The challenge for today was very surprising. I happened to run into two former teammates from a previous challenge on the way into MDH so my team was formed before I walked through the door. Great start! We walked into the rotunda, looked around at the tables and something seemed strange. As we wrote all our names on the sign-up sheet, that’s when it hit me! There were no supplies on any of the tables! I was accustomed to the challenges in which we had to build something, but this one was different.
The Quotes and Famous Faces challenge required us to either 1) identify the person pictured on the screen or 2) identify the person who is famous for the quote shown on the screen. The use of cell phones and other technology to search the answer was prohibited and only one minute was allowed to submit an answer. This was done by writing the name on a piece of construction paper and handing it to the judge. Each answer was worth two points if both the first and last name was given or 1 point if just one name was submitted. Here’s the catch: only the first team who submits the correct answer is awarded the points! This stipulation created several obstacles. The first one is that your actual time to submit an answer now became less than a minute. Chances are some other group knows the answer as well so that limits, and in some cases eliminates discussion time. Now we were forced to agree as a group to trust each other’s answers to speed up the process of submitting an answer. Another obstacle is that you have to think, “Should I just write this person’s last name and get one point or risk another team delivering an answer faster and not getting any points?” So many split second decisions! The third obstacle is the physical delivery of the answer. Most groups decided to run to increase chances of a faster delivery.
The challenge was very frustrating to me. All the quotes looked familiar as if I’ve seen them before, but I just couldn’t think of who said half of them. And most of the pictures looked familiar, but I just couldn’t think of the person’s name fast enough. After the first few rounds I starting wondering, “What does this challenge have to do with innovation?” Maybe it was because the competitive spirit in me didn’t like the fact that I was losing. I mean, who cares who these people are and what they said…right? And how did some groups run up and deliver answers before we even started writing!? We began to use the time in between rounds as discussion time and deciphered two really important secrets to this challenge! The first was early in the challenge after the first few rounds. We realized that all the people who were quoted or pictured were innovative in some way. This drastically reduced the possible logical answers. However, the answers were still surprisingly broad, ranging from Mark Zuckerberg, one of the co-founders of Facebook to Michael Jordan, the inventor of the dunking from behind the free throw line. The second secret we didn’t think of until it was too late. We figured out teams were able to deliver answers immediately because they had already wrote down the name of multiple innovators. That way if the name came up they just grabbed the paper and ran to the front.
Overall this challenge was full of innovation. We realized that innovation comes in all forms and that successful innovation is driven by a mentality of perseverance. Many of the quotes shown were in reference to not giving up such as Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” In addition, the teams who figured out how to deliver answers faster were the most successful. Although our team didn’t win, I still enjoyed the challenge because it made me question my idea of what innovation actually entails. It’s not just creating an object. It involves generating ideas, expanding horizons, not taking “no” for an answer, and so much more!
Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins
Coming from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” fishing is part of my nature. However, this Weekly Innovation “Fishing” Challenge threw me off my game. This week’s task was to create a device to blindly “fish” out cups from behind a partition. The dozen or so plastic cups were filled with weights and provided a handle made out of construction paper and pencils stuck through the sides as points of attachment for our devices. The partition was about five feet tall and seven feet wide. In order for the “fish” to count, we had to place the cup directly into a cooler that was placed next to a chair that we had to remain seated in, which was several feet from the partition. We had 90 seconds to catch as many cups as possible and place them in the cooler.
Teams were given supplies such as a cardboard box, tape, markers, pens, fishing line, twine and scissors to create their fishing device. Our team decided upon the traditional pole, string and hook model. One member worked on creating a hook that could support the weighted cups, while the other two worked on constructing the pole. We built a very large pole, close to 10 feet long, so that we could have plenty of clearance over the partition and a wide range of control with the hook. Once we completed the pole, with an attached line and hook, we conducted a test run. We quickly discovered that our singular hook model offered no control over trying to blindly hook the cups, and that catching a cup would only occur through pure chance. Since adding bait was unlikely to increase our odds with this group of “fish,” we opted to add three more prongs to our hook. This method proved to be much more effective.
