My Interview on Dell TechCenter (RE: my inventor status)

April 13, 2016 at 10:39 am (Computer Science, Innovation, Thinking) (, , , , , )

I recently was featured in a Dell TechCenter blog for the innovation work I did last year. I ended up getting a “Top Inventor” title at Dell for 2015 due to my work with filing patents. Unfortunately I can’t really talk about them or even give an idea of how many submissions I made, but I feel like I now have “proof” that I actually did achieve what I said I did, beyond just a LinkedIn title change.

This is the article:


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Convince your Brain to Inspire you with a Memory Palace

September 10, 2015 at 11:22 am (Innovation, Rant, Teaching, Thinking) (, , , , )

If you haven’t heard yet, memory palace techniques are amazing ways to store vast amounts of information in your brain! It has even made its way into popular culture through the BBC show Sherlock and the CBS show Elementary, although the good news is that it’s accessible enough that you can use it without being Sherlock Holmes.

The basic idea of it is that your brain is really great at remembering places; just think about how well you know your own house, your place of work, and the routes to get from one to the other. The trick is that you associate images of things you’d like to remember with difference areas of these locations or routes. The technique is known as the “Method of Loci” and has been used for centuries, although I won’t bore you with the details right now.

I highly encourage you to try out the “Method of Loci” when you get some time, but I’d like to share a specific version of this technique that I make use of every day; I call it the “inspiration room”. You know how some things can get you fired up with ideas? Have you ever walked out of a movie and thought to yourself “wow, that really got me fired up about that concept”? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I probably sound foolish, but you should probably find more things in this world that interest you.

Anyway, I’ve built up a room in my “memory palace” where I store all of these images that inspire me and make me feel creative. Whenever I need to come up with an original idea or I need to get into a mindset to be creative, I just imagine myself walking around this place and looking at all of the interesting things in this room. It makes sure that I will never forget the things that inspire me and that I can recall them whenever I need to.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about in case what I’m talking about makes no sense. I begin by thinking about a specific building that I’ve worked in at one point in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time in this building, so I know the hallways and rooms pretty well. I know what the cubicle walls feel like and how sound seems to get absorbed by them. Essentially in my memory I’ve made this place very real by remembering the smells, the sounds, and the feel of things.

So I walk through the hallways of this building, and look in each room; the rooms are where I store my inspiring memories. For example, in one of my rooms I store a scene from the film Iron Man. There is a scene where the main character is building out an upgraded version of his suit of armour that can fly, and he is assisted by his computerized assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. When I first saw this movie, I stayed up until 4am attempting to build my own version of his AI assistant so I could have him organize my life. My memory from that movie and my experiences are something that help me to stay focused and productive. I store Tony Stark in one of the rooms in my mind so I can watch him work productively on his armour.

In case you were curious, I actually did build a basic version of an AI assistant that used natural language processing to activate various tasks. It was fairly successful, but I eventually abandoned the project a couple weeks later. Now it seems that AI assistants are all the rage… whoops…

Hopefully by now I’ve sold you on how useful this idea is. It’s something that I use to stay productive with my time and to get rid of those “blah” feelings when I’m tired. The actual technique of building up this type of room is actually pretty straightforward. First, write down the images that inspire you; you need to know what you’re building before you start. Then pick a location that you know very well. It should be fairly large so you can add new images later on, but it needs to have memorable features such as windows, furniture, or colours.

The last step is probably the hardest one: you have to practice walking through this location in your mind. You have to vividly remember the location and as you walk through it, you need to connect rooms or features with your images by imagining they are there. These instructions may sound a little vague, but your brain actually knows how to do this for you. It just needs to be programmed, and you do this by repeatedly walking through the room and looking at the images.

I hope to tell you about other mental techniques I use on a regular basis in the future. These are really useful for so many aspects of life, and don’t require that much effort to use. Let me know what you think about these or if you have any questions about the technique. I spend a lot of my time practicing these techniques and reading about how others do similar things.

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How to Always Win Your Pitch (Within Reason)

August 12, 2015 at 2:58 pm (Innovation, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , , )

Whether you’re pitching an idea, interviewing for a job, or reporting on the outcome of a project, you need to communicate well if you expect a positive reception. Ideally you want to be able to not just manage to hold your audiences’ attention, but to have them be interested in what you’re saying.

Let’s think a moment about the first presentations we’ve attended in our lives. As a child, you’ve likely had a parent tell you a story or read from a storybook, right? This is exactly the same as a presentation; it has one party telling another about a situation with a goal in mind (granted, usually this goal is to get you to go to sleep after).

So here’s what we can take away from those experiences: always tell a good story. The pure facts are rarely enough (unless they’re all that’s required of course); you need context to explain why they’re important.

As an exercise, let’s take a look at a sales pitch. The first pitch is just the facts; they’re not wrong, but it is the bare bones.

“Our product helps customers protect against robot army invasions”

Now let’s look at an alternate version of this sales pitch. Here we tell a story complete with a relatable character and situation.

“Beth is a single parent who works hard at life. Between taking her son to soccer practice and running her business, she doesn’t have the time to wonder if her home is secure against a robot uprising. That’s why she trusts in our product to handle the burden of preparation against all forms of robot invasions, both planetary and interplanetary.”

