Are We Still In Kansas? (Don't Think So)
This insightful video showed up on YouTube eight months ago, posted by an assistant Cultural Anthropology Professor at Kansas State University, Michael Wesch. It's a fast-paced reminder about how quickly digital text and open content are transforming human (machine) communications.
3.3 million people have viewed it already, so if you haven't, it's a good thing you're about to. It's almost 2008.
A short interview with Michael Wesch is here. The montage image is a dissolve frame from his video.August 25, 2007
Fair Winds: linkage report
At the ripe young age of one month, The Heart of Innovation has been attracting some attention on the Web. Several blogs have picked up on our conversation recently:
Fast Company --
FC Now, Fast Company magazine's regular staff blog, ran an Innovation Wednesday feature, "Corel's Virtual Garage" (8/22) based on Mitch's post, "It's Innovation Time at the OK Corel."
They really got into it in depth:
"Intrigued by the Corel concept -- I first heard about it here - I got in touch with Adam McKinty, Director of User Experience Design at Corel, and Jennifer Fraser, the Lead User Experience Designer, who walked me through the development of the system."
And they got off one pretty sly remark in particular:
"At the end of the day, innovation must create value. (Otherwise it's just bloviation, which can also only be measured using trailing indicators.)"
"Tim tells this innovation case history in a very engaging style. I highly recommend that you read it," Frey says.
"En weblog om IP og Innovation,' Denmark. This Danish blog also just published an item on Tim's Newton story, "Succesfuld innovation lÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¸ser det rigtige problem." But we really can't tell you anything about their take, because it is in Danish, which AltaVista's Babelfish translation ne parlez pas.
For anyone who does read the language, though, you'll be amused by their conclusion:
"Apple tabte markedet og en halv milliard dollars i forsknings udgifter. Hvad er moralen? Den er:
* fokuser pÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¥ din kunde
* hvad vil han have for en lÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¸sning,
* vil din lÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¸sning give ham mere vÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¦rdi i forhold til andre
"Det er jo ren LEAN ;-) "
Added us to their Blogrolls
- InnovationTools, "Innovation & Creativity Weblogs"
- Think For A Change (Paul Williams), "Innovation Blogroll"
(We watch these developments mostly from our lofty treetop perch on Technorati, where we can spot who in their network, at least, has found us.)
August 21, 2007
Thanks for reading!
Building "Living Space" around Railroad Stations
A great idea, wherever it's found, is a wonder to behold. Newsday, the major daily of Long Island, New York, published an article last week, "Living Space" (8/12), on suggestions from some architecture students for "more affordable housing for singles and young families," a big issue on the big, expensive island.
All four students (from the New York Institute of Technology) share some good ideas. But one in particular, John Patrick Winberry, came up with a concept with great synergy, that admirable quality of solving more than just the problem at hand.
"More than a place to park your car"
"Imagine that at each major stop along the Long Island Rail Road, communities of housing, dining and shopping were built above existing parking lots. Parking garages would be underneath the new buildings.
"Given the location, generally within walking distance of an existing shopping area, residents would have little need for a car.
"A railroad station would no longer be a stop along a route, but a destination in itself. Even better, each of these hubs would be connected along the main arteries of the LIRR, ensuring easy accessibility within Long Island without the use of a car.
"The apartments would attract young professionals wanting easy access to commute to work in Manhattan and a lively community to come home to without having to drive."
This is just plain brilliant. As anyone who spends any time on Long Island will tell you, traffic is a tremendous headache -- and even that's a sizable understatement.
The Long Island Expressway was built to whiz drivers from one end of the island to the other, but a couple years back it attained the state of almost permanet gridlock. People have bitterly reinterpreted its acronym with the updated meaning: now it's referred to as "the Big LIE."
So here's a young planner who was able to look at the problem of affordable housing in a fresh way, imagining a method that also makes a dent in another, tightly related problem. It's apparent that Mr. Winberry has some good "living space" between his ears.
Naturally, the Newsday article characterized these young architects' ideas as being "out-of-the-box." What, again? Can there be no "creative" suggestion any more that isn't measured with that damn box?
Here's a wish that fans of innovation-and-creativity will one day have the courage to throw that "box" into a uniquely designed conceptual garbage can. Yes, we realize we're talking about the ol' "square peg and round hole" here; but we're convinced it can be done.
(Image uploaded to Flickr 8/16/07 by ultraclay!) August 16, 2007
The Science of Innovation
(By Farrell Reynolds)
I look at Innovation as I would any Science; that is, from the angles of Theoretical, Applied and Practical. I feel many corporations do look at Innovation only from the theoretical POV.