During the challenge, one member sat behind the partition with the pole while the other two were able to stand behind the partition in order to direct their fishing teammate. We were the third team to attempt the challenge, and while many teams unwittingly employed the catch and release rule, we were set on getting a trophy fish. Blindly hooking a cup was incredibly difficult. With both team members waving their hands, making wild gestures and shouting directions, it was near impossible to utilize the fishing pole we had made. With ten seconds of our time remaining, we managed catch and land a trophy fish. I swear it was at least a 6 foot and 50 pound fish! I suppose you will have to trust me on that, but our catch brought us to the final round with one other team. Unfortunately, communication continued to be a barrier to success and we took longer than the other team to catch another fish. While this challenge did not provide many lessons that I can take back with me to the many lakes of my home-state, I did learn the important lesson that despite effective design and technology, unless you can communicate and teach people how to use these devices in an equally effective manner, it is more than likely that you will render your advancements useless.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester
Student Reflection - September 3, 2014
This week’s challenge was a combination of the greatest hits from last
academic school year. Though I had participated in all three challenges
before, I was placed on a team with two freshmen who were experiencing
this event for the first time.
As the first challenge of the year, I feel that one of the main challenges all
teams had to overcome was communication. For new teams like mine,
we had to quickly assess the skills we brought to our group in order to
effectively collaborate on the tasks. For seasoned teams, they had to alter
their past knowledge and agree on how they would manage their time in
order to complete the three familiar tasks in under one hour.
In the end, my team struggled with the word scramble puzzle, and we
were subsequently unable to try the cup-stacking portion of the challenge.
Though we did not win, I feel that my team learned excellent ways at
collaborating with strangers in a respectful manner while under a time
Winning Reflection - Emily Hart
Student Reflection - April 30, 2014
Ever since I found out about the Weekly Innovation Challenge (WIC), it has been one of the highlights of my week. Each week, a few dozen students group into teams of three in the McDonnell Douglas rotunda where they face whatever tasks the organizers might devise. In my experience, the challenges have spanned a wide range, covering everything from engineering to entrepreneurship to dexterity. As a graduating senior, this was my last challenge, so I am using this final reflection to not only talk about today’s event but also highlight some of the lessons the WIC has shown me.
Today’s challenge: While many challenges require significant planning and critical evaluation by competitors, today’s event, “The Angry Birds Challenge,” gave us a more relaxing, skill-based contest. Similar to the popular video game, teams used a large slingshot to launch stuffed birds at three sets of cardboard and plastic structures in an effort to knock down the stuffed pig targets. Points were scored for each pig knocked off, weighting pigs hit in early attempts more than late ones. After each round, 2-3 teams were eliminated. Given the opportunity to practice, my team chose me to target the birds while they supported the sling. In the first and second rounds, we easily led the competition by knocking out 3-4 of the targets on each first shot. While that got us into the final round, our luck ran out soon after. Another team managed to topple the last structure, but our birds bounced right off it. Still, we had fun even if we didn’t win today, and it was really satisfying to hear the other competitors cheer in awe of our superior slinging in the first two rounds.
The WIC brings people together: Ever since I started doing the WIC, I have come into contact with many people both inside and outside of my department. I often find the best strategy is to come without a team in mind, because you never know what strengths new teammates might have that could be useful for the situation. Furthermore, it has also really shown me the diversity of our SLU community I might not see as clearly otherwise. In the past few semesters I have teamed up with international students, people from all majors from business to aerospace engineering, and even younger or older students from my own department who I might not normally meet. Today was a good example because I, a senior biochemistry student, was on a team with two graduate students with very different backgrounds.
Ideas should tell a story: Often, the WIC takes on an entrepreneurship dimension through activities like designing and pitching a new product or presenting a new logo for a company. From experience, I have seen that teams only succeed in these challenges if they can not only create an idea but also effectively convey it to the judges. In a classroom setting, merely knowing the material and understanding concepts are often sufficient, but giving a judged pitch really offers hands-on experience in teaching others and self-expression. Personally, I have noticed myself being a much more effective communicator about my research after being put in many WIC situations where I needed to make an idea and present it under pressure.
