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The Most Innovative Thing I’ve Done

The most innovative thing I’ve done would have to be designing the BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning website (  Now, I have to admit that designing in this case was a loose word.  I oversaw a lot of the design, but only designed parts of it.  Of course, looking at great design firms, like IDEO, most of their design work is done as a team.  Can they claim that their work is theirs?  Yes and no.  And maybe all of our innovate work has been that way–we can’t claim all of it, even if we did all the work ourselves.  We gather so many ideas from other people that nothing we do is completely our own.

I believe there were two main processes that made the project so innovative.  The first was to use divergent and convergent thinking, and the second was to use rapid prototyping and evaluation of each layer of the website.

Most ideas, in my experience, get shot down before they even have a chance to blossom.  So to avoid that we first gathered ideas through divergent thinking (gathering as many ideas as possible) and then used convergent thinking to narrow down which ideas to use and how to use them.  To gather as many ideas as possible (and be as divergent as possible) we included as many people as possible.  About 50 employees from the Center for Teaching and Learning, broken into six groups, brainstormed for an hour collecting ideas.  I believe we had about 400 unique ideas from all of us by the end.  We initially believed we would narrow down those ideas (convergent thinking).  Interesting enough, not many of the ideas had to be cut; most of the ideas did not conflict with each other.  Instead, the biggest challenge for our convergent thinking was deciding the priority of each idea.  Some of the ideas received prime time space on the website, and others were left to the background.

Instead of arguing between the team on what ideas to use and how to use them, I believed we should test them and let the data decide (an idea I got from Contextual Design).  That’s when rapid prototyping came into play.  We took our ideas, drew them out, and tested them on people.  One example was our large drop-down menus.  To figure out the menu, we had professors come in and show us how they would organize the categories.  Their view of the structure helped to inform our final structure.  The results became more intuitive for those professors.

We used this process of building and testing on each of the different layers of the website.  We tested the design of our home page, we tested our navigation structure, we tested the functionality of each page, we tested (or edited) our writing, and I wish we had tested even more.  We could have tested the content directly on our readers, the strategy, and so many more layers (see Andy Gibbons’ design layers for more layers that can be tested).  Unfortunately, every design project has some constraints, and it was time to get the project done.

Every innovative project has some amazing processes that made it happen.  Often if we stop and look at that process we are more prepared to do something innovative in the future.   Even writers have these processes mapped out.  I was able to hear some of Brandon Sanderson’s processes on Monday in our local library.  Interesting enough his number one suggestion for improving writing was just to write.  Everyone has to practice and writing is no exception.  I’d have to say that being innovate is the same.  We  do innovating projects and we get better at being innovative.  Practice, practice, practice.  For some reason everything always comes back to practice.  There is just no secret way around the basics.



We Are All Creative

Lately I’ve been taking a class in creativity.  I know a lot of you may think you are not creative, but think again.

This week we were looking for compensatory behaviors–using an object in a way that it is not meant to be used.  An example would be using a bat in place of a broken table leg.  We all have used things around our house to “get the job done.”  When we use compensatory behaviors, we are thinking creatively.  Yes, it may not be a huge measure of creativity, but it is creativity.

Here are a few examples I found around my house.

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We ran out of stools for the kids at the counter, so my creative kids grabbed the step stool.  (It is a lot more stable than it looks).

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We didn’t have a good place for my older kids to keep their things safe, so I bought them a lock and they lock their things up in an old backpack.

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I found that we creatively make room for storage all over the house.  We use the toaster to store tortillas and bread on top, and we put the extra movies on the bongos.

These may not be the most creative things in the world, not art by Picasso by any means, but it does point out that we all have a measure of creativity.  We may come to find we are creative just by looking around the house.

How to Overcome Anger

(The third part in the series on anger.)

If in most situations anger only pushes people apart, then how do we overcome anger so that we are not hurting our relationships.

One well known method is to count to 10.  If I get angry, I may count to ten and keep going if I am not calmed down.  (I recently found a quote related to counting past 10 that was attributed to Thomas Jefferson).  Why does counting work?  The main reason is that it pulls our mind off the anger.  One study on anger found that if people tried to get their anger out, the anger got worse, but breathing techniques and other methods helped them calm down faster.  The more we think the angry thoughts, the angrier we get.

Another technique I use to help couples get out of their anger is to slow them down.  I either speak slower as an example, or invite them to speak slower.  This is a technique often used in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Slowing down takes us to the underlying emotions of sadness or fear that drove the anger.  Sadness and fear bring people together if the listener is willing to listen.  (I will further discuss sadness and fear in future posts).

Letting go of our control also helps to get rid of anger, since anger is about control.  When something is no longer meaningful, we no longer feel the emotion.

I have used these techniques both in my life and with my clients to effectively overcome anger.

Is Anger Helpful?

Once we understand what anger is, we have to decide whether anger is helpful.  As mentioned in the previous post, the desire connected to anger is to control, either people or our environment.

