Today’s challenge caught me off guard. As I walked into MDH I met up with a former group I have been with and noticed that the tables were set up in a different fashion than normal, also there wasn’t anything to build with. That meant one of two things, trivia or elevator pitches. In this instance it was trivia, but the secret was that it was dodge ball trivia.
In Q&A Dodge, each team is given 12 questions and is pitted face to face against another team. From the 12 questions each team has to decide on one question to give to the opposing team to answer. The trick is if the opposing team answers the question correctly they earn one point and you lose one point, but if they get it wrong there is no point gain or loss. So, you want to give the opposing team a question that you think they cannot answer while correctly answering the question they give you. After each question is answered you rotate, face a new team, and repeat.
Trivia challenges always seem like more of a difficult task to me because you have to draw information from more broad subjects than just engineering. You have to be either a really good educated guesser or somehow actually know what the answer is. As we were going through our questions I knew most of the ones we were giving to our opposing teams, and the questions we were receiving kept me on my toes whether I, or my team, knew them or not. The categories ranged from geography, to currency, to periodic table of elements, and even to spoiling food. It was extremely broad, I felt a little overwhelmed by the diverse questions I was being assaulted with each round. I began to question the validity of this week’s challenge. It just did not seem very innovating, compared to the build challenges or the elevator pitches.
About half way through the challenge while the judges were tallying scores, it dawned on me. Innovation is not just about creating some cool new toy or solving a complex problem to improve the efficiency of a power plant. It is about being aware of the problems of the community and finding ways to fix those problems. This challenge was not about being a renaissance man/woman and knowing the answer to all of the questions, but rather it was to make us more aware of the world around us. By making us more aware it will in turn make us better engineers by realizing that the world is full of diverse problems, people, and ways of answering questions. For example as an engineer it would look bad if you designed a streetcar for an area that is mainly rural and has few, if no, paved roads. As engineers we have to find ways to create new technologies or implement existing ones in new ways in different and diverse areas of the world, or out of this world. Much like answering these trivia questions stressed knowing a multitude of different fields, so too does innovation.
In the end, my team tied for first and went into a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was composed of three randomly selected questions, and we ended up putting up a good fight but losing in the end. I did really enjoy the challenge because of the different perspective on innovation it gave me. Innovation is all about shaping the world to be better for everyone, no matter how different others are.
Winning Reflection - David Clark
This week’s challenge involved hands on construction; one of my favorite types of challenges. The task was to build a bridge out of items like cardboard, rubber bands, markers, pens, popsicle sticks, noodles and string. This bridge had to span a two foot gap and hold weight ranging from two to four kilograms. Before any materials could be gathered, teams were required to brainstorm for 10 minutes. After the ten minutes were up, the building supplies were available for the taking. There were surprisingly few resources for the amount of teams that were competing, so it was quite frenzied at the supply table. Another component of the challenge was that the winners would be the builders whose bridge not only held the weight, but were turned in the fastest. So, if two or more teams completed the challenge, the team that took the least amount of time on the construction would be declared the winner.
The team I was on comprised of a civil engineer, an electrical engineer and a public health major (me). During our brainstorming period, we defaulted much of our decisions to the civil engineer, given the task at hand. We developed a plan to include trusses on a multi-layered bridge to support the heavy weight. When the brainstorming period was up, we got all the supplies that we needed. Then, we quickly realized that constructing such a bridge would be entirely too time consuming. Our design then shifted to a construction of cardboard pieces that were layered in an overlapping manner to enhance the structure’s strength. Our bridge was bound by rubber bands and reinforced with pens and markers. We were the fourth team to turn a bridge in to the judges. After turning in the bridge, the civil engineer student thought of a new way to fold the cardboard into long triangular tubes so that the bridge would have abundant strength. We decided to gamble on the idea that many other bridges would not be able to support the weight and we took our bridge back to make some adjustments. After resubmitting the bridge, we were third from last. This was not a good position to be in, because if any bridges that were turned in before us held the weight, we would lose, even if ours could hold the weight. The first few bridges collapsed under two kilograms. Our revisions were very successful and the bridge was able to hold four kilograms of weight for longer than six seconds. Many of the bridges that were then tested failed to hold the weight. In the end there were only a few bridges that completed the challenge. Interestingly enough, the team that finished first, also completed the challenge. So, they won outright as the fastest successful design.
I had expected that the bridges would have been judged on their overall strength and not the speed at which they were completed. The speed component of the challenge through a wrench in our process. This task required teams to prioritize the objectives of the task in a way that was not necessarily intuitive. Had we outlined our goals and priorities initially, we may have been both successful and speedy. The importance of brainstorming for projects was highlighted by this task because it provided time for teams to prioritize how they would approach this task. Brainstorming is not just about the final project design; it also involves ideas on the processes and ways to go about getting to the end goal. It was interesting to note that of the bridges that were successful, there was significant diversity among their designs and materials. With the limited materials that I mentioned earlier, I thought that this challenge may come down to whichever team was aggressive enough to get the proper materials. However, this challenge reiterated the idea that broad concepts, like physics, apply to systems regardless of their materials. This perspective can be taken to the realm of innovation as there are certainly broader concepts of innovation that can be applied to any project to promote a successful outcome. The elucidation of these broader concepts is, in fact, at the root of why we participate and reflect upon the weekly innovation challenges.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester
Today’s challenge was a perfect example of the importance of innovation. We were tasked with finding a solution to a real-world problem. The TSA Streamlining Challenge required us to invent a method that would reduce the screening lines at airports. We were allowed to use the internet as a major resource, but the main resource we needed was time. With only 90 seconds for the pitch and less than an hour to develop the idea, this proved to be a difficult challenge. One obstacle is that we find something new to the field that has not already been implemented. Hard to believe some great ideas exist that the airline industry has not already used. Our best bet was to expand on an idea that is utilized currently. This leads to the second problem, which is what area of the TSA Security checkpoint should we expand on?
The initial way to solve these two obstacles was through communication, not only amongst ourselves, but also using the internet as a source to get extra feedback. The internet provided us with pieces of information and we had to collectively put them together in a sensible manner. The teamwork aspect was pretty tough as well because our ideas didn’t match up completely. We were left with the possibility of combining all of our thoughts into one main idea or going with the best option. We chose to go with the best idea because we only had a 90 second pitch and it would be hard to convey a broad idea in that time frame. In addition, it was easier to address a single issue. We chose to try and make the body and bag scan process more efficient. Our idea was to have three conveyor belts: one for people and one for each carry-on luggage bag. The people carrier would have a metal detector scanner and a chemical scanner while the two baggage lines would have x-ray detectors. For the sake of our business plan, we decided to give our idea a fancy name. It was called the “Transportation Safety Accelerator” or TSA for short. We definitely intended to have those initials! Also we wanted to emphasize that TSA agents would use the training they already have working with the current system to check bags and people for anything suspicious. This allowed money and time to be saved because there was no need to re-train the workers. Any flagged item or person would be removed for more extensive searches to avoid hold ups in the line.
In the end our group did not end up winning. The other team had a better business idea. Instead of trying to think of the latest and greatest machine to save time, they decided to take a more practical approach. I can’t remember all of the points to their idea, but I remember one of the points was using compartmentalized trays in order to separate the different items that had to be scanned. One important lesson I learned is that the technology is only as good as its implementation. It is better to be more practical. We didn’t even think as far as problem solving for any malfunctions with our inventions. If our machine jammed, it would create more problems than its worth. Sometimes the best answer to a problem is the simplest one, because it avoids adding additional problems.
Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins
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