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  • Beads Land-Trujillo

    I'd suggest that the real problem with imitation is when it becomes synchronized and ghettoized. The power of what Daniel learns from Miyagi in painting a fence and washing a car is that imitation can carry across problem domains in ways that unsettle the status quo.

    Likewise, Daniel, in adopting the crane stance in competition, is imitating Miyagi, and yet in a way that throws his adversary into confusion, for it is imitation that defies the synchronized rules of the mainstream dojo. Likewise, the crane posture itself imitates an aspect of nature that has nothing to do with the context of combat and competition into which it is emulated.

    Too much of "improving upon" existing systems operates instead in a ghetto of imitation. Refining a method or feature, where the refinement draws its inspiration entirely from within the context of the accepted norms around that method or feature, is not really a break away from imitation, as the circumstances in which that method or feature make sense are still being emulated.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Good points, and to build on this: the moment you apply one pattern or method--"imitate"--to another industry etc, you have actually innovated and broken from pure imitation. This is what we call cross pollinating or drawing on analogous cases.

    • Beads Land-Trujillo

      A good case study for this can be seen in the village pump paradox commonly known among the NGO community only a decade ago. An NGO would come into a community and look at how much time and energy went to transporting water from a source half-a-day away. They'd order and install a water pumping system to transport water from the source to the village, thereby allowing those who would have spent most of every day transporting water to invest their labor back into their village in other ways.

      Six months later, NGO representatives would return to find the pump broken down and the women of the village again carting water to and fro every day. The problem: no one in the community had the skills to maintain the imported pump, and even if they had, the parts and tools necessary for the job weren't things that could be locally sourced. This is a scenario that was repeated many times before thinking changed.

      What happened here? Simply put, the NGO personnel were imitating the way they were accustomed to water being delivered to their own homes and offices. Their imitation was operating in a synchronized ghetto of expectations about how water is transported in industrialized contexts.

      The solution was not to stop imitating, however. The solution was to find something else to imitate. One team chose to imitate local technology, and noticing in a village that bicycles were common, together with the skills and tools to readily repair and maintain bicycles, designed a pumping system that consisted entirely of locally sourced bicycle parts. Another team chose to imitate the existing practices of transporting water (the practices the pumps sought to replace), and invented a container the size of a barrel with an axle and handle, itself imitating a push mower, which allowed more water to be transported in fewer and less frequent trips.

      Since then, there have been improvements explored to the barrel-as-wheel paradigm. Rather than a custom designed barrel, why not reuse barrels already mass-produced for transporting syrup for soft drinks? How can we take advantage of the different manufacturing capacities in different countries to produce better versions? What if we installed a water filtration system inside the barrel that takes advantage of the water moving around as the barrel rotates?

      Such improvements are wonderfully innovative, but the innovation began not by breaking away from imitation so much as by escaping the imitative ghetto of the accepted norms for efficient water transport, and imitating something else, even emulating the very water transport methods (walking to and from the water source) dismissed initially as being inefficient.

  • rgschreib

    Well, one tactic for innovation is to go to a website like or or and just spend an hour or two reading whatever article that pigues your interest, follow the links of the articles idly. That will miraculously inspire you with some new ideas later. Never underestimate power of the idle!

  • gracekim

    Really enjoyed this piece. Particularly the bit about not listening to everyone, but exercising discernment in filtering to hear the most salient advice.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Thanks Grace. It's a tough bit to be open so you don't miss out, but also to have enough sense to work through the noise.

  • Régis ELO

    YES Sina! i love this operating tool-box ... THANKX FOR SHARING your magic pass TO convert negative (-) form to positive (+)
    That is NEW and so appropriate to the present time. As often we believe we create by innovating but actually we rediscover the same basics with a new level of perception and analyse ... SO THAT looks new but it was there for ever , untill you capture this string floating in the air waiting to be drawn back to his useful transitory owner, on the right time, at the right place where the connection tends to be effective.... ACCORDING TO the various surrounding facilities; everything is in the air...
    thank you Sina for your very practical and pragmatic level of sharing These 5 keys easy to identify and experiment not only for Good ! BUT for better self- activation i love the idea of bad thing turning to good advantage....

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I tend to think we sell our selves short on turning what we initially see as hardships into strengths. We're pretty resilient beings :)

      • Régis ELO

        you're perfectly right ... I AGREE with it ; A lot of keys in the success story came from a sudden break you can identify in the witnesses testimonial. This is often what could make you almost cry by making the same report..." WHAT didn't kill you makes you stronger ".... the same for any field explored, the limits or boundaries must be helpful to feel totally free Inside ... I had already experiment and developed this concept with some friends concerning new type of management or work partnership .. We named it " organized improvisation" !!
        Actually , i think it may be cultural bec when i observed US people When , sorry about that, a sudden catastrophic event occurs , the relevant operations seems to come naturally with solidarity, pragmatism and efficiency but also, IN AN APPARENT big messy set in place , that always bluffed me .(maybe bec i'm french metis from west indies and more naturally observer than actor...) It's another story but always involving RESILIENCE , it's a great concept very usefull to confort natural adaptation TO unfavorable conditions where resistance is needed . I'm proud to know Boris CYRULNIK as a french writer and be aware about WHAT could explain success before cyclical fails....

