Creative Confidence with David Kelly

David Kelly is the founder of IDEO and the Stanford D School. Today I had the opportunity to hear him speak on the topic of Creativity; how to foster it and how can we all unleash our creative selves. This post is a collection of notes, anecdotes and stories from the evening. I found that his ideas can not only help us better ourselves, but can also serve as guidelines to help us manage others.

The evening began with 3 songs from the Talisman A-Capella group. Their songs were amazing, with roots from South Africa, and served as a great display of creativity. This was followed up by a quick intro from the Mayor of Redwood City, before the keynote speaker.

The Major introduces David Kelly while Talisman prepare for their last number.

The Mayor introduces David Kelly while Talisman prepare for their last number.

Creative Confidence
Why aren’t people more creative? People are often categorized as reserved or analytical. For example, Engineers or Mathematicians, tend to value predictability and structure. Everyone is creative but they need to the overcome the fear of criticism and get a sense that they can do what they want without being judged. One of the most wonderful things is to see a person realize they are creative. It can be highly emotional for some. Mr. Kelly loved that spark he saw when people realized what they could do. This is why he has been pushing design and creativity even though he is a mechanical engineer by trade.

How Can I Be More Creative?
You need to try new stuff. Take risks. Do not be afraid of failure. In fact, David doesn’t like or believe in the word “Failure”. When something doesn’t go right, you learn from it. Advancing your learning is a “small success” not a failure. People are wildly creative, they just need permission and support.

Innovation – 3 important points
There are three (3) important parts to something truly innovative.
1) Feasibility – the technology must exist to make it possible.
2) Viability – you must be able to make money or otherwise sustain a business with the product.
3) Delivery – the team and mechanism exists to actually get it into people’s hands.

But there is one thing you cannot ignore. “Human Centeredness”. Will people actually like using it? For example, the Segueway was a technical marvel and could be sold at profit, but people look like dorks using it. No wonder it failed!

Human Viability
The greatest success of IDEO is that they have empathy for people. If you want to affect how people use things, you really need to get out and talk to them! A bunch of people sitting around a conference table with their laptops can’t really figure out what people in the real world want. It takes time to get out there and meet with people, but the payoff is huge.

Ex: IDEO was asked to rethink a vending machine. Vending machines have terrible UX. I mean, why does the can of soda come out at the bottom? You have to bend over to get your soda. Whoa is you if you are female and wearing a skirt! The engineers naturally were trying to use gravity to deliver the pop. Put that doesn’t help the customer! You need to look at things through new eyes. There’s a saying that “Fish don’t know they are wet.”

David Kelly gives an entertaining talk on Creative Confidence

David Kelly (right) gives an entertaining talk on Creative Confidence

Structure vs. Creativity
These two things are not enemies. Sure it’s great to take in all ideas and try new things, but when you provide structure people can focus. Constraint is good in this case and you can build structure around it. People will think very differently if you tell them build something for $100 vs $10. David does not believe in initial planning. Teams need to dive right in and get messy. Figure out the real problem before you build a plan and follow it. You may be solving for the wrong thing.

Diversity the #1 Ingredient
IDEO loves to get people with wildly varying views to look at a problem. A lawyer, artist and a teacher will not think alike. A man and a woman will not think alike. Unique mashups of people will lead to great discovery.

An audience member asked how we can help women speak up. Many women notice problems and issues, but

How did this screen design happen?

How did this screen design happen?

just don’t know how to be heard or put their idea in action. In response to this question he offered this little story.

Ex: Shell hired IDEO to figure out why people were having so much trouble with their gas pumps. Men would swipe their credit cards and enter their zipcode. When nothing happened, they would swipe again. After a few tries, they left in frustration. Women on the other hand would go ask the station attendant why the machine didn’t work. He would tell them that they needed to press the “Enter” button after entering the zipcode and it would work! It was this that led to the instructions “Enter zipcode and press Enter“.

Taking Action to Be Creative
What can you do to be more creative?

  • Frame new ideas as an experiment. Let people know that you want to try something new but if it doesn’t work, we can go back to doing it the old way. This mindset works wonders as people are less afraid because they know that there’s a safety net.
  • Take action! Thinking about it gets nothing done. Go out there and try something. If it doesn’t work out, course correct. Don’t try to plan everything out.
  • Use Mind Maps. Start with an idea and ask “Why?” Take the resultant answer and ask “Why?” After a few levels of this, you’ll get to the essence of the issue.
  • Develop a “Yes and…” culture. People need to be encouraged to try things and learn from mistakes.

