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How did the stop sign get there?


There are some days when I am just in a lousy rut. Some days, I find myself looking at an assignment, an action item, or a blank screen begging for a catalyst for ideas. I have historically used idea-creation methods begging to invigorate creativity. Some tools like storyboards or the Oblique Strategies could be successful, but sometimes the void is stronger than the tool.


Go walk


When I find myself here, it is time to walk. It is time to run without headphones, walk a trail I am familiar with, or insert an activity that repeats like a scratched record player. The simplicity is intentional because it allows me to emphasize that the void is due to a personal lack of exploration versus a tangible lack of ideas. Recently, I found myself in this type of rut, so I stared at a stop sign in an intersection to get me back in the groove. Yes, my catalyst was going to be a stop sign.


I caught myself stressing about what life was throwing at me. I was frustrated that Spotify had not given me anything new to listen to and that the rain seemed to have not slowed down for a week. I found myself begging for something innovative, creative, and something I could build off of.


What can we learn about a stop sign?


There was a four-way stop sign that I was rolling up to in my Toyota Tacoma. As I slowly braked to four my delegated stop sign, I stared intensely at the stop sign and the corresponding activities of the other cards. As other cars obliged to their stop sign, I repeated the gesture when it was my turn. Within the non-verbal coordination of the drivers of the vehicles, I proceeded to my destination by depressing the gas pedal. But, in return, I thought about the stop sign.


What is the origins of the road? What road came first before the creation of an intersection? Who was the original designer of the intersection at this precise location? What is the decision-making process for four stop signs versus two in an intersection? Why use stop signs within the design versus a red blinking four-way light? If a light was an option, why not put a blinking red light in two directions, then perpendicular to that arrangement, two yellows that allow two directions to yield versus stop? How do you know that the adjacent cars to a blinking red light, have a blinking yellow light?


Because of the legal obligation to stop, how many brakes can we save per year if we put the yellow light in two directions and the red the other two ways? When consuming a brake pad, how much graphite is consumed per year due to braking at four-way stops? How many people use their brakes when coasting versus yielding to a red? Has the decrease in manual transmissions impacted the amount of brake replacements per year internationally?


How does a department trigger a service request when the light stops working? Is the frequency of a red blinking light the same across all states? What are the lumens of a red light? Is there a regulatory specification on the lumens? Is the pattern frequency of a red blinking light the same across all countries?


What was the historical relevance of STOP being all caps-lock? What is the name of the font for a stop sign? Who is the original creator of that font? What type of galvanized coating is selected and then coated for a stop sign? Is an autonomous driving vehicle looking at the color, letters, and shape of a stop sign, or does it strictly rely upon the mapping functionality to determine when a sign is present?


Reflecting on how to generate ideas


I remind myself, I can list dozens of thoughts and conversations on something as simple as the systems and relevance of a random stop sign, I can trigger thoughts to explore and conversations to begin. This is an approach I use to provoke action and emphasize that I am simply not looking. It isn’t about how hard you are looking or how hard you are working in all cases. Instead, when I find myself in a position with no ideas, I stop to explore the vastness only limited by me.


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