Any experience can be valuable in unexpected ways: The WIC changes every week, challenging teams to build unconventional structures, guess the identity of a sound or create a logo. As a result, my training in biochemistry does not usually directly apply, but my experiences at SLU and before always come in handy. The WIC has shown me that you never really know which of your experiences have been the most valuable until a situation arises. A good example of this was a few weeks ago, when my team needed to make a 10’ x 10’ square out of rope while blindfolded. Drawing on a seemingly unrelated experience, I remembered my time in marching band in high school, letting me use muscle memory of measured steps to set the right length for the square’s diagonal.
Take time to reflect: Each week, an additional prize is given to the top submitted reflection after the challenge besides the awards given to the winning team. Whenever I can, I try to send in a brief evaluation of the rules for the challenge, how my team approached it, and what experiences I had as a result. Often, I have found that in the heat of a challenge, important details can be missed. When rushing to pitch a new idea for education, it is easy to overlook the important and unique circumstances of other team members. Only by reflecting after the event could I better understand and gain a greater appreciation for different perspectives. Likewise, thinking about a challenge later that day can even offer a new perspective or approach that maybe none of the teams considered. I can’t count the number of times I did a challenge in one way only to think of a superior alternative that night.
For the past few semesters, the WIC has introduced me to many new people with whom I have teamed up to compete in all sorts of challenges. By reflecting on the challenges, it has helped demonstrate many valuable lessons. I am genuinely grateful for having this opportunity during my time at SLU, and I will remember my experiences as I head to another university for graduate school next year.
Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan
Student Reflection - April 23, 2014
Today was a special day at the WIC because we had the opportunity to present to actual business owners in the St. Louis area. The company we worked with serves made-to-order meals, but the packaging they use is hard to handle which slows down productivity. The point of the presentation was to design a tool that could speed up packaging time. The beauty of the objective is that our design had the potential to grow wings and actually serve a purpose in the business. The company could have liked our idea so much that they decided to manufacture it. We gained experience in the way of collaboration, presentation and creative design.
In all honesty, coming up with a feasible idea was difficult. Steamrolling through dozens of ideas, we clearly had a challenge on our hands. It was quite the struggle to devise something we could all agree upon. After all, we are talking about making something that has never been devised before. I gained the insight of knowing when to differentiate between criticizing a teammate’s idea and moving forward with it. It turned out the idea that won the competition was similar to one of the designs our team shot down. We really had to work together without getting frustrated with one another, which is really difficult to do on such a deadline. Fortunately, our team was strong enough to come up with an innovative design in time to present and we were all happy with the outcome.
Presenting the idea put us up against a whole new hurdle to jump. We had such little time to prepare and we really wanted to get the important points across. Now what we did have on our side was that we collaborated with the business owners during the design process and we were able to find out what their real challenges were and exactly what we could focus on. We found that they struggled the most with packaging liquid food in Ziploc bags and keeping air out. This gave us a leg up in presenting to the challenges they actually face. We developed a strong sense of teamwork and poise in presenting today. We never wavered when it came time to pitch and that gave us a shield of confidence we could carry throughout our day.
The creative process we performed really turned the gears in our heads and gave us the opportunity to exercise our brains. As I mentioned before, we went through at least a dozen ideas that we could have legitimately presented. The best part is that we can apply this design process to our classroom learning. One teammate mentioned to me that he was planning on using one of our ideas for a project he has due in a few weeks. I feel like we would not have come up with so many ideas if we were not facing the ticking clock. Something about being on a deadline pumps up the heart rate and gets the creative juices flowing.
The winning idea was truly well presented. The design poster clearly displayed the product along with its application. Competition for today’s challenge was really at a high point. The judges had to take extra time to decide, which shows how hard their choice really was. The best part of today is that we went into the challenge with confidence, we nailed the pitch, and we had a great time building experience we can take with us into our professional lives.
Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen
Student Reflection - April 16, 2014
This week’s challenge, Homerun, was about applying age-old principles to a new context. The general idea behind the challenge was to launch a baseball as far as possible. Had the judges given us a bat and an open field, this challenge would have turned out a completely different way. However, we were challenged to launch the baseball as far as possible using basic craft supplies. Among the materials to choose from were rubber bands, wooden dowels, string, cups, tape, bandanas, and an assortment of other like materials. This put the responsibility of heaving the ball as far as possible on a built machine. The challenge was judged based on the longitudinal distance the baseball was launched and the weight of the machine. The judging system actually favored a lighter machine over longer distance. This set up a central dilemma of determining how much material to use to propel such a heavy object.