That's fine, but it can't end there. If it does, Innovation becomes a "soft" science, nice to have around but not a "must have" part of the operation. These types of activities are usually the first to go when budgets get trimmed, and are never given the gravitas and respect they deserve.
What does it take to have Innovation looked at as an essential part of the operation of a company, as a hard science that can be applied and practiced?
- Make it a requirement. Markets, distribution and supply channels, customer appetites and the competitive landscape are in a state of constant change. To keep in front of this change requires Innovation. "Don't show up without it!"
- Foster it. People don't just gravitate to innovation. Innovation is hard work. We all must be educated and trained in it. Senior executives must put that training and education in their budgets as they do other types of overhead.
- Don't believe for a minute that innovation is like A Field of Dreams. "Build it and they will come" is folly when trying to create an innovative environment. It must be taught, modeled and rewarded.
- Any Innovation plan must be just that, a hard plan. It can't be an "initiative." A plan has to have milestones and expected results.
These results must be measurable and memorialized in writing. The plan must be full of great leaps. It can't be yesterday's plan with tomorrow's date on it. I'm always amazed how frequently that happens, but I'm not surprised. Innovation is scary and it is hard.
- Just as Innovation must have clear expectations and timelines, it must also have clear rewards. And these rewards should be outrageous!
- Using innovation merely to cut costs is picking the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. It's not even that, now that I think of it -- it's tantamount to picking the fruit up off the ground.
A truly robust, energized and productive Innovation program and culture must be about stellar performance, astounding and consistent displays of energy and creativity, attitudes and aptitudes that bring about cascades of revenue and a feeling of lightness and love permeating the entire organization.
In closing, I'm reminded of the cartoon of two buzzards sitting on a bare branch looking out at a bleak setting. One turns to the other and says, "Screw patience. Let's go out and eat something."
Author: Farrell Reynolds
I recently ran across an article that got me thinking about how what we measure can change the way we think about what we measure, and how the latest technology which enables us to measure more and more things is not always our friend.
For several decades now, baseball scouts and coaches have used radar guns to measure how hard pitchers throw. In fact, you can always spot a scout at a baseball game because he's the guy in the stands behind the plate with the radar gun pointed at the pitcher and zealously jotting down little nuggets of facts in his notebook like a squirrel gathering acorns.
Not surprisingly, over time, baseball people have come to value pitchers who can throw hard (95 MPH and faster). This seems to make sense at face value; but if we think about it a bit more we have to ask if throwing a baseball faster actually makes one a better pitcher. The answer is - not necessarily.
There are many factors which come into play in making a pitcher effective. Among these factors are:
1) does the pitcher throw the ball exactly where he wants to throw it?,
2) is it easy or difficult for the batter to see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand?,
3) can the pitcher throw his array of pitches at different speeds, confusing the batter's timing?, and
4) mound presence; that is, can the pitcher deal with adversity, or does he get rattled when things go wrong? (And they always go wrong.)
Those factors are all more important than how hard a pitcher can throw a baseball. But baseball's obsession with pitch speed, catalyzed by their ease at measuring it due to the radar gun, has caused some organizations to lose focus on what they're really trying to gauge; that is, the pitcher's effectiveness -- can he get batters out?
The Kansas City Royals are engaged in an experiment to challenge the assumption that faster is better.
Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, has issued an edict banning radar guns from the lower levels of the organization, where young drafted players first go to gain experience and develop their skills. Moore believes that this will eliminate a big distraction for young pitchers who get caught up in throwing hard, in order to be noticed and promoted, and forget about their jobs of learning how to get batters out.
Only time will tell if Moore's hunches are right, but I, and a host of soft-throwing pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame like Whitey Ford and Hoyt Wilhelm, are willing to bet that they are.
Let's end this little thought with the contemporary economist Adam Smith, who said...
Some years ago the sociologist and pollster Daniel Yankelovich described a process he called the McNamara fallacy, after the Secretary of Defense who had so carefully quantified the Vietnam War.
'The first step,' he said, 'is to measure what can easily be measured. The second is to disregard what can't be measured, or give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily isn't very important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist.'
The philosopher A. N. Whitehead called this tendency, in another form, 'the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.'
