Category Archives: Five Rules of Design Thinking

Mopping Stinks, and How They Fixed It

If you love to mop, stop reading.  This post will make you mad.

If you hate mopping, channel that rage into what you’re about to read, and enjoy a journey through the design thinking process.

In his 2012 book “Imagine”, Jonah Lehrer opens the book with a story about mopping.  For me, mopping is an occasional hassle and a detested chore.  And I couldn’t really tell you why.  It just stinks.

A lot of people felt the same way, and Procter & Gamble knew it.  P&G makes millions of dollars per year on the floor cleaning industry.  So, they put their world-leading chemistry department on the job.  Come up with a better floor cleaner.

After months of trying, and failing, the company with more Ph.D.’s than Harvard, MIT, and UC-Berkley (combined!) reached its last dead end.  P&G shifted focus and gave the problem to an outside consulting company for a fresh perspective.

David Kelley, founder of the company IDEO and Stanford University’s, once spoke of the design thinking process as “a series of buckets” from which to draw useful strategies to addressing problems.  Three of those strategies (“ask an expert”, “observe users”, and “build a prototype”) led to a breakthrough in the mopping industry.

The consultants spent tedious hours watching people mop.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Watching… people… mop.  The trick is to watch people mop and pretend you’ve never seen anyone mop before.  By watching people mop and talking to them about their experiences, they learned two important things: 1) Most people spent more time cleaning their mop than cleaning their floor with the mop, and 2) People used easier ways to clean up smaller messes.

These two observations led to an idea, and that idea led to a prototype: a disposable paper-towel-like head on a plastic handle.  People didn’t get it, until they tried it.  When people were told about the plan to put a disposable head on a mop handle, focus groups were unimpressed.  So, rather than try to explain it better, they built one and let people try it themselves.  Then the focus group participants wanted to take it home with them!  The Swiffer was born, and it generated over half a billion dollars in sales within its first year on the market.¹

What is your mop?  At school, at work, at home… what is that task or that chore that takes up our time, and that we have just come to accept as “part of life” with no way to improve it?  Maybe you have the beginning of the next Swiffer!

¹ – Information about the development of The Swiffer comes from Jonah Lehrer’s 2012 book “Imagine”.  The book was recalled by the publisher over admissions by the author that he fabricated quotes and other material in a section of the book about Bob Dylan.  I scored a copy from the Canadian imprint online.  The book sold about 200,000 copies before it was pulled from shelves.  It is generally readily available used on Amazon.

“The Chickens**t Club”

The July 11, 2017, morning Marketplace radio program featured an interview with journalist Jesse Eisinger, promoting his new book “The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” [Amazon link: No affiliation]

I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report because, well, because it happens during NPR’s Morning Edition during my drive to work.  I don’t typically find myself enthralled by the Morning Report content.

This one caught my attention – not because of the content, but because of the story that Mr. Eisinger told about where the NSFW title came from.

Go listen to the Marketplace interview.  (Mr. Eisinger was also the featured guest on the July 11, 2017, episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air”.)

Back in 2002, when former FBI Director James Comey was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he gathered his corps of bright, talented, young attorneys.  He asked them to raise their hand if they had never lost a trial.  Numerous confident hands went up.

“My friends and I have a name for you,” Mr. Comey informed them, “you’re the ‘Chickens**t Club.'”  In blistering fashion, Mr. Comey pointed out that the best measure of their job was not about whether they were always winning, but about whether they were standing up for the right causes.

As educators, we have a parallel experience.

I have never met a good teacher who never had a lesson fall flat on its face.  I have never met a good teacher whose students didn’t misbehave sometimes.  I have never met a good teacher who didn’t have a student who failed an assignment, a quiz, a test.

Why?  Because they were willing to try something beyond what they were already comfortable with, something afield of what they had done every year before, something they didn’t already know would succeed.

Those are the best teachers I ever met.  Those are the best teachers I’ve ever had.  Those are the teachers who are willing to try whatever it takes to help all of their students learn to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them – not just to pass a test or earn a credit.

Teachers: if everything you do in class works just the way you expect it to, it’s time to resign from The Chickens**t Club.


My ten favorite TED/TEDx talks

Holy schlamolies.  It happened.

TEDx logo.I have previously submitted proposals to speak at TEDx events in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Kalamazoo.  Every time, I have been told there was a large volume of great ideas, and my proposal happened not to be selected.

Fifth time was the charm.  My presentation proposal has been accepted for the TEDx Worthington event on Saturday, February 27, 2016.  The event will take place at the McConnell Arts Center at Worthington High School.  The theme for the event is “Resolve”.