For this entire year, I have been working with the same team members on weekly innovation challenges, until today. Arriving without teammates, I joined a team of two who had already formed. They turned out to be an urban studies major and an electrical engineering major. So, I was working with people I had not met before, people whose majors were also different from my own public health major. At first, we all worked well together. We went to the supplies table to grab anything that we thought might help us build a good contraption. We then re-grouped and discussed some ideas as to go about this challenge. We were not very concerned with the weight component of this challenge. The materials we were using were all very lightweight, and our first priority was to create something that would actually have the power to launch a baseball. We all agreed that we needed to create some sort of stable lever that we could use to launch the ball. We decided upon hot gluing the tip of a wooden dowel to a piece of a cylindrical cardboard container. This held the tip of the dowel in place. We then put a tape dispenser immediately behind the tip of the dowel, so that when we pulled back the free end of the dowel, the wood bent over the tape dispenser, building up energy. Where our team had trouble communicating and agreeing upon was what to use to hold the baseball in, in order for it to launch. We ended up settling on attaching a bandana to the top of the free end of the dowel in a fashion that might resemble an old-fashioned slingshot. So our system worked similar to if someone went up to a young tree, pulled it back from its top, and then released it, allowing the tree to spring back upright. We used this motion to launch our baseball. Except, our baseball never successfully launched. The power held in the dowel was not enough to throw the sizeable baseball. Our release system also did not work, as the baseball struggled to come free of the bandana.
A lot of teams tried to use rubber bands in order to launch the baseball, but these attempts only sent the baseball a matter of inches to maybe two feet. I think the short distances recorded for all the teams stem from the emphasis that was placed on the weight of the machine. In order to cut down on weight, teams also drastically cut down on the machine’s ability to launch the ball. From this, I learned the lesson that it is incredibly important to focus on the task at hand. Many challenges will have distracting complications, but there is always a goal that is trying to be achieved. The first priority, in this case, should have been getting the ball to launch. But, too many people focused on the efficiency of the machine, which resulted in poor performance. Today’s challenge was a permutation on the question of quality vs. quantity. This week, our team chose the wrong answer. But, the weekly innovation challenge did succeed in illustrating another concept of critical thinking and problem solving.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester
Student Reflection - April 9, 2014
Today’s challenge, By the Numbers, proved to be a task I was not expecting. It was like a game of hot potato on steroids where having a quick trigger finger on the answer was the key to winning. The challenge involved answering a series of questions whose answers were all numbers. The judge would tell you if your answer was high or low and you would pass the baton to the next group and the cycle would continue. The trick was to answer the question asked of the group without being the one holding the baton when the timer went off. Having the baton meant losing a point while reaching the right answer meant gaining a point. I found myself twitching and shaking trying to keep up with the madness of the event. The challenge today introduced aspects of teamwork, gut feelings, and working with a deadline.
There were so many moving parts to the challenge that having a team was critical to success. One team member would write down potential answers while the other would perform calculations and the third was responsible for answering and ridding the team of the baton as soon as possible. There was one point where it was my team’s turn to answer and I had no idea what to say when my teammate tapped my shoulder and revealed what turned out to be the correct answer by his calculation. Teamwork was the key to success in that instance and I am sure the other teams would tell you the same. Having a great team is what helped us do so well in the challenge.
Speed was an understated skill that we employed today. Being able to come up with a reasonable answer while trying to decipher what other groups are saying is quite a task. Losing a point from failure to recognize the timer was really a killer seeing as the winning team only had three points. Balance between time and thoughtfulness is often an obstacle we must face and the only way to get over it is to train our ability to make an impulse decision. A timer often binds some of the most important decisions I make. Today I learned how to overcome the jitters of thinking too hard by just acting with impulse and conviction. The best part about it is that I performed at my best when the clock was on.
