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Archive for the ‘Book’ category

Evolution and Innovation – where do Ideas come from?

September 17th, 2010

I’ve recently been giving thought to the evolution of  ideas …and how they lead to innovation.

Peter Drucker, in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, points to 7 “sources” of  organizational innovation – seven PLACEs where organizational ideas come from:

1) Unexpected consequences - there are many examples of this through history, but one well-known example was the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 is a classic.

2) Incongruities – Drucker points out that whenever an industry has a steadily growing market, but falling profit margins for its participants an “incongruity” exits – and some company will eventually exploit this incongruity by inventing a lower cost or more efficient way to compete – for example, process innovations in the steel industry.

3) Process needs -the excample of the Guttenberg press, is to me a major change in process.  It was borne out of the need for mass-producing the Bible and other valued writings, and it allowed for a major shift in the process of putting these writings to paper.

4) Industry & market changes – often innovation is born out of competitive necessity – your company either comes up with a more innovative business model, product, marketing campaign…or you die.  A great example of this is Salesforce.com – its cloud-based SaaS business model was more efficient for many customers than the competitors and it stole customers away from other players as it grew.

5) Demographic changes – in the mid 1990′s many first-time users were coming onto the web, causing a demographic shift to the Internet, which companies like Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista and Google created innovations around

6) Changes in Perception – we are living through a period in time right now, best described by Richard Florida as The Great Reset, in which Americans and Europeans are dramatically changing their perceptions of spending, real estate ownership, needs vs wants – and there are a variety of innovations that will likely be born out of this shift.

7) New Knowledge – many an invention has come from new knowledge of the materials, processes, or changing needs of the customer. For example, the computer chip invented by   Walk through the Computer History Museum in Santa Clara, CA and you can see many, many examples of how technology has progressed over the past 60 years as new knowledge of tubes, transistors, microprocessor became available through research labs.

One of the students in my UC Berkeley class claims an 8th source might be “male hormones” or pro-creation as he pointed out that the male species can be extremely CREATIVE in ways of approaching the opposite sex.

While this one seems a bit far-fetched to me, I personally believe that the Collective Conscience could be considered an 8th source of Innovation.  Jung first coined this term in pychoanalysis to refer to conscious thoughts and ideas that are not personal, but are a shared part of our culture or of being human. He called common ideas shared by humans “archetypes” and he claimed to find examples in his psychoanalysis of behaviors resulting from the “collective conscience” (a form of sub-conscience).   Ever wonder why several scientists seem to simultaneously come to a similar conclusion; or several entrepreneurs are working on a similar new product/service at the same moment in time?  My guess is that there is an element of our genetic make-up, that is embedded in the connections in our brains,  which is triggered by external/environmental factors.  When some change in our world occurs, or some challenge presents itself to the human species, a pre-destined response is elicited and the result is that a sort of “collective conscious” is released – several people in the right time, at the right place have the same epiphany.

How do Ideas Come About?
Whereas Drucker answes the question “From Where do Ideas Arise?,” he  does not quite answer the question of HOW ideas arise.  For example, one common view of new ideas is that they come about by some  sort of epiphany, stroke of luck, or being in the “right place at the right time.”  Newton was hit on the head with an Apple, Archimedes sat in his bathtub noticing how it overflowed, and the Reeses Peanut-butter cup came together when two people holding chocolate and peanut-butter collided :)

Perhaps it’s more Evolutionary than we think?

The invention of the world wide web is a good example to look at:  Tim Berners-Lee is credited with the creation of the world-wide web, and the general public views this as a major break-through innovation of the 20th Century.  But Berners-Lee seem to me to be the final/missing piece of a mosaic that included many other prior smaller discoveries. For example, the notion of “hyperlinking to other locations” had already been explored by teams at Apple, and researchers (Andy Van Dam and Norman Meyrowitz) at Brown University, well before it became a component of the WWW.  And the internet under-structure behind the WWW was long in place an used by ARPA and universities before it was exploited by Berners-Lee. The initial prototype website in 1991 and  The standards proposed by Berners-Lee in 1994 and beyond where the missing piece to the puzzle or mosaic of inventions that allowed for this “innovation” to take off.

