Nov 302013

New Year’s Day and resolutions are only a month away, and though I don’t usually make resolutions because there is every likelihood I won’t keep them, New Year’s Day is also a good time to brainstorm a list of ideas you’d like to explore as an artist or a writer. Instead of just jotting down ideas list-style, why not try force-fitting? Force-fitting is an idea-generating tool that involves making unusual connections between ideas or items that don’t normally fit together.

To make force-fitting work, you first need to define a challenge or problem you want to solve. For example, suppose you have lots of cotton fabrics stashed in boxes, and want to come up with creative ways to use them. (By the way, I do have this problem!) Cut out some swatches, and put them in a paper sack. Without peeking, select a swatch. Next, close your eyes and randomly select a word from the dictionary. Let’s say your fabric shows a dinosaur print, and the dictionary word is “mother.” Now it’s time for the force-fitting to begin. What finished products suggest themselves to you when you think about dinosaur print fabric and the word “mother?” Maybe you think of pajamas, bibs, diaper bags, burp cloths, crib ornaments . . . well, hopefully you’re on a roll by now and have found lots of ways to meet your challenge: using up all of those fabrics.

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS /

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS /

To make force-fitting work for you, keep in mind these basic principles:

  • Don’t evaluate your ideas as you generate them. Ideas are simply potential paths to follow, neither good nor bad.
  • The more ideas you have, the more ideas you will tend to come up with.
  • Don’t ignore silly or odd ideas; they could have potential down the road.
  • Consider combining ideas, as you go along, or doing this exercise with a partner.

I use force-fitting a lot when I’m looking for ways to develop new products, particularly in MisterPenQuin, where I sell handmade books, journals and clipboards. If I challenge myself to develop products using floral paper, for example, force-fitting could involve pulling slips of paper from a bowl that describe different types of users, such as a teacher, a grandmother, a writer, a painter, or a gardener.

The first time you use force-fitting to generate a list of ideas, you may feel a little uncomfortable, but practice really does make you more nimble. Just for fun, take a look at the treasury of fellow Blogging Business Artisans‘ products I curated below, where I challenge viewers to tell a story that begins with a prince sliding down a rainbow. Using the pictured items that are obviously not connected to each other in any way, continue the story. Have fun!

[sh-etsy-treasury treasury=”NjIyMjQyNHwyNzI1MzQ4Mjgw” size=”large” columns=”4″ display=”complete”]

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 312012

When John and I return from Destination Imagination Global Finals each year, we are fired up about creativity in general, and are ready to start writing practice Instant Challenges that the participants of the Iowa affiliate of the program can use. If you have never heard of Destination Imagination, it is a creative problem-solving program for student teams from kindergarten through university age that emphasizes creativity, teamwork and problem-solving through the use of creative and critical thinking strategies. On September 1st each year, Destination Imagination releases six competitive Challenges, each with a specific academic focus: technical/mechanical, scientific, fine arts/theatrical, improvisational, structural, and community service. There is also a non-competitive Challenge called Rising Stars!® for primary age students. The teams, consisting of 2 to 7 students, work for several months on these Challenges, generating their own solution without Interference from adults or non-team members. This idea of non-Interference is a basic tenet of the Destination Imagination program; adults provide organizational guidance and teach general skills, but all ideas and the implementation of those ideas must come from the students.

This Iowa team from Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment placed 7th out of 46 teams in its secondary level Challenge, The Solar Stage.

Destination Imagination is not just about long-term problem-solving, but also about on-the-spot problem-solving. Students learn how to solve on-the-spot problems by practicing Instant Challenges about which they have no advance information. At competition, teams have 5 to 9 minutes to solve a performance or task-based Instant Challenge. Their Instant Challenge score is added to their Team Challenge score, and then the teams are ranked. The first place team in every Challenge, in every level (elementary, middle, and secondary), earns the right to advance to Global Finals.

This improvisational team from West Des Moines, Iowa took 1st place out of 46 teams in the secondary level of its Instant Challenge.

My husband and I have officiated as Instant Challenge Appraisers at the last seven Destination Imagination Global Finals competitions, enjoying the creative problem-solving skills of the best teams from around the world. This year was the biggest Global Finals event ever, with 1,276 teams competing from 45 states, 7 Canadian provinces and 13 countries. There are actually 30 countries besides the U.S. that participate in Destination Imagination, but not all of them compete at a tournament, instead choosing to focus on the creative problem-solving process within their schools or communities. Teams are managed by adult facilitators called Team Managers; the non-profit program as a whole is run by 135,000 volunteers from around the world. At the Global Finals tournament alone, it takes an enormous team of officials to evaluate Instant Challenge, since every team passes through the Humanities Building where Instant Challenge is held.

