as we possibly can. As this 5 day meal plan revolution draws to a close, let’s celebrate with a firework explosion of flavour, colour, and texture. Exalt! For you (and your taste buds) have survived another week at work!

The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad
2 boiled eggs
50+g sliced ham
1 yellow bell pepper
2 small tomatoes
2 large white mushrooms
1/2 cucumber

Chop all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with your happiest dressing – perhaps some ‘Punny Mustard Vinaigrette’?

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fast and easy summer salad recipes 3Day 1: The ham and cheese sandwich salad + Inspiration story
Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette
Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad

Sandwich to Salad Week Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad

The solar powered spinach mushroom saladThere is no universal perfect salad. It’s one of the hard truths of our existence, that perfection is, ultimately, an individual experience. But what human can deny the exaltation felt when the first rays of sun burst through a cloudy sky? The shared emotional warmth of a sudden sunbeam is as universal as we’ll ever get (besides death and sex – but they’re a little harder to work into a salad). Spinach, even when garnished with an asteroid belt of mushrooms can leave even the most dedicated salad explorer pining for Subway – the horror! But add a yellow centre of sunny corn and sunflower seeds and behold… The 5 day sandwich to salad meal plan revolution bursts back to life. Alleluia anyone?

The solar powered spinach mushroom salad
1/2 can corn niblets
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 boiled egg
4 large white mushrooms
1/3 cup baby carrots
1 large handful spinach
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley

Chop all (larger) ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Top with corn and sunflower seeds. Drizzle with your favourite dressing or what could be your new fave ‘Punny Mustard Vinaigrette’.

The 'everything but the kitchen sink' salad*BONUS* There are moments in life where to push forward, we must throw everything we have into the mix, our skills and talents, our hopes and dreams, our seeds and beans. This salad is one such occasion. As in life, we put it all together and pray it all works out for the best. And when the leap of faith tastes as delicious as this salad, we are reminded, with sweet relief, that our complexities give flavour to our greatest experiences… and our greatest selves.

The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
1/3 can assorted beans
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
25g sliced ham
2 large white mushrooms
2 small tomatoes
1 seranno pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 small handful spinach
(or lettuce – or heck, both!)
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley

Thinly slice seranno pepper. Chop all (larger) ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Top with beans, seeds, and your favourite dressing.

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fast and easy summer salad recipes 3Day 1: The ham and cheese sandwich salad + Inspiration story
Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette
Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad

Sandwich to Salad Week Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad

bean and bread saladIndulging in this salad demands a certain smug hubris. Ha! You say as you look around at your coworkers with their sad little muffins and phallic shaped plastic bags marking them as slaves to Subway. You, like that perfectly groomed businessman on the elevator, can claim a well deserved self-righteousness, because halfway through this 5 day meal plan revolution you have found the secret, not to wealth, not to power, but to pleasure without consequence (provided your system can digest beans discreetly). For you have crawled out of the sensory deprivation chamber of so many celebrated celebrity diets of grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. You have created for yourself a flavourful multilayered orgasm of textural ecstasies. Yes Yes YES – so green, so nutrient packed, and so damn good.

The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
1 small whole wheat dinner roll
1/3 can assorted beans
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 serrano pepper
3 large white mushrooms
1 medium tomato
1 handful spinach
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley

Tear roll into croutons. Thinly slice serrano pepper. Chop all other (large) ingredients into bite-size pieces. Top salad with beans, pumpkin seeds, and drizzle with day two’s ‘Punny Mustard Dressing’.

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fast and easy summer salad recipes 3Day 1: The ham and cheese sandwich salad + Inspiration story
Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette
Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad

Sandwich to Salad Week Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette

Cobb salad This cobb salad is so much more than just an awkward literary ‘pun’ch line. “The lowest form of humour” leads to a highly tasty form of a classic recipe. Corn, ham, beets, and eggs are just the ‘beg’ining of a salad that your coworkers will be begging you to share. Click Here to catch up on day one and read the story behind this 5 day meal plan ‘salad’vation from Subway. But be warned! In keeping with our high-brow-lunch-low-brow-humour, your own brows might be raised by some mildly ‘sub’gestive nudity.

The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’
1/3 can cubed beets
1/3 can corn niblets
1/3 cup baby carrots
50g sliced ham
2 boiled eggs
1 yellow bell pepper
1 handful lettuce
2 large white mushrooms
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Chop all (larger) ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Top with beets, corn, and pumpkin seeds.

Punny mustard vinaigrette
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp canola or olive
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tsp tsp yellow mustard
1 tbsp liquid honey
pinch of salt

Combine ingredients and shake, shake, shake!

This is a Story Thread post – Click to read more…

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fast and easy summer salad recipes 3Day 1: The ham and cheese sandwich salad + Inspiration story
Day 2: The fresh off the ‘cobb’ salad that can’t be ‘beet’ + Punny mustard vinaigrette
Day 3: The ‘too healthy for its own good’ beany bread bonanza salad
Day 4: The solar powered spinach mushroom salad + *BONUS* The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ salad
Day 5: The happy ham and egg weekend brunch anticipation salad