And, all this was incremental and evolutionary.

Many major innovations in history seem to take this evolutionary path: electricity, the light-bulb, radio, television, the micro-computer, the Internet – all seem evolutionary and a product of several great minds.  There were a set of small discoveries made over time until such point that all the key pieces were in place for an “innovation” to occur.  A good example I like to use at UC Berkeley is the emergence of the PDA .

Many prior innovations added up to the innovation of hand-held devices or PDAs.  The Apple Newton device with its hand-writing recognition, the EO device (a start-up by industry veterans), and early prototypes at Xerox Parc.  But it was Jeff Hawkins and his team at Palm who put the final pieces of the puzzle together – using unique (Graffiti) software and the right combination of features – that lit the consumer market on fire with a new “innovation.”  Lots of smaller discoveries led to the success/launch of the PDA market.

I’d like to hear from others whether they believe innovation comes from serendipity, from epiphany, or from some series of evolutionary discoveries…

The Future of Virtual Puppeteering and Grandparenting

April 24th, 2010

OK, so I’m still (likely?) many years away from being a grandparent, but if you can’t apply Business Innovation and Creativity to the future grand-parenting skills, then you’re not really trying…

One of my students at UC Berkeley brought up an interesting experiment by Nokia with the artists from Sesame Street.  An article on this can be read here. The experiment has taken place at Nokia’s Palo Alto research center and at first seems far-fetched.

Are you a fan of the science-fiction writer, Neil Stephensen?  Have you read Snow Crash? (virtual reality and the internet at its best)  Cryptonomicom (long but mathematically pleasing)?

My favorite Stephensen book is The Diamond Age, written in 1995. In this story, Stephensen imagines devices not too far off from the iPad, but with a little more communications built in. In the story, a young girl Nell is given a special book by her father, which she becomes quite attached to. The book reads to her and has motion photos and video embedded in it (think iPad).

“Once upon a time,” said a woman’s voice [from the book], “there was a little girl named Elizabeth who liked to sit in the bower of her grandfather’s garden and read story-books.” The voice was soft, meant just for her, with an expensive Victorian accent.”

After some time, the book becomes personalized to Nell, using her name and the name of her belongings and life – and it interacts with her in strange and magical ways. It turns out that the book is animatronically controlled by an actor (or puppeteer) located in China and selected to be young Nell’s guide. The puppeteer does more than TEACH young Nell, by showing up in her life and revealing emotional stories and lessons she gets into the head of Nell and alters her persona.

A quick pause her, as Puppeteering is not all that new to me. As a teenager in Leonia, New Jersey, I created my own puppet show for the local schools and summer camp program, then took the show “on the road”, paying part of my education at Brown University as a puppeteer.  So, I’ve Bert-and-Ernied with the best of them. :>)  Let it not be said that I am ONE DIMENSIONAL entrepreneur-turned venture capitalist-turned-educator-turned-musician-turned-mentor –> there is of course the puppetry.  In 1990, as an Apple employee interested in advanced technologies I worked with Apple’s ATG (Advanced Technology Group) to prepare a speech on “Virtual Puppetry”for a conference on virtual reality.

The device created by Nokia and Sesame Street is an interesting technological combination of virtual puppeteering, distance learning and edu-tainment.  The device allows a child to learn a story, interact with a distant person (grandparent, parent, friend, Chinese puppeteer?), and interact with Sesame Street characters, like Elmo.   Although physically clumsy in its current format, Nokia has essentially brought the concept of Neil Stephensen’s Diamond Age living book to life.

