Recently, Larry Wilmore’s Podcast: Black on the Air featured an interview with investigative reporter David Epstein (whose upcoming book, Range, I personally look forward to checking out when it’s released at the end of May)During the podcast, the conversation took a turn towards innovation, and Bill Gore was mentioned. More specifically, his perspective that ‘real innovation happens in the car pool.’ That we are most productive at creative thinking when convention is abandoned (or at least constrained). This framed their discussion into the concept I ‘dad-joke’d’ in this post’s title.  Epstein and Wilmore attributed this concept to Japanese video game designer, Gunpei Yokoi, a well known and accomplished inventor. Yokoi revolutionized his industry by developing his concept of “lateral thinking with withered technology.” So, it was not all about using the latest, cutting edge technology; it was about taking ‘seasoned’ tech, and assembling it in new and innovative ways. Because of that, he challenged the convention of what an ‘inventor’ was. Which turns out is pretty true when developing learning applications with technology.

This is an important concept that I think we (the royal ‘we‘ among IoT tinkerers), intuitively favor. We take things we understand and combine/reuse/revise them to accomplish goals/make new stuff. Many simply call it ‘creative problem-solving.’ I like to call it ‘fieldcrafting’ (making me sound way cooler than I am/deserve). Nevertheless, this taps processes for which we are inherently wired  – adaptation. To take what you do have, what you do know; and apply those skills, knowledge, and resources to solve your problems. And as technology moves forward at an ever-quickening pace (e.g., Moore’s Law), innovations in learning technologies can/should also benefit from rapid forward growth.

These concepts have significant influence over human service training technologies. This narrative now takes the familiar scent of both the ‘Agile‘ and the ‘Lean‘ project management/methods. Further, the most compelling pieces of these methods is how “agile” emphasizes adaptation; and how “lean” defines value. That is, adaptation is a well-thought out cycle of CRASH-BURN-LEARN, where LEARN occurs at every step of the process (if at all possible).  Then, “lean’s” definition of value complements this view. Specifically, value is not the creation of stuff; rather, value is creating sustainable outcomes based on [efficiently] collecting and using the right kinds of data. In a world of limited resources, we are always looking for ways to gain validated learning to keep moving the needle forward. If we can creatively use/fieldcraft technologies to better field train people, we have access to a rich source of data through this cycle of validated learning. Even when we are lucky enough to find that our ideas are catastrophic failures. Sometimes learning what doesn’t work can be infinitely more valuable than finding the things that do. We are then forced to frame our issues and obstacles in different ways, and we ‘unpack‘ them to more systematically derive creative solutions.


Interesting post-script/guide to more rabbit holes:



One of the last projects that Gunpei Yokoi worked on before his untimely and tragic death was the

Virtual Boy for Nintendo (his last Nintendo project, actually). This was one of the (if not THE) first commercially-available, in-home virtual reality systems. Unfortunately, this was an abysmal failure for Nintendo, a circumstance rumored to be a large part of Yokoi’s departure from the game making giant in the mid-90s (although that has largely been discounted). There are a couple of lessons from this chapter of Yokoi’s legacy worth mentioning. First, this seemed to take Yokoi’s own rule of using ‘withered technology’, turning it into a double-edged sword. Many early complaints of this system was its lack of technological features (color screen vs. the red/black abomination that it shipped with, and an inability to include 3D tracking technology to respond to head position); but put together in a system that was 25 years ahead of its time. This implies that there is another very crucial element to consider in order for withered technology to have an impact: timing. While it was possible, the Virtual Boy just wasn’t plausible with all its other ‘contextual constraints.’ And hitting at the dawn of Playstation (released in 1994), market competition might well have forced the decision. The lesson: releasing a product using technology that is TOO withered (e.g., the red monochromatic display to avoid screen tearing/image stabilization issues found when using color displays), yet TOO ambitious (not enough tracking tech developed to provide basic sensations of embodiment), all but ensured the Virtual Boy’s slow retail death. (Also, the tepid marketing efforts of Nintendo has its place in this memoriam). It robbed the project of the necessary information to effectively CRASH-BURN-LEARN, and makes this Imperial-Probe-Droid-looking setup a museum piece with backstory that reads more like a cautionary tale.

Makes it kind of easy to see how Nintendo served up a double-fault with this one…..