At this point he offered a little levity in the form of a joke. Some types of people may never really change. David is a Mechanical Engineer and offered this example:
How can you tell a introverted engineer from an extroverted engineer?
The introverted engineer will look down at their feet as they are talking to you.
The extroverted engineer will look at your feet while talking to you.

Audience Questions
Q: Besides the word “Failure”, what other words do you dislike?
A: Can’t. Don’t answer a suggestion or idea from others with the words “You can’t…” Instead, add to their idea and help them push their thinking to the next level. Say something like, “That’s a good idea, but have you considered…”

Q: What industries are ripe for creative change?
A: Healthcare and governments. We need to start small (Singapore) and find out what works. Then scale it out!

Q: What your favorite failure?
A: A beautiful phone I created that got into the Museum of Modern Art. But it wasn’t viable. By the time it got to the retail channel, it was so expensive that no one wanted it. I have 4,000 phones sitting around in my garage. At least I got in to the Museum of Art.

Q: What’s your favorite gadget?
A: For this century? It’s the car. For the today? It’s the drones!

Q: Being creative is great, but you can’t continue ideating forever right?
A: This is why you must have constraints. Sometimes it’s time and money.

And finally, my favorite quote from the session when someone asked what is going to happen in the future:

The Future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

I really enjoyed the talk and it gave me a lot to think about. Whether it’s helping my team at work, improving myself or encouraging my kids; fostering creativity is a great thing.

If this post has peaked your interest, you can view a bunch of videos of David Kelly’s talks on YouTube!

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QuickSite circa 1996 – Websites Have Come So Far

This was a cool website in the mid-90’s! No animations, interactive menus, I-Frames, CSS or responsive design elements. Just a few JPGs and some different text sizes.

DeltaPoint's website circa 1996. Created by QuickSite.

DeltaPoint’s website circa 1996. Created by QuickSite.

Around 1995 I huddled up with a few friends including Bill French (the creator of LapLink for us seasoned tech folks) and thought of an interesting way to create websites based on a database. HTML was just starting to emerge and many people were trying to learn this new “markup” language. There was no WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) tools and building decent websites was hard.

The concept was simple. Create templates for a website structure and let people type in the content. The tool would worry about the HTML tagging and keeping the structure intact. Furthermore, changing the content would be simple since you could just update a database form and magically it’d be presented as a web page. We’d call it QuickSite.

We wrote a business plan, created v1, pitched the idea and bingo! QuickSite was sold to DeltaPoint in a deal valued around $6M bucks. That was pretty good money “way back when” for a technology company with 3 people who didn’t raise a cent.

DeltaPoint QuickSite went on to become the #1 selling website building product in retail stores (remember those?) and won over 8 industry awards. It was also the beginning of my startup phase. Now with over 6 startups under my belt, I realize that it’s not so easy! Fast forward to today and almost all websites are build with dynamic content generated from a database. Think Amazon, Yahoo, Google, etc. etc.

Just as a comparison, here was Yahoo’s website in October of 1996.

Yahoo! website in 1996

Yahoo! website in 1996

Thank goodness for the WayBack Machine for capturing this bit of history.

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To Build a GreenHouse

Winter is coming and our succulents need a protective home. Also, we want to continue to grow vegetables despite the cold. The solution was a greenhouse. A quick check of the prices of commercial greenhouses was a little shocking. We saw small 6’x8′ greenhouses for $2500! The one we wanted needed to cover around 25′ and commercial units were close to $10K! What’s a guy to do? Internet to the rescue.

I saw lots of people putting up low cost greenhouses using PVC pipe as the main “skeleton”. Most of the ones I saw were simple and people made due with whatever parts they had. They boasted of building their houses for $50. Well, I needed something a bit nicer and also something that I could disassemble if needed. This is the story of how I built our 25′ long by 9′ wide by 8′ tall greenhouse.

I started with a base using 2″x 6″ pressure treated lumber. Putting 3 x 8′ foot pieces end to end gave me 24′. That was going to be the size of our green house. I simply used a 2′ piece with screws to tie the 8′ boards all together.

Pressure treated lumber is used for ground contact areas.

Pressure treated lumber is used for ground contact areas.

Next up was building the ends of the greenhouse. I wanted to have large 3.5′ x 6′ doors on both ends so that we could walk through the green house. It’s also great for ventilation. The width was going to be 9′ to fit in the side yard. I used a 9′ board and cut out the opening for the door. At the ends I fastened a 20′ length of PVC pipe in order to get an idea of the shape of the arch. Then around this I build a frame for the door out of 2″x4″ lumber.