This has several amazing consequences.  Picture, 5 years from now an advance book version of the colorful iPad that is more interactive – a reader can flip thin pages (each interactive, connected via internet and created in virtual ink) to simulate the experience of a real book. Built into the book is a camera that can read the facial expressions of the reader… built into the book is a virtual connection to live people and experts around the world. The book becomes a living communication and learning device that brings to the world literally to the reader and INTERACTS in real time with the needs of the reader.

Apply this to Wikipedia to create the worlds most interactive encyclopedia, apply this to early childhood learning, apply this to games, apply this to sports, entertainment, and research.

Technology is only a few years away from inexpensive paper-thin, computer screens combined with the power of global communication (think: Skype) over internet, we are now just a few short years away from Neil Stephensen’s seemingly incredible dream of virtual puppetry in 1995.

I’d like to her your thoughts on this vision. I’d like to hear Neal’s thoughts on this !

RH

The History of Innovation…and where ideas come from

March 30th, 2010

Once in a while, I like to get an historical perspective on Creativity and Innovation.  I found four websites that are very helpful in doing this:

1) my favorite site is The Great Idea Finder - this site looks like it was created in 1996 and in serious need of  a web 2.0 programmer, but it’s full of great research, ideas and history.  Check out It’s About Time for a day-by-day history timeline, or Invention and Inventor Lists for interesting lists of patents, inventors, entrepreneurs and more.

2) About.com Inventors - this community is full of great insights on the history of inventors (a subset of creators and innovators in my mind).  Wonderful information on the history of many famous inventions and inventors -or search by your favorite invention

–> an added bonus to the site is “Today in History” - pick any date and the site has a wiki-list of famous inventions, patent filings, and note-worthy “aha-moments” that occurred on that date.   For example, this day, on March 30th, the following happened: “1956 Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land Is Your Land” was copyrighted.” Click on “Birthdays” and you find:

  • 1842 – Dr. Crawford Long was the first physician to use ether as anesthetic
  • 1865 – German physicist, Heinrich Rubens
  • 1876 – Clifford Whittingham Beers was a mental hygiene pioneer
  • 1892 – Polish mathematician, Stefan Banach
  • 1894 – Russian airplane builder, Sergei Ilyushin
  • 1912 – Andrew Rodger Waterson was a noted naturalist

3) the Inventors Timeline – takes you back to the Paleolithic Era then forward to present time, identifying all key inventions known to the world…a very interesting way to see how the pace of technology is quickening.  

4) the Timeline Index – a nice visual timelime of Inventors through the recent ages – also an interesting timeline for other areas such as artists, philosophers, actors, etc).  Click on any person’s name and it gives you a detailed page on their biography, related links, etc.

Where do all these ideas come from?

The big question that people often ask me about my work with entrepreneurs and innovators is “So, where do ideas come from? Conventional wisdom is that ideas come from an “AHA” moment that an inventor has – for example, the moment that Art Fry at 3M Corp realized he had inadvertently created a sticky substance that could be used on paper to create the “post-it” note,  or the moment that Archimedes sat in his bath tub and realized that the water he had displaced held an important clue to measuring density of matter.
But in looking HISTORICALLY at actual inventions that have made produced the most profound changes in human history —   the wheel, electricity, the automobile, the light bulb, the small-pox vaccination, the computer chip, the television,  the Worldwide Web — we find that there was no “AHA” moment…there were a myriad of smaller progressive discoveries leading to a key discover from one person or group that seems to solidify

I was speaking at the Computer History Museum this past week and arriving early, took the time to look at the work of Charles Babbage, who is regarded as the “Father of Computing.”  In 1822 he created an entirely mechanical “Difference Engine” (see photo I took to right, owned by Nathan Myrvold) which was meant to calculate mathematics (polynomials) and he later created a “Analytics Engine” that used punch cards. Babbage’s inventions resulted from a hundreds of years of European discoveries of how machines work, including work dating back to the time of Leonardo Davinci and the abacus dating back to Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.  It was Babbage who lived in a time where the “technology” (small metal parts) and mathematical understanding enabled him to implement the first working prototype.  Babbage worked through his lifetime to complete these designs.  The engine was a creation born from a series of historical baby steps.

