Check out the Rube Goldberg technique to Pass the Salt

Rube Goldberg was a true NL – engineer, sculptor, inventor, author and cartoonist. In his cartoons, he used gadgets to accomplish basic tasks in convoluted chain-reaction ways. Kinetic artist Joseph Herscher leverages his own nonlinear thinking to design a creative chain-reaction process to carry out a fairly linear way to “Pass the Salt”.

Nonlinear thinkers thrive on challenges and figuring out how things work. In his cartoons, Rube Goldberg drew devices that relied on a series of chain reactions – usually very complicated – to achieve a simple act such as passing the salt to another person at the table. Chain-reaction processes or devices have been created for generations. Even Leonardo da Vinci described an alarm clock-type device that used slow dripping water to fill up a container which then triggered a lever that would wake up the person sleeping. 

Chain-reaction processes stimulate students’ minds when it comes to applying science principles. YouTube has great examples of many of these projects. Competitions have been held at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, MA and Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA offering awards to students for building Rube Goldberg machines.

Mental modeling, creativity and innovative thinking go into designing these chain reactions which often require countless attempts to achieve the desired results. Their creators are undaunted by the “failures” because they serve to spur them on to find the solutions. It could be a different gadget or realigning an object by what might be a fraction of an inch in order to trigger the desired reaction. And while the end result is rewarding, the process of actually figuring out how to arrive at the desired result is its own reward. To see more of Joseph Herscher’s innovations, check out his website at He epitomizes a nonlinear thinker who has a big picture perspective on what he wants to achieve and has fun in the creative process.