An example I like to use connected to anger comes from the Bible.  (I believe this may be a good example even for nonreligious people).  When God gets angry in the Old Testament, he kills people.  When Jesus gets mad in the temple, he throws people out.  When Moses gets angry, he breaks the commandments he brought down from the mountain.  So, does anger bring people together or push people apart?  Anger pushes people apart.  If our purpose is to push people apart–especially to keep other people safe, then anger is the perfect emotion.  If we do not want to push the other person away, then we should work at overcoming our anger.  And in most of our relationships, not pushing people away is the best option.

What Is Anger?

(This is the first of three posts on anger connected to three videos I produced–1. What Is Anger, 2. Is Anger Helpful, and 3. How to Overcome Anger).

When dealing with emotion in therapy, I often ask clients what each emotion is.  In dealing with anger, I would ask, “What is anger?”  Or to clarify, I might ask, “What is the purpose of anger?”  The amazing thing is that most people cannot answer this question.  I am amazed when someone comes up with the answer.

To help clients begin to look at anger, I ask them to create a list of behaviors that may accompany anger.  Some of these might be to yell, hit, call names, the silent treatment, swear, and a few more.  Then I challenge them to find a pattern in these behaviors.  One example that may make the pattern more obvious is when we get angry with our children.  If I get annoyed (angry–see the Levels of Emotion and Situational Emotions post) by noisy children and I yell at them to stop, what am I trying to accomplish?  I want them to do what I want!  I want them to quiet down.  This is the same with yelling at our spouse, and the silent treatment.  We don’t want to get back at the person, we want them to do something.  Another word I use for wanting someone to do what we want is control.  Anger is about control.

Levels of Emotion and Situational Emotions

In my first video, the Four Basic Emotions, I discussed how there are four emotions: happiness, anger, sadness, and fear.  If there really are only four emotions, then why do we have so many words that express emotion?  This video explains two of the reasons for so many emotion words: levels of emotion and situational emotions.  Different words are used to express different strengths or levels of emotion, for example, the difference between annoyance, frustration, anger, and rage.  Other words, like confusion and stress, have more to do with the situation than the actual emotion felt, and can range across many of the four basic emotions.  The goal following this video is to understand the basis of the emotion words we personally use and the emotion words expressed by other people.


Marketing has been an area that I have pondered frequently.  My background is definitely not in marketing.  I understand people’s needs, but don’t know how to reach them.

EdStartup 101 suggested creating a matrix to outline the different segments of the population interested in my product and then a marketing strategy for each group.  I had a hard time looking at specific segments, so instead I looked at different classifications that may apply to different segments of people.  Below are some of the factors that may classify different types of customers for a language acquisition product:

1. There may be at least two motivating factors for customers using the product.  Users may be motivated to learn a language because they interact with people who speak the language, or because they are learning a foreign language in a class.  The first set of people are intrinsically motivated, and the second set are extrinsically motivated.  Intrinsically and extrinsically motivated people are incentivised in very different ways.

2. Customers may come from different nations.  Because I want to have users provide sound clips, I expect that I will have all kinds of different languages from a lot of different nations.  Some of them will be from the United States, and others may be from China, Japan, Africa, and who knows where.  Each nation will have different cultural facets, levels of interaction with types of media, etc.  Marketing will have to change across countries in both message and method.

3.  I expect to reach people with differing levels of ability.  Right now not many language products market to anyone besides entry level learners.  I have seen a lot of example on the internet of how to market to beginners, but it would be an interesting challenge to market to an intermediate student.  Typically I believe only Universities provide a learning environment for intermediate and advanced students.

4. Users also may be adults or children.  Right now I plan on only marketing to adults, but who’s to say a child would not go on and use the product.  Nothing would be stopping them.  Maybe in the future helping children learn a language could become a small segment of customers.

EdStartup 101 then suggested that I imagine how I would approach each of the above groups.  This includes both the medium and the message.  Assume that all the mediums below are in Google AdWords.

1. Customer that is intrinsically motivated:

Message–Open up your world with a new, innovate method for learning [language name, e.g. Spanish].  Technology allows for increased cognitive processing.  All for free.

Customer that is extrinsically motivated:

Message–Want a better grade in Spanish?  Try Language Leap for free. [I’ve got to work on the name!]

2.  I have to admit, my second category is pretty broad–having customers in multiple nations.  I think the main point is that I will have to write the message in different languages and do a lot of research into each culture.  I also may save international marketing for some time in the future (unless someone like Google accidentally helps me out without me knowing).

3. Customer with high foreign language speaking ability:

Message–Already fluent?  Polish your expertise with Language Leap.

Customer with low to no foreign language speaking ability:

Message–Want to visit Paris and don’t know the language?  Try Language Leap.  It’s the best program out there, and best of all, it’s free!

4. And I think that marketing to adults is pretty obvious (and includes every example above).

One of the main benefits of this exercise was to think about the motivations of each customer.  I don’t believe that many people look at effective marketing for intrinsically motivated people.  I used the book Drive by Daniel Pink as my source of inspiration.  Here’s a great review of the book for those of you who want the short version.

Now comes the question of when to start the marketing campaign.  The above marketing ideas were for the general population of language learners.  Right now my Minimum Viable Product will need to reach early adopters.  I may have to redo this exercise to figure out early adopters’ motivations.  My guess is that early adopters are intrinsically motivated, but a special case of intrinsic motivation.  It will be interesting to think that one out.