  • Devi Clark Dearden

    If you like this you might like to check out the TED talk 'Embrace the Shake' which is on a similar theme but with a story of an artist and what he achieved as a result of the constraint of having a shaky hand.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      I LOVE these stories. There are so many amazing ones like this. You're making me think that "constraint" is an interpretation of context.

  • rgschreib

    I find that a an important part of creativity or innovation, is to ALWAYS have a piece of paper and pen available. When the Muses hit you with a new idea for innovation, WRITE IT DOWN!!! Otherwise, your stream of consciousness will wash away the idea in short order, and you will simply forget it. That sounds ridiculous, but if you are an innovator of any kind, your mind is always going into a hundred directions or distractions, and it's actually the easiest thing in the world, to just forget the best idea in the world.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Yup! At IDEO we always say, "Write. It. Down." Don't leave it to memory, no matter how good the idea is. We tend to use a lot of post-its to do this in quick and scrappy way so we don't have to make it all polished. Thanks for sharing this!

  • jfeden4

    It is the obstacles that define the path, ultimately.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Good point. And the treading of that path or perhaps going off of that path (when needed) is the "design" of the wayfarer. Thanks!

  • Patricia Patton

    I will print these five and remind myself they are part and parcel of moving forward.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Would love to hear how you use them! Really.

  • Semhal Tekeste

    Great top 5!

    Absolutely agree that embracing constraints can indeed encourage and trigger innovation/creativity. I especially like the idea of scheduling "unfocused time". After all, refocusing our lens is sometimes what allows us to identify the missing piece...the "aha!" moment. Forcing our minds to think outside of their norm and opening it up to new ideas/possibilities allows it to expand and stretch! This framework can be applied to so many things, and certainly education is one of them.

    The mention of "teacherpreneurs" below sounds pretty intriguing too!

    • Sina Mossayeb

      That's my favorite one too. It's hard to remember in the thicket of things, but when I do it's quite relieving.

      • Sina Mossayeb

        WOW! Love the idea of teacherpreneurs. Are you guys around the Bay ever? Would love to chat more about this with you guys (bring you into IDEO for a coffee?).

        • David Orphal

          Hi Sina, I'm the local (Oakland) teachers that CTQ mentioned. I'd be happy to sit down with you all for a cuppa. My wife and I just moved to Mt. View - so my availability will open up in mid-October. Cheers! ~Dave Orphal

        • Center for Teaching Quality

          Sina, We have some prolific bloggers and members of our community in the Bay area, but our office is based out of the Chapel Hill area in North Carolina. Dave Orphal ( has been a pioneer for teacherpreneurship for years, and currently teaches from Oakland areas. He gave a TEDxSFED talk on the idea ( I'm sure he would love to connect with the amazing minds at IDEO.

          If you are on the East Coast, please contact us so we can host you for a meet-up and some conversations around innovation in the education space. We love connecting with people outside of the education bubble to expand our thinking and learning. And if our CEO/founder, Barnett Berry is in the Bay area, I'm sure he'd love to take you up on that coffee as well :)

          Also, if you and your colleagues are interested in joining our virtual community, we would love some engagement with you there.

  • John Velasco

    I love No. 3. In fact I'm going to unfocus today and focus on learning to unfocus. Open the floodgates of new images and ideas! Woo.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      John. I'm so glad it resonates with you. #3 is my favorite too.

  • Center for Teaching Quality

    Your ideas here are very helpful when applied to educational innovation as well. We are currently invested in an idea that seeks to stop imitating the educational reform ideas swarming around our nation, and instead seeks to offer individual teachers the opportunity to innovate--come up with the solutions that will push teaching and learning further. We are calling these innovators who lead without leaving the classroom "teacherpreneurs." Your point about not coming to the table with the end in mind is so crucial for new ideas to have room to form and grow. Thanks for providing some guiding principals to foster innovation.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Again, thanks for this thoughtful response. I love the idea of "teacherpreneurs".

    • Annie OConnor

      I am very interested in your project and will be following development .

      • Center for Teaching Quality

        Thanks Annie, we would love to have you join our community and follow the work we are doing around the country to advocate for teacher and student empowerment.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I constantly struggle with the perfection thing. I think though, that that's what drives me to keep working. Curious to know, is your work primarily engineering? Wondering how s Systems Designer functions within IDEO.

    • Sina Mossayeb

      Yup. This is especially hard for artisans or lovers of the "craft". I think it's getting to know the difference between perfection vs. perfecting. I constantly have to check myself about this. I don't do engineering. My work as a systems designer is all about relationships. It's about human systems, ecosystems, and how do you design for them, with them in mind, etc. It's sooooo amazing and humbling. Always learning. If you're around the Bay Area (CA) holler. Coffee on me :)