The end pieces (2x) with the door cutout.

The end pieces (2x) with the door cutout.

The ends of the PVC are secured in two ways. First I used a 1″ pipe strap to locate it. Then I used a drywall screw through the PVC to make it immobile. The same idea was used for each of the hoops that form the skeleton of the greenhouse.

Pipe straps keep the frame in place.

Pipe straps keep the frame in place. This is before final assembly and the addition of a drywall screw to keep everything in place.

The ends of the greenhouse was fastened to the sides and the main body was built up all using screws. I used screws because there was a possibility that we would move this green house in the summer. We wanted to make sure that it was possible to disassemble it all if needed. This was one major departure from what I saw online in other plans. Most assume that this thing is never going to move.

A word about the pipes. I used schedule 40 PVC pipe for the ribs. This is just standard stuff you can buy at the sprinkler store. The one I used was 3/4″ internal and 1″ external diameter. This stuff is fairly cheap. For me a 20′ length cost about $7.50. The nice thing is that one end has a “bell” so that it easily slides into the next piece of pipe. Using this feature to my advantage, I had them cut all the pipe in half to 10′ lengths so that it fit in the car. Before assembly, I just friction fit the pipes together to get the 20′ length back and then bent the pipe and secured the ends to form the arch. It was simple and it worked perfectly.

For the top roof rib, I used a bit larger 1 1/4″ pipe and used a drywall screw to fasten it to the joint of the rib. Using this screw served a double purpose. It made the joint immovable because of the screw and it also gave me more pipe material for the screw to bite into. Recall the bell housing with friction fit on top.

To make my greenhouse, I spent $94 on pipe. This was for 9 x 20′ pipes of 1″ and one 25′ pipe of 25′. This was one of the cheapest parts of the project!

Up to this point, it took about 1/2 a day to get to the main frame of the greenhouse. The next trick was to figure out where to get all of the special plastic that would be the skin of the house. As it turned out, that was easy!



Frame built, doors coming next before the skinning.

Frame built, doors coming next before the skinning.

One thing I should mention is that to make the door frame stiff, I used a 6′ steel fence post. They came pre-painted and I just had to drive them into the ground with a baby sledge hammer and then screw them to the frame.

After some research, I came across the Greenhouse Megastore. Now this place caters to professional growers. I learned that using regular plastic film was a bad idea. It would only last for a year or so with all the exposure. The greenhouse megastore offered a special 6 mil plastic that was treated to be UV resistant, reduce condensation, retain heat and have a light dispersion property. Not only that, their 20′ x 25′ roll was perfect for my application. I would get a smaller roll for the ends of the greenhouse. As for fastening, they had PVC clips that were designed for the pipe size I had used. So I build the doors, painted all the wood and wrapped the plastic on the end frames. I just used heavy duty staples to fasten and then sandwiched the film between wood where ever I could. I was also told that I needed to put something between the PVC and the plastic film since they apparently can damage each other. There was a self adhesive felt that they sold for this. OK, gimme some felt – kinda expensive at $16 a roll and I needed 4 rolls.

Doors in place with a small sampling of the succulents that will live in the greenhouse.

Doors in place with a small sampling of the succulents that will live in the greenhouse.

Now came the super tricky part. How was I going to guide and fasten a 20′ x 25′ piece of plastic across the top of the frame? Also, how was it going to fasten to the ground? I thought of a pretty clever solution. 😉

I got some 1″ x 8′ strips of wood at the lumber store. They were precut and came in a bundle of 12. The plan was to sandwich the length of plastic film in these strips at both ends. Then i would roll it up to form a bundle of wood rolled in plastic. Getting some help, I would thread the roll through one side of the green house and then unroll the length of it over the frame.

Laying the plastic film on the driveway and fastening the wood strips to the ends.

Laying the plastic film on the driveway and fastening the wood strips to the ends.

No only would this make it easier to handle, but it would also allow me to securely screw the wood strips to the treated base lumber. All this is accomplished without puncturing the plastic where unnecessary and also in keeping with the goal to make is possible to disassemble if needed. So after unrolling and then fastening the sides to the base, here is what I have.

View inside the greenhouse after the sides are secured.

View inside the greenhouse after the sides are secured.

Now the last step was to secure the ends to the plastic side pieces. This was done with the PVC clips. This was remarkable easy to do and allowed me to stretch everything tight before fastening. I was worried that the plastic may rip, but that was unfounded. That 6 mil stuff is strong!

Greenhouse near completion. Building the shelves inside is for next weekend.