Instant Challenge Appraisers

John and I got involved in Destination Imagination many years ago, when our son was a participant and I managed his team. When he moved on to other activities, John continued as an Appraiser, the program’s designation for a scoring official. Both of us eventually became state Board members, with John serving as Iowa’s Affiliate Challenge Master for Instant Challenge, and me becoming Iowa’s Co-Affiliate Training Director. I focus on training and support for Coordinators, Team Managers and teams, while my counterpart (the other Iowa Affiliate Training Director) provides training for Challenge Masters and Appraisers. In reality, though, our roles overlap, since we both support each other. All of the Board members wear multiple hats, serving wherever they are needed. We are all friends, enjoying each other’s company whenever we get together, which is monthly from August through December, and almost weekly from January through April, Iowa’s competitive season.

Students for a Creative Iowa Board members, front row (left to right): Mary Koester, Judy Nolan, Kristie Rhysdam, Sharon Wallace, Alisha Heisterkamp, Jay Swords. Back row: Bruce Antion, John Nolan, Keith Kutz, Steve Klawonn, Brenda Kutz, Mark Wilkins. Missing: Sam Hapke and James Honzatko.

Not all of us volunteer at Global Finals, but this year Iowa was represented by five individuals—four in Instant Challenge, and one in the Score Room. Your Affiliate Director nominates you in December, and then you are invited to apply for a volunteer role. Volunteers are selected from the applications with the goal being to balance such factors as experience, geography, age, gender and even problem-solving styles. My own Global Finals Appraisal team consisted of two men (Doug Memering from Indiana and Jake Carleton from Ohio) and two women (Ramona Booth from Mississippi and myself) of various ages, each from a different part of the country, with a range of years in program experience. A couple of us were external thinkers and the other two were internal thinkers. This diversity reflects the same kind of diversity you would expect to find among students who are part of a typical Destination Imagination team.

Clockwise, left to right: Doug Memering (Indiana), Head Appraiser; Ramona Booth, Mississippi (Timekeeper), and Jake Carleton, Ohio (Runner).

Global Finals volunteers arrive in Knoxville, Tennessee on Monday through Wednesday the week before Memorial Day each year. Many of them serve as Team Challenge or Instant Challenge officials, but others help out with team registration, sales, or one of the activity camps held during the competition. The Knoxville Convention Center, for example, is a hub of activity. Students meet there to trade pins with each other in much the same way that Olympians trade pins; it is a way to make friends and learn about international cultures. An Innovation Expo takes place with such exhibitors as NASA, ThinkFun, Casio, Texas Instruments and others presenting interesting and useful information. Books, games, bumper stickers, pins and other souvenirs are sold downstairs in the Convention Center. This year 3M held an event called “Explore the Uncharted Challenge” which was so popular that it remained open one evening so that officials could participate. Teams were challenged to design and construct crafts to safely transport life-sustaining supplies to new planets.

Global Finals begins with Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday night at the Thompson-Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. It is the largest university arena in the nation, which is essential when you have to accommodate 8,000 students, their supporters and Team Managers, volunteers, VIPs and Destination Imagination staff members—altogether about 17,000 people. Opening ceremonies includes a fantastic laser show, as well as a Parade of Flags.

Both competitors and their supporters are able to choose from a wide range of activities from the time of their arrival to the day they depart, including a Family Camp, an Improv Fiesta, and the Team Managers & Officials Challenge.

Other events include a Global Pep Rally, a  Glo Ball for high school and university students, and the 3M International Costume Ball where thousands of participants dressed in duct tape creations.

Competition takes place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Teams perform their Team Challenge on one day, and their Instant Challenge on another day. My Appraisal team evaluated middle school projectOUTREACH® (community service) teams who performed an Instant Challenge called “Tapestry.” They had 9 minutes to weave a picture using 50 colored strips of fabric on a loom, and to design a performance selling the tapestry to the Appraisers. Then they had 2 minutes to act out a presentation that had a complete beginning, middle and ending. We were amazed by many performances, but especially by the first place team from Minnesota that used every strip of fabric to weave its tapestry, and then sang for its entire presentation. We also saw international teams, who were accompanied by a translator. This is always an interesting experience! If you watch the video below real carefully during the Instant Challenge section, you’ll see a team weaving cloth into the loom. This video also does a good job of summarizing the entire tournament experience.

What were our days like as volunteer Appraisers? To be honest, they were a strange combination of exhilaration and exhaustion. We rose at 5:00 every morning to shower, dress and eat breakfast, then boarded a bus at 7:00 for the Humanities Building. Lunch was provided on site, but we were often too busy to take more than 10 minutes to eat, and breaks fell by the wayside as we attempted to keep on schedule. Our feet ached and swelled, and on the last day of competition, when it was 95 degrees, there was no air conditioning in the building until noon. Despite the physical challenges, we felt privileged to be a part of the creative process going on around us. One of the really fun things to do before the teams competed on Thursday was to go from room to room, solving (or attempting to solve!) some of the same Challenges that the students would be doing. After 3 consecutive days of appraising, we took down our Challenge and said our good byes before we got ready for an officials’ reception dinner and Closing Ceremonies. Thank you, Knoxville—we had a great time, overall, and hope to be back next year!

Closing Ceremonies at Thompson-Boling Arena, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Videos courtesy of Destination Imagination,