-- "Adam Smith" (George G. W. Goodman), Paper Money, New York: Summit Books, 1981, p. 37
So, the question is, are contemporary business and government leaders all too quickly and lazily falling into the trap of McNamara's Fallacy? Are we measuring only that which is easy to measure (and money, for one thing, is easy to measure) and making decisions based merely on those numbers because other important factors, such as long-term effects on quality of life and the environment, are just too difficult to quantify? Should we all be rethinking what we measure and why, just like the Kansas City Royals are? And what are our own industry's "radar gun measurements" that give us easy-to-acquire numbers that gather importance simply because they're easy to get?
Finally,this seems as appropriate an occasion as any to remind you of the immortal words of that Big Guy in the Sky...no, not HIM/HER/IT... but Albert Einstein who, as we all know by now once said: "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts!"
(Photo from Flickr by chuckles396)August 11, 2007
Lose Yourself or Find Yourself?
OK. We now take a brief break from the so-called world of innovation to ask you a very simple question -- one that is more about YOU than whatever it is you are trying to create. (If you hear the sound of one hand clapping in this, give yourself a round of applause.)
Here goes: Is your intention to create something new in this world driven by the need to FIND YOURSELF or LOSE YOURSELF?
Both? Neither? Something else?
If your effort to innovate is all about trying to fill an emptiness inside you, your results will suffer. If your effort to innovate is a veiled attempt to run from who you are, your results will also suffer. You MIGHT, of course, accomplish great things in your inspired efforts to make a difference in the world, but ultimately you will have missed the boat -- the one you are already on.
Intrinsically motivated, whole-hearted, fascinated-by-life innovators realize that the ultimate innovation is the INNOVATOR. Our masterpiece is US -- the one attempting to create the masterpiece.
The word "innovation" comes from the Latin "innovare," meaning "to make new... to renew." If you really want to innovate, understand that YOU are the "thing" being renewed. The fruit of your labor may or may not materialize, but the renewal inside you is REALLY what the whole dance is all about. This may sound woo woo to you, but it's true. And this is where the fun begins...Individualists Make the Wisest Crowds
The blurb below, promoting James Surowiecki's talk at Tim O'Reilly's 2005 Emerging Technology Conference, makes a great point. The basic message?
A crowd is wisest when each member retains a strong individual point of view.
"In the past few years, we've seen a powerful and justifiable groundswell of interest in and adoption of bottom-up and collaborative approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. It's now clear that under the right circumstances, these approaches can be remarkably effective, and can yield solutions that are consistently better than those produced by even the smartest expert. Groups, instead of falling to their lowest common denominator, can often rise to the level of their best member and beyond.
"The paradox, though, is that groups are typically smartest when the people in them act as much like individuals as possible--when they rely primarily on their own private information, when their opinions are independent, and when their judgments are not determined by their peers."
Paradoxical, yes, but in your gut you know it's right. The essence of collaboration is not necessarily "teamwork" in the classic, competitive sense. Rather it depends on every person being passionately and enthusiastically productive, however they happen to "get into it." In a company context, it's a team leader's job to be on the lookout for what each individual needs to stay in their productive passion.
Google coddles its creative teams with every conceivable convenience, but it also draws the line at "techno-arrogance." A "smarter than them" attitude is simply not collaborative or encouraged. Engineers who think they're smarter than the folks using their stuff are deadly to a user-centric company like Google.
People can be brilliant individuals and have great ideas without any "smarter than you" pretense being laid on top. Better to be a love cat, as Tim Sanders puts it in his book "Love is the Killer App."
It's up to individuals and their mentors, leaders and coaches to make sure each crowdster brings all their "flavor" when he or she shows up. It also helps when each person gets away from "smarter than you" pretenses by finding some brilliance in a few fellow crowdsters - something that's "smarter than me" - and champions it. Mix equal amounts of brilliance, assertiveness and humility together and you'll have a pretty wise crowd.August 10, 2007
How the great Celtics teams won: by Keeping It Simple
For those of you not up on your basketball lore, the (newly reborn, triple-threat) Boston Celtics won something like eleventeen championships under Red Auerbach, as coach then as team-building GM. Auerbach died last year at a still-feisty 89.
Bob Cousy was a central figure in the first six of those titles, teaming up with Bill Russell. Cousy was a 13-time All-Star, named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in '96, and the original ball-handling wizard throwing jaw-dropping passes with his x-ray court vision.
In one of his books, he talked about how much Red Auerbach's pragmatic management style contributed to their success.
"Red wasn't worried about X's and O's. He seldom is. His approach is to go to the heart of the problem and try to solve it.
"Auerbach continued to demonstrate that he knows how to win with the least amount of wasted motion in the most pragmatic way. He could appraise talent, he could motivate players, and he was an excellent bench coach.