The challenge actually put me on my toes and made me perform better the entire day. A challenge that gets the heart rate up and creates a quick thinking environment allows for me to blast out the mental cobwebs and run at my peak. The best part is that I can take what I learned today and apply it in school, at my job, and even when I am around friends. It helps make me be sharper in just about any social environment I may incur. There is something to be said about having the skill of quick wits. I am certain that I will take the speed I ran with today and use it to my advantage in the future.
The best part about the whole event is that I got to have fun with friends while learning valuable lessons in the process. I could write a list pages long of the skills I honed today. Choosing an answer and committing to it even though it is likely incorrect is tough. We have to learn to deal with failure by immediately learning from it. We failed more times than we won today but that brought us to appreciate our triumphs more. It helped us realize the value in a dedicated pursuit for the best solution. We did not let pitfalls get the best of us in today’s challenge. That is a badge of confidence we will uniform ourselves with from this day forward.
Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen
Student Reflection - April 2, 2014
This week’s innovation challenge, Keeping up with the News, challenged our group to come up with an innovation inspired from something found within a newspaper. The idea was that successful innovators often stay up to date on current events in order to be on the cutting edge of new developments. Our inspirational materials took the form of a local St. Louis paper, the USA Today and the New York Times. Each of our team members, a public health major, business and finance major and electrical engineer major, grabbed a paper and began searching for a story that would serve as the basis for a new innovation. This was a harder task than we had all thought. It was clear that we were not going to be able to create solutions to wide scale world issues that were being reported. None of us had a solution for the conflict with Russia, the location of the missing airplane or any game changers for America’s pastime, baseball. Our team finally stumbled upon an article that highlighted the efforts of Disney to incorporate RFID bracelets into their theme parks and lodgings to enhance the experience of their guests. Visitors could use the bracelets to get on rides or even scan into their hotel rooms. We did not know exactly what would come of this idea, but we knew it was the most promising article we had come across yet, and we would make it work. So, we went to tell the judges that we wanted to pick this article, since teams could not use an article that another team was already using. After looking through three newspapers and only finding one idea that we were hesitant on, it was just our luck that another team had already chosen to work with that article.
At this point, there was only about 15 minutes left in the challenge. We had hit a wall. With time running down and no ideas, our group’s mentality changed. We felt that with no ideas and no time, the pressure to create something significant was lowered, our standards had been lowered. Still without an idea, the proverbial “think outside the box” saying crossed my mind as I flipped through the puzzle section of the newspaper. Right in the middle of the page was the New York Times crossword puzzle. We thought this was exactly the out of the box thinking we would need at this time in the competition. We approached the judge to tell him what part of the paper we were using as our only source of information for an innovation. When shown the crossword puzzle, he responded, “Is this a joke?”
Now, it is not exactly encouraging to have someone ask if your source for inspiration is a joke. However, we did not let this stop us from working with the crossword puzzle as a source of innovation. From looking at a crossword puzzle, our team created “PIP”. This stands for the Personal Information Puzzle. In today’s world, more and more interactions occur over a technological media. A current trend is paying online or having cards that just need a quick swipe to pay. This mode of transaction has opened the door to the ever pressing issue of identity theft. There is little to no way of knowing who is truly behind a transaction of these sorts. PIP is a unique technology that integrates personal information and personal identification. PIP users create a question bank relating to their personal information, similar to that of clues given for a crossword puzzle. These questions may hint at various pieces of personal information such as place of birth, blood type, or name of your first pet. The user will then fill in the correct answers and a computer program generates an encrypted completed crossword. This takes the form of an image similar to a QR code. This image is unique to the user, and a computer can generate different sizes and combinations of the user’s information to create various personal information puzzles. When prompted, the user would have to answer one or more randomized personal information questions to complete their puzzle, which generates the unique puzzle image. This image can then be displayed on a phone to scan into buildings or secure locations or used to unlock a computer system. This system ensures the knowledge that the user of a form of identification is in fact who they claim to be since the source of the identification is personal information that only a certain individual would know. This tool may even have application in the health care field as a way to identify patients as well as gaining personal information through a puzzle that is unlocked by the user. Our group thought this product had served as an innovative way to link personal identification with personal information with many real world applications.