Which do you think paints a more compelling picture for a product pitch? Sure, the first option gives me the facts without a big reading investment, however it lacks context. It doesn’t tell me how the product will actually affect my life beyond just insurance against robots.

The conclude this article, if you want to become more captivating, persuasive, and win your pitch, you have to learn how to engage your audience. Tell a good story that does more than just spew out facts. Everybody has facts; differentiate yourself.

For more articles like this one, follow my LinkedIn profile.

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3 Lessons from Leibniz

August 7, 2015 at 10:53 am (Innovation, Thinking) (, , , , , )

When most people hear the name “Leibniz”, they usually think of his work in discovering calculus or as a philosopher. Well okay, let’s backtrack: most people say “who is that?”. Long story short, Gottfried Leibniz led an interesting and ambitious life that I believe we can extract some lessons from. This all began as I was reading a biography that focused more on the man than his work. As I read about what he was supposed to have been like, I became interested in his approach to life. Here are several notes on what I find interesting about Leibniz, and what I take away from his story.


Be self-motivated

At an early stage in his life, he was motivated to learn everything he could. He moved beyond his formal education at the time  to learn the language skills he needed to be able to tackle his father’s library. To go on a tangent, it was typical for him to cover every surface of the room with open books so he could jump around between topics in quick succession. I personally got excited about this since my living room is constantly in this shape; it’s nice to hear that other people have the same habits.

As most good biographies about Leibniz will tell you: at one point in his life, Leibniz had decided that he didn’t know as much about mathematics as he wanted; this motivated him to spend time changing that. I don’t think I need to remind many of you that this led to some pretty big stuff for everybody.


Have broad interests

A quick browse through a good biography on Leibniz will reveal that had his hands in many projects. He was constantly looking for interesting problems to solve, and injecting himself where he thought he could provide some utility. One such example of this was a project involving draining water from mines that he thought he could complete using some of his innovative ideas.

I believe that it is important to diversify your interests; it provides tools to be more creative in all endeavors of life. It is far too easy to get stuck focusing on the same details on a daily basis, which helps to lead to a boring life. By keeping side projects and interests that are unrelated to anything of current use, you not only have a productive escape, but also have a chance to let your brain work on your problems in the background.


Don’t over-commit

That being said; he was notorious for over-committing to projects and not seeing them through. I’m sure none of us can relate to that aspect of his life, right? Over-commitment is a silent cause of disaster; not giving enough attention to the proper things leads to over-stress and the demotivation of involved parties (among many other things).You really run the risk of earning a list of failures when you haven’t even tried to succeed yet.

We all know what kind of pavement the road to hell sports, so if you commit to something, ensure you can see it through. At the very least, be honest with everyone about your bandwidth or delegate to others.

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Unexpected Benefits from Reading

August 4, 2015 at 10:35 am (Innovation, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading (a LOT of reading). I’ve been making a point of visiting my local library once a week this year and I can’t seem to leave the building without two or three new books. It has helped to sate my need to learn about different things, but it has also provided me with some unexpected benefits.

A couple of the topics that I’ve been reading about are leaf cutter ants and map making. These aren’t exactly topics that directly impact my daily life, however, they’ve been helping me expand my ideas to beyond just what has already been done. If you think about it, how can you be innovative and expand your field if your field is all that you study?

the benefit of reading isn’t necessarily learning about a topic;
it’s gaining perspective about the world of things you don’t know about.

At this point, it isn’t a secret that I prefer to do things a little different. I frequently file patents through the company I work for, and I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve the world around me in ways nobody has considered. I’ve been finding more and more that there is almost always some sort of alternate takeaway from even the most obscure subjects. They help to change the brain’s neural pathways to generate new combinations of ideas and make better contributions.

More importantly however, I believe the largest benefit is that it helps me see what I don’t know. Frequently, we only ever play in areas we’re good at: we read books and articles where we’re already familiar with the field, we cook foods that we know how to cook, and I bet over the years you’ve probably gotten good at your job. There’s rarely a chance to see just how much we don’t know.

In my opinion, the benefit of reading isn’t necessarily learning about a topic; it’s gaining perspective about the world of things you don’t know about. I’d like to go as far as to say that you can attempt to shrink that world, but perspective is the best we can do; you can’t shrink the infinite.

So, go forth and read something that is outside of your sphere of expertise; you might be surprised with the results.

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Dell Innovation Challenge Coin

July 13, 2015 at 3:41 pm (Computer Science, Innovation, Thinking) (, , , , )

So I can finally comment a bit on some of the interesting things I’ve been up to this year. The more interesting thing right now is that I’ve been filing patent applications with Dell. I’ve submitted a number of them so far this year (need at least two hands to count them at this point), and it’s been a blast. I’ve gotten the opportunity to connect with some really smart people along the way, and it’s quickly become the best part of my job. Dell has a great system in place to keep people inventing and being innovative with their work to ultimately serve our customers better.

Last week I received a recognition aware for the patents I’ve been working on; it takes a while to completely get a patent approved and filed, so this award is from the first fiscal quarter. I believe I will be receiving a second (and more impressive) award later in the year for my more recent efforts. Check out these pictures of my award; it’s an innovation challenge coin (similar to what the army does):

Innovation Coin Side A

Innovation Coin Side A

Innovation Coin Side B

Innovation Coin Side B

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