Take a more recent invention – the PDA…Palm gets much of the credit for it, but its birth was due to a number of companies all working the overall product from various angles.   Psion, Apple,Xerox, others …a visit to the Computer History Museum in Sunnyvale shows the tale. There was no “aha” moment of innovation in the discovery of the PDA – it too seems to be more Evolutionary rather than Revolutionary.

In his book, The Myths of Innovation, author/entrepreneur/blogger/professor Scott Berkun makes a pretty good case for the fact that innovations never seem to evolve in a straight line.  Ideas are formed, tested out, failures occur, competitors emerge in an area of great “hope” and eventually some lucky company emerges as the one to popularize the new innovation.

According to Berkun, ideas come from either hard work in a specific direction, or the combination of two or more (heretofore separate) ideas, or curiosity, or wealth, or necessity or luck — or some combination of all of these.

In his book The Medici Effect, my friend Frans Johansson points out that some of the most prolific bursts of new ideas (such as those found in 15th Century Italy, banked by the Medici Family in Florence) come from a confluence of different disciplines or cultures, combined in new and unusual ways.  Johansson delineates “directional” and “intersectional” innovation.  Directional innovation – like the light bulb which  Thomas Edison found through years of testing, is evolutionary with a focused linear path.  Intersectional innovation – for example the Googles combination of new search algorithms with an approach to listing advertising as words -  is ALSO evolutionary.  The research the Google founders did at Stanford was  descendant  from previous work at Yahoo and Infoseek, and the advertising approach they used was borrowed from goto.com (later became Overture).  It was the fortuitous combination of these two ideas (intersection) that led to the most innovative company of all time.   Serendipity certainly played a role for both Edison and Google founders – more on that in a future blog post.

I’m challenged to think of an example of innovation which was not in some way evolutionary – building upon prior ideas, research or thought.

I’m curious if any of my readers can think of examples…

Hey, what’s the Big Idea?

January 5th, 2010

How many times have you read a good book and thought to yourself “That’s a good idea, I should apply that to my own life“….but invariably you did NOT apply it to your life because you had no specific way to do so, or you forgot, or you were just too lazy to do so?

Big Ideas in Short Bites

Brian Johnson probably had these thoughts too, but he decided to do something about it…so he’s spent the past 18 months (much of it in Bali – SWEET!) reading his selection of the Top 101 books of all time in philosophy, self-help, business/leadership, and spirituality…and created short compendium notes (think: “cliff notes with actionable items”) of the best-loved books of all time.

Want to apply principles of Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, Mihaly Csikszentmihayi or Don Miguel Ruiz to your life? Then go get the overviews at PhilosophersNotes , sign up — and gobble up great learnings in short bites.  Brian’s made if available in written, audio and (sometimes) video versions. He’s entertaining and genuinely a nice guy :)

How Creative is this really?

For those of us who suffer from CNG (a.k.a. “Cliff Notes Guilt” as in: “I really should have read the whole book for class but I used cliff notes to get me over hump”), the question you are probably asking is “So… where is the creativity or innovation here”?

I think Brian is onto something very creative – see  this video on his latest project called “LIFE 101″

He has begun to map out the storyboard for a future book/series that will mesh together the great ideas contained in the first 101 books he’s read and reviewed.  This seems to be a creative idea that perhaps others have thought of, but has any one single (other than a book reviewer) actually chosen, read, digested, analyzed, and re-formulated the top 101 philosophy books? That seems useful to me.

See Brian’s blog for more on this…

From “Creativity to Innovation”

If Brian is able to create a Mash-up of the top 101 books, what is the result? Is it possible he will create new connections and intersections (see my past post on Intersectional Creativity and Mashups) that others have not seen before.  Yes, probable. The exciting thing is that by having created a forum in Philosophers Notes where others can view and take action on these books, I think he’s actually using today’s technology in a very innovative way – to turn Ideas and Creativity into actionable results.