As I prepare for this event, I thought I would put together a list of my ten favorite TED/TEDx talks, to remind me of what I like most about the format and give me some pointers on what I can do with my 12-15 minutes.

My ten eleven twelve favorite TED/TEDx talks (in alphabetical order by the speaker’s last name):


Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2)

Several months ago, I got an e-mail out-of-the-blue asking me if I would be willing to present at an education conference here in Ohio.  I wondered if this was someone who had been to a session I led at a previous conference, or maybe someone who knew someone who had.  I was wrong on all counts.  The organizers of ECET2-OAC (What is ECET2? What is OAC?) did what anyone does these days when they are looking for something – they Googled.  My “Five Rules” workshop was unique, it was timely, and I had one other secret ingredient – I live in Ohio, under three hours from the conference site!

So, plans were made, and I embarked on a trip to Burr Oak State Park, not knowing if I would even know anyone there!  But the concept of the event was just so different, I had to see what it would be like.  What I found exceeded my highest expectations!  Here are some of my highlights from attending ECET2-OAC on October 29-30, 2014.

Dr. Irvin Scott. – Dr. Scott provided the opening keynote.  He is theDeputy Director for effective teaching in the educational division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is “the guy” when it comes to the whole ECET2 phenomenon.  His story is a testimony to the power of teachers who have high expectations and who are willing to give their students supportive, safe environments to reach beyond what they knew they could accomplish.  Hear him talk.  Follow him on Twitter.

Colleague Circles – A unique aspect of the ECET2 conference was the Colleague Circles.  While I did not directly participate in any of these, they were organized to be a meaningful time for educators from the same building/district to discuss pressing issues with a guided format.  The format led each team to come to some clear and definite decisions about how their practice will change going forward, and how they can be a positive force for change in their school.

Me, holding a rat snake at Burr Oak State Park.Snakes! – Even though technology, especially social media, has made the globe a more connected place, we are still very different in the places we come from.  Being at a state park in Ohio has its advantages; a serene environment, great spaces to connect, and a ranger who lives for the thrill of putting snakes in the hands of visitors!

A Bluegrass Band – For conferences like this, some of the best conversations can happen in the informal settings beyond the “scheduled agenda”.  In this case, the evening’s entertainment was provided by a local bluegrass band!  Not only was their music excellent, they spent a little time telling us about how they hand-made their instruments!

Lots of new Twitter friends! – One undercurrent to the conference was an emphasis on encouraging educators to try out Twitter as a way of connecting with other educators outside one’s typical network.  Here are some of them: Irvin Scott, Tracy Spires, James Herman, Will Sheets, Derek Hinkle, Melissa Sheets, Connie Cunningham, and Sara Beardsley!  Also, check out the OACTeach Chat hashtag (#OACTeach) on Twitter!

New Perspectives – One of my favorite parts of presenting “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” is hearing what the workshop participants do with the material.  I feel like I’m doing a good job as a presenter when I learn something new from the workshop.  Modeling the process of being a “facilitator of learning” rather than being a “gatekeeper of facts” is important for me when I present to teachers.

The ECET2 “conference model” is intentionally different.  It blends some aspects of traditional conferences with some of the “grass roots” level appeal of EdCamp.   The result was a fun, informative, and eventful time spent by teaches, for teachers, and with teachers.  When teachers spend time out of the classroom, this is an effective way to spend that time.



Learn Like The Rocket Boys of NIH

Terence Boylan and Bruce Cook did something awesome.  The year was 1957, and the two neighbor boys were interested in model rockets.  Terence and Bruce knew what they wanted to do, but they didn’t have the financial resources to make it happen.

And what could have ended right then and there in disappointment turned into something amazing!

If you’re not familiar with their story, go watch this video and/or read this little book.  Then come back!


Online Book (PDF): 

Click to access rockete1.pdf

Here are five important lessons we can learn from the true story of The Rocket Boys of NIH:

1) Kids of different ages and abilities can work and learn together.  Terence was a fairly typical nine-year-old, but Bruce was 14 and in a wheelchair.  In 1957, likely the only time these two boys would have had to pursue their common interest together was after school or in the summer.  Fortunately, they were neighbors, so it was easy for the boys to find time to be together.  Do students who have little more in common than their interests have the opportunity to pursue those interests together?

2) Asking an expert can be a good strategy.  Terence knew that his father got money to do what he did.  That is a gross oversimplification of the process, but it led Terence to ask his father, not for the money, but for some expertise.  Terence then applied his father’s answer to his own situation and made his own funding request!