It was frustratingly difficult to come up with an idea in response to the challenge this week. Despite the initial struggle to think creatively, this challenge did afford several chances to learn about innovation. In the end, I think it was a good thing that another team had already taken the article about the Disney bracelets. Until we had been rejected, we were looking at the paper for something to inspire us. We were trying to force something in the paper to inspire some sort of innovation. We looked at something that was already created, something that was already innovative for a basis for further innovation. That was not an organic way to go about this challenge. Looking specifically for innovative ideas creates preconceived notions and ideas, thoughts that are not foundationally innovative. Not being able to work with the first article forced our group to really create, we did not search for inspiration but we became willing to be inspired. Our group also learned about the challenges innovators face in the initial stages of their ideas when many people may be critical of their inspiration or ideas. But we were able to work as a team and successfully innovate.
Winning Reflection - Theodore Stewart-Hester
Student Reflection - March 26, 2014
It was yet another creative day at the Weekly Innovation Challenge. Today’s challenge was all about being creative while not sacrificing convenience for on-the-road eaters. The objective was to come up with a package design that offers convenience and safety to busy individuals who often need to satisfy their hunger while driving. The target was for drive-thru, fast food restaurants.
Upon receiving the impromptu challenge prompt, my team, which consisted of a senior in biochemistry and myself, immediately drew up designs in our minds. After offering my idea of the cone-like cup that has a removable food tray on top and drink on the bottom, we agreed to elaborate on this idea after a short brainstorming session. We agreed this was a good design due to its simplicity, economical and convenience in nature. Since we had to deliver a pitch to convince the judges of the proposed design, we created posters to provide visual aid. We ended up winning the challenge based on the fact that our design was realistic, convenient and simple, among other things.
In conclusion, it was a good learning experience to pay attention to every detail of the problem we were trying to solve. In this case, we carefully accounted for many different aspects of the problem, such as the type of restaurant, type of food, consumer, driving habits, safety concerns, and so on. Having all the information laid out, discussing the problem was a breeze. For instance, we aimed to design a package with extra simplicity due to the fact that drivers needed one less thing to worry about to ensure their focus on the road; we knew the packaging had to be economical since they would be disposable, hence they were to be made of biodegradable card board. Overall, it was a meaningful and fun-filled challenge!
Winning Reflection - Aaron Phu
Student Reflection - March 19, 2014
While I try to attend the Weekly Innovation Challenge (WiC) often, my recent schedule has prevented me from competing in the past few weeks due to school-related travel. Today’s event ended up being a great way to get back into the competition. Because I always use the WIC to meet with new people from different backgrounds, my team this week consisted of a graduate aerospace engineering student, a sophomore business major, and me, a senior biochemistry major. Today’s event was the “Dash to the Finish Line”, and it provided a great opportunity for me to develop my teamwork skills with my new teammates.
For the challenge, the key theme was speed. In order to win, teams needed to be the fastest to complete the three sub-challenges. First, teams needed to solve the following code: “JEMPYVI MW RSX ER STXMSR”
Next, they were required to make a square pattern out of 40 feet of tangled rope while blindfolded. Finally, the last phase had individuals from each team rushing to repeat a color pattern dictated by the judges by touching the corresponding colors around the McDonnell Douglass rotunda. After each successful attempt, the color code was lengthened by one additional color.
Initially, my team struggled with the code challenge. We saw the first team complete it rather quickly and rush to the next event before my teammate tried swapping each letter with letters near to it alphabetically. Eventually, I noticed that the “ER” two letter word might correspond to “AN,” an actual two letter word whose letters were four below each of them in the alphabet. Therefore:
J E M P Y V I M W R S X E R S T X M S R
F A I L U R E I S N O T A N O P T I O N
Second, we quickly formulated a plan for the rope challenge. By untangling and then doubling over the rope twice, we had four lengths of ten feet each. I fixed the first corner while my teammates spread the two corresponding sides. Next, I needed to take the other corner diagonally away from me to finish the square. Because the square was 10 feet per side, I realized I needed to walk about 15 feet for the diagonal. I quickly remembered my marching band days in high school and used my muscle memory to go through 5 yards in 8 steps, the standard marching band step length. Despite the blindfolds, my team succeeded in making the square on our first attempt.
Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan
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