Category Archives: Learning

Learning Cycles and Rapid Prototyping Ironman style



Tony Stark tests his prototype suit


A rapid learning cycle calls for rapid prototyping methods.  Inside of a rapid learning cycle, an innovator creates multiple design options, and then builds and tests the prototypes.  Developing prototypes helps to eliminate the risks in development.  Although, in the case of Tony Stark’s test flight, we all realize that he should have spent a little more time analyzing the risks before taking off in his Ironman suit.  

As an illustration of rapid prototyping, consider the prototype shop that Tony Stark builds in his Malibu beachfront house.  Here he can build prototypes on his Bridgeport milling machine, use sophisticated 3D computer software, and give commands to his smart robots.  



Tony uses the workshop to create rapidly evolving versions of his IronMan suits.   His workshop is basically a rapid prototyping set-up where he can create anything from the IronMan suits to a particle accelerator.   In IronMan II, Tony digitized the model city created by his father (digital wireframes of existing objects is a technology that exists today), and then creates a full 3D model, which unlocks the secrets handed down from his father to a key new element which not only will increase the power of his suit, but save his life.  

 Tony Stark has all the technology he needs to build a small-scale particle accelerator to generate the new element for his power supply, the arc reactor.  Sound impossible to build a particle accelerate in just a few days?  Well, it is the movies after all.  Tony even uses Captain America’s shield to level out one section of the accelerator tube!  Now that is a rough, quick, and effective use of prototyping (plus a little drama and foreshadowing of future movies thrown into the mix)!  

This is a great movie and very entertaining.  The movie shows what a rapid prototyping shop of the future might look like!  



Learning Cycle on Successful Blogging

I just read Tim Westergren’s blog, and Pandora has reached over 50 million registered viewers.  This is an unbelievable number of worldwide users. My son and wife recently introduced me to this wonderful tool, and I have a favorite channel.  As a fan (and sometime player) of the classical guitar, my channel is one for my favorite artist …  Christopher Parkening, one of the best classical guitarists in the world.   I can get this on my iPhone through the Pandora App.   How is cool is that.

Reading the Pandora blog answers a couple of other questions in this learning cycle.

A successful blog provides more than the unusual, weird, or human interest stories, a successful blog provides something of value to the reader.  In the case of the Pandora blog, not only can you get news about the company, but you also can read about a really cool project – namely the cataloging of 20 million songs in their music genome project.

A successful blog also is updated regularly.  In lean we call that a pitch.   The Pandora blog is updated at least weekly.

A blog also might offer advertising.  However, the key here is to advertise tastefully, and to not go crazy with a lot of real estate offer to advertising.  In the case of the Pandora site, the reserve one spot on their blog to donate to their charity.

We are getting to the end of learning cycle 1.  Stay tuned as we continue on our journey.


Learning Cycle 1 continued

Learning cycles, or rapid bursts of learning, help the innovator to frame an innovation problem.  An innovation is needed when you set-up a gap in your mind between the current situation and what needs to be solved.  Or stated as a problem, what you need but don’t have, or have but don’t want.

Recently, our friend John shared a story with a group of us that the Hubble II telescope was envisioned years before it went into orbit with technologies that did not yet exist.  The telescope required 10 new innovations to technical problems that were identified, but had never before been solved.  These innovations were the gaps that needed to be solved.  Learning cycles help to rapidly close the predefined gaps.  A learning cycle is a rapid cycle to move through the following stages: Planning, Design, Building (or prototyping), Testing, and Reviewing the Results.

In our simple illustration in this blog, we set-up a gap (not a terrible technically challenging one – just new to us) of setting up a blog about innovation and lean development.  We are initially just writing about the process of discovery that we are going through.

In learning cycle 1, several questions were stated.   Next the tasks are defined to answer each question.

Regard the question of what tool to use … we create a plan to answer this rapidly.  Several people were consulted about which blog tool to use.  We also did some research by reading the book Sociable! by Shane Gibson and Stephen Jagger.  Many options exist from self-created and added to a custom web page to one built by a web developer.  All recommendations pointed to WordPress, however, the recommendation also includes creating your own web presence.  So for us, the solution involved building this WordPress blog spot and linking it to our permanent web address.  The test was to prototype and start using it.


Learning Cycle 1 Getting Started with Blogging

Development objectives are clearly stated as problem statements, and today our first learning cycle objective is “getting started with blogging when you are new to the blogosphere“.  Since we are new to blogging, we knew that the first objective would have a number of hurdles to overcome.  In this learning cycle, we broke the objective of getting started into several questions.

  1. What is the correct blogging tool?
  2. What are the elements of a successful blog?
  3. How dynamic does a blog need to be?
  4. How do you add value by blogging?

Learning cycles are designed to discover something unknown (in this case blogging).  The discovery process is called a “heuristic” process.  Something is “heuristic” problem solving when you do not know the outcome, and you don’t know yet how to get there.  The important elements of setting up a learning cycle are to accurately state the problem and then to ask the right questions which you will then research and answer.

Learning Cycles and Learning about Blogging

We (Mark Swets and Tim Schipper) have written a book (Innovative Lean Development) which is about applying learning cycles and lean principles to the discovery process in Product and IT Development. Our intent is to apply learning cycles to learn about blogging.  Learning cycles are rapid bursts of learning to accelerate the development of something new and innovative.  They can be applied to create new solutions, services, products, business models, etc.  The intent of learning cycles is to speed up the discovery process.   Since blogging is a new area for us, we thought, “Hey, why not apply learning cycles to the development of our own blog.”

So this is the start of our journey.  For the initial series of entries, we are going to write about learning cycles and how we are using them to learn how to blog.  We hope you find it interesting and valuable, and we are interested in your thoughts and ideas.