"His was a glorified seat-of-the-pants approach. Once he got the players, Red exercised little direction other than gearing some plays to match individual talents.
"With Red it was, what does it take to win? Find the talent, get them in shape, keep them motivated, and don't get fancy. That's basically what we did."
- From Cousy on the Celtic Mystique, by Bob Cousy and Bob Ryan, 1988.
Anything that Auerbach said more than once is a permanent, glorified part of the Celtics Legend, so it's often repeated what he'd say to the players the comparatively few times they came back to the bench in disarray: "Let's keep it simple, fellas." August 09, 2007
Is Crowdsourcing Innovation's Future?
There's been an explosion of Web 2.0 creativity over the last two years, with thousands of freelance developers and shops around the world adding daily to a burgeoning inventory of cool tools and web services.
2007 is the Year of the Mashup, says Business Week. Hop over to Newsweek/MSNBC and we're in the Year of the Widget. Whatever they call it, digital screens large and small suddenly have more cool dashboards, handy web services and must-have plug-ins than anyone can keep track of.
How did this come about? Well, in 2005 an amazing thing happened. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and other major Web brands started crowdsourcing. They opened up formerly proprietary code for some of their key API's (application programming interfaces) to the world's freelance developers. Realizing how much global creative energy there is to tap, and how limited their own resources were by comparison, these companies took a 180 degree turn on the "not invented here" freeway and struck a blow for raw, rampant innovation. Their assumption was that others would think of things they might not. And they were right.
The happy result is that now any teenager in Finland, Slovenia or Akron can download the API's for GoogleMaps, Flickr, eBay (and a growing list of other major web players) and start building and releasing their own cool mashups that incorporate the shared code. And a variety of widget engines allow developers to design great interfaces that supplant the tired old browser page for many everyday functions we used to pull from My Yahoo.
The momentum now appears unstoppable. More mashups, more dashboard, web and mobile widgets roll out each week.
Widgets bring us targeted information, on-demand services and other goodies without our ever having to find or load a webpage. Widget interfaces are smaller and more functional than a standard, screen-hogging browser page, and they load faster. I have a cool astronomy widget that helps me map the night sky wherever I am and whatever hour it is.
I also like mashup sites like zillow.com. At Zillow I can watch my home's value float up and down as home prices fluctuate around me. It's all mapped for me, and yes, Zillow has a widget for my mobile phone screen.
In 2005, writer James Surowiecki called the intelligent principle behind open-source innovation "The Wisdom of Crowds". Then Wired's Jeff Howe coined the companion verb: "crowdsource". So now we have all the words we need to help the concept lodge in our collective Mind. What does the sea-change mean for companies with decades of history in old school, siloed product development?
The core mindset shift is simple.
Everyone in an organization is potentially a source of ideas and ongoing developmental guidance... IF you let them be.
It makes good sense. Install the culture and the processes that let everyone have a stake in the creative life of the company and you get a much broader platform for innovation.
Easy to say; harder to do. Sustaining a culture of innovation over time requires well-thought out group creativity "rituals" - collaborative events and processes that eliminate the traditional line between "creatives" and "non-creatives" and encourage anyone and everyone to step forward.
Allowing equal access doesn't mean everyone is equally creative, though. There are exceptionally creative people on earth and maybe, if you're lucky, in your organization. But most people aren't idea dynamos like Thomas Edison or DaVinci. Fortunately, mega-minds like them aren't the world's only source of breakthrough ideas.
All it takes is one person thinking up a single breakthrough idea to send humanity in a new direction. Think Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, or Crick and Watson. Does anyone need to be reminded that Einstein was a patent clerk before he became a paradigm-shifting physicist?
The central creed everyone must believe in an innovation culture is that a breakthrough idea could lurk anywhere in the organization. A simple 360 degree distribution of creative respect can work wonders all by itself.
At the heart of the Web 2.0 revolution lies the liberating spirit of widespread collaboration. User-generated sites like Wikipedia and Digg tap into the wisdom of crowds to aggregate, edit and polish information. Wikipedia, now at almost almost 8 million topic entries, is by far the largest and most consulted encyclopedic reference on the Web. Amazingly, most Wikipedia entries are more than just pretty good.
Crowdsourced projects and products can also be competitive. One renowned open-source project, Firefox's web browser, has an army of volunteer developers building add-ons for it. This steady surge of nifty extras is why Firefox's market share keeps rising ever closer to Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser. In some European Union countries, Firefox's market share is now 40-45 percent.