Looking forward to Master Brian’s results in the coming year!

“Intersectional” creativity & Mash-ups

December 22nd, 2009

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun… Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14)

One of my students at UC Berkeley (thanks, Vikram!) pointed out in his Final paper (“personal innovation plan”) the similarities between mashups and “intersectional” creativity.

What is Truly Intersectional?

“Intersectional” creativity is that which occurs at the intersection of several cultures, realms, or even business departments. Frans Johansson, in his book The Medici Effect, presents some strong arguments as to how many great “inventions” and new ideas of our generation come out of this confluence/intersection/convergence/collision of pre-existing ideas.   This, as opposed to a “directional” innovation that is born out of evolution.

Some examples of intersectional creativity:

The intersection between 2 cultures: Trip Hawkin’s (founder of EA) company Digital Chocolate combines a team in Scandinavia (Finland to be exact) with a team in India, a team in Spain, team in Mexico and a team in San Mateo, CA, to create award-winning social games.

The intersection between Realms of knowledge: an Architect in Zimbabwe,  borrowed ideas from desert-living termites (who keep their hills at constant temperature throughout the day, despite several changes in the weather) to design and build a cost-effective, energy-efficient apartment building that stays cool without the use of air conditioning (source: The Medici Effect)

- The intersection between company departments: Pixar is well known for what CEO Ed Catmut describes as the “Collaboration Culture” (see my previous blog on Pixar).  Departments in creative, technology and business fields must work closely together to ensure success of the company’s films.  The result: 10 out of 10 major films of this company have been huge hits by industry standards – no other company in the entertainment industry has this record.

Of Mashups and Men

We’ve seen a crop of new Mashups over the past  few years based on Web 2.0 technologies – some (not all) of which I would term “creative.” For practical purposes, I refer to a Mashup as an application that integrates the best of one or more web services/applications to form something new (and hopefully useful).

One might argue that  the biggest example is Twitter.  The Twitter team came from a history of web 2.0 mash-ups, namely Odeo.  Odeo was originally a pod-casting company, but like most p-casting companies, it fell to the way-side because the usefulness of p-casting requires ubiquitous hardware and a change in basic consumer behavior.  However, the Twitter team discovered that internal mashup between instant messaging technologies and short blogs (or status updates like Facebook) could provide a real-time link between team members. This “intersectional” discovery came from the need for internal members of the Odeo team to communicate with one another. It then became clear that it might be productized.

Google Maps & Earth are another great examples of  mashups.  Google was already mashing geographical data (satellite and terrain) with street/address coordinates  before the company acquired KeyHole Software.   Now Google is adding StreetViews to maps and geo data for even more detail.  And, Google Earth takes its original mash-up between available satellite data from around the world and geographical interface to a new level by allowing 3rd parties to add models of specific buildings and entire cities around the globe.  Other companies are racing to be the first to map INTERIORS of each building (mashup of architectural data and building coordinates).

Thousands of Mashup examples

And of course, there are thousands of other mashups developed by small and large developers that have not yet gained the visibility of Twitter or Google Earth.  Here are a few examples:

  • musical mashups in which video and audio from various sources is mashed together, like the mixes from MashupTown
  • video mashups combining sound, video and images from various sources, like this quite popular one of George Bush and Tony Blair
  • e-commerce mashups such as
  • location-based services, that use GPS or mapping information to identify or meeting up with near-by friends, such as Loopt
  • “augmented reality” mashups that overlay real-life data on top of virtual visual data, such as the newest application from Yelp that overlays its data on top of Google Maps/Earth data

An interesting, but not complete, directory of web 2.0 mashups is found at WebMashup.com and many application-oriented mashups at The Programmableweb.com