Greenhouse near completion. Building the shelves inside is for next weekend.

So here’s a shot of the near complete greenhouse. I painted the doors and put in some nice gate latches in order to make the doors secure.

So what did all this set me back? Here’s a rough estimate.

1. PVC pipe = $94

2. Wood for frame, base and doors = $220

3. Plastic film and accessories = $224

4. Hardware = $60

So for roughly $600 I have a fairly large greenhouse that is a lot nicer than many of the other quick projects that I have seen out there on the web. It is also a fraction of the cost of “kits” that you can buy; not to mention the fact that most kits are much, much smaller than this one.

So we are looking forward to our first winter with this green house. We have big plans for the various things that are inside already. Besides the succulents, there are peppers, citrus and vegetables that will be grown inside.

We are planning to construct 4 levels of shelves on each side of the green house so it’ll have quite a massive capacity of plants housed inside. We also discovered that we can hang plants from the top center rib, so there are already a few hanging plants in there.

As we complete the interior of this greenhouse, I’ll post some pictures.

This took a few weekends to complete and I think that anyone with the desire can pull it off!

=====< Update on April 10, 2015 >=====

Well the plants made it through the winter with flying colors. The greenhouse residents (plants) continue to grow and I have added places to hang plans as well as overhead lights so that my wife can work in the greenhouse at night.  Everything has worked out well. Here’s an interior picture where you can see how the shelves greatly increase it’s capacity. This was before the lights and the table and chairs that are in there now.

The greenhouse is packed for the winter.

The greenhouse is packed for the winter.


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Door Dings Be Gone!

Are you as annoyed by little door dings as I am? Every time I get in my car, I get to see these 3 annoying dings from some inconsiderate person in a parking lot (or our other car which sits next to mine in the garage). I recently came across PDR or Paintless Dent Repair.  For smaller dents and dings, you can use a glue puller. It was fascinating and I decided to give it a go. I got some of the tools of the trade from Amazon and eBay and decided to try it out.

So what are these things? The shiny aluminum thing is the actual puller. You use the glue gun to hot glue (black sticks) the yellow tabs to the dent and then the puller to yank the dent up. The glue will break free from the body or the tab, but not before it pulls the metal up a bit. Clean with alcohol (blue bottle) and then repeat until you are happy. Sounds simple enough. The soft faced hammer and white plastic thingy is for knocking down high spots.

Here are some of the tools you will need.

Here are some of the tools you will need.

So, another indispensable tool is called a dent board.

Back of the dent board. See the suction cup and bendy arm?

Back of the dent board. See the suction cup and bendy arm?


Using the board, you can cast a reflection of symmetrical lines onto the body and see exactly where the dents are. The board uses a suction cup to secure to the body and then you can bend it anyway you want with the special stem.

This particular one is translucent so that light from behind can shine through and help to increase the reflection on the other side. Now the other side is where all of the action takes place.

I got this one off of eBay from a company called PDR Tools. They are in Wisconsin and make all varieties of these boards.


Here’s the view from the other side, positioned so you can see 2 of the 3 dings I’m messing with today. You see where the straight lines get all messed up in the center? That’s where the dents are. When you see circular or fat lines, that’s where the metal is pushed in (dented). If you see peaked or thinner lines that appear pinched, that’s where it’s high. In this picture there are no highs really, just dings.  The top one is a more complex dent. The impact has spread out to the edges where the adjacent lines contort. The tiny one below it is a teeny ding.

The dents are clear as day using a line board.

The dents are clear as day using a line board.

OK, now what? Well, you heat up the glue and stick them to the center of the ding along with a yellow pull tab. In the picture below I’ve put two tabs on the dings. The smaller ding in the picture above doesn’t have a tab yet. It gets in the way of the larger ding. They’ll have to be done separately.

Two tabs on the dings. Ready to pull.

Two tabs on the dings. Ready to pull.

You have to wait a few moments for the glue to cool and set. I found that it generally happens pretty fast. Surprisingly, the glue doesn’t pull off the paint. I hear that this should only be attempted for factory paint. It is possible it’ll pull off paint if the paint doesn’t have strong adhesion to the surface. A repaint tends to be weaker than factory paint.

If there’s glue residue left after the pull, you just use the spray bottle of alcohol to remove it. Easy.



Time to pull it out!

Time to pull it out!


You get great leverage with the puller. Pulling gently will flex the metal. Pulling hard may stretch it and pull it out too far. You can always knock it down, but that’s tricker than it sounds.