A company that welcomes crowdsourced innovation raises the odds of two things happening. Not only can more breakthrough ideas arise in-house, but it's more likely they'll be recognized by at least one other champion rather than being blocked, lost or dismissed. By endorsing crowdsourcing methods, a company retires out-dated "not invented here" attitudes that used to bury or water down great ideas in traditional siloed workplaces.
Companies that can afford to seek ideas outside their workforce and firewall gain even more - a potentially infinite pool of innovators. The author of the Linux operating system, Linus Torvalds, opened up his kernal to the world's developers in the early 1990's. Netscape did the same in 1998. Today, BMW's Virtual Innovation Agency invites customers to send in their innovation ideas and offers prizes of up to 60,000 EUR. And at Eli Lilly's Innocentive, "seeker" companies like Proctor & Gamble can post a challenge to a community of 120,000 + "solvers" registered at the website.
Crowdsourcing is young and it's future is still uncertain, but there's already evidence that crowdsourced products have more of the features and functionality people want. The likely cause is the sheer size of the crowd pouring ideas into a product's evolution. There's an inevitable diversity of views built in to any sizable crowd. At a certain point, the distinctions between product developers and typical customers have to start blurring. When they do, crowdsourced product development is almost like getting customer feedback up front, before the sale.
With such benefits emerging, it's no wonder that so many people are pleading Congress for the internet to be kept neutral for content sites and aggregators like Digg, Wikipedia and Facebook. With so many minds able to network together now, crowdsourcing enables humans to collaborate on a scale no one could have dreamed of fifty years ago.
And it comes not a moment too soon. Hopefully, over the next few years, new online tools will emerge to gather and develop global warming and alternative energy solutions from around the planet. We'll likely see the release of hundreds of widgets and mashups to help us conserve energy, nudge our households and businesses toward carbon neutrality, and re-engineer our global energy grid.
If that's a peek into what we might accomplish as a species having to make tough economic choices about our future, then we all have a stake in James Surowiecki being right about the wisdom of crowds.
Jeff Howe's original Wired article on crowdsourcing.
Google Uses Crowdsourcing To Make Maps in IndiaAugust 08, 2007
It's Innovation Time at the OK Corel
In an effort to jump start innovation, Corel (the maker of Word Perfect software,) recreates startup environments in-house. When an employee has a bright idea, he/she can apply for a two-week pass along with one or two other people in a virtual garage situation to develop the idea. At the end of the two weeks, if the idea continues to look promising, the employee can apply for another two week pass and so on, as long as the idea keeps looking like a winner.
I like this idea a lot. It keeps innovation in-the-moment. After all, most innovation is driven by passion, fascination, and intrinsic motivation -- not bureaucratic processes. If you (or your company) don't have a way for winning ideas to take root and grow, you can throw "innovation" out the window along with all those other brainstorms of yours that never made it beyond cocktail party chatter.
You may have the best strategic plan this side of Pluto, but unless you have a simple way to honor the sudden appearance of breakthrough thinking, who cares?
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "It's not enough to be busy. Ants are busy. What are we busy about?"August 03, 2007
Connect the Dots
Want to know one of the secrets to being more creative? Making new connections. I'm not talking about people. I'm talking about experiences. Here's how Steve Job sees it:
"When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.
"That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.
"Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people haven't had very diverse experiences, so they don't have enough dots to connect and they wind up with very linear solutions."
If Jobs' quote makes sense to you, the creative thinking techniques linked below might help accelerate your process of connecting the dots...
Einstein Tip of the Week
If you find yourself working closely with predominantly left-brained, analytical, logical, linear, rational, data hungry, bottom-line focused business people, and you're sensing there is precious little openness to the state of mind affectionately known as "receptivity," you may find it useful to trot out the following quote from Albert Einstein, Idea Champions' patron saint of possibility. It works every time:
"Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts."
Ah... feels so good, doesn't it? Takes the pressure off. Opens doors. Expands horizons. Hey, who can argue with Big Al, the embodiment of brainpower, science, and all things yet to be known?
So, next time you find your "out of the box" approach being summarily dismissed by the number crunching, naysayers of the noosphere, boldly cite Einstein's point of view. And if you STILL find yourself on the receiving end of doubt, ask someone in the room to explain what the quote actually means.
In less than 60 seconds, the mood in the room will shift dramatically. Not only will you have invoked the spirit of wonder and exploration, you will have (at least for a few moments) diffused one of the biggest obstacles to innovation: shrink-wrapped addiction to data.