3) Use failure as an opportunity to ask “How can we improve?”  When early versions of their rocket didn’t launch, or hit the car, or got stuck in the tree, Terence and Bruce were still so enthusiastic about their project that they didn’t let the setback stop them.  They learned from observing and analyzing their failed attempts, and tried again, and again.

Terence Boylan's letter to NIH.
Terence Boylan’s letter to NIH.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask.  They had no official form or insider contact at NIH for their request.  They just had an interest and an idea for a project. Then, most importantly, Terence wrote and mailed the letter.  Without that, none of the rest would have happened.

5) Support someone’s dream, even if it isn’t “your field”.  The NIH (National Institutes of Health) had nothing to do with funding experiments in space travel, either in 1957 or today!  The NIH couldn’t fund Terence and Bruce’s project, but the reviewers decided they could, privately.  In 1957, ten dollars would have bought about 32 gallons of gasoline.  Knowing that they had received a “grant” to work on this project gave Terence and Bruce even more urgency to see their project through to completion!

Do something awesome!


Learn Like Bert and Ernie

Sesame Street” first aired in 1969. I was born in 1971.  We’re practically twins.

As I grew up watching the show, I was particularly drawn to the characters Bert and Ernie.  In many ways, they were as different as they could be.  Ernie’s short, broad head and horizontal stripes conveyed happiness from first sight.  Bert’s long, narrow head, vertical stripes and bushy eyebrows  practically triple-dog-dared you to like anything about him.

But no matter what life threw at them, they handled it and came out better on the other side.

Here are five important lessons about learning that I got from Bert and Ernie.

5) Bert and Ernie respect each other’s differences.  Bert and Ernie are different in a lot of ways, but they know they can still be friends .

And did you ever notice anything different about Ernie’s and Bert’s hands?  “Ernie is a Live-Hand Muppet (unlike Bert, who is a Hand-Rod Muppet), meaning that while operating the head of the puppet with his right hand, the puppeteer inserts his left hand into a T-shaped sleeve, capped off with a glove that matches the fabric “skin” of the puppet, thus “becoming” the left arm of the puppet. A second puppeteer usually provides the right arm, although sometimes the right arm is simply stuffed and pinned to the puppet’s chest.”Muppet Wiki

4) Bert and Ernie learn together, through their differences.  When Bert and Ernie see or do the same thing in different ways, they talk about it.  And when they combine their unique perspectives and talents, great new things emerge (like combining boring ol’ bread with sticky ol’ peanut butter)!

3) Bert and Ernie get on each other’s nerves.  And that’s perfectly okay.  A few tight-lipped grumbles aren’t enough to cause them to abandon each other.  They address the situation themselves, without someone swooping in to save the day for them.

Banana in the Ear

2) Bert and Ernie could “go solo” when they wanted or needed to.  Two of their most iconic songs are Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” and Bert’s “Doin’ the Pigeon”.  They were able to do something great on their own when called upon, and it was about something they really loved.

Doin’ the Pigeon –

Rubber Duckie – 

1) Bert and Ernie allowed others to learn and play with them, too. I was so jealous of Shola Lynch getting to spend time with Bert and Ernie.  Even with the seemingly perfect dynamic that Bert and Ernie have going, they aren’t isolated from the rest of the Sesame Street community!  Sometimes you see Bert without Ernie, or Ernie without Bert, or you see someone else along with Bert and Ernie!  The interactions change because of the “personality” of the characters, but they are always Bert and Ernie.

Twiddlebugs and Bottle Caps.  Rubber Ducky and Oatmeal.  Drums and Pigeons.  Practical Jokes and Paper Clips.  Hard to imagine one without the other.

Bonus – Ernie and Aaron Neville sing “Don’t Want To Live On The Moon”

“Five Rules of Design Thinking” – Early Childhood Version

On Friday, March 21, 2014, I will be conducting my “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” workshop at Hopewell Center [5350 West New Market Road, Hillsboro, OH].  This one will have a little different twist to it… all of the activities are being geared towards those who work with students Pre-K through 3rd grade!

This workshop is being offered free of charge, but space is limited and pre-registration is required.  There is no charge to attend.

The day will begin with registration from 8:00-8:30, and the workshop will take place from 8:30-3:30.  Lunch will be provided.

Designing Education dot org.Our primary audience is educators in Ohio Region 14 (Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette, and Highland Counties).  Registration is available via STARS.  If you have any difficulty with the STARS system, you can call Hopewell Center at 937-393-1904 and ask for “workshop registration”.  They’ll get you lined up!

More information about “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” is available at