So the best bet is to experiment. Softly pull at first and if it doesn’t work, pull harder! If the tab comes off, you just glue it up again and do another pull.

Now I should mention that between pulls (or even before) you can soften up the dent and take out some of the stress around the edges using the soft faced hammer and white plastic thingy. I forget what it’s called. (Knock down tool?).

I think it’ll be a lot of trial and error before I get it completely right.

I’m not looking for perfection (yet), but trying to make the dings less noticeable.

So in the end, I think it works pretty darn well! Here is a shot of the panel after the 3 dings are pulled out. Come to think of it, I should of left the board on so that you can see better. The dents are not completely invisible, but you have to look hard and move about to see where they used to be. Overall, I am very pleased.

The finished repair. There were 3 dings in this panel.

The finished repair. There were 3 dings in this panel.

So this took me all of 35 minutes to pull out 3 dings. I’ve got lots of dings on our family’s other cars. I’m going to get lots of practice over the next few weeks. I should be a pro by then! LOL!

Post a comment below if you have any questions. I think this is a pretty great way to keep our car looking good.

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Soft-sided rooftop Cargo Carrier

While on vacation we realized that we were going to need more space after our purchases and I ordered this carrier and had it sent to the hotel. My one major concern was that my SUV had a roof rack, but no crossbars as shown in the picture. I was worried that the carrier would slide back due to the wind. As a result, I actually went to Home Depot and bought a pack of 2 load straps to secure the front and back of the carrier while on the roof. In the end, the carrier performed very well and everything got home safely after about a 500 mile drive. I’m not sure the additional straps were needed.

Now about the actual carrier. It’s basically a large nylon bag with a zipper around three sides. The inside has some “rubberized” treatment to make it more waterproof. It’s funny how the box says “waterproof” but inside the instruction sheet says that it’s only water resistant and you should put thing in plastic bags inside if you want to be sure it stays dry. One thing that was disappointing was the bottom of the bag. In the description it says there’s EVA plastic on the bottom. I though this would serve as some kind of padding for the roof of the car. Well, the bottom is just nylon like the rest of the bag. There was no evidence that the bottom of the bag was any different that the rest of the bag. Clean your roof well to avoid any scratches from dirt trapped between the bag and your roof.

CargoLoc Bag on roof

CargoLoc Bag on roof

The straps are not attached to the bag at all. They are basically a “tic-tac-toe” pattern with the fasteners at each end. The nylon material looks like something you would find on a medium quality luggage or computer bag strap. I thought they were a bit “light weight” for the task. In the end they appeared to do fine, but I would have hoped for a more heavy duty grade of material. This is why I got the extra straps at Home Depot with their metal spring loaded clasps. So the strap is run though 8 loops on the bag to secure it. If there was to be a failure, the loops would be the critical point. I’m glad to report that after our trip, the loops looked fine, but I would check this often on a longer trip.

Finally, here’s a tip when packing the bag. I tried to make it more aerodynamic by placing lower items up front and taller items in the back – forming a spoiler of sorts and having the wind press down on the bag while moving. When situated correctly, the zipper closure ends up at the back. This is to prevent wind from getting into the bag and causing drag and other problems. However with the larger items in back, it was really difficult to close the bag. Imagine closing an overstuffed suitcase except that you can’t really sit on it while you zip it closed. I ended up re-packing with larger stuff in center and some softer items (clothes bags, etc) in the back so that I could pull the bag shut more easily while I zipped.

Strapped to center anchor point.

Strapped to center anchor point.

While driving, I never noticed any adverse affects of having the bag on the roof. I did notice a slight increase in wind noise and also it seemed that I was getting about .4 mpg less. My SUV normally gets 19.7 mpg on the highway. After the 500 mile trip, it was reading 19.4 mpg. So that was negligible. I drove an average of 65-75 the whole way. Got up to 80 on a downhill section, but then slowed when I saw how fast I was going. Again, no evidence of shifting or any problems at all after the trip. Everything stayed put.At the end of the day, the bag did what it was supposed to and did it well. There were a few things I would be concerned with given the quality of the straps and the 4 loops on the bag being the only thing keeping it down, but in the end it was fine. I may not even have needed the extra straps I bought. Since my car had a anchor point midway in the side roof rails, I was able to fasten the straps in a way that prevented shifting. I’ll include some pictures so that people can see how I fastened it. For the price though, it was a very good deal. That’s why I rated it 4 stars. For 5 stars it would need 1) higher quality strap and loop material and 2) some kind of padded bottom.

Here’s a link to get this for yourself: Get the CargoLoc rooftop carrier
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