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Archive for July, 2010

Keeping Innovation Simple – social entrepreneurship

July 19th, 2010

I get little argument when I suggest to entrepreneurs that they keep their businesses simple, that they focus on getting the simple steps done first, or that they focus on products that meet simple consumer needs.

But TALKING ABOUT simplicity and actually enabling it are two different things. It’s amazing how complex things can get when you hire a team of bright minds, create partnerships or define the functions of your product!

I was on the website Echoing Green (a early-stage social venture firm) and came across the video for one of their “Green Fellows” – a woman named Jodie Wu.  I love the innovations that she is creating with a somewhat mundane (by US standards) technology and transforming it into something of value to the poor villagers in other countries around the world.  This is simplicity in action.

What I see here is an entrepreneur who is taking a basic/antiquated technology – the bicycle – and looking at the world through the eyes of the social entrepreneur in Africa, South America, India, or China – and coming up with an innovative way of approaching this technology for alternative uses.

Will the organization itself get funding, grow successfully and launch? Perhaps? But they certainly are off to an innovative approach to social entrepreneurship that may re-purpose an old technology for the benefit of the Third World.

Have examples of simplicity that you can share? I’d love to hear from you…

The U.S. Constitution – creativity & innovation in Action

July 9th, 2010

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, is a massive structure located near old-town Philadelphia (2 blocks from Independence Hall).  I visited the museum on July 4th – a fitting day to be prancing around Philadelphia – at 10:00 am that day, I was the only visitor walking around the 2nd floor  huge (circular) multimedia atrium and one of only 8 people to sit through the first showing in the theater-in-the-round presentation (“We the People”) on the Constitution.

This museum is a must-see if you want to understand how this country was founded on principles of freedom, democracy and innovation.  During the 17-minute “We the People” live show, it really started to sink in with me how special this country is that we live in…and how the combined creative genius of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine,  Adams, Hamilton and others living in America in the late 1770-1790 time-frame came together to form a government and nation never before attempted.

The Consitution was delivered on Sept 17, 1787, after months of debate and draft in what was to become know as the Philadelphia Convention.  So, not a bad place to be on July 4th, 2010.

Who Wrote the Constitution

Picture a team brainstorm meeting that you have attended in the past and the process and results it yielded.  Now picture a similar meeting – only the participants are Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other luminaries.

Interesting “sketches” on many of the Constitution’s authors were written by William Pierce.

Madison is generally credited for drafting the Constitution. But the ideas contained in it were the result of 12 colonies/states (one state did not send a delegate) all contributing ideas and sending their most critical thinkers to the Philadelphia Convention.

Thus, the Convention had was incredible intellectual horse power behind it.  It also had ideas and ideals from men who had studied governments all over the world and throughout history.  The goals, in my opinion, for these men was to craft something that would suit the particular situation that America found itself in following the Revolution:

  • America was a relatively newly settled land, each State in the union had its own priorities and needs
  • The patriotism of the American people was at an all-time high
  • The States required coordination between them and a set of laws that would govern them
  • The entire operation could not be headed by a dictator, but required a unique set of democratic processes in order that all opinions/needs would be fairly heard

The Creative Process at Work

But Horse Power is not enough.  For amazing results to play out of this milieu, the leaders needed a process. I cannot claim to be an historical expert on the process that played out, but I plan to learn more about it.

By my estimation, the creative problem solving process they employed was astounding.  The process needed to identify the critical needs of the day, brainstorm creative ways that the States could COLLECTIVELY and separately, solve these issues – and come up with common vision from all this.  Finally, the group of delegates had to identify a future implementation process by which the newly formed solution could unfold over time as new ideas and needs were revealed.  At any one of these junctures, things could have fallen apart.

Failure to come up with a way to “unite” the states?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a way that we can ensure freedom ? Things fall apart

You fail to be able to get the delegates to “converge” on a set of solutions that benefits all? Things fall apart.

No options for growing the collective prosperity of a newly formed “united states”?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a process by which all this can evolve (try thinking out 200 years into the future – it ain’t easy!).  Things fall apart.

This was Pretty Darn Innovative

What made the US Constitution so innovative when it was adopted in 1787?

  • The initial “brainstorming” process include separate plans for the Constitution from Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alexander Hamilton (a plan resembling the British government) and Connecticut
  • The document was crafted so it could be additive & flexible (it has been amended 27 times since, including the first 10 amendments in 1787-8)
  • It was the first document of its kind in modern times to include Freedom as a central theme, yet the heated topic of the day was slavery, yet the plan avoided this issue initially so as to be ratified – otherwise the debate might have lasted years or decades and nothing would have been accomplished
  • The document itself allowed for a complete process for democratic vote and amendment
  • The document included an elaborate plan for Balance - a judiciary system, a legislative branch and executive decision-making
  • Required was some fair way for States to vote on future issues – so a system for representation and voting needed to be put into effect

This is Hard Work!

I must say, that Washington,  as a leader of this highly innovative new “experiment” has also impressed me.  Our first president had to take on a role that no human being had ever experienced – “President” of a “united” group of men and women who were anything but united.The newly united states were a pot full of idealistic, commercial, political and social ideas  – all simmering to a boil.  Washington had to be SOME POLITICIAN to get many factions to work with one another (heck his two top men, Jefferson and Adams, could not even get along), interpret the newly formed constitution, continue to protect his country, battle the concept of slavery in a land that had just declared itself free.

There’s a Lot More to this Story

I’m only scratching the surface here, being neither a top historian, nor actually being there over 200 years ago – I can only guess at some of the processes and innovations that came up during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond it…I’d love to hear your thoughts on additional areas of Creativity and Innovation that I”ve undoubtedly missed.