Frank Gehry's Designing By Prototype
Columnist Dale Dauten wrote recently about some of the insights on creative thinking gained from observing the revolutionary architect in "The Sketches of Frank Gehry," Director Sydney Pollack's first documentary, new on DVD. "We get to learn how a genius works," he writes.
"Frank Gehry is the architect who did the curving, soaring metal walls of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as well as Disney Hall in Los Angeles. He is the one who lets us walk into 'out of the box.'Dauten, taking the dare, as it were, starts creatively cross-referencing:
"During his early Gehry spent his time hanging out with artists rather than fellow architects.
"He works by taking sheets of heavy paper and making models out of them. Not blocks, not wood or Styrofoam, but paper. When one of the models becomes an idea worth pursuing, it goes through an evolution, a series of models of increasing sophistication."
"If we wanted to apply his style to, say, working on a new sales presentation, we wouldn't use other sales presentations for ideas, we'd use novels or plays, movies, paintings . . . maybe even, I don't know, zoos, or airports. And not just one, but dozens. Some would become rough models, several going at once.""Inside the brain of a genius lies lessons on generating & implementing ideas" by Dale Dauten, 5/6/07
(Gehry's "Dancing Building" in Prague. Uploaded on Flickr by astilly.)
Rapid Prototyping, Dan Bricklin, & "Serious Play"
This reminded me of another recent read on the power of creating with the method of "rapid prototyping," from Dan Bricklin's blog. Bricklin is of course the co-inventor of the electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc (the original Excel, and the first "killer app" on what were then "personal computers"), among other programming breakthroughs in simplification.
Bricklin was recommending a book by a friend of his, "Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate," by Michael Schrage. (Serious Play -- a mighty concept in its own right.)
"Ever since my father first taught me as a child to prototype things before I built them, simulation has been a major part of my career. He was a printer who learned to mock up brochures and newsletters before printing to make sure his customers knew what they'd get. I applied the technique when creating the spreadsheet, itself a prototyping tool, going through several prototypes before Bob (Frankston) and I built the real thing, learning a lot from each."
The principle here is to work fast and loose in the draft phase, to let the ideas flow. Then it's easier to see what you've got, so you're constructing the end-product from an already evolved version. That's the right time to get real particular about the particulars, not when you're first developing the raw idea.
InnovationTools' "Quote of the Week" is from Mitch
In a nice and unexpected coincidence with the kickoff of our blog here, the Quote of the Week in the current InnovationWeek newsletter is from our own Mitch Ditkoff, President and co-founder of Idea Champions. The newsletter is published by the respected InnovationTools.com.
Innovation Quote of the Week
"In today's flattened, restructured, downsized organization, your role is much more than getting the best out of people. It's getting the best out of the best part of people - out of their inspired imaginations, their ability to dream, conjure and conceive - and transforming those inspired ideas into the products, services and improvements that will not only keep your business humming, but make the world an even better place for all of us to live."
- Mitch Ditkoff
The quote comes from near the end of an article of Mitch's, "Innovation Coaching, The Manager as Idea Midwife." The article also appears on the InnovationTools site (demonstrating at the very least what a thorough reader their Chuck Frey is). July 24, 2007
Talking Innovation: 3M's Secret Weapon
When talking (or blogging) about practical innovation in the corporate world, there's no better place to start than 3M, a company whose name has become synonymous with the word. 3M is committed to 30% of its revenues coming from recently introduced new products.
Impressive, indeed, but how do they do it?
Dr. Larry Wendling, VP of 3M's corporate research labs, revealed 3M's "secret weapon," in what he refers to as the "Seven Habits of Highly Innovative Organizations."
The Seven Habits are (paraphrased from Amy Rowell's Innovate Forum article):
1. Totally commit to innovation from top management on down.
2. Actively maintain an innovative culture.
3. Maintain a broad base of technology.
4. Encourage formal and informal networking.
5. Reward employees.
6. Quantify efforts.
7. Tie research to customers.
It all makes perfect sense, of course, starting with Wendling's first habit, the commitment of top management. But the fourth habit, what Wendling calls 3M's "secret weapon," is often overlooked, or even ignored, much of the time in organizations. In Rowell's words: "Talk, talk, talk. Management at 3M has long encouraged networking -- formal and informal -- among its researchers."
I think Wendling calls this 3M's "secret weapon" because so few other companies do this well, or are even aware of its importance. But what could be more important to innovation than encouraging the collaboration and teamwork we know lies behind every innovation since the invention of the wheel?
This is where the "silo" mentality and the "not invented here" syndrome intrudes on an innovation culture. Strict, formal reporting structures, loyalty to business unit before the organization, and the human tendency to only interact with people who already share our own views and experiences, all come into play. Any or all of these can block, or at least slow down, many companies' internal "network of innovation."
I can't tell you how many times I've facilitated a brainstorm session at a major corporation when a proposed idea will get criticized, or even rejected, because the development of the idea would involve another department or business unit! Sometimes the excuse is that there is no protocol for working with the other unit, and one would have to be created. Sometimes there is a poor previous history of collaboration between the two departments, (often involving, unsurprisingly, the two people at the top of each division).
In any case, I can't help but wonder how many great ideas fall between the cracks because executing them falls between the purviews of two different departments. And, unfortunately, it is in space between two major realms of focused business activity where we would expect to find some of the most exciting and profitable innovations!
To its credit, 3M actively encourages employees to talk to each other; across business units and despite formal roles, responsibilities, and organizational charts. If an employee has the kernel of an idea, he (or she) has the permission, indeed, the responsibility, to reach out and find out if it's viable, or if someone else has the missing piece. They're free to ask if others are interested in developing it, no matter where they work in the organization! (You mean you're allowed to DO that? Who knew?)
So, how does YOUR company's culture deal with employee networking? Does it encourage employees reaching out across organizational boundaries to share insights and ideas? Does it ignore this important aspect of innovation? Or is it actually hostile to it, punishing employees who reach out to others in order to get something started?
Here's a relatively cost-free way to improve the culture of innovation of your organization. Take advantage of 3M's experience and success and make employee networking your innovation "secret weapon" as well.
And, yes, you ARE allowed to do that!
Welcome to the Heart of Innovation, Idea Champions' new blog -- a place to slow down, take a breath, and spark new possibilities. If you're interested in what it takes to get past your limiting assumptions, access your brilliance, and turn creative thought into action, you've come to the right place.
This is an equal opportunity blog. Everyone is welcome. Whether you're left-brained, right-brained, whole-brained, or air-brained, you'll find plenty of inspiration, insights, and tools to help you on your way. We've been working with major corporations since 1986, and have gotten quite a guided tour of what enables innovation and what gets in its way -- both for individuals and for organizations. We'll be sharing lessons and tales from our epic saga here, with a special focus on what it takes for organizations to establish a sustainable culture of innovation.
So relax. For the moment, forget all the books you've read, pundits you've listened to, and best practices you've heard about. When it comes right down to it, innovation is all about you, a hopefully inspired human being committed to getting your most meaningful ideas out of your head and into the world. The world needs your ideas. Now's the time for you to connect with others, and do your best to make magic happen.
We hope you'll find the spark that lights your genius here.
Whatever we choose to focus on, you can count on one thing: we're going to keep it simple. As the great jazz musician, Charles Mingus, once said; "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."