Inventions - Description

Posted on by Brandon Klein

In this module, each team is given the task of inventing, building and demonstrating a working device that performs some unusual task, using cast- aside junk and hardware and simple hand tools as resources. The assigned tasks sound impossible when first presented, yet each assignment has been successfully completed by seventh-graders. By the time they’re done, participants often exceed their expectations of their own capabilities. They also learn about team dynamics by taking an idea full cycle, from conception to “marketed” product in the short span of a few hours.

To have participants work hands-on — to act rather than just think about something. To have fun. To provide the accelerated feedback of taking an idea full cycle in a short period of time. To reveal the dynamics of team creativity. To observe different problem solving styles.

“The Experience of Invention” can be a stand-alone evening workshop, or used during the Scan phase of a DesignShop. When used in a DesignShop, demonstration of the inventions is usually the last activity of the first day; participants sleep on it and debrief their experience at the start of the following day. The time required is typically as follows: to build the inventions and marketing materials: 2 to 3 hours; demonstration: 3/4 to 1-1/4 hours; debriefing: about 1-1/2 hours.

Strengths — Invariably, this experience gets participants engaged and excited. It’s fun and revealing. Whether each invention works or doesn’t, the experience is valuable, and provides insights to how people in an organization work together. Weaknesses — It takes a large block of time. It’s not appropriate unless the group can afford the time to look at their own process. Specifications for Success — 1. Be confident that the process is valuable, regardless of the success or failure of individual inventions. (We often learn more from the “failures” than the successes; both are valued). 2. After the demonstrations and presentations, give the teams a few words of validation, then send them home to sleep on it. Don’t engage the group in assessing the experience until the next day. 3. Increase the debriefing time if the results of the inventions went extremely well (breakthrough) or extremely poorly. Adjust the assignments also; for example, it went well, ask for the two or three most important insights; if so-so or poorly, ask for the most important rule or lesson learned.

An extensive collection of junk is required, as well as a basic set of (non-powered) hand tools. Collecting the junk is usually spread out over a few days, so that the materials collected one day can be assessed and what’s missing then sought out the next. Smaller items are bundled together into packets; overall, you want about 15 items or packets per participant. Lists are provided. 

Also see how to write an Inventions exercise