Archives For innovation

tb_big_ideas_2014Some say the world is divided into humanities people and science people; artists and geeks; intuitive types and analytical types. You’re either one or the other, and our culture, education system, workplaces and news media do their level best to reinforce this divide. But throughout history, it’s been proven over and again that if you want to be truly innovative, reaching across the divide between the sciences and the arts is the starting point for triggering the boldest ideas.

From Leonardo Da Vinci to Frank Gehry, some of our greatest achievers have balanced that territory between art and science, or, as Steve Jobs repeatedly stated, the intersection between technology and liberal arts.

I’ve just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s wonderful new book, The Innovators, in which he charts the 150-year history of the computer revolution. Among one of the many important insights he has about this collection of technical pioneers is that many of them also embraced the arts. The very first of these, Dame Ada Lovelace (1815-52), was passionate about mathematics and poetry (she was the daughter of Lord Byron), and it was these combined passions that led her to see the real potential behind Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the predecessor to the first computer. In letters between Lovelace and Babbage, she explored some of the basic concepts that would drive the development of computers, including the idea that machines could be programmable and that computers could go beyond calculation and act on anything that might be represented symbolically.

Lovelace received a rigorous education in both mathematics and the arts, which was unusual for that time. More than 150 years later, this idea seems more important than ever, if we are to realize the potential of science and technology in the interests of our own and other species.

There are signs that attitudes are shifting. In response to the need for more creativity in engineering, Sir John O’Reilly argued in a recent lecture at the U.K.’s Royal Institution that engineers should embrace the arts. Similarly, John Maeda, formerly the President of the Rhode Island School of Design and now a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, has been arguing that a focus on STEM (science, education, engineering and math) education should expand to STEAM to include the arts.

For me personally, I was considered to be a difficult student in high school because I was equally interested in physics and art. I made the choice to pursue industrial design partly because I saw it as a place where technology and art played together. I remain convinced that many of the most interesting artistic breakthroughs come at the frontiers of new science, and that the most impactful technical breakthroughs occur because they have been elegantly considered, not left to happenstance.

If your passion is science and engineering, do not ignore the arts. Embracing them will equip you with the creative skills that are absolutely vital to great innovation. Equally, if the arts and humanities have captured your imagination, do not ignore the sciences. The sciences are often majestically beautiful in themselves (think of the cosmos or the wonders of genetic code) but they are also the keys that can unlock new artistic possibility.

How will you experiment with your other half, artistic or scientific, in 2015?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Successful startups have a clear and defined purpose—an offering, product, or business model like no other. They also know when to evolve, redesign, or adapt, in sync with emerging market needs. But how?

Arvind Gupta, a colleague in Shanghai, recently wrote about the importance of adaptive innovation cycles in emerging markets in Rotman Magazine. These are methods that I believe can be easily molded for businesses in both the US and European markets as well. Adaptive innovation involves stripping steps from the corporate R&D process and executing quickly in two modes: learning and creating. Some of us at IDEO refer to this as “the squiggle.”

This approach empowers designers to rapidly integrate information from in-market testing. Through repeated adaptive innovation cycles, a team can iterate an offering, product, or model in sync with evolving market needs and stay ahead of the competition. According to Arvind, there are four pillars of success to this approach: Purpose, Pace, Pulse, and Prototyping. Read more about the four pillars of adaptive innovation here.

Where could you be using adaptive innovation to improve an idea?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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A recent article by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Perils of Always Ignoring the Bright Side” got me thinking. Using the examples of GM crops and shale gas, Ridley makes the argument that the media’s singular interest in reporting negative outcomes has caused us to miss the potentially significant benefits of these two innovations. “Good news is deemed less newsworthy than the bad,” he writes, and as a result new technologies are harder than ever to get adopted.

It seems to me that this doesn’t just apply to innovations—where there may need to be a balancing of negative and positive—but also to new ideas that are clearly good. If good news is uninteresting to the media, then one of our most powerful tools for spreading new ideas and speeding the uptake of new approaches is lost to us. At a time when some of the most pressing problems are, at their root, issues of behavior it is tragic that the single most powerful tool for affecting behavior, storytelling, is being underutilized because the business of media perceives bad news to be the only way to engage an audience.

What are the alternatives? It is interesting to me that arguably the most successful new media venture of the last decade takes an almost entirely positive view on storytelling. TED has evolved from a cloistered conference for the technological elite to a storytelling machine consisting of hundreds of TEDx conferences a year and millions of downloads of TED talk videos. The success of this venture, and the appeal it seems to have with the young, suggests that a more optimistic approach has a market and is capable of inspiring engagement and action. Continue Reading…

It may seem entirely obvious that organizations with a sense of purpose achieve greater levels of innovation than those that don’t. I think of Apple (Insanely Great), and Nike (Just Do It) as good examples of purpose that guides and drives innovation, never mind the Aravind Eye Hospitals or Grameen Bank.

The question is why should this be so? Again – this might be obvious but I supect there are nuances.

Most start-ups have a clear sense of purpose but as they scale it gets lost. How can the very largest of organizations, those with the potential to have the most impact, create purpose that drives innovation? AG Lafley used the mantra – “the consumer is boss” to focus P&G on consumer led innovation. Jeffrey Immelt created Ecomagination, and more recently, Healthymagination as big ideas to create coordinated innovation across the many business units of GE. John Mackey at Whole Foods has used a set of core values to support grass roots innovation.

I believe that organizations whose purpose is only to build shareholder value or maximize profits will not sustain innovation. I also suspect that different types and sizes of organization need different expressions of purpose. Are there examples of sustained innovation without purpose?

Following the G20 summit this week, it seems as though we are in one of the most significant periods of new rule making we have seen for a long time. Our government leaders were promoting all kinds of new regulation to control hedge funds and banks. Similarly this year we expect to see new regulations emerging from the Copenhagen summit on carbon emissions. Here in the US, new rules are being proposed for health care, particularly around access, affordability and medical records.

Two of my colleagues at IDEO, Tatyana Mamut and Lionel Mori, have proposed that innovation, and particularly systemic innovation, is determined by a balance of three things – behavioral norms, tools and rules. As designers we tend to take rules and regulations as part of the existing constraints but in a time of rapid regulatory change I wonder whether there is a more active role for design thinking.

Take Formula 1 motor racing as an esoteric but illustrative example. This is a sport where the rules are often changed with little notice and the race teams invest millions of dollars in their response, attempting to gain tenths of a second in performance over their fellow competitors. Formula 1 is a kind of experimental hotbed where new rules are constantly tested. The intent of the rule makers is often to create a predictable reduction in performance so as to create safer or more competitive racing. What often happens however is that the ingenuity of engineers and designers combined with poorly written rules result in faster rather than slower cars. Design is testing the rules and innovation is the result.

What if design was used to test some of the rules our government leaders are proposing? Could we go through some experimental cycles using design and prototyping as a tool before final decisions are made about what rules to adopt? Might this help us avoid our tendency to create new rules and then walk away, under the assumption that our finance, health and global energy systems will now behave in the way we want them to?